Lord willing, as time goes by, I will be interacting more with Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll. But here are some of my basic assumptions going into the discussion.
1. Words written are easier to interact with (and be concerned about) than words unwritten. Pastors like Driscoll frequently get in trouble for things they write and say. This book has been called “dangerous.” In the meantime, other pastors rarely get in trouble for things they didn’t write and didn’t say. But — and here I am convinced that the Driscolls are exactly right — a lot of damage has been caused by the church’s unwillingness to address certain topics, an unwillingness to bring the whole counsel of God to bear on this subject. Silence is also dangerous. Sex is volatile. Writing about it can blow up on you. But not writing about it can do the same thing. But the damage that is caused by the sin of silent omission is untraceable, it cannot be pinned on anybody. People are just as hurt and just as damaged, and no pastoral fingerprints anywhere. Nobody is going to lose their job over it.
I am a small town pastor, and I think I have pretty much seen it all. In other settings, I can only imagine . . . and I would rather not. One of the things I have seen (in close conjunction with the sexual messes people get into) is that silence doesn’t help anybody.
In short, to reapply something D.L. Moody once said, “I like his way of doing it better than other people’s way of not doing it.”
2. I am more inclined to hear someone out in a discussion of adiaphora (or whether or not something should be considered adiaphora) if that person has been clear and courageous in those areas where the Scriptures speak plainly. Sexual morality and sexual cultural proprieties are two different things. Someone can fight for the former, and bump into the latter. And someone else can observe the latter assiduously, and fail to defend the former.
Take this example. Observe two Reformed pastors (Mark Driscoll and Tim Keller) of two major churches (Mars Hill and Redeemer) in two major cities (Manhattan and Seattle) who both have a book out on marriage (Real Marriage and The Meaning of Marriage). But in church polity, Keller is a soft egalitarian, and he has been conspicuous in his reluctance to address one of the central sins of Manhattan, which is the sin of sodomy. Mark Driscoll has been conspicuously courageous in how he has addressed the sexual perversions of his city. Now, which pastor is in big trouble? Which one is the controversial one? Which is the controversial one on sexual matters? We are not there yet, but this is the first step in how a people might supplant the Word of God for the sake of our traditions.
Faithfulness on the big issues should win you a ticket to discuss the matters of lesser moment.
3. Stipulate whatever distance you might think exists between what Scripture says about sex and what the Driscolls say about it. That is a distance that would be a lot shorter if our translations hadn’t done a lot of tidying up for us. A Victorian Bowlderization taint continues down to the present. Pastor Mark might not get invited to your conference now, but — truth be told — neither would Pastor Ezekiel. Actually, we would invite Ezekiel because our inerrancy statement says we have to, but we would probably arrange for him to speak with a video feed on a ten-second delay.
4. All this said, please don’t assume that I won’t be expressing disagreements with Real Marriage, up to and including significant disagreements. The Driscolls anticipate that, and welcome it. It is only to say that I, for one, appreciate the opportunity that he and Grace have created to talk about these things. The fact that these things would never be talked about in your church does not mean they are not going on. In short, this is a good opportunity– but only if we receive it as such. The publication of this book is an event that God wants the whole evangelical world to use as an opportunity for sexual stewardship. That won’t happen if we try to shout it down.
I agree with the Driscolls that what Scripture commends we should commend. What Scripture condemns we should condemn. I agree that if Scripture doesn’t condemn something, we are free to pursue it . . . depending. This last depending is where differences are likely to arise. I believe there are numerous areas where Scripture-based moral reasoning is necessary, but there needs to be a way to do it without legalistic looks of shocked dismay. When that moral reasoning — on practices not explicitly mentioned by Scripture — is followed, it has to be followed for what it is, which is casuistry done by fallible teachers. Wish us luck.
When is such moral reasoning necessary? Getting a sweet Jesus tattoo on your calf is not an indicator of poetic gifts. Growing a neck beard and moving to Portland does not make you a screenwriter. Buying a sex toy does not make you a savvy lover. We need a hermenuetic that does more than just read the Scriptures. We need a scriptural hermeneutic that shows us how to read our surrounding culture. But more later.