Sex and the Supremacy of Christ by John Piper (Editor)
Thirteen different authors contributed to this volume and, as with all such works, the contributions will be somewhat uneven and overlapping. Nevertheless, most of the efforts are biblical and helpful and a few are outstanding.
Sex and the Supremacy of Christ is divided into five parts, each part addressing a different aspect of the subject. Part 1: “God and Sex” written by Piper and Ben Patterson sets the agenda, but is easily the weakest section of the book (more on this later). Part 2: “Sin and Sex” is the highlight of the book. David Powlison has written one of the finest essays found anywhere related to this subject. His chapter, “Making All Things New: Returning Pure Joy to the Sexually Broken,” should be mandatory reading for all those struggling with sexual sin. Mohler’s chapter on homosexuality handles that particular sin well.
Part 3: “Men and Sex” first addresses the single male and, while helpful, presses far too hard the distinction between so-called courtship and dating. I found the argument here thin, inconsistent, anecdotal and, while claiming the high ground biblical, failed to present a biblical case. This part was rescued by C. J. Mahaney’s marvelous chapter based on the Song of Solomon, “Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Husband Needs to Know.”
Part 4: “Women and Sex” is the companion to Part 3—dealing with the same subjects from the female perspective. The final part, “History and Sex,” adds highly interesting material drawn from the life of Martin Luther and the misunderstood Puritans.
Parts 2-5 make for excellent and helpful reading. The Introduction and Part 1 were a mixed bag at best, with Piper’s material the most disturbing. Piper claimed that the book would be the explanation and application of two points: “That sexuality is designed by God as a way to know God in Christ more fully—and [secondly] knowing God in Christ more fully is designed as a way of guarding and guiding our sexuality.”
The second premise is biblically defensible although Piper gets off to a weak start attempting to do so. He presses Hosea 2 into service and out of context. But as he moves into Romans 1 and other New Testament passages, he proves the second premise. He ends chapter 3 poorly with a convoluted connection between suffering for Christ and our sexuality.
But my main concern is with Piper’s first premise, that sexuality is designed by God as a way to know God in Christ more fully. Such a statement obviously cannot be supported by any clear text of Scripture, so Piper strings together a number of passages mostly from Ezekiel 16 and then rewords his premise, “God created us with sexual passion so that there would be language to describe what it means to cleave to Him in love and what it means to turn away from Him to others” (p. 28). Ben Patterson’s subsequent chapter follows up on this concept, “The Bible is a book about marriage [which] is to say that it is a book about sex and the meaning of sex” (p. 49). How are these men coming up with this? Is the Bible really a book about sex? True, sex is an important topic addressed in Scripture, but can we reduce its message to one about marriage and sex? One of Patterson’s proofs is that “the central themes of the Bible are underlined with marriage metaphors” (p. 49). That is true but other dominant metaphors found in Scripture include money, farming and war, yet the Bible is not a book about finance, farming and battle, although it includes these themes.
Patterson is even more offensive when he states, “The reason we like sex so much is that it is a little bit like God who created it” (p. 54). I think these men are pushing the envelope way too hard. Did God create sex because it is somewhat like Him and/or because He wanted us to somehow know Himself in Christ more fully and/or to have metaphors to explain our relationship to Him? Nothing in Scripture leads us to these conclusions, and Piper’s and Patterson’s poor exegesis is unconvincing. Could it not simply be that God created sex because He chose to do so, that it was good, and now He uses our experience with sex as a metaphor?
That seems to be the logical and normal conclusion from Scripture. C. J. Mahaney seemed to understand this, “The Song is full of erotic phrases, yet our relationship with God is never portrayed in the Bible as erotic” (p. 151).
Correct. While the language of sex communicates to us in metaphorical ways about our spiritual condition, let’s not force Scripture to say what it does not say.
If you can skip part 1 of Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, you have an excellent book on the biblical discussion of sex.