|Call 1-800-951-NEWS (6397) to subscribe today!
Feb. 19, 2000
The Christian Cosmo girl
Christian writer creates a stir with "Sex and the Single Evangelical"By Gene Edward Veith
In the 1960's, Helen Gurley Brown, the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, struck a blow for promiscuity by writing Sex and the Single Girl. Today, Lauren Winner, a senior writer for Christianity Today, strikes a blow for promiscuity in the church by writing "Sex and the Single Evangelical."
Writing in Beliefnet.com-she is Books Editor of this online portal for the smorgasbord of American religions-Miss Winner begins by describing a nice evening among friends. Someone asks her where she and her boyfriend were last night. "Our whereabouts," she writes, "had been a hotel room. A hotel room with a lone king-size bed."
Then Miss Winner recounts the shock expressed by her Christian friend: "'I can't believe you two,' Sarah said.... 'Perhaps you've noticed that the Bible forbids this sort of thing?' ... Sarah glanced my way. 'I suppose that's what you get when you're dealing with the world's favorite evangelical whore.'"
Strong words, but they don't seem to bother Miss Winner, who goes on to say how the church is in denial about how its single evangelicals are having sex. Citing anecdotes, including one about a Wheaton College student losing her virginity in the Billy Graham Center, she calls for churches to be "honest" about this issue. She urges that we study what the Bible actually says about extramarital sex rather than what we assume it says. She doesn't specify what should be taught and does acknowledge the need for accountability. "The problem isn't that Sarah made my sex life her business," she concludes. "It's that her evangelical vocabulary left her with nothing to say but 'whore.'"
The title "Senior Writer for Christianity Today" conjures up images of learned and seasoned Christians such as Carl Henry and James Boice, who wrote for the magazine in its glory years. Elsewhere on the Web, Miss Winner offers her testimony, where we learn that she is only in her 20s and has been a Christian for only two years. Nevertheless, she has been on a career fast track in professional evangelicalism, with her resumé also listing her as writer-in-residence for Christianity Today's sister publication, Books and Culture: A Christian Review. (Note: The latest Christianity Today downgrades her job title on the masthead to "staff writer.")
So what are we to think of "Sex and the Single Evangelical"? Should churches change what they teach about extramarital sex, just because many of their members do not live up to those teachings?
First, behind the various calls for the church to change what it teaches is the assumption that morality and theology are something the church just makes up. If religion and all of its trappings, including its interpretations of the Bible, are just "constructions," as the postmodernists are telling us, then when the church gets into a cultural bind, it only needs to "construct" something different. But if Christianity is, as it has always claimed, a revealed religion-and not something we just make up-then we are stuck with its difficult demands and uncomfortable truths.
As for revisiting what the Bible "actually" says, as opposed to what we have always thought it said, we should keep in mind that many Bible interpreters are adept at making even the clearest statements of Scripture sound ambiguous, and offer readings that-funny thing-end up supporting the liberal cultural agenda. (Test for Bible interpreters: Have you found anything in the Bible that goes against what you want it to be? And, if so, have you changed your beliefs accordingly?)
But Miss Winner's article illustrates ways of thinking that are not just those of "liberal evangelicals" (a phrase that used to be a contradiction in terms). It also exemplifies temptations that even conservative evangelicals sometimes fall into, temptations that are not sexual but theological.
Too often, personal experience is allowed to trump Christian doctrine. Miss Winner wants to have sex with her boyfriend. Never mind the sexual ethics taught by Christians for 2,000 years. Never mind the millennia of biblical teaching before that. That all has to change to accommodate her experience here and now.
Here we also see the uncritical capitulation to the dominant culture, which has always proven a temptation for many Christians. We want to be liked and respected by our non-Christian peers-and we also want the power, prestige, and pleasure that the world offers. Certainly we are living in a sexually permissive culture; so the assumption is that the church needs to be more sexually permissive too. And yet, the Christian mission has always been to transcend-and judge-man's cultural contructs.
The major problem with Miss Winner's article, though, is its tone of self-righteousness. She and her friends are good persons. The church needs to recognize how good she is by changing its standards and its language that might suggest otherwise.
Many evangelical churches, conservative as well as liberal, have forgotten the evangel, the good news of forgiveness in Christ. It's true that those who see themselves not as sinners but as fulfillers of what God demands can become self-righteous. It's also bad for those who recognize that they are not living the Christian life to water down those demands so that they can be more easily handled. This can lead to the exquisite feeling of being self-righteous without actually having to be righteous.
Those who sin need to hear God's law, but just showing them what God commands does not give them the power to obey. (Often, instead, it provokes them to rebel against it, as apparently happened at the Billy Graham Center.) We need to come to repentance. We need to hear about how Jesus took our punishment on the cross and how God counts Christ's perfect righteousness as our own. And to the extent that we grasp that message of free forgiveness, we actually want to follow God's will, not as a set of rules but as a free expression of love.
Perhaps erstwhile evangelicals have assumed that the message of free forgiveness will create moral license. If so, they have lost confidence in what the New Testament says on the subject, which is that holy living grows out of the Holy Spirit working through the gospel.
A truly "evangelical" spirituality will free Christians from a sense of having to follow external rules and regulations-which Miss Winner is rightly recoiling against-without compromising one iota of God's law and in fact intensifying its application. In encouraging the habit of genuine repentance, it makes self-righteousness-liberal or conservative-impossible. And in bringing Christians back again and again to their forgiveness in Christ, it enables them to grow in faith and holiness.
Evangelical churches today are plagued by both legalism and
permissiveness, sinful behavior and ineffective witness, cultural
conformity and cultural ineffectiveness. Pastors, leaders, theologians,
laypeople, and magazine writers need to rediscover what it means to be
|© 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 WORLD Magazine. http://www.worldmag.com/world/meta/contact/|