Shades, Sex and the Gospel Coalition

The web is ablaze with comments on the blog post by Jared Wilson, who quotes Douglas Wilson, titled The Polluted Wayers of 50 Shades of Grey.  The controversial comments are:

In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed.

What this seems to be saying is that the biblical picture of sex is not mutual pleasure between the husband and wife but rather the man taking authority over the woman and the woman submitting to that authority.

There have been a number of responses.  Rachel Held Evans responds here.  And Jared Wilson attempts to clarify the comments here.

I would like to give the Wilsons the benefit of the doubt and suggest they were trying to understand the popularity of the 50 Shades book.  They saw in those sexual fantasies, a perversion of what is supposed be healthy and good.  I do not think that they were saying that Christian men must become more aggressive and force their wives to submit to their sexual desires.

But it sure sounded like it.  My response to this is that what Douglas Wilson said was unwise, and it was even more unwise the way Jared Wilson cited it.  How does it move the kingdom forward to say such a thing in a public forum that looks so unloving?  Non-Christians read that and assume that is the Christian position.  They will read this and use this as an excuse to reject Christianity.  In a world where men have abused their power sexually, we do need the addition of “biblical authority” to the situation.  People should know that there are many Christians who would strongly disagree with what Wilson says.  I am one of them.

Now some supporters of Wilson, might say that it does not matter how non-Christians react.  The Bible supports what Wilson says and if people do not like it, they are rebelling against God.  I don’t see how the Bible supports this.  I am a pastor and I will tell you that when my daughters get married, you will never hear me say to them: “You might think sex within marriage is about enjoying each other but what Jesus really wants is for you to simply submit to the sexual desires of your husband.”  I just do not see that in the Bible.  Yes there is a place for submission, but it is mutual submission.  When it comes to sex, there is very little in the Bible aside from warning against certain sexual sins.  We have to be careful when claiming to present the biblical view of sex.  While Paul’s teachings on submission will influence the Christian concept of sex, so should the much more predominant principle of loving each other.  Why not apply the golden rule to sex between a husband and wife?  That sounds fun.

This controversy frustrates me.  Christians put forth controversial comments that have no positive benefit, little biblical support and plenty of harm toward the cause of expanding the kingdom.  We need to think about the consequences of what we write.

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12 thoughts on “Shades, Sex and the Gospel Coalition”

  1. Not to split hairs, but I don’t think you’ve represented Wilson well here at all. First, Wilson wrote these comments in a book titled “Fidelity.” He did NOT post them to TGC’s website.

    If we really want to give Wilson the benefit of the doubt (and I’ll admit my bias here and say I’m a Doug Wilson fan), we should interpret this more controversial paragraph in light of the final paragraph of the quotation. And as Wilson has noted in a recent post, that this is not an “egalitarian pleasuring party” means that it is a “complementarian pleasuring party.” He’s definitively NOT advocating the type of male dominance that’s being unfairly attributed to him.


    1. I think I made clear that it was Jared quoting Douglas. It is important to acknowledge that this is not Doug Wilson speaking for TGC. Jared mentions that people who have a problem with this are likely already against TGC and Doug Wilson. I will say I am not against them and actually like much of what they do and say. I am also not commenting on Doug Wilson’s book, as I have not read it. I am commenting on how Jared is using his words. Jared uses the words as if our main problem is that men are not taking their authority in sex and women are not submitting to that authority in sex.

      1. Well, I do think the problem is submission to authority. Our society is in rebellion against God’s design for sexuality, and I think Jared meant to point out how books like “50 Shades of Grey” are evidence of such rebellion.

        Of course men not taking their authority sex is not the problem. The problem ultimately is men not submitting to God’s authority in sex (or any other area, for that matter). When men don’t submit to God’s authority in sex, that’s when we have the objectification of women and unrestrained lust (which may be expressed in acts of rape).

