Jesus and Our Sexuality
About the Guest
Why did God make two genders rather than, say, seven? Pastor Todd Wilson, author of "Mere Sexuality," points listeners back to Jesus to talk about sexuality. Wilson reminds us that Jesus came to earth as a male and will continue for all eternity as a male. Christians should celebrate being the male or female they were created to be and not bow to their desires to be someone they aren't.
Todd WilsonTodd Wilson (PhD, Cambridge University) has spent over a decade in pastoral ministry and is currently the Senior Pastor of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois. He is the cofounder and chairman of The Center for Pastor Theologians, a ministry dedicated to resourcing pastor theologians. Todd has authored or edited a number of books including Real Christian: Bearing the Marks of Authentic Faith and The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision. Todd is marrie...more
Pastor Todd Wilson points listeners back to Jesus to talk about sexuality. Wilson reminds us that Jesus came to earth as a male and will continue for all eternity as a male.
Jesus and Our Sexuality
Bob: According to Pastor Todd Wilson, the current cultural conversation about gender and sexuality reflects something much deeper that’s going on in our world.
Todd: Our contemporary culture is becoming post-Christian. In becoming post-Christian, it’s becoming Neo-Pagan. We are now getting into a cultural space and place that is like the first century Christians—not just in the way we think about sexual ethics issues—but creation itself.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, June 12th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. How do we stand for truth in a way that is winsome and humble, while the world around us is moving further away from Christian convictions? We’ll explore that today with Todd Wilson. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. So, if somebody asks you the question, “Why did God make two genders/two sexes instead of seven?”—what would be your theological answer to that question? Do you have one?
Dennis: You know, it’s interesting you ask that; because Barbara and I have been working on that question, practically speaking, in our book, The Art of Parenting—
Dennis: —helping parents know how to affirm biblical manhood/biblical womanhood. As I’ve studied it, Bob, I’ve determined that God had a whole lot more taking place in this creative act than any of us understand; but He did make us different—
Dennis: —male and female. It’s clear, if you read the whole book in context—men have had certain responsibilities and have behaved a certain way—for good or for bad—and women have as well. I think if—well, we’ll have to see if Barbara and I were able to achieve the objective of answering the question, but we tried. [Laughter]
We have absolutely tried!
Bob: The book will be out soon too.
Dennis: It will be out soon, but a book that is already out is by Todd Wilson, who has written one called Mere Sexuality: Rediscovering the Christian Vision of Sexuality. Todd, welcome back to the broadcast.
Todd: It’s a privilege to be here with both of you today.
Bob: Is this a pomegranate on the front?
Todd: It is a pomegranate. Does that work?—is that sort of a good image?
Bob: Is that a Song of Solomon pomegranate?
Todd: I think it is; yes! [Laughter]
Bob: Okay; I was trying to figure out—
Todd: I didn’t come up with that myself, but—
Bob: I was trying to figure out why there’s a pomegranate on it; and then I thought: “Okay! I’ve read about pomegranates in Song of Solomon.”
Todd: The good people at Zondervan came up with that, and I went with it. I liked it! [Laughter]
Dennis: Well, we’re trying to tackle some very thorny subjects here around sexuality. One slice that you took at this, that I found particularly fascinating, was talking about the sexuality of Jesus Christ. Unpack that a bit—
Dennis: —especially with His death and resurrection, because I thought that was really—really, an interesting way to begin to think about this.
Todd: Yes; that is the first chapter in the book, once you get past the introduction. I started there, because I wanted to take people back to the person of Jesus as we begin thinking about sexuality. Surely there’s something significant to the fact that, when God chose to come to earth, He came as a person: a fully enfleshed, embodied human being; that’s significant—that He was born of a virgin; surely that is significant for us—that He lived a sexually chaste/celibate life; that’s significant, surely; right?—that He never married!
