One of the questions that has arisen here is, basically, how could this happen? How could so much of Real Marriage be so good in so many ways, and yet whiff on something like this?
In polemical discourse there is something called swallowing the reductio. Your opponent slyly suggests to you that he who says A must also say B. Okay then, you say, with a carefree toss of your curls, “B!” In other situations, it is not an opponent who does this to you, but rather simply the circumstances. But in either case, the willingness to say B is driven by an unwillingness to say “not A.”
For example, my appeal to natural revelation in my previous post on this is connected to a whole world of issues beyond the one issue under discussion. Who knows where you might wind up? Conversely, a straightforward appeal to “express warrant” is appealing on a number of levels. It solves a number of problems, in quite a straightforward fashion, but in my view it creates others, and these others can be quite vexing.
Now I am not saying that this is what the Driscolls did, but it is the kind of thing that happens often in cases like this. When someone with a clear zeal for godliness, evident throughout the book, countenances something like this, that is almost certainly not what is at stake. I would look for the hostages elsewhere, and that is why debates like this should get back to first principles as soon as possible. And while you are getting back to first principles, you should try to refrain from being a screecher.
This is because it was not a case of the Driscolls promoting and encouraging a particular practice — they were not recruiting for it. It was (in my view) a counseling fail. They refused to condemn something because they didn’t have a scriptural case for the condemnation. There is something admirable about that. At the same time, I believe there is a scriptural case available for the condemnation, and hence these posts.
This relates to something I said in one of my earlier posts on this. Where Scripture does expressly condemn a particular form of anal intercourse (Lev. 18:22), Mark Driscoll has been open and courageous with his opposition to it. Other ministers, however, who know how to mince their words, continue to mince their words.
So let me appear to change the subject for a minute, but cosmetic surgery is not really changing the subject — that is also one of the questions that the Driscolls ask and answer in this section. Is breast augmentation lawful? Following the method they have adopted, the Driscolls say sure, it is lawful. The Bible doesn’t say a word about it, and so therefore we cannot prohibit it. And I agree with them that it is fine . . . but I would add the word depending.
There are some other things the Bible doesn’t say anything about. To use a counterexample my daughter Rachel pointed out, neither does it prohibit those neck rings that one African tribe used to put on their women to elongate their necks, in order to make them more attractive. Neither does it prohibit foot binding, as the Chinese used to do. And neither does it prohibit female circumcision, as practiced by many tribal Muslims. The point of citing such examples is not to hint that the Driscolls would approve of them, but simply to show that if we are going to talk about this for very long, we are going to need to bring some additional principles into play. People want to do plenty of things to and with women that would cause all of us to say, “Now wait a minute . . .” but after we say that, somebody is going to ask us for our reasons. And that is the point in the discussion where we will need to have them.
As soon as the subject gets complicated, there are many who want to simplify — and that simplification can be a swallowing of the reductio in either direction. In one direction it simply allows practices that make many Christians think to themselves that “this can’t be right,” but without any verse to point to. In the other direction, we see legalistic Christians simplify all the questions by allowing the missionary position only, lights out, and under six blankets. That can’t be right either.
So back to cosmetic surgery. Many Christians are against breast implants, because, the reasoning goes, we shouldn’t be playing God. But a lot of these same Christians have no trouble “playing God” by getting braces for teeth of those same daughters in question. They are messing around with what God gave them there as well, right? So that can’t be the principle — don’t play God with breast size, but straightening the teeth are fine. Or, if it is the principle, we are all on way to becoming black bumper Mennonites. But the fact that (as stated) the principle is insufficient does not mean that there are no principles that apply. But it does mean that we have to gird up the loins of our minds.