        But Jared’s original post did not cover much of this, so I agree there is at least a presentation problem in this whole fracas.

  2. Good comments Steve, I Cor 7:3-5 talks about having a duty to one another and the husbands duty is mentioned first. Mutual submission does seem to be the key.

  3. To defend Doug Wilson a little: The book isn’t intended to be read by non-Christians. It was written in the 90s for a Christian audience. So it was Jared Wilson who brought it to a more public forum. Also, you have to consider the overall genre and style of “Fidelity.” It is intentionally a hard-hitting, provocative book, written to men. Thus it has a “masculine feel.” A number of times I laughed out loud at what were quite memorable sentences or paragraphs. Especially the opening chapter.
    To be quite honest, when I read the book, which was quite a while ago, the TGC quote didn’t jump out at me at all. I confess to not remembering it. But other statements in the book I definitely remember–and to my benefit.
    If anything, his most controversial statements for non-Christians should be his discussion of HIV, which I think is quite wacky.

  4. Ian, I was hoping for a comment from you. I can’t comment on Wilson’s book, having not read it. However, aiming for a Christian audience is not an excuse for how we write. If atheists said controversial things aimed at an atheist audience, we would be all over it.
    And I need to make clear that I am not anti-Doug Wilson. He says some things that I like and some I am more uncomfortable with. However, the way Jared used his words in that post was not helpful in building bridges to non-Christians.

    1. Well, I’m glad to comment! I wouldn’t at all come away from your review thinking you’re anti-Wilson–and you’re right about us being all over atheists. I just felt constrained to offer a little push-back.
      I tend to think that Jared Wilson actually did the book a disservice, by not following its advice. Doug Wilson, in the beginning, suggests that women not read it, unless their husbands give it to them. It’s written directly to Christian men to help them be more faithful. By publishing provocative quotes on the internet, without the caveat, he’s actually going against the express wishes of the author.
      I do think that some of the reactions–not yours–have been way over the top.

  5. Steve,

    Do you think it’s fair to call Wilson’s isolated comment stupid, to say that he provides little biblical support, if you haven’t actually read either the full text from where this snipped is taken, or, I assume, the book that he was actually responding to?

    1. I can’t say his book was stupid, but this passage is written in such a way that seems unwise. It is provocative, which was likely Wilson’s intention, but it is worded in a way that can easily be misunderstood. Authors, especially those as experienced and talented as Wilson, should know that our words will be quoted without people reading the entire context. We should be careful with how we word ourselves, knowing this danger. By the way, I am more bothered with how Jared used the quote. He seemed to originally thought it was enough to get the point across but now understands how easily things can get muddled.

  6. How could you possibly write a book without making one sentence as such one that would not be able to be abused out of context? Aww shucks, I mean as Christians, context matters, right? Before you slam his phraseology in one paragraph on your blog, maybe you could consider he’s writing 1) about sex 2) consider reading the full argument?

    Even your post is somewhat inaccurate in timetables, it seems. Wilson has posted a followup which gives a better description here:

    I don’t think you have to read everything to form a response, but it would be helpful before calling it stupid… and saying it lacks biblical support, to perhaps read the support found therein? Or his other writings on the topic? The latter charge is a rather big deal.

  7. I have edited my post and have changed stupid to unwise, as perhaps stupid was harsh. I stand that it was unwise, at least if you cared about how Christianity is portrayed and how non-Christians would react.

    Of course any book could have a sentence taken to mean something else. But Jared, to his credit, does not just quote the sentence. He gives a fair bit of context that sets up and explains the sentence.

    I don’t want to speculate on wither of the Wilson’s motives beyond what I have already said. My problem is with a difference in priority. I just don’t see the church’s main challenge as getting men to assert their authority and getting women to submit to the authority. I see our priority as preaching Jesus, breaking down barriers and seeing people come into the kingdom. Not only was that blog post on TGC not helpful, it was harmful. I am glad Jared clarified his position but the damage has been done.

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