All of these things, I think, are hugely significant for us—have implications for Christian living and Christian ethics, and the way we think about human sexuality—but Jesus, as I put it in the book, is the missing person in sexuality conversations; by which I mean—
—not that we don’t talk regularly about what Jesus thought about different issues or what He taught about different issues—but we don’t reflect on Who Jesus was and Who Jesus is—that He is an enfleshed human being with a body. The incarnation is an embrace of human sexuality, right down to the core—God’s affirmation of the goodness of being male and female. We see it—the loudest declaration of creation as good, and our bodies as good, and sexuality as good—by God taking on human flesh in the person of Jesus.
Bob: You know, as we think about that, we don’t stop to imagine—because we know the story so [well], we don’t imagine—that the story of Jesus could have been: “They were wandering by the roadside, and there was a baby there,”—
Bob: —who just appeared; or that Jesus arrived as a fully-formed man, as the theophanies in the Old Testament—
Bob: —have Jesus arriving as an adult male.
Bob: God chose to come, and to send His Son, in the language of human sexuality—
Bob: —both in how He was born and, then, in Who He was after He was born.
I guess Jesus could have been the daughter of God and have come as a female, but that was not God’s design. Is there a reason why you think it is God sending a son and not a daughter?
Todd: Well, that’s a good question; I don’t get into that in the book. I haven’t reflected all that deeply on that question. We were talking about this a little bit earlier. You know, I wonder if it has something to do with—at the heart of masculinity is initiative. The essence of the incarnation is God’s initiative into our sinful, fallen world for our salvation. It’s appropriate and fitting, and in keeping with male and female, that God would come as a male.
Bob: And certainly, that’s what Ephesians 5 tells us—
Bob: —that Jesus is the bridegroom, and the church is the bride,—He’s the initiator; we’re the receiver.
Bob: So, had God sent His daughter—if He’d had a daughter—
Bob: —I don’t want to sound like I’m way out in the theological atmosphere. [Laughter] But if God had incarnated as a woman,—
Bob: —it would have sent a different message.
Todd: I think so, yes; I think so. Think of—this is amazing—I think this is amazing! God the Son—the second person of the Trinity—embraced human flesh, not just for 33 years, but the resurrection.
Todd: God, the second person of the Godhead, is continuing on, for all eternity, as a human being.
Todd: That is stunning! We can find no more powerful affirmation of the goodness of what it means to be male and female—and human beings—than that, it seems to me.
Dennis: And you know, that’s one of the things I really appreciate about your book—you brought back some holiness—the goodness word that you just used—
—to human sexuality that our culture seems to be diminishing and degrading because of, honestly, twisting it / expanding the boundaries of it—not recognizing the dignity that God created within it.
I thought you did a great job, in the book, of calling the Christian to celebrate being a man—
Dennis: —to celebrate being a woman, and discovering more of what that means.
Todd: That’s right. The issues surrounding sexuality in our culture are a subset of the larger issue of our culture—Western culture, not just American—Western culture’s degrading of creation. If you have a negative view of creation, at the end of the day—which is a pagan view / the pagans view embodiment and the material world negatively—this is Plato’s view and so on—not a Christian view.
The Christian view is God is the Creator. He’s created this beautiful, good creation; so all of this materiality is something to be honored and respected as an expression of the beauty and the glory of God.
If you have that negative view of creation, you’re going to have a negative view of embodiment; and sexuality, ultimately, is going to be a play thing or a recreational activity; but it’s not going to have the dignity that the Christian view has.
Bob: That’s been present in some aspects of church history. There were some of the church fathers who viewed sexual interests/sexual desire as something to be avoided—something that was only a part of our base nature—and not something that God honored or glorified. That’s one of the reasons for celibacy being a part of the priesthood.
Bob: And some wrote that the only time you should be intimate, as husband and wife, was if you were intentionally trying to conceive; at other times, it was completely off-limits. We’ve been confused about this question throughout the millennia; haven’t we?
Todd: We have been; we have been. Even the great Augustine was of this view. He wasn’t sure that sexual activity and intimacy between a husband and a wife could ever rise above the level of concupiscence or lust.
