Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Theology of the Body #3: Comparing TOB to Evangelical Theology

Before we dive into the exegetical and theological meat of TOB, I thought I should make a few observations about the way in which the whole structure of the TOB is different from liberal Protestant and, increasingly, much of Evangelical Protestant theological writing about marriage. This difference is what makes so many Evangelicals so open to John Paul II's thought when they encounter it for themselves.

Let us take two books by Evangelicals that represent a conservative and a not-so-conservative approach. First, consider God, Marriage and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation by Adreas J. Kostenberger with David Jones (Crossway, 2004). This book has the advantage of being very biblical in its approach and certainly takes the "correct" conservative position on many issues.

It attempts to be comprehensive and begins with chapters that deal with marriage in the OT, marriage in the NT, the nature of marriage, family in the OT, family in the NT and then two chapters on special topics relating to family: the issue of having or not having children (contraception, abortion, artificial reproductive technologies and adoption) and the issue of parenting methods. Then it turns to question of singleness as a divine gift, homosexuality as the abandonment of natural relations, divorce and family-related qualifications for church leadership for husbands.

This book reminds me of Millard Erickson's Systematic Theology in that it is hard to criticize the substance of his theology all that much but it is written in such a plodding style that it fails to engage any but the most determined reader. It also fails utterly to engage with the Catholic moral theology of marriage and treats the Catholic view as one of the rival views along with secularism and liberal Protestantism.

This book does have the following significant strengths, however. First, it deals somewhat seriously with the issue of contraception, rather than simply ignoring it as a non-issue, and it does condemn types of contraception that really cause early abortions. It does not, however, relate the contraceptive mentality to increasing social acceptance of homosexuality, although it does condemn contraception outside of marriage. Secondly, it makes a good case for viewing marriage as a covenant, rather than a contract, which is a beginning in critiquing modern deformations of marriage. It builds a positive view of what marriage is and then evaluates deviations from this norm, rather than beginning from contemporary human experience of sexual lifestyles as so many books do, including the next one we are about to consider.

Judith K. Balswick and Jack O. Balswick are professors in the School of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary and they have written Authentic Human Sexuality: An Integrated Christian Approach (IVP, 2nd ed., 2008). The very structure of this book gives away its perspective. The book is divided into three sections: the origin and structure of sexuality, authentic sexuality and inauthentic sexuality. The choice of a theraeuptic term like "authentic," rather than an theological term like "responsible" or "natural" or a term like "biblical" is soon revealed to be no mistake or oversight. The method at work in the book is clearly to move from contemporary experience to theological conclusions and the goal is to bring Scripture into alignment with the best of "modern experience."

Significantly, homosexuality is not placed in the "Inauthentic Sexuality" section of the book, but in the first section on the origin and formation of sexuality. The Balswicks claim that there are only five passages in the Bible that are relevant to homosexuality and the only significant exegetical work done in the book is an attempt to explain these passages away. For example, the prohibitions in the Holiness Code in Leviticus are discounted because "Christ came to abolish the law" (p. 118) [They might want to re-read Matt. 5:17 again, which says the opposite!] They argue that I Corinthians 6:9-10 only condemns sexual relationships in which there is a significant power differential (such as between men and boys), thus implying that adulterous and homosexual relationships would be considered by Paul (and the Holy Spirit) to be fine as long as the people involved were close in age and status. There is no point in continuing to examine the dreary rehashing of the appallingly lame and inaccurate liberal arguments that they present (without refutation by Evangelical interpreters) in this highly unfortunate chapter.

By the time they get to the end of the chapter, the reader is prepared for them to say that they therefore advocate the acceptance of homosexual acts as normal and good, but they pull back at the last minute and do not do so. But they don't have to; they have already made the argument and any reader who is convinced by their writing will draw the conclusion for himself.

One interesting thing to note is that the Balswicks have managed to write a 300 page book on sexuality without hardly so much as mentioning children. One would never know from their book that sex often results in babies and that it is the means by which we all got here. They do have a whole chapter on "maximizing sexual fulfillment," however, which meshes with their therapeutic approach. And they spend a chapter puzzling over whether or not pre-marital sex and cohabitation is good, bad or indifferent. They finally conclude that the Church should "offer grace over law." (p. 178) While recognizing the negative effects of cohabitation, they find themselves agonizing to take a clear position that is counter-cultural.

The interesting thing to note in comparing the two books is that the only one that takes Scripture seriously also takes a complementarian, rather than an egalitarian, stand on the role of husband and wife in marriage. Only those Evangelicals who actually oppose secular feminism are, apparently, able to take a counter cultural stance on marriage and family issues. This gives a person who wants to take a pro-feminist and anti-same sex marriage postion some cause for discomfort. It is clear that the Balswicks and those influenced by them are moving rapidly in the direction of a secular view of marriage as basically a matter of sex and mutuality without any relevance to children. Such a view of heterosexual marriage makes it nearly impossible to assert logically that two men cannot "marry" in this sense just as well as a man and a woman can.

Unless marriage is understood as an inter-generational institution designed for the raising, nurture, education and Christian formation of children, it is going to be impossible to resist the cultural pressure to accept homosexual "marriage." And if the experience of modern feminists is enough to overthrow "patriarchial" approaches to marriage, the same experience-based methodology will inevitably lead to the acceptance, not only of same-sex "marriage" but to the expansion of the term "marriage" to cover all sorts of deviant sexual relationships.

