If You Can Take Passion Out of Sex

Why do you want to keep it in worship?

Garrett Kell explains that sex is not supposed to be all zowie and pizzazz:

God created sex to be a bond between a husband and wife that strengthens over time. Married couples make love on their honeymoon and after a miscarriage. They make love to conceive children and after they bury them. They make love when bodies are healthy and during battles against cancer. As a husband and wife pursue each other through intimate service, sacrifice, and struggle, God blesses them in a way the world can never know. . . .

That doesn’t mean sex is always enjoyable or easy for married couples. Because marriage is the union of an ever-changing and ever-growing pair of fallen people, we can expect that sexual intimacy to have both sweet and sour days and seasons. That is part of God’s wise design.

He has called a man and a woman to be committed to each other and to make love with each other during every season of life. Lovemaking on a honeymoon may be wonderful or awful. Intimate times are shared when buying a new house or burying a parent. It is pursued when God gives conception, and when he withholds it.

So if sex and passion can be ordinary and even sour, why have New Calvinists insisted that worship much be intense, earnest, deeply heart-felt if it is genuine? If married couples have seasons of less and more vibrant sex, Christians may also experience worship that is true and genuine even if all the religious affections aren’t bubbling.

Or maybe it was a mistake in the first place to introduce the language of passion and hedonism into the realm of piety. The Bible invariably uses agrarian imagery to explain the Christian life. Farms and gardens do not produce the intensity or sound of fireworks. Sure, Spring flowers pop (and they last a lot longer than even the best fireworks display). But even the flowers fade. That’s why we need less passion and more routine in worship.

What married couples do in the boudoir is on them (sheesh).

Why I Love My (all about me) Denomination

The Young Restless and Reformed may be surprised to learn that some Reformed Protestants do not consider the young and restless to be very Reformed. They might even be surprised to know that Reformed Protestantism exists outside Desiring God Ministries, The Gospel Coalition, and Acts 29 (but that is another matter). But the Old Settled and Reformed keep tabs on the younger crowd and the reviews are not encouraging.

Brent Ferry is an OPC minister who is not particularly old and since he is a husband and father is fairly settles. But as an avocation he plays drums for a band and has a feel for youth and restlessness. Despite his demographical profile and musical talent, he is not much impressed with the recent Crossway book by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (2010). The recent issue of the OPC’s magazine, New Horizons, has Ferry’s review of Driscoll and Breshears. Here is an excerpt:

Driscoll is sometimes identified as part of evangelicalism’s resurgent Calvinistic movement. Besides puffs and quotes from Reformed authors, however, the book does not reflect the contours of Reformed thought at all.

For example, the authors omit the covenant of works (p. 177). They argue against limited atonement in favor of hypothetical universalism (p. 267). They condition regeneration upon faith and repentance (pp. 317, 436). There is no clear affirmation of unconditional predestination. The book excludes the fourth commandment from the abiding moral law (pp. 198-99), yet has a high view of the Lord’s Day (pp. 381-84). It also contains pictures of Christ (pp. 208, 244). . . .

In short, Doctrine is a hodgepodge of various theological trajectories. When the authors compare Noah’s drunkenness to “a hillbilly redneck on vacation” (p. 184), they reveal the nature of their contextualization project, which is to promote a Christianity that embraces irreverent adolescence. Theologically, this book does does rise above that standard, but not by much.

WWDED? (Defenders of Edwards)

So here I am, a revived Reformed Protestant, sitting in an average Presbyterian worship service and I am not comfortable. Granted, they are singing hymns and so not guilty of that strange insistence on psalm-singing that plagued Calvin and Knox. But these tunes and words just don’t resonate with my soul.

Then there is the long pastoral prayer. I know my good friend at church wishes the pastor would pray the “long” prayer after the service. He seems to think the pastor could apply the sermon better by praying for the needs of the congregation in light of what the sermon covered. My problem is that the prayer is too long and doesn’t use the language I use in my own quiet times. The pastor feels distant from me and the way I approach God.

And the sermon itself is way too long on exposition and short on application and relevance. I get it that we need to enter into the world of the human authors and their audiences. But I have my needs and the pastor really could do a better job of bringing it down to the sort of temptations and problems I face.

But the biggest problem is the lack of emotion and energy in the service. This place is way too laid back. Talk about God’s frozen chosen. This worship needs to go up tempo, with room for the people to express their own feelings of joy, sorrow, gratitude, and praise. Why not let a praise band lead us in more vibrant songs? Why not let members of the congregation pray? And why not have some testimonies? This service is far too remote from my own experience of God and the way I express my trust in him.

So it looks like I’ll be heading down the street to the non-denominational church where the worship is far more compatible with the way I know and love God.

Okay, maybe I don’t have the logic and feelings quite right, but I’d bet that millions of Americans have left Reformed churches precisely with objections like these. And this would-be kvetch illustrates precisely the problem with efforts to balance the subjective and the objective in Reformed piety. When Edwards’ defenders talk about the need for more emotion or love or affections, and they worry about the dangers of formalism, then how do they respond to a believer like this? We are not talking about the ordo salutis. We are not talking about individual experience in relation to effectual calling, or the place of love in sanctified obedience. We are talking about something as basic as Lord’s Day worship: when people get a strong dose of experience, they invariably want that experience affirmed and empowered in worship.

The Old Life answer is – surprise – take the objective highway to true religion: worshipers really should have their private piety conform more to public worship. They should let the nature and cadence of prayers, the exposition of Scripture, and the idiom and content of hymns (preferably psalms) inform the way they express their own devotion, even in the hot and congested confines of their prayer closet.

