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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  1. I heard Driscoll say once that he gets a lot more people attending Church when he preaches about sex than when he preaches on the attributes of God.

    It is a hard one. I guess I would rather have my children hear about sex in Church than from other places.

    Not sure what I think, but you did motivate me to listen to the Driscoll series and the Macarthur one.

  2. Yeah what I don't want to come across as saying is that this topic should never be discussed in church. That obviously is not appropriate or helpful, and we've seen the results of that.

  3. My Pastor preaches on sex and he does so tastefully and with class. I think it is a shame that others cannot follow suit. I will be honest, if my Pastor put a bed on our platform and gave the congregation a sex challenge … I would be ready to have his temperature checked and him possibly committed. 🙂

  4. Shane, I'm a big fan of Driscoll but very disappointed in his handling of MacArthur's accusations. I adored Driscoll's Solomon series and never even realized their was an issue until Johnson addressed the issue at the Shepherd conference. Since then I've seen it differently and realize the concerns that MacArthur has are real. I'd love to see Driscoll not blow this off. I'd love for him to take it serious. You see he's not serious–in fact, he doesn't even view the argument correctly–when he makes statements like, “Some people don't want me to preach from Song of Solomon.” It's not what…but how he's doing it. And he's in denial about that.

  5. I checked out the Mark Driscoll interview with Hughley and thought that he did a great job discussing sex.. very relaxed and insightful.

    I guess I am not sure what the controversy is all about. Apart from the theology and interpretation of S of S.. do you think that old folks like MacArthur are just a bit up tight?

  6. I think that's mainly it – the interpretation. Viewing it as a “how to” manual. Also some of the language he uses.

    I'm still pretty high on Driscoll, but this is one aspect of his ministry that has bothered me.

  7. I am as well. I understand that he has a lot of critics, but like you said in your blog when Johnson and MacArthur are criticizing you its time to take a hard look at what they are saying. Humility requires that.

  8. OK, I am going to go ahead and say it, and probably get myself in trouble.

    I started listening to the S of S series from Driscoll. You could argue from differing points of view whether he has crossed the line, and who is right on this, etc.

    But I do think that maybe for the sake of better marriages that sex should be talked about more in the Church. Maybe not on Sunday Morning while my kids are next to me. . .

    I do a lot of counseling of women in the Church with marriage problems. I get together with them, and a lot of time the conversation goes the same. They want to jump into what an insensitive jerk hubby is. I always stop them and ask the same question. “So, how often do you have sex with your husband?” The excuses are not all the same, but every woman so far that I have counseled says “Not that much” “Maybe once a month”

    So I challenge them. Start initiating sex. Communicate to your husband things that he can do to help you enjoy it more (hubbies like to talk about it). And then see if some of those other things improve. The funny thing is that it works.

    Some women come to me and say “My husband wants sex all the time”
    “Oh really?” I ask them. “How often do you say yes?”
    “Not very often.” they tell me.
    I challenge them to initiate sex every night for a week. They usually call me several days into initiating sex and say “last night when I initiated, he said no. He said he was tired. That is the first time he didn't want to do it”

    I make my point. He always wants it, because you never say yes. You started having sex more often and satisfied him. And the beautiful thing is that hubby is happy, wifey is happy, and the marriage improves.

    I know there are other marriage problems, but this is a good place to start for Christian couples. You would be surprised how many Christian couples really don't talk about the details of it. Maybe Driscoll because of his openness will bring about conversation that will be beneficial to the good of marriages.

    Am I in trouble yet for being so frank?? Hope not. I think it needed to be said.

  9. I think that there does need to be some talk about sex — including from the pulpit, when kids are there. The reason for this is that sex is not supposed to be dirty, sex is supposed to be beautiful. (Naturally, this should include some boundaries … discussion of particular acts should be in a much more private and age-controlled setting.)

    Like Angel's pastor, mine talks about sex in very much that way. That some pastors have locker-room attitudes is scary.

  10. From my perspective, and I can only speak for myself – I agree with you that sex needs to be talked about in the church. I'm concerned about how it's done, and I don't like S of S being seen as prescriptive.

    Outside of his messages on S of S I've heard him use some pretty crude language when talking about sex.

    I don't think “handjobs,” “blowjobs,” “banging his girlfriend” and the like need to be said from the pulpit.

    That's just me I guess, but I see it as worldly vernacular.

    That said, I want to be clear that I still appreciate the work he does and I in now way want to take away from that.

  11. Well, I haven't listened to that much Driscoll. So thus far, I missed those quotes.

    Also, I was not disagreeing with anything that you said. I was more making the point that some Christians are afraid to talk about it.

  12. As someone who's been listening to Driscoll for about 12 years, I, as well as he, will say that he's gone too far some times. On the other hand, many Pastors have yet to go far enough, to the point that their reaching their communities and bringing the lost to salvation.

    I've seen Mark speak live twice, have had short conversations with him several times, and have heard probably 200 or so teachings from him on all subjects, and know w/o a doubt the guy loves Christ, his family, his church, and the church at large.

    Does he slip up, yeah. Does he repent when he does, yeah. Does he need a Savior, yeah. Has God used him to bring thousands into the kingdom through Marshill where he Pastors, Acts 29 where he serves as founder/president, and other ministry endeavors, absolutely!

    He's come a long a way since I've known him. Making friends with guys like John Piper, CJ Mahaney, Tim Keller, J I Packer, D A Carson, and others, has served him well. Unlike MacArthur, who I also enjoy, these men see what God is doing in Mark, and want to help him like Paul did with Timothy.

    Good post!

  13. Completely agree with you that he is doing a great work and that he does love Jesus. I think this is the first time that I've ever criticized him. He has come a long way, and I'm glad those guys with the Together for the Gospel Coalition are mentoring him.

  14. Ah yes, 'Song of Solomon' – best read by flashlight in the dark of the girl's tent at church camp. . .a wonderful summertime memory.

    Waaaay back in the 70s when the sex ed thing first 'broke out' our stiff necked pastor presented a brilliant series on Eros and Agape – physical love and spiritual love – revealing to us God's plan that these were not created separately, but together. How one complimented and informed the other. How much less each would be without the other.

    I found that over the next 40 years, these first lessons served me astonishingly well, through my teens and adult married and unmarried life, whenever conflict and confusion and temptation plagued me.

    That goes for both 'kinds' of Love!

  15. ” Ah yes, 'Song of Solomon' – best read by flashlight in the dark of the girl's tent at church camp. . .a wonderful summertime memory.”


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