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We’ve lived so long in a hyper-sexualized culture that we no longer recognize its hyper-ness. What was once shocking and offense has become “entertainment” and mainstream. One sad consequence is an accompanying loss of beauty in sexual things. With loss of beauty comes also a loss of worship. Not the worship of the thing itself (sex); there’s plenty of sacrifice and prostration at the altar of raw, pagan intercourse. No, there’s the loss of the worship of God who created sex and gives it its ultimate meaning. Losing worship also means losing inspiration. So few truly great ballads are written anymore. Lovers rarely write poetry anymore. When’s the last time a suitor painted a portrait of his beloved? The inordinate exaltation of the act robs the actor of the noble faculties of imagination, creativity, spiritual perception and worship.

Sex is meant to beget artistry, not just children.

When it comes to sex Christians can be among the most act-centered and least worshipful. We can fall into docetic notions of the body’s corruption and fail to recognize the solidity and artistry God himself has given to the body–and to sex. I’m reminded of all this by a brief aside Francis Schaeffer makes when commenting on the Song of Solomon. He writes:

How often do Christians think of sexual matters as something second-rate. Never, never, never should we do so according to the Word of God. The whole man is made to love God; each aspect of man’s nature is to be given its proper place. That includes the sexual relationship, that tremendous relationship of one man to one woman. At the very beginning God brought Eve to man. A love poem can thus be beautiful. So if you are a young man or a young woman and you love a girl or you love a boy, you may indeed write beautiful love poetry. Don’t be afraid. That too can be praise to God. And when the two people are Christians it can be a conscious doxology (Art and the Bible).

“When the two people are Christians it can be a conscious doxology.” If all of life is worship, we ought not box up our romantic lives and sit them in the garage. That part of our lives belongs to the realm of praise, too. “The whole man is made to love God”–including the sexual man. The whole man is made to live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ–including the sexual man. That means Christ not only rules our sexual lives but that we also offer up our sexual lives as beautiful artistry, as worship.

One sad irony of our times (of all times really) is that the artist class has taken all the art out of human sexuality. I’m thinking here  mainly of cinematic arts and music, but it’s probably as true in other areas. Not since the pottery scene of “Ghost” or the poetry of “Love Jones” has art even been associated with romance. The link is mostly severed. So, here’s another place where the Christian life takes on redemptive meaning and promise. For if we presented a sanctified imagination in sexual matters, the world might be touched in the most intimate human act with the beauty of holiness in the worship of God.

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11 thoughts on “The Artistry of Sex Forgotten in the World”

  1. george canady says:

    I have a feeling that the best sex we never heard/hear about was/is between a husband, a wife, and their God.

  2. Steve Burdan says:

    Interesting article, but does the writer contribute to promoting a concept of sex that puts another coat of varnish on the idol of Romance? The idea of “sexual artistry” seems more a reflection of the modern “worldview” than a balanced perspective from Scripture – more a reading into than a reading out of? Putting “sanctified sex” on such a pedestal does a disservice to all the singles – never married, etc. out in the church and world…so it seems.

    1. Philippa says:

      The Song of Songs is full of ‘sanctified sex’ and ‘sexual artistry’. Sex as God intended. It is difficult to read the beautiful and pure eroticism of the Song without concluding that God thoroughly approves of romance between a man and his bride! Thank God for the frankness and purity of the Song of Songs.

      This life-long singleton has no problem with people lauding ‘sanctified sex’ in the right context. I don’t mean that I would tolerate sitting through a Mark Driscoll type sermon lauding, in graphic detail, the delights of marital sex – THAT would certainly not be helpful for a Christian single, and would almost seem like taunting.

      But I love this post. It nails the spiritual barren-ness of our culture that has made sex a god. The challenge for me is to surrender my sexuality to God and also celebrate that same sexuality as a celibate woman. Because we celibates are sexual, too.

      1. Steve Burdan says:

        Good post, I agree that secular culture has always made sex into a god, but I think some in the Church have also made it an idol, along with marriage and family. I’m certainly not again marriage and family, but context is crucial and these categories were never meant as mandates for believers. Marriage and Family are not eternal institutions in the way the Church is…

        I also don’t see SoS as a paean or manual for “sanctified sex” as many see it today – Scripture never promotes it as a sacrament, as some see it today. The Church, and Jewish culture, have interpreted it in many different ways – plus the primary characters are not married in the narrative… If seen as a real “love story” then the characters are just a randy man and woman who can’t wait to have “jungle sex.”