We are confronted with the same kind of issue when it comes to defining the sex toys you might want to prohibit. Suppose you use a broad definition, like “any artifact or substance that you weren’t born with, but which you use to enhance sexual pleasure.” This gets rid of the dildos and whips and chains, which was your admirable goal, but it also gets rid of perfume, oil, classy lingerie, and a romantic dinner for two at Angelo’s. But if you go narrow in your definition, then somebody is going to ask where you get off legislating with such specificity. Nobody should want the kind of Talmudic process that could conceivably result in banning pink vibrators but okaying all the others. Nobody should want a sexual magisterium. This laudable desire is what creates pressure for an express warrant approach.
I think the answer is found in the adverbs — in how sexual relations are pursued. Whom do you imitate,and whom do you not? This is the 1 Thess. 4:5 principle again. Put another way, a couple who seriously put into practice the great principles in the first part of this book will overwhelmingly not be interested in some of the questions in the controversial section. And those who pursue the licence granted them in the controversial section are proving, at least to me, that they need to go back and review the first part again.
This takes us back to Christian maturity, and that maturity will answer the question for each couple. This is not saying that “whatever works for you” is fine. No, it is possible to do this all wrong. An insecure girl can get a breast job, and when all is said and done, you have insecurity on heels with boobs — a bad combination, incidentally. Another woman who receives reconstructive surgery after breast cancer can thank God for His gracious gift. Was that so hard?
The insecure teen-aged girl who wants to radically alter her center of gravity, while pestering her mother about it, wants the subject to be about the lawfulness of the implants. But that is not the subject at all. The subject is the lawfulness of the insecurity. A man who demands that his wife service him, the way the hookers used to, wants the subject to be about the lawfulness of anal sex. But it is not about that. It is about the lawfulness of him being a lust-monkey. He wants the subject to be “why can’t I do that action?” when it ought to be, “do I get to be this kind of man?” And if that question were to be asked, incidentally, the answer is no.
And, by the way, even though they answer some of these practical questions differently than I do, the Driscolls were very clear that nothing they wrote could legitimately be used by anybody for purposes of the kind of sexual browbeating described in the previous paragraph. We of of one mind on that score.
So if God’s gift of sex is pursued in God’s way, then this will result in certain things not being done. Certain grimy ideas only occur to godless Gentiles when they are in rut. In most cases, with Christians who are pursuing Paul’s exhortation to keep their distance from pagan sex-ed, they will not even be thought of. If a Christian man wants to argue the point, demanding to see a verse that prohibits whatever he did last night, I am not disposed to argue. In dealing with that kind of thing, you don’t get into arguments. I don’t argue with 7-11 clerks over whether that unfortunate tattoo of theirs was a good idea either.
And this leads to the final question, which is practical and pastoral. My argument from Romans 1 — concerning “natural use” — was not intended to say that there is a moral equivalence between sodomy and this misuse of the marriage bed. I was reasoning by analogy, not drawing a straight line equation. Paul is saying in Romans 1 that we learn certain things from nature, and that some men in the grip of lust revolt against that lesson. One of the things that we learn from nature is what goes where.
If a man is going to have sex with another man, he is going to have to alter the game plan. Altering the game plan when you don’t have to is not an equal sin (because God has expressly abominated homosex), but it is an equal failure to learn the what-goes-where part of nature’s lesson.
This lesson is a lesson that nature teaches. If nature itself teaches us that man should not have sex with a man, let’s spell out that lesson. How does nature teach this? The answer is by making it obvious that the proposed partner doesn’t have the needed equipment. If he did, then he would be she, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Now does this have any relevance at all when talking about a partner who does have the needed equipment, but whose equipment is not needed? Of course it does. Nature is not silent here.
So, someone might ask me, what are you going to do about it? If I am writing about it, like now, I would offer my arguments. If the reader finds them persuasive, then he should follow that advice. If he doesn’t, then he shouldn’t. But suppose I were counseling a married couple, members of my church, and this came up. Would I want to bring discipline against them for this? Well, no, not directly. But I would counsel, advise, teach, exhort and urge them against it. If they hear me, great. If they refuse, I am in the highest degree confident that the coming crack-up will not be pretty, and that it will involve a whole bunch of other issues with clearer handles for the church to use. That would be a situation that would likely call for some pastoral triage.