The situation described in the following letters is entirely fictitious, including persons, names, crimes, sins, relationships, circumstances and all particulars. The kind of situation that is described, however, is all too common and my hope is that biblical principles applied to this fictitious scenario may be of some help to individuals tangled up in a real one.
A few letters back I said that I was going to go into “Puritan romanticism,” but then didn’t get back to it. My apologies. But I think I can do that now in a way that can wrap things up for us. Of course I am always available to answer any specific questions you might have, and look forward to meeting you at our conference in the spring.
So let me tackle that topic first, and then tie it in with the larger final point I would like to make. That larger point is an all-encompassing one, and I hope I answer more questions than I create with it.
The Puritans were anything but “puritanical.” That canard was successfully attached to them by fiction writers (think Hawthorne) and by downstream imitators who were foolish enough to both believe and admire the slander. The Puritan of popular caricature did come into existence, but only by upending their legacy. Among other things, the original generations of Puritans were a highly sexed and swashbuckling reaction to the sexual timidity of the medieval church. If this sounds or seems outrageous, I would recommend some further reading on the subject for you. The best place to start would be The Worldly Saints by Leland Ryken. As C.S. Lewis said somewhere, “bishops, not beer” were their special aversion.
And so what? In a couple of genius moves, the Puritans brought several disparate things together in a unique combination that has affected all subsequent church history (and, to my mind, for the good). Just think of that original virtuoso who first thought to combine chocolate and peanut butter, and then think of someone with that kind of accomplishment to his name twice.
The first is that they combined the idea of the monastery with lawful sexual expression. By the high medieval period, the monastery had become the place where you could go if you wanted to be a Navy Seal for Jesus. That was the place for “all in” dedication, of which celibacy was a prime indicator. The ordinary people who lived regular (sexual) lives were the ecclesiastical schlubs who helped pay for everything, but they were not privileged to live in the principal place of true spiritual exertion. What the Puritans did was bring that level of dedication and married sexuality together. With their doctrine of vocation (e.g. God is as equally honored by the dedicated artisan making cheese as by a monk saying his prayers), and by their honoring of the married estate (Heb. 13:4), they established a new kind of monastery. They called them “towns.” The discipline was still there, but it was not just for the volunteers. Everyone was involved—men, women, children, dogs and cats. This level of dedication is hard to sustain, whether in towns or monasteries, but the impact of their great experiment is still paying us dividends. It is to them that we are obligated for the calling all of Christ for all of life. There is no such thing as “full time Christian work.” Every lawful vocation is full time Christian work, from changing a tire to changing diapers.
Their second great contribution also involved sex. In the high medieval period, the troubadours had developed the idea of chivalry or courtly love, as most know, but there was also some serious weirdness in it, which most do not know. The chivalric ideal—that of a knight fighting for and representing his lady—is a commonplace. But in the original form, the dedication of a knight to his lady was simultaneously adulterous and celibate. The relationship was not to be consummated, but was rather shown to be an example of supreme (and somewhat pointless) dedication, and as with the monastic life just mentioned, in a form that no one in Heaven had ever asked for. This was the origin of the romantic and chivalric ideal of a knight and his lady fair.
What the Puritans did was to take this ideal, keep the romantic and chivalric aspects of it, and then combine it all with faithful and monogamous marriage. That meant it was no longer adulterous and no longer celibate. But it was a robust dedication to romantic monogamy. I said earlier that the Puritans were highly sexed, but they were also fiercely moral. Now that meant marriage. But it is not possible to have such a high view of marriage without almost immediately creating hard-working kids who know a trade, who have good reasons for excelling in it, and consequently a prosperous middle class, and then after that, a great civilization.
So I am sure this is all very interesting, but why am I telling you this?
We live in a time when our entire culture is adrift. It is not the case that in our time everything is normal, but for some reason homosexual marriage is suddenly “a thing.” In our time our sexual things are cockeyed because everything else is cockeyed. Everything has come untied. We touched on this earlier, but it is not possible for a culture to abandon an admiration of masculinity generally without that resulting in a large increase of homosexual desires and temptations. What we are in the bedroom is a distillation of what we are everywhere else.