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  4. Thabiti says:

    Hi Steve and Philippa,

    Thanks for dropping by and joining the conversation. I appreciate you all taking the time to leave thoughtful comments. Let me jump in with just a couple brief thoughts.

    First, I don’t think this post or “sanctified sex” needs to be seen as somehow hurting or not serving people who are not yet married. I agree with Philippa. Context matters and it seems to me Christians need to brush off the dirt that covers sex in the culture and in the hands of some preachers. It seems to me discussions of “sanctified sex” is the only kind of discussion of sex that in fact serves us all–whether single or married.

    Second, Song of Solomon, as you indicate Steve, is a book rife with rival interpretations. For my part, I do not think it’s an allegory. Nor do I think it’s a “sex manual.” I do think it’s a celebration of sanctified intimacy. I agree with John MacArthur when he says the writer writes about the most intimate things in the most restrained and poetic way possible. Whenever people see it as “jungle sex” (a phrase I hope you’ll reconsider and avoid) they’re importing their own carnal assumptions about the poetic language in the song. If there’s any book in the Bible where we have to work extra hard to be aware of our worldly assumptions it’s probably Song of Solomon.

    In case it interests, here’s my sermon series through the book: I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun preaching a book than this one! You’ll have to forgive my dreadful singing :-).

    Grace and peace,

    1. Steve Burdan says:

      Thanks for the note and input! Some additional thoughts:

      Again, I can’t accept the category of “sanctified sex,” any more than “sanctified” anything – people become sanctified (sinning less, closer to God) through the lifelong work of the Spirit – but the concept of “sanctified” as a kind of special spiritual coating for certain actions is preserved more in the high-church traditions and ancient Temple worship.

      Not sure what needs further discussion about sex, except to avoid sinful expressions of it – fornication, adultery, masturbation and pornography to name the big names… Parents certainly should be prepared for in-home sex education and orientation – but I don’t think a major topic for preaching…

      Sorry about my word choice and phrasing – did not mean to offend you. Sometimes, though, some in the Marital-Industrial Complex in the Amer. Evan. like to promote their conferences with the promise of “crazy sex” for those who apply their particular take on SoS, pace MacArthur and most Evan. preachers…

      Maybe SoS is like the End Times passages in that the culture interprets through filter of current issues rather than the real purpose – but ultimately there are “mysterious” parts of Scripture which can’t be absolutely defined and explained as most other parts can be….

      Just some thoughts…

      1. Thabiti says:

        Hi Steve,

        I think you’re using the term “sanctified” in a completely different way than I am. When I say “sanctified” I mean, in part, what you write in your second paragraph, “avoid sinful expressions… fornication, adultery, masturbation and porgnography….” That’s the negative side, if you will. Positively, I mean we need to offer this part of our lives as worship to God like we need to offer every other part of our lives as worship (1 Cor. 10:31, for ex.). Sex should be “set apart” or “sanctified” for enjoyment as God intended it. I’m not holding anything resembling a “special spiritual coating,” or whatever you have in mind there.

        Thanks for your thoughts. Grace and peace,

        1. Steve Burdan says:

          Got it – thanks for the clarification! Sorry for misunderstanding – still getting used to blog comment dynamics…

          I guess I see sanctification as that process where the Spirit is teaching and empowering disciplines in our lives for avoiding or rejecting a sinful choice. The set-apart concept seems to be another use of the concept – maybe parallel with the OT setting something apart for the Lord’s use, whether sacrifice, Temple vessels or even a person…

          Or maybe the two concepts are knit together – where sanctification is both process and self-discipline. And then maybe sex should be seen as an activity “reserved” for the marriage bed in the same way as food and drink should be enjoyed, and gluttony and drunkenness avoided. Excesses or “coloring outside the lines” is to be rejected and avoided…

          Thanks again for starting the conversation!

  5. laura says:

    I can say that when people grasp and believe in “fairness” as solution to man’s problems……feminism (birth control and equal pay) brews and then decline arrives in the culture.

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Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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