Perusing the blogosphere recently, a disturbing headline caught my eye. A religion commentary on cnn.com disturbingly asserted, “True love doesn’t wait after all.”
Now we all know blogs can tend towards sensational “Chicken Little” claims and arguments and statistics. But the data given in this article, which was itself a commentary on an earlier article appearing in Relevant Magazine, were truly staggering.
Both articles cited a 2009 study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. In this study of the sexual activity of the broader populace of young adults, one statistic stood out. According to the study, of the 18-29 year-olds who self-identified as “evangelical,” some 80 percent had engaged at least once in unmarried sexual activity, even though 76 percent of them deemed it morally wrong. By comparison, 88 percent of all 18-29 year-olds surveyed had had premarital sex.
These statistics raise all kinds of questions, some of which are raised in both articles. Has the abstinence movement failed? What explains the disparity between the beliefs and practices of these individuals? What is the church not doing that perhaps it should? What about the promise rings, vows of chastity until marriage, kissing dating goodbye? Are all of these “defenses” powerless in the face of the “in your face” sexuality of modern America?
All of these questions take on an even more pressing character as I interact with students everyday at a Christian institution of higher learning, most of whom fall within the younger range of the 18-29 category. What can I do to head off this issue at the pass?
Obviously, no easy answers exist. But the longer we ignore or even wrongly attack the issue, the more casualties we will have from it—abortion, STDs, guilt, and subsequent marriages that suffer from premarital sexual union(s).
But my sense is that a good start to attacking the problem is biblical in nature. The pattern of the Scriptures—both Old and New Testament—has always been to ground right practice in right theological belief. If then evangelicals are to recover right sexual practice, perhaps it would behoove churches and families not to avoid the issue of sexuality, but to confront it head-on with biblical teaching.
In particular, I think we need to rediscover a rather ignored book in the Old Testament, Song of Solomon. I have purposefully highlighted this book each semester in my “Introduction to Bible” and “Introduction to the Old Testament” courses exactly because of my own intuition regarding the high degree of sexual activity among students. In other words, if you teach long enough, you don’t need a study to tell you that “it” is occurring among the study body.
But what I love about Song of Solomon is that it presents a properly oriented sexually-charged message for a promiscuously oriented sexually-charged culture. In church history and churches today, many have allegorized or avoided Song of Solomon because of its “adult” subject matter. But I believe Danny Akin, who has a commentary on the book, is correct when he labels it as “God’s instruction manual on sex and marriage.” In other words, the book gives a proper biblical theology of sexuality.
What does it teach? Properly taught, Song of Solomon guards against the Scylla of asceticism and legalism and the Charybdis of hedonism. Instead of pitting a legalistic, unappealing “no” against the unbridled, self-indulgent “yes” of modern Western culture (as many churches have done in the past), Song of Solomon shows that God offers a better “yes.”
Song of Solomon presents a delicate, Edenic picture of God’s “yes” within the confines of marriage. It also clearly teaches marriage as God’s design and returns sexuality to an Edenic innocence (reversing the effects of the Fall).
As Richard Hess writes, “In a fallen world in which the first couple was expelled from the garden of Eden, this song offers the hope that couples today may find something of that garden again and may see in their love that which is beautiful and good, from the good God.”
If we can recover the theology of sexuality as a theological act, a meaningful act, and a covenantal act, then perhaps our young people will start to see why it is such an important issue.
As Carissa Woodwyk, a licensed counselor interviewed by Relevant for their article, states, “I believe most couples understand the meaning of ‘not having sex,’ but it doesn’t seem that many have a personal understanding of why it’s important.”
However, while a good start, just “good theology” is not enough, as evidenced in Solomon’s own life. One of the conundrums of the Bible is how the author of so many proverbs advising against sexual immorality could fall prey himself to the same vice.
Thus, individual communities of faith must be more openly involved in the issue—teaching, modeling, and celebrating proper sexuality and God’s “yes.” At the same time, we need to return to a sense of trust and accountability for male-female relationships within the church as well.
Again, there are no easy answers to this issue. But one thing is for certain—we cannot ignore it anymore.
A native of Austell, Ga., Bryan Cribb came to Anderson University following a five-year tenure at Brewton-Parker College in Mt. Vernon, Ga. Dr. Cribb holds a BA in political science and a BS in mathematics from Furman University in Greenville, S.C. After being called into the ministry, he received his master of divinity in biblical and theological studies and his doctor of philosophy from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. His primary emphasis in PhD work was Old Testament theology, with minor areas of study in New Testament theology and Old Testament languages.
Dr. Cribb is married to Elizabeth, and they have three sons—Daniel Luther, Josiah John, and Nathanael Bryan. Elizabeth is an RN and a stay-at-home mom, who also holds a master of divinity degree from Southern Seminary.