On those rare occasions when the church does speak about sex, it is almost invariably a message on the evils and ills associated with it. Premarital sex is bad. Adulterous sex is wrong. Homosexuality is evil. While most Christians might agree with these premises, to stop there is to fall far short of teaching all the Bible has to say on sex. While there have been some note-worthy books published on the Christian perspective of sex in recent years, most seem to have been influenced more by western culture and current trends in relationship counseling than the Bible. This is why Sex and the Supremacy of Christ fills a much needed void in for both the church and our society.
This book features several contributing authors including notables John Piper, Mark Dever, Justin Taylor, C.J. and Carolyn Mahaney, Albert Mohler, and several others. Each contributes a chapter or two on a different aspect of the Biblical worldview of sex.
John Piper authors the first two chapters exploring the two main premises of the book: 1) sexuality is designed by God as a way to know God in Christ more fully; and 2) knowing God in Christ more fully is designed as a way of guarding and guiding our sexuality. Or, when stated negatively, all misuses of our sexuality distort the true knowledge of Christ and all misuses of our sexuality derive from not having the true knowledge of Christ. Drawing from the Old Testament books of Hosea and Ezekiel, Piper shows us beautiful descriptions from Scripture where Israel, or the church, is compared to the bride and Christ to the bridegroom. Piper goes on to illustrate that God "brought us out of death to life and from darkness to light" by choosing to save us, or marry us, when we were desolate, naked, and helpless. He made a covenant with His people that He never broke though we are the picture of an adulterous wife time after time.
Ben Patterson writes the final chapter of the first section on "The Goodness of Sex and the Glory of God." Using ample illustrations from Scripture and by quoting from the likes of C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, Patterson reminds us that God made sex to be both pleasurable and good. He concludes that the Bible is a book about marriage and sex and supports this with five statements: 1) in the beginning of the Bible there is a marriage (Gen. 2:23-25); 2) at the very end of the Bible there is a marriage (Rev. 19:6-7, 9; 21:2); 3) central themes from the Bible are emphasized and reinforced with marriage metaphors (i.e. Hosea's marriage is a picture of God's marriage to Israel, Jesus saying He is the bridegroom to His people, and Paul using marriage as a demonstration of God's marriage to His people); 4) the sexual, in the Bible, is a chief arena of the brokenness of sin - and therefore occupies an important place among the things Christ came to redeem (Gen. 3:16, Rom. 1:21-24); and 5) tucked away in the Bible is the gem of all collections of songs on sex and marriage, the Song of Solomon.
The second section of Sex and the Supremacy of Christ deals with sex and sin. Here David Powlison has written one of the best pieces about dealing with the brokenness of sexual sin that I have ever read. As he writes, his chapter is "about making new, about the long restoring of joys to the broken and dirtied." In the chapter, he deals with several different kinds of sexual sin including pornography, adultery and premarital sex. More importantly, though, he addresses the guilt that often accompanies sexual sin and shows that no matter what sin we might fall into, our relationship with Christ can always be restored.
The other chapter in this section, entitled "Homosexual Marriage as a Challenge to the Church: Biblical and Cultural Reflections" was written by Albert Mohler, the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Understanding the Christian's duty to compassionately tell the truth, Mohler states that Christians cannot begin a conversation about homosexual marriage by talking about homosexual marriage, obviously referring to the deeper problems underlining the fact that homosexual marriage is even being considered by our society.
The next four chapters are written for more specific audiences though I gleaned information and learned from all of them. One chapter each is devoted to single men, married men, single women, and married women.
In "Sex and the Single Man", co-authors Mark Dever, Michael Lawrence, Matt Schmucker, and Scott Croft deal with sensitive topics like masturbation in a straight-forward and Biblical manner. They also probe whether an increasing commitment legitimizes increasing levels of physical intimacy before marriage. They conclude that it does not and then give four reasons why there should not be any physical intimacy between any man and woman who are not married. While I have previously heard arguments calling for abstaining from all levels of physical intimacy before marriage, I always found them lacking in Biblical support and sound theology. Not so here. For the first time I am considering the idea that a Biblical approach to dating and courtship would be to keep from all physical aspects of a relationship until after one is married. The chapter concludes by defining courtship and dating and examining the differences between them.
