Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tim Keller on the Meaning of the Sex Act in Marriage: A Virtual Dialogue with Shirley Taylor Part I

Spiritual Sounding Board (SSB) just cross-posted my weekend commentary on Anna Duggar and the scapegoating that "spread your legs theology" doles out to women.    Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd swiftly proved my thesis on Sunday.

I read that the Dugggars "identify" with Floyd's church where their daughter Jill married, though I understand that they often choose to worship at home as well.  By the time that the church deleted the online podcast of Floyd's sermon, the lion's share of the material had been reproduced by a host of journalists and bloggers, noting the manner in which their religion blames wives for adulterous husbands.  I guarantee that within the Gothard system specifically, the condemnation proves far more scathing.  The SBC as a whole isn't quite as miserable about such matters.

And as an aside, I was happy to learn that Anna Duggar's brother offered to take Anna and her children with Josh in and would support them, should Anna choose to separate.  Or something to that effect.

What turned out to be the middle of the night for me, a person commenting under the SSB reposting inquired about the specifics of statements made by Tim Keller that I found rather salacious, and in light of the drama over the past two years or so in the Duggaresque world, I didn't feel all that hesitant use equally salacious terms to define the gender theology.  With permission, I quoted Shirley Taylor's private comments to me a few years ago, qualifying Keller's belief system little more than a theology of sexism which reduces women to creatures of lesser essence and purpose.  I believe that it is helpful to note that Shirley Taylor reached the status of septuagenarian a year or so ago.  I can imagine that her critics have characterized us both as young, foaming at the mouth man-haters.  She a loving wife, mom, grandmom and still works as a church secretary.  She even does home canning.  (And I turn 50 next year.)

Questions about Tim Keller

A polite person posted a response, asking for specifics about what Tim Keller had to say about marriage, as I am probably more disappointed in him and in D.A. Carson than all of the rest of those involved with this ideology.  Because the issue that I believe Keller gets very wrong is so central to the central message of Christianity, I will post the quotes and my response in at least two blog posts.  Shirley and I have discussed these matters many times in conversation, but I would also like to highlight her statements about these same matters from her book.  (She's currently revising it and has written two more books since its publication.)  I noted at the SSB blog that I didn't want to give Keller's statements a platform of legitimacy without my own responses to them as well.  To me, it's like handing out cookies laced with rat poison, and I don't feel comfortable doing so.

There are several things in the Sex and Marriage chapter in Tim Keller's marriage book that give me pause, and not because I am prudish.  I've been a nurse for 29 years, and I worked in hospital urology for two years when I first graduated.  I don't agree with many things that Keller postulates in that chapter, but it's a free country and I disagree with plenty of people on the planet, including fellow Christians.  I will limit my comments to those matters with serious doctrinal implications and that which I see as inappropriate in terms of what Scripture actually says.

I'll keep this blog post limited to this series of quotes from the Sex and Marriage chapter in The Meaning of Marriage:
 “Sex leads us to words of adoration—it literally evokes shouts of joy and praise. Through the Bible, we know why this is true. John 17 tells us that from all eternity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have been adoring and glorifying each other, living in high devotion to each other, pouring love and joy into one another’s hearts continually (cf. John 1:18; 17:5, 21, 24–25). Sex between a man and a woman points to the love between the Father and the Son (1 Corinthians 11:3). It is a reflection of the joyous self-giving and pleasure of love within the very life of the triune God. Sex is glorious not only because it reflects the joy of the Trinity but also because it points to the eternal delight of soul that we will have in heaven, in our loving relationships with God and one another.”

My Initial Response to Keller's Statement

I don't know about you, but from a reading of these proof texts, prior to ever hearing about the Eternal Subordination of the Son Doctrine (ESS), and thereafter, I can say with all honesty that I never saw anything concerning the actual sex act in them.  Never once did it occur in the midst of physical union with my husband over the past 25 years that I was supposed to be thinking about the analogous relationship between Jesus and the Church.  I thought about love for my husband and his love for me, and about the blessing of pleasure through that experience. 

