In the beginning God made an ordered creation. All things were good, good, and very good. “God created mankind in his own image… male and female he created them.” He created man and placed him in a garden, and then created women for the man. What happens after that gets complicated, convoluted, and disturbing. What do we do with marriage, sex, and sexuality in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of the “profound mystery” found in the relationship between husband and wife.
In Beauty, Order, and Mystery, editors Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson—senior associate pastor and senior pastor, respectively, at Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, IL—bring together essays from the 2016 Center for Pastor Theologians 2016 conference on the themes of human sexuality. Not all of the contributors agree on every point, but they all do agree on the “historic Christian consensus on sexuality,” which is centered around the importance of “biological sexuality” (3).
The books has three sections.
Part one—a theological vision for sexuality
Part two—the beauty and brokenness of sexuality
Part three—biblical and historical reflections on gender and sexuality
To summarize each of the fourteen chapters below would be too much, so I’ll comment on a few that stood out to me.
Both Beth Jones and Matthew Mason emphasize that the bodies we have now will be the ones that are resurrected. Our bodies touch the core of our existence. This is why Paul says that the “fornicator sins against the body itself” (1 Cor 6.18). “Sex matters because it goes to the very heart of what it means to be human” (29). We can’t simply change our bodies to the way we think they should be. It is becoming increasingly difficult to say that maleness and femaleness are “created goods” (23). But that’s because we have fallen natures, and it is mistaken to think that the consequences of sin in the now created (dis)order are normal and good. As Mason points out, redemption involves both Christians and the whole created order (137). Our genders are shaped by our culture (e.g., different cultures and different eras have different standards on length of hair, style of dress, mannerisms), but “inscribed in our bodies” is our biological sex (139). Looking at 1 Corinthians 25.38, God has given each of us a body as he has chosen, and our resurrection body will correspond with our earthly body. To undergo reassignment surgery is to say humans—or each individual—are autonomous Creators.
In the same vein, Denny Burk’s “The Transgender Test” acknowledges that we should feel compassion for those who feel like they are living in two worlds, but his main point is the authority of Scripture. It is “nothing less than a shorthand for the authority of God” (91). What if someone has a “female” mind but a “male” body? iIs the Bible insufficient to deal with a situation like this? Popular opinion says God’s word is harmful to those dealing with these issues, but if that isn’t how Jesus tells us to love people, then it’s wrong. If we diminish Scripture’s authority, we’re hurting those we minister to.
Marriage is a “unity-in-difference,” says Wesley Hill (41). It represents the “other-oriented love of the Trinity” (208). The “trinitarian God gives himself in love to the other”—that is, the Son (who is not the Father) and the Holy Spirit (who is neither the son nor the Father). Jesus shares the perspective that marriage is between a man and a woman. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the picture of marriage—the Bridegroom with his Bride. The Christian who has homosexual tendencies cannot marry, but he/she can find love in Christ’s body. Similarly, single people can live well without a spouse, just as the married can live poorly with their own spouse. Within the body of Christ, deep, closely-knit friendships need to be encouraged. For that is how we will all survive.
Both my wife and I thought Daniel Brendsel’s chapter was an odd duck. About half of the chapter was spent talking about the selfie and where it came from. The other half talks about what the selfie portrays—I have a body that I can show off but is somehow separate from me, you can know “me” just through a picture and a paragraph, we are performers who can be someone else to different groups of people. We reap what we so, somehow. He says “we should consider what we as churches have been sowing and watering by way of our cultural practices and postures,” but doesn’t really say what church have been doing or what they should change beyond sharing meals with one another and confessing our sins—growing in our relationships with each other in order to know the real “me.” It wasn’t a bad chapter, it merely seemed out of place from all the rest.
Gerald Hiestand’s chapter took a very good look at the power inequality that exists between male and female. He examines third-wave feminist Camille Paglia’s argument on the relationship between biology and tyranny. Following the argument was difficult, and probably would have been better relayed if he had summarized it (though I understand it was part of his lecture). Also, compared to the other essays, Hiestand’s reads as though he is a PhD candidate. That being the case, men have more physical power, but we are to lay our lives down for our wives, the weaker vessel (1 Pet 3.7), as Christ laid his life down for his bride and continues to serve her.
Finally, Joel Willitt’s essay, “Bent Sexuality and the Pastor,” looks at “the pervasiveness of sexual trauma” and “the denial of our [pastors, specifically, but all people generally] own trauma around sexuality” (119). Being sexually bent comes as a result of a traumatic experience, often in the form of sexual abuse as a child. As a result, people try to survive snd work through it in different ways, often incorrectly (e.g., being paranoid, fatalistic, heroic, and optimistic). It often can lead them to have sexual difficulties (e.g., self-abuse, abusing others, porn addiction, not wanting sex, etc.). Willitts emphasized the difficulty that many go through as to how difficult it is to break through the trauma warfare. It “often… comes in fits and starts; it is the result of a long, painful process; and likely, it will not be completed until Christ’s return” (129).
I’m not sure, though, how to take his ending. Wanting to be careful about his essay, but he mentions having a hard time desiring sex with his wife (due to his childhood abuse), mentions having a porn addiction, but then doesn’t talk about how those two things work together. In the end, Willitts isn’t saying not to fight the trauma. Those who have been abused do need to fight through it with the power of the Spirit and know that they will be free in the resurrection, but the rest of us need to be gracious, empathetic, patient, and long-suffering. His essay gave me the most thought.
Yes, get this book. It is a great resource and will help you to think through these issues that are knocking on our doors. The contributors do not always agree (Mouw seems to have some reservations about how to apply the OT law to homosexuality, while Burk is for using the OT law). But Beauty, Order, and Mystery provided my wife and I with some good talking material, and with some excellent advice when we do face people who feel uncomfortable in their own bodies.
- Series: Center for Pastor Theologians
- Paperback: 250 pages
- Publisher: IVP Academic (October 24, 2017)
- Press Kit available here
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Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.