When Jon Acuff writes about sex, people pay attention.
Actually, that’s not quite right. When anyone writes about sex, people pay attention.
It’s impossible not to. Even though we’ve probably heard everything there is to say about the matter, we simply can’t stop. [Insert your own joke here.]
Last week, he took on some of the faulty ways that evangelicals approach sex. He identifies four problems:
1. Sometimes, we teach guilt, not abstinence.
2. We have very few ways to discuss it.
3. We write 10 books about lust for every one book about the gift of sex.
4. We’ve made the crayon box pretty small.
Those first two are right on the money. It’s three and four I want to question.
I’ll deal with the fourth in a sentence: there is empirical evidence that church-going evangelicals have more sex, and more satisfying sex, than secular counterparts.*
As for number three, the case is a little more sophisticated to make, but I think Acuff is simply too hard on evangelical publishers. While Every Man’s Battle was a cultural phenomenon, it was so because of its uniqueness. I can’t think of anything that approached the issue with a similar level of success, especially among my parent’s generation. (Readers?)
But let’s get more specific: There were, in fact, no less than 13 Christian sex manuals (and probably more) published between 1972 and 1981, right when our parents were having us. Of course, thinking that through requires thinking about our parents having sex. And that would be gross. Right?
But I digress.
A glance through those manuals and we find, well, the sort of language that Jon wants in #4: sex promises us “rapture,” “bliss,” “ecstasy,” and “powerful transcendence.” They are pretty much all about painting with every crayon in the box, and not drawing any lines that aren’t explicit in Scripture.
That tradition has kept up into our own era. A Celebration of Sex, Sheet Music, and other sex manuals promise nothing but thrills and delights in the marriage bed. We’re so self-conscious about the issue that Josh Harris bent over backward to make sure it was abundantly clear that Sex is Not the Problem (Lust Is).
Which means I suspect the reality is closer to the inverse Jon mentions. Even the younger evangelical obsession with lust and its problems betrays a fascination with sex, a fascination that we back up in the books evangelicals write. And judging from the list of Amazon bestsellers in the category, the books we buy, too.
That isn’t to say that evangelical views of sex are rosy. They’re not. Most of the titles listed here loosely mention the Bible up front to talk about how amazing sex is, and then move right into the equivalent of secular sex manuals that are designed to improve sexual technique. At bottom, evangelicals need a more thorough, robust anthropology of sex that takes into account special revelation, something on par with John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
If it’s electric sex that we want, we need to make sure it’s on the proper foundation.
*See “Christian Women Have More Fun,” by Diane Richard. Contemporary Sexuality; Jun 2000, Vol. 34 Issue 6, p1, 2p