Thankfully, Calvin and the reformers / Luther got this right, I think, biblically.
Todd: And we are now all the beneficiaries of this! But the point is—Augustine got that from his Neo-Platonic background, which is a pagan view of things, at the end of the day. Our contemporary culture is becoming post-Christian; and in becoming post-Christian, it’s becoming Neo-Pagan. We are now getting into a cultural space and place that is like the first century Christians—not just in the way we think about sexual ethics issues—but creation itself.
Dennis: You were driving one of your teenage sons to an activity, and he demonstrated what you’re talking about—what it’s like to be living in this post-Christian era. He asked you a question that I thought was really profound. I want to hear that question, but I also want to hear how you answered it.
Todd: Yes. So this is my first-born, Ezra. I was taking him to youth group. Out of nowhere, he leans over to me and says, “Dad, why do people think that gender is socially constructed?” [Laughter]
“What was the question?!”
Bob: That’s a pretty good question for a 16-year-old to ask!
Dennis: Do you think he’s a lot like you? [Laughter]
Todd: Yes; I think so! [Laughter] But here’s the interesting thing is—he’s picking all of this up in high school. I mean, these were not the conversations I was having in high school!
Todd: This wasn’t even on the radar screen! So that was the question. I took a deep gulp before I answered him, because I had to just think through what to say to him.
Here’s the essence of it—I said, “Gender, that is to say the things we think about like as what masculinity and femininity look like is”—I said—“Ezra, is largely socially constructed.” But I said, “What isn’t socially constructed, of course, are our bodies—our biologically-sexed bodies. Gender and sex are, of course, connected; but they’re not the same thing. In our culture, the confusion, I think, has arisen because we’ve collapsed those two so that gender and sex are equated. So people will say, ‘Gender is socially constructed.
“’That’s just a function of tradition, or habits, or ways of approaching this issue.’ And then, they dismiss sex as being socially constructed as well. This is why we have the rise of the transgender movement, it seems to me:—
Todd: — “’Is that being male—not just liking blue, or playing sports, or whatever—but having a male body—this is a construction that you can change if you want to; it’s not essential to your identity,’—that’s the transgender movement, kind of, in a nutshell.”
Bob: And isn’t, tied up in that, the idea that: “If my desires are feminine and my body is masculine, God messed up my body,” or “…biology messed up my body,”—depending on what your worldview is—“and therefore, I, as God, must alter what somebody messed up.”
Todd: Yes; yes. That’s right; that’s right. One of the points I try to make in the book—in the chapter on identity—is: “When we understand Genesis 1:27, that God has created us male and female, there is a call there to fidelity to our sexuality—
—“to be faithful, as it were, to who God has called us to be.” “How do you know what God has called you to be?”—well, your body!
Bob: “It tells you.”
Todd: “It tells you,”—that’s right. That message is totally lost in our culture. One of the ways I put it in the book is that I think our fundamental vocation is to be faithful to that very thing, as a male or female.
Bob: You’ve heard this—this is the language I’m reading today—people who say—if you’ll pardon the expression: “Your sex is between your legs.
Bob: “And your gender is between your ears.” This is kind of the new paradigm that says: “Who you are in gender is who you think you are / who you feel you are; and who you are in your sexuality is what biology, or God, made you to be. Now, you need to figure out how those two are going to mix and match, or whether they mix and match,”—what’s wrong with that way of thinking?
Todd: It’s interesting—in the Christian tradition, there has always been a priority given to the objective reality of our bodies in God’s created world; that we can rely upon that. There’s always been a deep skepticism about our internal desires, because they’re not actually all that reliable—they’re fluid; they’re fickle. We can so easily deceive ourselves. So this is a Christian way of thinking: “This embodiment is reliable. What’s going on inside of me is very fickle and fluid.” In our culture, we’ve completely reversed that—
Todd: —where you might even say, Bob, it’s audacious—it is audacious—that a 13-year-old person, who could have a season of same-sex-attracted experiences or feelings—that they would make a determination about who they are on the basis of the fluidity and the fickleness of those fleeting experiences. That’s a remarkable thing.
