A recent article at National Review Online entitled A Sexual Revolution For Younger Evangelicals? No. concerned itself with a study showing that the great majority of young Christians who actually go to church live by the Christian sexual ethic.
As American culture secularizes, the most basic Christian tenets seem ever more detached from mainstream American culture. Those who identify with Christianity, and who gather with the people of God, have already decided to walk out of step with the culture. Beliefs aren’t assumed but are articulated over and against a culture that finds them implausible. Evangelical views on sexuality seem strange, but young Evangelicals in post-Christianizing America have already embraced strangeness by spending Sunday morning at church rather than at brunch.
Moreover, sexuality isn’t ancillary to Christianity, in the way some other cultural or political issues are. Marriage and sex point, the Bible says, to a picture of the gospel itself, the union of Christ and his church. This is why the Bible spends so much time, as some critics would put it, “obsessed” with sex. That’s why, historically, churches that liberalize on sex tend to liberalize themselves right out of Christianity itself.This strangeness embraced by young evangelicals is the key. A other culture that is completely distinct from the world's, a way of life that the world cannot hope to understand. Christians and non-Christians alike may eat pop tarts and do math, but their lives ought to be alien to each other. Our sexuality is other to the world's. As much as Christians might talk about engaging with the world, the truth is that the first step of a credible witness is the incredibleness of our lives. Incomprehension is a gate into enemy cities, a weak point for our gospel grond. (Sorry, couldn't resist the alliteration.)
The failure to recognize and embrace this otherness is, I believe, what feeds the frenzied culture of the "purity" movement. The purity movement (which I understand is well past its 90s heyday) largely springs from sections of evangelical culture that are difficult to tell apart from the world, except perhaps for the fact that they wear different t-shirts and go to MGM on Christian band night.
Yes, I know about purity balls, and I know that there are off-the-grid Christians who do some things that are unsettling or even wicked. But these are not really part of the phenomenon that is purity culture. That phenomenon involves thousands of youth groups around the country, para-church organizations in every town and at every high school, and books galore. It is a pop phenomenon, gestated in a pop environment.
It is, effectively, a Christian response to health and sex-ed classes. Evangelicals recognize that their kids' sex-ed classes are propaganda promoting unchristian behaviors, so they come up with an alternative.
Except that it's not enough of an alternative. Or rather, it's not sufficiently other.
That is why the purity movement is a frenzied, bizarre, emotional mess. For one, it takes grace, not efforting and organizing rallies, to survive the assaults of the world, the flesh, and the devil. For two, evangelicals have put themselves in a quicksand trap from which it is very tempting to flail madly about in an attempt to get out. And everyone who's seen Indiana Jones knows that's a mistake.
Evangelicals are in this trap because they are still of the world. And yes, by that I mostly mean, our kids are still in state schools. Evangelical households are normal middle class households. House in the suburbs, two incomes, kids in state schools. We choose the easiest life, the life like that of our worldling peers, and then react in panic when we realize our daughter is fourteen and spending her entire day in a wolf's den. Great God, I’d rather be a pagan suckled in a creed outworn.
So we sign our daughter up to be a girl who is willing and ready to rock it out for PURITY! She can go to a huge rally in Orlando and do nothing but think about sex-no-sex in a huge mob of girls doing the same thing, listening to leaders telling them of ways the can think about sex-no-sex all the time, not just at this rally. Holy girls rock!
I hope that the prognostications of the National Review article quoted above are correct, that the Evangelical churches will indeed continue to grow in sexual holiness (holiness=being set apart). Part of the reason this is happening, I believe, is that the pop Christian culture of the nineties and noughts is fragmenting and falling apart. Christians are growing up and looking for something else, and something else for their kids.
And more Christians are willing to make ridiculous and radical decisions, like having one income or two part-timers, or homeschooling or home-birthing, or buying a house near their church plant, or starting a commune or Protestant monastery.
Living the easy-path life as a Christian turns out to be way harder than living a radical life. Being other is easier. When your life is the life of a worldling you are constantly, as I said above, struggling to escape the quicksand.
You will say, what about evangelism? The opportunities my wife and I have at work, the opportunities my kids have at school? We're taking our life out into the world.
I don't think so. Now, I'm not telling you not to share the gospel with your co-workers. But I am saying that one should not be part of the world when one is proclaiming the gospel. We are being too institutional, we accept the world's institutions. Instead, it is our sacred institution, the Church of Christ, that ought to be knocking down enemy gates. The gates of hell cannot withstand the Church's battering rams. Take your life's light to your neighbors by sharing your life, by catching them in ambushes of hospitality and love, by taking yourself and the Kingdom of God into their homes.
Being other does not isolate us from the world Christ came to save. Isolation isolates us.
I dare to quote myself now. I know, audacious. This is from a recent post entitled In Which I Tell Women How To Live. It seems I've been beating this same drum all week.
...Christians often think and shape their lives as if they were supposed to be opposites to the world. But they're not. We're not opposite, we're other. We're not opposite, we're fulfillment. It is a vice to take an aspect of the world, say, feminism or statism or job-as-life, and do what we think is the opposite of that thing. We think that the opposite of feminism is women staying at home, so women stay at home.
Get away from this opposition, then oppose the world as a righteous other. The question we have to ask ourselves is, what does God want us to be? As individuals, and as a family, how shall we live? And will it be oppositionally, or positively? Will we beat the world at their game, or will we show a glorious other?Trying to be different from the world is confusing and frustrating and slippery and deceptive. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Being distinct from the world, being other, being the Kingdom of God, well, that has its own troubles. But those troubles do not include confusion and deception.
Let me emphasize again that there will be troubles. I am not saying that homeschooling or any other freaky crazy way of living is going to be a magic bullet to save your kids and yourself. But I am saying that you're bringing more trouble, and the devil's own trouble, on yourself by not having a freaky crazy way of living. In the world but not of it doesn't mean we're abstractly-invisibly different. It means we're invaders.