I would say that the more profound lessons about love and care that introduced me to a whole new, deeper level of being loved more than anyone had ever loved me came not through anything having to do with the sex act.  My husband's patient kindness with me, self sacrifice, and all sorts of other ways in daily life that I never dreamed took me by surprise in the way he honored me in real life.  I remember the first time that he made and brought me a cup of coffee about a month after our honeymoon.  I thought about the profound effect that the way my father treated my mother had on my expectations and how the love my husband lived out for me so far exceeded any other love that anyone had ever expressed for me.  I still feel that way about him today.  And as all marriages, it has not been a rose garden.

A Gospel Coalition Sex Talmud?  (a.k.a,  I've been doing it wrong for 20+ years?)

I thoroughly enjoy sex and would say that it can feel transcendent in its own unique way, but it is such a small element of marriage in comparison to everything else that I can't imagine cheapening the whole of our relationship by claiming that sex was the apex of it in the way that Keller lauds it.  (Keller's associate Mary Kassian uses that description to qualify sex in marriage and writes about discussing the subject with Keller.)  My relationship with my husband is not that static, and life is too complicated to classify sex as an apex.  Maybe it was during the first decade?  I don't know.

Admittedly, this is not not Keller's statement who does make statements about marriage that I don't see supported in Scripture, but Kassian goes on to say that if you're not thinking about God during sex, she almost makes it sound like it's tantamount to adultery.  I have other problems with her analogies and reasoning in this whole series of posts from 2012.  I recall one almost arguing for elder rule in a way that made it sound like an argument could be made that a woman could have sex with an elder if that's what he desired.  I'm not bothering looking it up, but it had more puzzle piece pictures that were just...not right.   She didn't say that you could commit adutery, but the whole line of argument was so bizarre and full of error, that's what her logic (?) could justify.

From Kassian's post, More Necessities for God-Glorifying Sex:
The final and overarching necessity for God-glorifying sex is “Godwardness.” By that, I mean understanding that your sexuality (and the rest of life) is ultimately not about you, but about reflecting truths about your Creator-Redeemer. [. . .]  When I work at desiring my husband and being desirable for him, I honor the gospel story. Godward sexuality is far more than following a set of rules for moral conduct. Having a Godward mindset informs and transforms me from the inside out, enabling me to embrace the fullness and joy of my God-given sexuality, and to live in a way that honors Jesus.


There is much rhetoric of this sort in the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and among those well accepted in Keller's Gospel Coalition, and Keller echoes the spirit of it and has never challenged these types of ideas.  I feel safe to assume Keller takes no issue with these concepts.  John Piper is another one who has made provocative statements, and he's definitely never publicly challenged Bruce Ware's writing.)

Dethroning the Bizarre

Shirley discusses these and other statements in her book, Dethroning Male Headship.  As the wife of one husband, the mother of two sons, and a Christian who loves Jesus, and a woman of the Word who sees these glaring Keller's description of marriage this way in her book, I thought her comments here were insightful, especially since I may have left those reading here with the impression that she was little more than a shock jock egalitarian.

In her chapter entitled Sexualization of the Trinity, she comments:

Keller is saying that when husbands and wives have sex, particularly when they climax (when else would there be “shouts of joy?”), they are emulating how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit rejoice in each other. 
[. . .]
The ‘union’ between the Son of God and his bride the Church, according to Piper and Keller, is sex. Just as sex supposedly points to the love between the Father and Son, now the bride (the Church) is involved . . . if you believe what Piper and Keller are saying.

Why is it that a grandmother who has studied the Bible and never went to seminary can see right through these matters, and so many people can't?   Or perhaps they don't want to see any of it.  I really don't want to know.


The next post will examine more problematic statements that branch back to the presupposition of the ESS Doctrine held by Keller, The Gospel Coalition, John Piper (a contributor to some of Piper's works), and the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.