he notion that evangelicals are naïve and squeamish about sex and don't discuss it openly enough is a myth. Evangelical sex manuals have been all the rage as long as I have been a believer, going back to the early 1970s. You had Marabel Morgan's The Total Woman in 1972, which generated tons of evangelical sex-talk. (Marabel was known for—among other things—a kinky suggestion involving the use of Saran Wrap as a dressing gown.) You had Ed Wheat's book Intended for Pleasure: Sex Technique and Sexual Fulfillment just five years later. It has sold multiple millions of copies. Even Tim Lahaye wrote a surprisingly candid sex manual, The Act of Marriage in the mid-1970s. Having sold more than two and a half million copies, that book is still in print.
Yet evangelicals have been complaining for decades that we don't talk enough or hear enough teaching about sex. From the point of view of many non-evangelicals, sex is about the only thing evangelicals have demonstrated a serious and sustained interest in for the past 40 years. As early as 1977, Martin Marty, a liberal religious scholar, referred to the trend as "Fundies in their Undies."
So the premise that evangelical churches are in desperate need of more and more explicit instruction on sex techniques is a risible falsehood.
But evangelical leaders who aspire to be at the vanguard in this trend have to keep looking for even kinkier ways to contextualize their Kama Sutras and spice up their "sexperimentation." Ed Young, Jr., for instance, announced this weekend that he and his wife "will spend 24 hours in bed on the church roof next week and stream themselves live on the Internet to encourage married couples to see firsthand the power of a healthy sex life."
I doubt any regular TeamPyro reader (including some of our longtime critics) would think us too censorious for saying that's a profane and shameful way to deal with a sacred subject.
But aside from the different ways they contextualize their sex-talks for their respective audiences, how is Young's preoccupation with sex as a sermon topic substantially different from Driscoll's? Both men have done multiple sermon series on the subject. Both have suggested that evangelicals' opinions on sex are shot full of taboos and naïveté that need to be demolished, while showing little respect for any of the classic principles of propriety, protocol, and decorum that are worth safeguarding. Both have a puerile obsession with lurid terms and topics. Both have at times used off-color, bawdy, indelicate words and anecdotes in their public presentations. Both like to give details of their own sex lives.
In short, both Young and Driscoll come across as exhibitionists. In one of Young's earlier sex series, he famously taught from a bed on the church platform. In order to top that, he's now moving the bed to the church roof, where he'll teach by webcam. What could be more exhibitionistic than that?
But if Driscoll's exhibitionism is less ambitious than Young's, Driscoll's approach nevertheless seems darker. He reveals dishonorable and scandalous details about private aspects of his relationship with his wife, her sin, and their sex lives. He does this in a way that elevates him to new heights of mysticism and authority, portraying himself as a prophet and seer entrusted with the ability to see others' sin as if on a movie screen—or so he claims. (Why do his revelatory dreams always feature sexual sin or some violent act involving physical abuse of women? Why do Driscoll's dreams and visions never seem to expose white-collar criminals—tax cheats, embezzlers, or religious hypocrites?)
If you ask me (and some readers have), Mark Driscoll fails to safeguard his wife's honor and reputation. He uncovers her sin for all the world to analyze, giving intimate details that should have been kept between husband and wife. In the process, Driscoll portrays himself first as victim, then as hero. In the words of Todd Friel: "Not a manly thing to do." Oh, sure: he admits a personal fault of his own here and there—but readers are left with the distinct impression that the problems that plagued the Driscolls' marriage for more than a decade stemmed mainly from Grace Driscoll's sin and subsequent cover-up.
Driscoll and his book's endorsers refer to Driscoll's tell-all approach as "transparency"—as if it were an utterly benign and wonderfully humble thing. But given Driscoll's history and swagger, it's hard to see it as anything other than carnal exhibitionism. And someday the Driscoll children will grow up and read their father's account of their mother's fornication.
I know some will dismiss my scruples about such things as outmoded Victorian values. But when it comes to the intimacy of the marriage bed, a strong sense of biblical propriety has governed Christian discourse about these matters from the time of the apostles till now. Name one Christian leader from Pentecost until 2005 who ever made public as much detail about his sex life as we have heard in the past three years from Mark Driscoll and Ed Young, Jr. about theirs.
This trend toward increasingly explicit sex-talk and more deviant practices is a bad one for the church. The ease and speed with which evangelicals have embraced the trend is troubling. Just a couple of decades ago (and in every era of church history prior to that), shenanigans like Ed Young's rooftop exhibition would have been roundly and universally condemned by evangelical leaders. The silence (or weak, accommodating response) of most Christian leaders today in the face of such an obvious sea-change is deeply troubling.
It's yet another sign of evangelicalism's growing conformity to worldly values and worldly behavior. The various evangelical coalitions and young Reformed movements that looked so encouraging five years ago have done more to encourage and enable this kind of exhibitionism than to challenge it. These things ought not to be.
How bad will it have to get before true leaders in the church and in the various gospel-centered movements find their voices and start calling the church—and some of these out-of-control exhibitionist preachers—to repentance? I for one hope we get an answer to that question before very long. I pray for it every day.
PS: Read Carl Trueman on Ephesians 5:12 for a helpful addendum to this post.
1. Speaking as a member of TeamPyro, it's especially annoying that The World-Tilting Gospel, has been deliberately ignored in some of the very same venues where Driscoll's book has been treated as hugely important.