If we don’t ask church members to conform their personal experience to corporate devotion, they we are walking with the time bomb of charismatic members putting a lid on it in Sunday worship.

And people wonder I stress the objective or why the subjective looks so threatening. Do they have a clue about the worship wars and who won?

The Gates of Hell Won't, But Netflix Might

I have recently been wondering what a dinner that included Tim Keller, John Piper, and Woody Allen might look like. This is not a major stretch since my apologetics paper for John Frame as a junior at Westminster was a dialogue between Woody and Corny (as in Cornelius Van Til). I can imagine that Keller would prepare by watching many of Allen’s movies so that he could present reasons for God. Piper might prepare by finding a way to confront Allen about his affairs with women and his current relationship with the daughter (adopted) of Allen’s ex-lover.

But what is most intriguing in this scenario (to me) is the possible interaction between Keller and Piper. Would the New York pastor feel awkward acknowledging to Piper his knowledge of Allen’s movies and their sexual content? Would Keller even have a glass of wine with the meal? And would Piper restrain some of his words to Allen because of Keller’s interest in reaching New Yorkers? Would Piper recommend that the three diners go to a cheaper restaurant to save money and avoid ostentation?

Piper’s recent remarks about what could break the “Gospel-Centered Movement” apart are partly responsible for these wonders about “Their Dinner with Woody.” As our New England correspondent usefully summarized the Minneapolis pastor’s remarks, five behaviors could undermine the Young Calvinist revival of the awe and majesty of God. They are:

1. The movies we watch
2. Big appetites for beer
3. The lure of pornography
4. The carelessly attended, weekend, default movie
5. Hip-huggers and plunging necklines

Justin Taylor, who posted the clip at his Gospel Coaltion blog, warned about rushing to judge Piper for his implicit judgmentalism. That warning is an indication itself that the Piper’s words could easily be misinterpreted and twisted, such as the idea that pornography and beer are equally threatening to holiness. But even with Taylor’s warning in mind, three anomalies haunt Piper’s remarks and Taylor’s publicizing of them.

First, Piper is clear that the majesty of God is at the heart of genuine Christian piety. Piper says around 2:30 of the clip that he is concerned about the disconnect between the majesty of God sung about in contemporary Christian music (I suppose much of it coming from Sovereign Grace sources), “that causes people to soar with an emotional euphoria about the greatness of God and the wires of the details of our practical daily lives.” That way of putting it implies that the problem is not simply the disconnect between the holiness of God and the sinfulness of his saints, but also the difference between an evangelical-styled beatific vision of God and human life on planet earth. Now Piper does go on to contrast holiness and wickedness. But he started that set of contrasts with one between a spiritual high of experiencing God’s majesty and the low of living with the ordinary aspects of human existence, an existence that even after the fall is not inherently wicked.

What makes this point potentially faulty – that is, the contrast between “desiring God” and “living an earthly existence” – is that the Bible itself does not necessarily cultivate an appetite for the kind of experience lauded by Piper. The saints of the Old Testament were not the most virtuous; not even the great King David could keep his hormones in the Bible. And yet God not only chose to include these strange bits of ancient near eastern culture in Scripture, but also to reveal himself and his salvation through them. Mind you, David is not an example of Christian living. But neither did the final editors of holy writ (whether Israelite redactors or the Holy Trinity) decide to remove him from the canon for fear of distracting believers from a vision and experience of the supremacy of God. Even in the New Testament, the stories of Jesus do not end with him leaving lasting impressions on people who in turn go off in search of soul-wrenching encounters with divine majesty. Instead, the gospels are filled with earthy stories about real life encounters between people who lived in ordinary circumstances under not so savory rulers and earthly powers. In which case, I wonder if Piper’s desire for God cultivates an appetite that even Scripture cannot fulfill because the contents of the Bible are more like Woody Allen’s movies than the worship songs Piper admires.

Second, I wonder if Piper’s concerns about beer and movies make the saints at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City uncomfortable. As reported in the Nicotine Theological Journal (July 2008), Redeemer Church has sponsored an adult version of Vacation Bible School that featured courses in wine tasting, New York Yankees baseball, and even Wagner’s operas. I myself am not sure why a church needs to sponsor such forms of continuing education. But Redeemer and Keller are on record about wanting to cultivate the arts and culture, which is why Keller would likely gear up for and enjoy a dinner with Woody Allen. That also means that the saints at Redeemer church would not necessarily be comfortable with the cultural horizons of the Gospel Coalition if Piper were in charge of setting its event calendar. That also means that culture, engaging it, transforming it, and redeeming it, is a potentially divisive topic for two of the top allies in the Gospel Coalition. In which case, it’s not hip huggers or plunging necklines but rival forms of experimental Calvinism that could split the Gospel Coalition portion of the Gospel-Centered movement.

Third, I wonder why beer, movies, or piety would be more divisive for gospel believers than the sacraments. I may sound like a broken record, but the Gospel Coalition is comprised at least of Baptists and Presbyterians. Some of the Coalition’s Baptists have even said that the practice of infant baptism is a sin. This reaction to differences over baptism seem to be much more honorable and honest than simply ignoring the teachings and practices of the communions from which the Co-Allies come for the sake of a gospel-centered movement. After all, Lutherans and Reformed Protestants are in different communions precisely because Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli believed that a Gospel-Centered movement like the Reformation extended to the means of grace, those very ordinances by which God confirms and seals the gospel.

Piper’s remarks are several years old and so passed without breaking up the Gospel Coalition. But they do suggest that the Coalition’s unity could unravel as quickly as the Dude can mix a Caucasian or in the time it takes young Calvinists to discover the delights of the Coen Brothers.