Disciple Up #297
The Gospel Coalition’s Sex Article
By Louie Marsh, 3-8-2023
An article was published on the Gospel Coalition’s website last week. It immediately drew criticism, even from people who don’t engage in online criticism like Rick Warren. In response, TGC published a PDF of the intro and first chapter of the as yet unpublished book to help “give context.”
That only drew even more criticism and so as of March 6th, 2023 the link to that PDF became a link to an Open Letter.
I’ll be reading the letter and then reading some excerpts from the PDF which I downloaded and is no longer available. In the show notes you’ll find a few excerpts from the article but not the PDF since I don’t own it and don’t want to break the law. The link to the letter of apology is below.
Thank you for your feedback on the Keller Center’s book excerpt from Joshua Butler posted on March 1, 2023. And thank you for your patience while we took the time to listen to our critics and the serious objections from concerned fellows, as well as discuss this matter with our Board of Directors and care for our friend Josh.
Earlier this week, we accepted Josh’s resignation as a Keller Center fellow. He will no longer lead an online cohort with the center nor speak at TGC23. While he will no longer participate in these events, Josh remains a beloved brother and friend whom we respect and care deeply about.
To our fellows and our readers, please forgive us. The Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics is a new effort by TGC, and we are still learning how to work with our directors and our fellows to produce content that will serve our readers in a way that is trusted and wise. To ensure greater accountability with our fellows, we will develop better review systems for our work together. We will also review our publication processes more broadly at TGC and develop plans to ensure greater accountability to you, our readers.
Again, thank you for your patience with us. At TGC, we want to provide a venue for healthy dialogue and robust debate on important matters that affect us all. We want to model grace-filled conversations, and we want to learn from one another. In this case, we failed you and hurt many friends. Thank you in advance for your continued prayers.
For Christ and his gospel,
The Gospel Coalition
Excerpts from the article that started it all
Sex Won’t Save You (But It Points to the One Who Will)
MARCH 1, 2023
I used to look to sex for salvation. I wanted it to liberate me from loneliness; I wanted to find freedom in the arms of another. But the search failed.
Sex wasn’t designed to be your salvation but to point you to the One who is.
Union with Christ
Sex is an icon of Christ and the church. In Ephesians 5:31–32, a “hall of fame” marriage passage, the apostle Paul proclaims, “‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (NIV; I’ve translated proskollao as “cleave”).
Paul says both are about Christ and the church.
This should be shocking! It’s not only the giving of your vows at the altar but what happens in the honeymoon suite afterward that speaks to the life you were made for with God. A husband and wife’s life of faithful love is designed to point to greater things, but so is their sexual union! This is a gospel bombshell: sex is an icon of salvation.
How? I’d suggest the language of generosity and hospitality can help us out.
At a deeper level, generosity is giving not just your resources but your very self. And what deeper form of self-giving is there than sexual union where the husband pours out his very presence not only upon but within his wife?
Here again, what deeper form of hospitality is there than sexual union where the wife welcomes her husband into the sanctuary of her very self?
Giving and receiving are at the heart of sex.
The Bible makes this distinction explicit. The most frequent Hebrew phrase for sex is, literally, “he went into her” (wayyabo eleha). Translations often soften this for modern ears, saying he “made love to her” or they “slept together.” But the Bible is less prudish than we are, using more graphic language to describe what happens in the honeymoon tent.
Sexual Union Pictures the Gospel
This is a picture of the gospel. Christ arrives in salvation to be not only with his church but within his church. Christ gives himself to his beloved with extravagant generosity, showering his love upon us and imparting his very presence within us. Christ penetrates his church with the generative seed of his Word and the life-giving presence of his Spirit, which takes root within her and grows to bring new life into the world.
Inversely, back in the wedding suite, the bride embraces her most intimate guest on the threshold of her dwelling place and welcomes him into the sanctuary of her very self. She gladly receives the warmth of his presence and accepts the sacrificial offering he bestows upon the altar within her Most Holy Place.
Their union brings forth new creation.
Josh Butler—a fellow at the newly launched Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics—will be leading a seven-week online cohort this spring on “The Beauty of the Christian Sexual Ethic,” based on his forthcoming book Beautiful Union (Multnomah, 2023). The cohort—limited to 200 participants—will meet weekly from May 11 to June 22, 2023. Learn more and register. This article was adapted from Beautiful Union: How God’s Vision for Sex Points Us to the Good, Unlocks the True, and (Sort of) Explains Everything (Multnomah, April 2023) by Joshua Ryan Butler. Copyright © 2023 by Joshua Ryan Butler. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Josh Butler serves as a lead pastor of Redemption Tempe in Arizona, is the author of the critically acclaimed books Beautiful Union, The Skeletons in God’s Closet and The Pursuing God, and is a fellow with The Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics. He lives in the American Southwest with his wife, Holly, daughter Aiden, and sons James and Jacob.