Mark Driscoll and how we Speak of Sexuality

I have been rigorously studying for my comprehensive exams, but I saw something this morning that I need to comment on. This morning on Karen Campbell’s blog, a commenter named Susie left a comment mentioning this post on Phil Johnson’s blog. Apparently, Mark Driscoll is at it again. I remember a while back when I heard some comments from Driscoll on the Song of Songs, and I was absolutely amazed at how the text was being abused. I started writing a blog post about this, but stopped when I read John MacArthur’s treatment of it, because MacArthur said everything that needed to be said, and I could only have added my own ideas from my own study.

Now, I have not read Driscoll’s book, so this is not meant to be a review of Driscoll’s book. It is, however, meant to be a criticism of the line of thinking that produced Driscoll’s sermons on the Song of Songs. I want to make some brief comments on the topic, because I am deeply concerned that people believe that this is an appropriate contextualization of the Biblical treatment of sexuality.

First of all, there is no doubt that the Bible presents sexual pleasure as something that is good. Consider, for example, the imagery of a water fountain satisfying [Proverbs 5:15-19], or the imagery of spices, fragrances, and honey [Song of Songs 4:10-11]. Such sensual imagery speaks to the inherent goodness of sexual pleasure and sexual fulfillment. Examples of such could be multiplied indefinitely throughout the poetry about marital love in the Hebrew Bible.

Still, my biggest concern is not only to look at what is said, but how it is said. When we look at these poems of the Hebrew Bible which express the love between a husband and a wife, they are most definitely sensual, but in a very modest fashion. In fact, even some of the parallels in the Ancient Near East are very modest, even though they are very clearly sensual, and many times, quite immoral. For example, the “wasf form” where the bride is asked to dance at her wedding feast much similar to Salome’s dance of the seven veils. Yet, we find much of the same imagery in this context that we find in the Song of Songs [Carr, G. Lloyd. The Song of Songs in Longman, Tremper III, Ryken, Leland. The Complete Literary Guide to the Bible. Zondervan Publishing House. Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1993. Kindle Edition]. Yet, this is where you find parallels to some of the most beautiful modest imagery in the Song of Songs. The point is, even in what most of us would consider to be a grossly immoral and sexually perverse act, you still have this kind of modesty.

However, that changes when you have passages like Ezekiel 23 in which you have fornication laid out in all of its ugliness. Feminist critics will object that this is a sexualization of women. However, most of them have missed the point. Yes, it is indeed meant to portray this misuse of women, but it is meant to do so in order to show what Israel has done to herself. She has prostituted herself in this way, and has degraded herself in so doing.

You might be thinking that, as someone whose main area is the Hebrew Bible, that I am not taking into account the New Testament. However, I think an equally strong case can be made for this distinction even in the New Testament. Consider 1 Corinthians 7, and notice how, in simply verses 1-2 Paul already uses two euphemisms for sexual relations: “to touch a woman” and to “have his own wife.” Marital sexual relations are clearly in view here, and yet, Paul is not graphic even when he speaks about the authority of the husband over the wife’s body, and vice versa.

This modesty in speaking of sexual relations seems to point to the intimate and private nature of the act itself. More than that, it points to the beauty and the wonder of sexual relations between two people, something that, even when talked about by someone else, needs to be spoken of with modesty so as to respect the relationship. However, there will be times when such language is necessary to expose the degrading nature of sexual immorality. Thus, I would conclude that modesty in the language about sexuality is not something that can be written off as culturally based, and thus written off in our contextualization as Driscoll has done. The modest language the Biblical authors use reflect their views of sexuality. I say this, not only because of these examples, but because of the repeated examples of modesty that we find in the Hebrew Bible, as well as explicit language being used strategically to prove points about sexual immorality.

On the side of application, therefore, this also means that how *we* speak of sexuality betrays *our* views of it. To put it bluntly, if we use explicit XXX rated language of sexuality, then that is our view of it. Do we view our sexual relations as something beautiful and intimate between two married people? Or as something explicit and vulgar to be spoken of in such an immodest fashion? Aside from the exegetical nonsense that is produced by approaching the Song of Songs as a manual for sexual therapy [something MacArthur addresses in his review of Driscoll, and I therefore don’t need to get into here], it also betrays a lack of respect for sexuality itself, something that even the pagans of the Ancient Near East were unwilling to do even with their sinful sexual actions.

To be even more blunt, to use this kind of racy language with regard to sexual relations shows contempt for the good creation God has made sexual relations to be. We do not go around using vulgarity of our parents, because to do so would show disrespect for them. Why then do we do it with sexual relations? If Driscoll described his parents in the way he describes sexual relations, he would be criticized for breaking the fifth commandment. Yet, I believe Driscoll has violated the greatest commandment of the law by showing contempt for a beautiful aspect of God’s good creation [Deuteronomy 6:4-5]. That is very dangerous.


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