When a culture has generally become timid, feckless, tender, sentimental, diffident, cautious, sensitive, and consumed with safety-first, there is no way that this peculiar kind of decadence is not going to result in a spike of same-sex immorality. Whenever the competitive and aggressive nature of boys is considered by the schoolmarms of both sexes to be “a problem,” you can rest assured that the actual problem lies somewhere else. A culture that has lost its way in this way is a breeding ground for sexual perversion.
In other words, it is not the case that there exists in every generation a fixed x percentage of homosexuals, as determined by the DNA, and that more conservative societies just repress them all. There may have been some instances of that, but this is not what determines the sexual culture of a generation.
This is because most important sexual organ is the mind. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:1–2).
We are currently fighting this cultural battle of homosexuality and transgenderism, but this is a fight in the last ditch; we are defending the inner citadel. We have fallen back from our outer defenses, most of which we abandoned without a fight. There will be no way for us to successfully fight for this inner citadel (although it is our duty to fight here) without at some point organizing a sortie that fully intends to take back the whole city.
We have accepted a false view of human identity, believing that what you already are is hidden down deep inside, and the course of your life allows that “true you” to emerge and show the world how wonderful it is. We all—most Christians included—now think in terms of discovering ourselves. But what we are actually doing—in the world God made at any rate—is becoming ourselves.
Now it is true that the choices we make will reflect our nature (meaning regenerate or unregenerate), but this does not mean that our selves are fully formed (or malformed) as of yet. It should be a matter of great astonishment that creatures who were, just a short time earlier, a fertilized egg, then a zygote, should think of themselves now as fully formed. But it does not yet appear what we shall be (1 Jn. 3:2).
For example, even if regenerate, a ten-year-old has not yet become himself. That is what his life is for. This is what everlasting life is for—further up and further in. Our generation wants to think that the self is a projector, and that the life of that self is a screen, and he lives his life in order to show everybody the movie. But a biblical view of man is that the whole thing is not a movie, but an actual life. And over the course of this life we are in the process of becoming. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).
As Lewis once put it, again so wonderfully, how can we meet the gods face to face until we have faces?
Your temptation is to think that your sexual identity is limited and bounded by your current temptations, and you think this because you think your identity was settled and determined somewhere in your rear view mirror. But what if your sexual identity is yet to be formed, and it is thirty years in front of you?
If we are to become someone, we shall need a map and a guide. This is why God has given us His Scripture and His Spirit. And you should begin, as I mentioned in earlier letters, with the things that seem to you to have nothing to do with sex at all.
The sexual act between a man and a woman is natural, in the sense that it was clearly designed to function this way. This is one of the things we are taught by the map and guide (not to mention the very nature of things). But there are many aspects of the relationship between a man and his woman that are the result of cultural development and growth. But it must be growth within the boundaries determined by Scripture. We can only grow into maturity past the instructions of Scripture if the instructions from God are considered by us to be absolute.
A close sexual relationship between two men is a perversion, and if the men are best friends, that does not ameliorate but rather worsens the perversion. A sexual act between a man and a woman is the way of all the earth, but if he had married her and she becomes his best friend as a consequence (as we learned how to do from the Puritans), this is a true cultural advance.
Here is Lewis again:
“It seems—or it seemed to us till lately—a natural thing that love (under certain conditions) should be regarded as a noble and ennobling passion: it is only if we imagine ourselves trying to explain this doctrine to Aristotle, Virgil, St. Paul, or the author of Beowulf, that we become aware how far from natural it is. Even our code of etiquette, with its rule that women always have precedence, is a legacy from courtly love, and is felt to be far from natural in modern Japan or India.”
So then, in summary, you are a man, and you are therefore charged before God and all the holy angels, to become a man. Your starting point was assigned to you at your conception, and you must run in your appointed lane. You must therefore dedicate yourself to learning how to obey your double helix. In doing this, you are also obeying the Holy Spirit, Scripture, nature, the Western tradition, and your fathers, the Puritans. You are to obey what you are by becoming what you are.
I know that this might seem like so much Zen Presbyterianism, but there it is.
Blessings. See you in the spring.
 C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition, First Edition (New York: HarperOne, 2013), 4.