Another Way? Some Reflections on Whether Both Mahaney and the Puritans Have Overshot the Mark.
One of the incredibly exciting things I find about the world of blogging is that a random comment or link can lead to a thought process that can be so important. I am incredibly grateful to Dave Bish (aka the Bluefish) who commented on my review of C J Mahaney's sermon to the Desiring God conference - and in particular his view of the Song of Solomon that I wasn't happy with. He pointed me to a sermon on the excellent site he helps co-edit and write concerning this very topic. The essay is by Andrew Jones, pastor of Grace Church, Hackney (I haven't encountered this guy before) and it was a series presented to young people. If you haven't got the time to read it ... then make time. And if you really really haven't got the time - here's a brief overview with some reflections of mine at the end.
The Joy of Sex - Song of Songs
What the Song of Songs is not ...
a. an allegory of the relationship between Christ and his church which leads to a selective ‘eroticising’ of the relationship (or the historical view I mentioned).
- The SOS appears to be primarily about sex.
- There are no generic indicators within the text to suggest that it is an allegory.
b. a detailed sex and marriage manual outlining appropriate behaviour for every stage of a romantic relationship (or Mahaney's view).
- Various commentators place their marriage at different points in the book Chapter 4 or chapter 8 are the usual candidates. Often they would have to tie themselves in knots because the lovers appear to be behaving in a way which is inappropriate to their stage of relationship.
- Sexual union within marriage is a reflection of God’s relationship with his people which ultimately results in spiritual union with Christ
What the Song of Songs is - A Third View.
"The biblical-theological approach I adopt delivers the reader from the unhelpful ‘selective eroticism’ of the allegorical approach whilst retaining the passion and intimacy of the church’s relationship to Christ".
- Sexual desire points beyond itself to a final consummation (Matthew 22:29-33, Revelation 19:7-9, 21:2).
- Sex is a sign to a great and final consummation between Christ and all his people whether they have been single of married in this world.
So ... My Reflections.
If Sex is A Reflection then ...
a) The Song of Songs becomes relevant for Single People.
One of my more pragmatic problems with C J Mahaney's sermon was that he leaves no room for single people to use and benefit from this book of the Bible. This to me does not fit in with the New Testament promise that; "ALL Scripture is profitable". I do not see how one book or a section of a book can be rendered irrelevant. If Andrew Jones is correct and 'Sex is a Reflection' then I am left quite hopeful and excited. I am single at present and have always felt like the kid with no invite to the party. Particularly when married couples at the conference got the Mahaney's and single men got Mark Dever telling them "you can't do it". I know that!
But if sex is pointing to Something - to a pure, intense, passionate relationship with God Himself, then there is hope! And it is useful to realise that Christian marriage was never intended to be the 'be all and end all' but a gateway.
b) Perversions become more Awful.
I believe the evangelical world is in trouble in how to deal with particularly homosexuality in its ranks. We have seen key figures 'give up' and cross over and begin arguing that it is 'okay'. We have also seen conservative ranks refuse to even discuss it as an 'unmentionable sin'. That has certainly been my experience - the only conservative group I have encountered in evangelicalism that holds to the truth that celibacy is the only answer. There is no suggestion of a Piper-eque "dancing away from sin" in the light of a greater joy. So in the present climate, quite frankly my temptation is to fold and throw in the towel.
Yet this article has re-stimulated a fresh horror at the sin I am tempted in. It is not a case of God being a "kill-joy". It is a case of a marring of the most beautiful, most exquisite picture ever - of Christ and His Bride. That's why it becomes awful! "Not because I have broken a law, but because I have broken a heart - God's heart - the Lover of my soul's heart" (that is an indirect quote from something Terry Virgo said in his address to the Brighton conference).
c) Marriage Becomes More Sacred.
I hate wedding days. I guess if I'm honest it's because every time I see a bride walk up an aisle to meet her bridegroom, it's another reminder that (to quote Cher's famous song) "I sleep ALONE!". And live alone. And eat alone. And think alone. And laugh and cry alone. So I must confess that my attitude to marriage or more particularly the wedding day has become progressively worse over the last few years. It hasn't been helped by hearing a sermon by Al Mohler telling Christian men to stop being lazy and just get on and get married!
However this article stops me short. If sex is a reflection of something far deeper and far more exciting, passionate, powerful - AND if sex can only happen within the confines of marriage then that tells me that marriage and sex within it is an extremely sacred thing. Could it be taking it too far to say that God wants to teach Christian married couples about the relationship they have with Him through sex within marriage? I don't think so.
d) The Cross Becomes More Powerful.
See this is where my 2 years of SGM experience comes shining through! John Stott wrote that if the Cross was so so awful, then our sins that drove the Saviour to the Cross must be far far worse. So in regard to sexual sin, it must be seen that deviation from the pattern that God has set out so clearly in His Law is EXTREMELY serious. So serious that Christ had to die for it. I do realise that statement grates with some views of the atonement but that is simply the way I see it.
Our sin is serious. Sexual sin - one night stands - immoral relationships - lust carry the penalty of death! So what Christ did is even more glorious. His substitutionary death and more importantly His vindicating resurrection and ascension means that "God the Just is satisfied to look on Him and pardon me!".
e) Heaven Becomes More Enticing!
Whether you agree with C J Mahaney or you don't - whether you agree with the Puritan/Historical view or you don't - you have to admit that the language in the Song of Songs is POWERFUL!! Powerfully intimate, powerfully passionate. And as there will be no more sex in heaven (so my pastor told me!) that suggests that the uninhibited relationship that we will have with God will be all-consuming. And that is something that married people and single people - young and old can look forward to with excitement. That we will see Him as He is!!
So once again - many many thanks to Dave Bish for this link. It has been absolutely exhilarating to consider, think, argue with and come to the reflections that I have and to have some of the gaps that the historical view left filled and to come to appreciate and claim the beautiful Song of Songs for my own - even though I'm not married!