The next chapter, "Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Husband Needs to Know" is authored by C.J. Mahaney. Its content is drawn from his book of the same name, Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Husband Needs to Know. Mahaney begins by glancing at passages from the Song of Solomon and looking at the poetic way in which the couple's relationship is discussed. Here Mahaney makes a few good observations. He notes that the descriptions in Song of Solomon are never crude or clinical, but still manage to discuss the provocative and intimate. He also states that this book in the Bible is "not about the act of sexual intercourse. Rather, it is about the remarkable nature of the couple's overall relationship - in all its romance, yearning, desire, sensuality, passion, and eroticism." After looking at the theological lessons of Song of Solomon, Mahaney then successfully attempts to practically apply its lesson to the modern marriage relationship. He does this by dispensing advice concerning date nights, gift giving, getaways, surprises, phone calls, and emails to one's wife.
Carolyn Mahaney, C.J.'s wife, writes the next chapter for wives, taken from her book, Feminine Appeal. In "Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Wife Needs to Know," Carolyn makes it clear that sex is a gift from God for women too. Like her husband, she turned to the Song of Solomon and found five "be's" from the book that Christian wives should apply to their marital sex lives: 1) be attractive; 2) be available; 3) be anticipatory; 4) be aggressive; and 5) be adventurous. Most of the writers in this book used humor where appropriate, but Carolyn probably best utilized it, as she peppered many of her points with humorous anecdotes.
One such account concerned a young mother who approached Carolyn for advice, saying that she had little time for her husband now that she had kids. The young mother relayed that before her and her husband had children she had plenty of time to keep a clean house, cook gourmet dinners, and make love to her husband but that now there was little time for such activities. The young mother wanted to make her husband a priority, but did not know how to with so much on her plate. Carolyn replied, "Honey, fix your husband a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner and give him great sex after dinner, and he will feel prized by you!"
The next section of the book is actually about history and sex, and includes a chapter by Justin Taylor on "Martin Luther's Reform of Marriage" and Mark Dever's chapter entitled "The Puritans on Sex." Many Christians understand Luther's important contributions to Protestant Christian theology including justification by faith alone and Christian freedom. What we often overlook, myself included, is the significant contribution Luther added to the doctrine of marriage. Taylor does a good job here of describing the times Luther lived in - a time when the Catholic Church emphasized sex for the purpose of procreation only and did not allow its clergy to be married and thus enjoy normal sexual relations. Luther, by contrast, understood God created us as sexual beings and needed the healthy outlet of marriage to exercise these urges and desires. Taylor also gives a brief look at Luther's friendship and eventual marriage to Katherine von Bora, a former nun, as well as an interesting look at their home life after their marriage.
In the last chapter of the book, Mark Dever looks at what the Puritans wrote and said about sex and dispels some of the commonly held assumptions on the prudishness of the Puritans. While quoting from several different Puritan preachers and writers, Dever mostly looks to Richard Baxter and John Flavel for Puritanical opinions on sex. Dever also noted that, while the Roman Catholic Church emphasized sex and marriage for the purpose of procreation, and Luther accentuated marriage for the purpose of not falling into sexual sin, the Puritans highlighted marriage for its companionship.
It is rare to find a Christian book dealing straight-forwardly and honestly with the reality of sex and intimacy in today's world. It is also rare to read a modern Christian book that combines deep, sound theology with good practical applications. To find both in the same book is a marvel. I doubt if there is a more relevant message that the church and, by extension, the world, needs to hear today than a clear and straight-forward presentation of the Biblical view of sex and marriage.