Dennis: And that they would make a decision that could alter the rest of their lives!
Bob: It could render them unable to conceive or bear children—
Todd: Yes; yes.
Bob: —because they decided, at 13, in a season, “I don’t think this is who I am.”
Bob: We’re seeing, today, people who’ve made those decisions having deep regret about the decisions they’ve made—
Todd: That’s right.
Bob: —but those stories don’t get told as often in the culture.
Todd: No; no, they don’t. I think there’s an opportunity for Christian parents to be wise with this; because the reality is—our experience, particularly in those teenage years, when hormones are flying around and all of the rest of it—that is a fluid time that is a confusing time! No one will deny that! I think for Christians to affirm and embrace the fact that sexual experience—there is some fluidity there, particularly in the teen years, when you’re trying to figure all of this out.
When our kids—let’s say my daughter will come home and say, “You know, Dad, I’m having these feelings toward other girls,”—
—to have a kind of patience with that / to reaffirm God’s perspective on that—but to have a patience and just say, in effect, like: “Live with those experiences. Don’t construct your identity on the basis of that.”
Dennis: And “Don’t act on it.”
Todd: And “Don’t act on it,”—absolutely! “Don’t act on it, but don’t define yourself on the basis of that like your friends at school will be doing.”
Dennis: And that seems to be the supreme value of this culture—is: “Let your feelings define you,”—
Todd: “…define you,”—exactly!
Dennis: —“that’s reality—
Todd: That’s right.
Dennis: —“not your physical well-being of who you were made to be by God.”
Todd: That’s right; that’s right.
Dennis: So, when your kids come home from school and press back into you, as a parent, do you show panic? Do you show shock?
Todd: I think we always do a little bit, because we care passionately about our kids when they’re talking about these significant issues. There’s always, probably, a little panic and a little shock, but I try not to—I try not to. I try to work from a place of confidence in the Christian vision of things, and humility and patience, and trusting that God has them on a journey, and God’s got them!
Dennis: And be a safe person—
Todd: Yes! Be a safe person; exactly!
Dennis: —because you never know what they’re going to come home and tell you that they’ve done or that they’ve made a mistake. And you want to be a parent who parents with love, and grace, and forgiveness.
Dennis: They can always come home and invite you into their drama.
Todd: That’s right. We’ve all probably had the experience, where we reveal something that is, perhaps even, shameful to someone, and you get the shock treatment back; you get more shame loaded on top of the shame you’re already feeling.
Todd: What do you do with that? You don’t go back to talk to that person, probably, anytime soon!
Bob: If you had a son or a daughter—we’ll say it’s a biological boy—who is artistic / wants to take dance lessons—not interested in typically culturally-masculine things—gentle/relational—all of the things that, culturally, we associate to be more feminine than masculine—
—and this is your son; he’s 14 years old and he says: “I’m lonely. The boys at school—I don’t fit in. The girls think I’m weird; the boys think I’m weird. I don’t have any friends. It’s depressing.
Bob: “It’s made me wonder, ‘Would I be better off if I transitioned?—or if I just started to explore. Maybe I am gay.”
Bob: If you’re having that conversation with a 14-year-old boy, and that’s his life, what do you say?
Todd: Yes; well, I think you say: “That’s got to be hard; isn’t it? I’m sorry that’s your experience. That’s hard!” I would want to enter into the weightiness of that experience, and the pain and the reality of that—and not minimize it / downplay it: “Oh, it will get better in ten years! Just hang in there. It’s no big deal!” Don’t minimize the reality of the suffering.
I think I would also want to affirm that: “You’re not alone in that.
