I have found in the last few years that a lot of what I focus my teaching (and therefore studying) on has been a result of things I lacked teaching on in my own spiritual development. Things no one wanted to talk about or things for which no one seemed to have answers. Things I want the next generation to understand better than I did.
A few years ago I started seeing a guy and we had the standard discussion of physical boundaries. And as normal I was faced with the dilemma of how-far-is-too-far but how-far-away-is-overreacting? I asked several groups of married couples and got two answers:
“Well…haha…we probably went too far…” and
“We didn’t kiss until our wedding day.”
Not helpful. Then in a conference I heard a fellow missionary who has worked for years with women in prostitution and abused children state that we have a poor theology of sexuality.
Theology of sexuality? Wha? Are those words allowed in the same sentence? The pastor can make sexual innuendos about his wife from the platform (gee, when I see it in print, it looks inappropriate) but otherwise we don’t talk about it. We certainly don’t talk about it as it pertains to single adults. (Except to say, “Don’t do it, don’t think about it, don’t talk about it.”)
So I started looking for resources. And I found this fantastic book from the “Ordinary Theology” series. Faithful: A Theology of Sex (Ordinary Theology).
In this 96-page book, Beth Felker Jones uses illustrations from scripture as well as contemporary literature and film to bring the discussion of sex out of the realm of untouchable and into the reality of our everyday lives. By breaking incredibly intelligent theological discussions into simple and readable thoughts, Felker Jones invites the reader into a helpful conversation about the theology of our bodies and sexuality.
One thing that makes this resource incredibly valuable for me is her attention to sexuality as it pertains to the single Christian. She does not offer trite solutions and decries that idea that sexual purity will gain the ‘good Christian’ a spouse. While most books about relationships or sex maybe dedicate part of a chapter to talking about celibacy, Felker Jones commits a great portion of her book to assert that celibacy is a picture of faithfulness to God.
Felker Jones writes, “We might stop saying to single men and women, ‘When are you going to settle down?’ or ‘Seeing anyone special?’ and say, instead, ‘I’m blessed by the way you live for God,'” and continues, “When — as single people — we don’t have sex, we witness to the dignity and the purpose of the body. We witness to the fact that being human is not about selfish pleasure, being human is about glorifying God. We witness to the fact that there is more to life than easy indulgence. We witness to the faithfulness of a God who empowers us to be faithful in singleness.“
This importance ascribed to singleness is a refreshing escape from bad or lazy theology that singles in church are often handed.
And she doesn’t stop here. She also teaches on the gift of married sex, stating, “When we — as married people — have sex only with our spouse, we witness to the dignity and purpose of the body. Our embodied one-flesh union becomes a testimony to the faithful relationship between Christ and the church. In either case — marriage or singleness — all of our bodily finitude is for God.“
Felker Jones does not shy away from more difficult questions of Christian sexuality, including sexual relationships in a committed relationship outside of marriage. She argues, “To have sex only in marriage is a radical sort of faithfulness, one that excludes premarital and extramarital sex along with adultery. The expectation that sex belongs within marriage and that marriage is an unbreakable union is the steady teaching of Scripture.“ She even brings into the conversation the assertion that married sex is not just for the young and beautiful, but that sex at every age and body type is glorifying to God within the confines of marriage.
One of the most profound conclusions Felker Jones presents is her assertion that our sexually “free” culture has made the lines of sexual consent incredibly messy. I would agree with her assertion, as much of our sexual freedom has come at the cost of great shame and, as Robin Thicke sings, blurred lines. Felker Jones argues that we have cheapened the weight of sexual assault by seeing our bodies as commodities. “A sexual culture based on hook-ups – sexual encounters that are supposed to be about pleasure only, that are supposed to come with no-strings-attached – is a sexual culture full of chaos,” she argues. Her discussion on this is among the best I have read, and honoring to the dignity of both women and men.
Felker Jones promotes a theology of sexual purity as faithfulness to God, yet she rejects the errant teaching that virginity is a commodity of personal worth to be lost or retained. “Our value, our worth, our purpose in the world can never, never be attached to some supposed purity of body, as if we were merchandise instead of sons and daughters of the King.“ She emphasizes grace as an essential part of the conversation on sex.
This book is full of wisdom regarding sexuality, as well as Gospel truth about redemption and forgiveness. “We don’t get sex right and then come to God,” she asserts in reference to our efforts to live a pure life. “The order runs the other way. God the Father, because of what Christ has done, restores us to right relationship with him in the power of the Holy Spirit, and that same Spirit dwells in us, giving us power to bear faithful witness in the world to what Christ has done.”
This book is a valuable resource for single adults, married couples, pastors, and teachers. It treats women and men with equal responsibility and dignity when it comes to the conversation about sex. This is absolutely going into my list of books I will recommend to young people I mentor as well as books I think every pastor should read. It is a refreshing conversation on sex as intended by God, and a hopeful and practical presentation on the Christian life for the single and the married.