Tag Archives | sex

Christian Ethics | D. Stephen Long

The cover of Long's Christian EthicsChristian ethics, for some, is an oxymoron. “For some modern persons, the term ‘Christian’ conjures up images of past immoral activities: crusades, the Inquisition, the conquest of the Americas, religious wars, the Galileo affair, defences of slavery and patriarchy” (1). D. Stephen Long argues otherwise. In this very short introduction (135 small pages), Long covers the history of Christian ethics from its pre-Christian roots through two millennia and into the postmodern era.

Long understands Christian ethics in terms of Abraham’s call in Genesis 12. Abraham was called to be different from the world for the sake of the world. Christians are different from the world in that “the community of faith … seeks to embody the life to which God calls” (70). The second part—for the sake of the world—is the more controversial element which has led to all sorts of difficulty. Indeed, “[t]he failure to fulfil this mission was a central cause in Christ’s crucifixion” (70).

There are a number of black marks on Christianity’s ethical history. Still, Long’s brief historical survey demonstrates that the issues were not as black-and-white as some suspect. Indeed, it was mainly Christians who, against fellow Christians, recognized the injustices listed in the first paragraph and sought to change them.

Long completes his short introduction with an application of Christian ethics to some of the major issues of our day, categorized by money, sex, and power.

So what is Christian ethics? It is the pursuit of God’s goodness by people ‘on the way’ to a city not built by human hands. It is not a precise science but the cultivation of practical wisdom that comes from diverse sources. (121)

Christian ethics is a call to develop the sort of wisdom needed to navigate postmodern waters in a Christlike way.

Long, D. Stephen. Christian Ethics: A Very Short Introduction. London: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Counterfeit Gods | Timothy Keller

The cover of Keller's Counterfeit Gods

What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. (xvii)

In Counterfeit Gods, Timothy Keller exposes the big three idols that attempt to subvert God’s role in our lives: Money, Sex, and Power.

This is the second book I’ve read on this theme. One of Richard Foster’s earlier works was originally called, Money, Sex and Power: The Challenge of the Disciplined Life. It’s now known by its subtitle (apparently the original title was too shocking for the ears of Christians living in 1985). I have found Keller’s little book to be just as valuable as Foster’s.

Keller’s greatest strength (among many) is his pastoral insight into human nature. He doesn’t buy the lies we tell ourselves but digs down to root issues. He has counseled enough people to understand the grip that money, sex, and power have in our lives.

In each chapter you’ll find a sermon complete with interesting anecdotes, sound biblical exegesis, and the aforementioned pastoral insight. This is a book worth meditating your way through. After all, it’s only when you “pull your emotions up by the roots” that you find your idols clinging to them (170).

—Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters (New York, NY: Dutton, 2009).

Church, Sex & Alcohol | John Goldingay

The church has . . . often attempted to outlaw both sex and drink, but when it has sought to do so, it has had difficulty in living with Scripture, either with a story about Jesus facilitating drinking at a wedding or with poems about sexual love, which it rendered harmless by means of typology and allegory.

—John Goldingay, Key Questions About Christian Faith, 303.

Adam, Eve, and the Serpent | Elaine Pagels

Adam, Eve, and the Serpent is a baptism into the various debates and controversies that swirled through the first three centuries of Christendom. It’s obvious on every page that Pagels knows the players in the early church (both orthodox and heterodox) like the back of her hand. This book is a popular (but never dumbed-down) distillation of her scholarly work.

The most fascinating aspect of this book was the relationships she drew between three apparently distinct fields: sexual ethics, free will, and politics. Genesis 1-3 was used and abused by theologians and heretic-hunters in their attempt to explain the world. Pagels frees branded heretics like Valentinus and Julian to speak to these fields in their own voice, rather than in the caricatured lampooning of orthodoxy.

I do have problems with Pagels, specifically on her view of the Nag Hammadi documents. She seems to believe that they reflect a tradition as ancient as the canonical gospels. After reading documents like the Gospel of Thomas, I can’t help but understand them as secondary spiritualizations of a life and teaching that were far more concrete. Scholars like N. T. Wright have situated Jesus so firmly in first century Judaism, it seems impossible to believe he was a wandering mystic offering enlightenment.

That said, Pagels is a brilliant and honest historian who should be read by anyone with an interest in early Christianity.

The Snakebite Letters | Peter Kreeft

I’ve read C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters many times, and often wondered why someone didn’t pick up that genre of writing and run with it. Last week while browsing the shelves at Crux Bookstore, I found this little gem from Kreeft: a philosopher I’ve listened to often. Since Kreeft is a C. S. Lewis admirer and biographer with a wicked sense of humor, it seemed like the perfect fit.

If you’ve read Screwtape, you’ll know what to expect: letters from a senior to a junior devil with advice on how best to tempt his assigned human. Kreeft uses this narrative to explore topics like Catholic School, theology, liturgy, and sex. There are a number of brilliant insights here. For example, the connection between Molech and abortion is startling but, in hindsight, obvious. The connection he made between the pleasure a human feels during sex and the corresponding pain a devil feels was also incisive.

The wit did begin to wear on me after a while, though. The repetitious nature of taking something we would assume is good (such as: church attendance, Christian education, etc.) and showing how it can be twisted toward evil became a bit wearisome. I suppose you can blame Snakebite himself for that: hell is essentially boredom.

The other thing that frustrated me was the lack of character development in the person’s life. In Screwtape, Wormwood’s human went through a number of stages in his Christian growth. Kreeft only seemed interested in his polemic towards sex and Christian education.

That said, if you enjoyed Screwtape, read Snakebite. There are a number of terse lines that will make you cringe when you recognize those tendencies creeping into your own life!

This book shines a spotlight on the Devil’s chief maxim: dim the lights.

Sin: From Money to Sex | Margaret Atwood

Atwood’s book on Debt (Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth) is brilliant. Although she infuriates me at times with her glib comments on Christian religion, most of her observations are right-on-the-mark. Here’s one of many:

The recent fundamentalist Christian Church—especially in the American South—has identified sinning largely with sins of the flesh—especially sexual sins—though excessive drinking and drug-taking feature in there as well. The Catholic Church has also been in the sex-as-sin business for quite a long time. Whatever the intent, the effect has been to divert attention from money sins to sexual ones.

She could have went further: in many ways Western Christianity has turned mammon into a demigod.

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