In the TOB, the method John Paul II employs is to utilize phenomenology in such a way as to keep it firmly subordinated to the authority of Scripture by rejecting modern, gnostic, philosophical anthropologies and allowing the biblical vision of Genesis, as reiterated by Jesus, to shape the substance of his moral theology of marriage including his understanding of human sexuality. John Paul II begins by allowing Scripture to inform our theology of marriage and then he only deals with deviations from the norm after the substance of a theology is firmly in place.

Kostenberger also takes biblical exegesis seriously, but I agree with the reaction of my students in my Marriage in Theological Perspective class in viewing John Paul II's handling of Scripture as having far more depth and seriousness than Kostenberger's. In reflecting on why this is so, I think that it is because John Paul II's critique of modern philosophical assumption about anthropology is much more profound and penetrating with the result that he is able to challenge the shallow modern view of man as individual and replace it with a Trinitarian understanding of the image of God in man (which he derives from Karl Barth).

John Paul II structures the TOB around three statements by Jesus in the Gospels. First, there is the story in Matt. 19 in which he appeals to the beginning. In reply to the question of why Moses allowed divorce, Jesus directs his interlocutors back to God's original design for marriage as found in Gen. 1-2. He thus grounds permanent, procreative, loving marriage as closely related to the image of God and as rooted in creation.

Second, John Paul II deals with the words of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount in which Christ makes clear that the adulterous look is as bad as adultery, which clarifies both that our sexuality is fallen and that this falleness leads directly to objectification and lust. John Paul II interprets the teaching of our Lord here in the light of the Spirit-flesh struggle as described by Paul in Galatians and views Jesus as calling us to a life of holiness and self-control. Lust is something that can disfigure even a marital relationship and control of our sexual urges is necessary for the total gift of self in marriage that makes sexual union a personal act.

Third, John Paul II considers the words of Jesus in response to the question of the Sadducees as to whose wife the woman with seven husbands would be in the resurrection. Jesus here tells us that although we will still be male and female in our resurrected bodies, we will not participate in marriage as we know it here in this life. Thus, Jesus points us toward our eschatological destiny to be married to Jesus Christ as the bride of Christ and he alerts us to the provisional, anticipatory nature of marriage as we know it.

Then, fourthly, John Paul II turns to Paul's great analogy of marriage as a pointer to the relationship of Christ and his Church in Ephesians 5 and to the prefiguring of this in the Song of Songs. The importance of human marriage here and now is not limited to the satisfaction and well-being of the husband and wife; rather, it is so important because it signifies and is a figure of the relationship of God and Israel, Christ and the Church and the soul and God. Marriage is built into creation, marred by the Fall and a key aspect of the redemption that has already begun in the Spirit and will be carried forward to completion in the Resurrection.

It is only when the full theological significance of marriage is seen that its ultimate beauty and seriousness can be appreciated. The Balswick's book represents a lamentable falling away from the Christian understanding of marriage and sexuality with its shallow, modern, experience-based, therapeutic approach. The question Evangelical theologians need to ponder is whether there is enough depth and serious theological substance in books like that of Kostenberger to prevent Evangelicalism from sliding into liberalism. I fear that there is not, which is why I thank God for the witness of John Paul II and the tremendous deepening and development of the tradition that he provides us in his Theology of the Body.


Irenaeus said...

Good post. Spot on about so much I see happening in evangelicalism. I'm suprised IVP published such a book.

Anyway, my question is, when are you poping? If the only Christian body going that knows anything theological about the human body is the Catholic Church...

Craig Carter said...

I'm not thinking of swimming the Tiber. I just hope to help reform my own church family and promote the ecumenism of the trenches as far as the culture wars are concerned.

After all, if JP II got it all from Scripture, the Bible is as much a Baptist book as a Roman Catholic book. Maybe he was a crypto-Evangelical!

Irenaeus said...

Well played, Craig. On one hand, I wish all were Catholic under the aegis of Peter, but on the other hand I really appreciate our brothers and sisters among the "separated brethren" who have their heads screwed on straight.

It was TOB that functioned as my portal to Rome, and I'm not the only one. Almost everyone in my RCIA class was there because of the Church's position on sex and family.

It's an interesting question to pursue, at any rate: How particularly Catholic is TOB? Can it really be adopted by a non-Catholic? What are the nature-grace issues involved? What about the Marian component? etc etc.

Anyway, keep fighting the good fight. There are still 7000 who haven't bowed the knee to Baal, and from that tiny remnant grew what became the Catholic Church:)

Craig Carter said...

As you might suspect, I would like to separate the question of how "Roman" the TOB is from the question of how "catholic" it is. Any Baptist who isn't "catholic" in the sense of the Apostles' Creed is in trouble (and there are a lot of them, I think, in trouble).

But the question is a serious one. My impression is that JP II goes out of his way to be ecumenical without betraying his RC convictions in TOB. As one example, watch for my post on marriage as a sacrament in TOB, in which a Baptist cheers on his view and considers it to be potential common ground between the Roman Catholic Church and Protestantism.

By the way, before the end comes, I believe we will all be one.

Irenaeus said...

That may be the case; If I remember correctly, however, Christopher Roberts dismisses a good part of TOB because of its particular Marian focus -- again, iirc. At any rate, keep up the good work.