There has been a brouhaha erupt over this book of the Bible.  I’m a little late catching onto it, but I did want to write on it.  The Song of Solomon is much debated.  I’ve always thought that the word pictures that Solomon used, wouldn’t work on my wife.

Behold, you are beautiful, my love,
behold, you are beautiful!
Your eyes are doves
behind your veil.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
leaping down the slopes of Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes
that have come up from the washing,
all of which bear twins,
and not one among them has lost its young.
Your lips are like a scarlet thread,
and your mouth is lovely.
Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate
behind your veil.
Your neck is like the tower of David,
built in rows of stone;
on it hang a thousand shields,
all of them shields of warriors.
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
twins of a gazelle,
that graze among the lilies, (Song of Solomon 4:1-5, ESV).

Nope.  Seriously though the debate centers around Mark Driscoll’s series on the Song of Solomon – the Peasant Princess.  This series was very popular, and it seems that many pastors are following suit.  We’ve seen a number of controversies this year alone about how the topic of sex is handled from the pulpit.  From sex challenges to one person having a stripper perform in church when he preached on lust.

John MacArthur stris this controversy up with a series of posts called “The Rape of Solomon’s Song” on how this book is often mishandled in the name of relevance. – Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

Apparently the shortest route to relevance in church ministry right now is for the pastor to talk about sex in garishly explicit terms during the Sunday morning service. If he can shock parishioners with crude words and sophomoric humor, so much the better. The defenders of this trend solemnly inform us that without such a strategy it is well-nigh impossible to connect with today’s “culture.” (In contemporary evangelicalism that term has become a convenient label for just about everything that is uncultured and uncouth.)

Sermons about sex have suddenly become a bigger fad in the evangelical world than the prayer of Jabez ever was. Everywhere, it seems, churches are featuring special series on the subject. Some of them advertise with suggestive billboards purposely designed to offend their communities’ conservative sensibilities.

The main thrust with McArthur is that there is mystery in the Song of Solomon, and it isn’t meant to be prescriptive.

But it has become popular in certain circles to employ extremely graphic descriptions of physical intimacy as a way of expounding on the euphemisms in Solomon’s poem. As this trend develops, each new speaker seems to find something more shocking in the metaphors than any of his predecessors ever imagined.

Thus we are told that the Shulammite’s poetic language invoking the delights of an apple tree (Song 2:3) is a metaphor for oral sex. The comfort and delight of a simple embrace (2:6) is not what it seems to be at all. Apparently it’s impossible to describe what that verse really means without mentioning certain unmentionable body parts.

We’re assured moreover that the shocking hidden meanings of these texts aren’t merely descriptive; they are prescriptive. The secret gnosis of Solomon’s Song portray obligatory acts wives must do if this is what satisfies their husbands, regardless of the wife’s own desire or conscience. I was recently given a recording of one of these messages, where the speaker said, “Ladies, let me assure you of this: if you think you’re being dirty, he’s pretty happy.”

Such pronouncements are usually made amid raucous laughter, but evidently we are expected to take them seriously. When the laughter died away, that speaker added, “Jesus Christ commands you to do this.”

That approach is not exegesis; it is exploitation. It is contrary to the literary style of the book itself. It is spiritually tantamount to an act of rape. It tears the beautiful poetic dress off Song of Solomon, strips that portion of Scripture of its dignity, and holds it up to be laughed at and leered at in a carnal way.

He then goes on to say that “Mark Driscoll has boldly led us down this carnal path.”  If you have read this blog long enough you know that I like Mark Driscoll.  I think he’s impacting a culture in Seattle among unchurched postmoderns that many churches have been unable to crack.  I’ve quoted him a number of times.  I’ve read a number of his books.  How he handles sex, and the language that he uses to describe it has always bothered me.  I’ve thought before I would NEVER say that from my pulpit.  We don’t need the locker room talk in church.

I like what Erik Raymond had to say on this issue a couple of weeks ago:

  1. The emphasis upon sex has become so strong that it has begun to sound like our message.  The danger here is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is regrettably assumed, neglected or forgotten.  When many evangelicals begin to ride the waves of media popularity and are given a platform to speak, they sound more and more like sex coaches than ministers of a message.  Somewhere along the way that which is of first importance gets shelved.
  2. Most of the way in which these pastors handle the text is just flat out troubling.  Often times we are given a reading of a verse or a section and then the pastor launches off into sexual advice and counsel.  And when there is something that is legitimately debated among Bible teachers the issue is not dealt with responsibly (in my view) but rather quickly.  The text then, which has not been adequately unpacked within its context, is then made prescriptive for the Christian.

What do you think?

Update (5/26/09): Linked by Paleoevangelical

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