“While you might feel like you’re really unique or marginalized in that sense, because of being different, there are other boys that are wired the way you are.” That would be something else I would want to say—I would also want to say: “God has created us male and female; but God has also created us with a variety of different personalities and psychological bents, if you will, one of which is a more empathetic, artistic wiring, which is not necessarily not masculine. To be masculine in your artistic wiring…”
Todd: I think that would be the thing that I would want to call my 14-year-old son to if that were the situation he were in.
Bob: If I turned it around and said, “Now, it’s your 14-year-old daughter; and she says, ‘I want to go out for the football team.
Bob: “’I’ve always wanted to get out there. They’ll let me do it at school. I just need a permission slip from you and mom!’ [Laughter]
Todd: “What do I say?”
Todd: Clearly, I haven’t had that question! [Laughter]
Dennis: He’s squirming! He’s squirming. [Laughter]
Bob: I understand that; I’d be squirming too!
But you know what? It’s funny, because I asked the question—and I’ve seen the TV commercial, where dad is raising his daughter; and she winds up being the kicker on the football team—
Todd: Yes; yes.
Bob: —and he’s cheering her on. I look at that, and there’s this warm, affirming, father-daughter relationship that you cheer for; and something in the back of your mind goes, “Would I be cheering for my daughter as the kicker on the football team?”
Todd: Yes; I think I would want to try do a both/and on that, Bob. I think I would want to say something like: “Sweetheart, why are you so excited about wanting to do that?—and join the boys’ football team?” You know, I would just want to sort of hear her heart. If there was a valid, genuine, “I just love football,” and the school’s letting her, I would want to be supportive of that; but I would also, at the same time, want to talk about biological realities—that a woman is different than a man, and a 14-year-old girl is different than a 14 year-old boy—football pads, and a helmet, and crashing into each other at full speed—
Bob: Yes; and bone density and physical strength.
Todd: All of this! There is nothing wrong with that; right?
I mean, men, typically, are bigger/stronger—have more testosterone, of course, and so have more aggression, typically—there are all of these biological realities that are going to come into play. I would want to have a conversation like that, just to talk about it.
Bob: I won’t press you to see if you’re going to sign the permission slip for that. [Laughter]
Dennis: I just want to go back to the beginning of the best-selling book in the history of mankind—the Bible. It begins with a story of six days—God created. He rested on the seventh day; but on the sixth day, He made man in His image—male and female He made them. He says the words, “male and female,”—I think it’s like half a dozen times in three or four verses. I mean, He makes the clear point that He made two distinct sexes.
Dennis: And throughout history, we have celebrated the birth of a child by asking a question—that was before we had all of the sonograms and all of this—
—we’ve always asked the question: “What is it?! What did you have?!”
Dennis: There weren’t sixty different choices!
Dennis: “Boy or girl?”
I say: “Let the Bible speak clearly. Take your kids to it; let them realize the authority of Scripture is speaking clearly today around a very chaotic situation that our children are living in. Help your children know how to think rightly, and how to believe rightly, and how to behave rightly. Sexuality is a huge part of that.”
Todd: It’s right at the heart of it.
Dennis: And I’d say: “Get a copy of Todd’s book, Mere Sexuality.” I would encourage parents to read this; and then think about, maybe, a little read-aloud section or two?—
Todd: Yes! Yes; I love that.
Dennis: —at the dinner table with your kids, and then talk about it!
Todd: Yes; at the very least, it will generate some interesting conversation.
Bob: It certainly will! [Laughter]
Dennis: That put fear in every parent!
Bob: You may not make it through a full chapter at dinner time—[Laughter]—but a few pages—this would be a good conversation to have. We’ve got copies of Todd’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, the book is called Mere Sexuality: Rediscovering the Christian Vision of Sexuality. Call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get a copy; or order online at FamilyLifeToday.com. The book, again: Mere Sexuality by Todd Wilson. Call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY; or order online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to continue the dialogue with Todd Wilson, talking about issues that every family ought to be talking about, whether it’s at the dinner table or wherever you have these kinds of conversations. We’ll be back tomorrow. I hope you can be with us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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