January 17, 2021

The Best Responses to the Driscolls and Youngs

By far, the most thoughtful and thorough response to all the “sex” hubbub raised by the Driscolls and Youngs and their recent books and publicity stunts comes from Matthew Lee Anderson. I became aware of his analysis when I read the article, “The Trouble with Ed Young’s Rooftop Sexperiment,” at Christianity Today.

I encourage you to ponder the piece yourself, but I will summarize the main points of his critique here:

  • Showmanship over substance. “There’s no reason to be dour or straight faced when talking about sex, yet ploys of this sort invariably distract from the seriousness of the message. There’s an old rule in communication that suggests that if the audience is focused on your rhetoric, you’re doing it wrong. Yet in this case, the showmanship has clearly become the story, supplanting the substance.”
  • Deficient discipleship. “Such ‘over the top’ moments—and was there ever a more apt time for the description?—are troubling indicators of our woefully deficient discipleship patterns on matters of marriage and sexuality.”
  • Community concern. “In the New Testament, the family isn’t the foundation of the new society. The church is. And that makes sexual ethics a community concern…. In short, if there were more talk about sex elsewhere in the church, perhaps in the privacy of our communities and classrooms, we might get away with a good deal less of it from our pulpits and our publishing houses. Until then, the message will continue to get drowned out amidst the bombardment of infotainment that our evangelical world suffers from.”
  • Esteeming singleness. “Just as importantly, learning how sexuality is a community concern gives a voice to those who are frequently ignored when the topic arises: those who are single, and especially singles who may be called to that state…. When we push singleness to the background, or treat it simply as a holding tank for the not-yet-married, sex itself will become ever more important to a flourishing community life. Our talk about sex will inevitably become a sensational sales pitch for its ecstatic awesomeness. Meanwhile, single people won’t be shown a more excellent way than white-knuckling their abstinence until they make the marriage bed. They are never empowered to show a more excellent way of faithful Christianity without the marital delights. Just as single people need the image of Christ’s fidelity and love that the married give, so married people need single people to remind us that the ‘form of this world is passing away.'”
  • Modesty of the mouth. “…speaking about sex in the community of the church means remembering that modesty is more than a manner of clothing, but a way of life that transforms our speech…. For Christians, modesty isn’t grounded in fear or shame: it is a positive good, aimed at increasing the beauty of the person and appropriately recognizing the dignity of what’s covered…. “as a movement, we should consider carefully what our stunts and our salacious sermon series say about us.”

You can also read Matthew Lee Anderson’s review of the Driscolls’ Real Marriage at his blog, Mere Orthodoxy.

Here is a great, insightful paragraph from part 2: “The Driscolls are surprisingly unconcerned with the pornification of the marriage bed, and don’t quite seem to realize that the questions themselves [in the infamous “Can we _______” chapter] might be coming from a people whose imaginations have been stunted.   It’s occasionally worth challenging the premise of questions in order to reach beneath the surface and understand the problematic forces at work in our evangelical culture of sexuality.  That the Driscolls do not is nothing if not a missed opportunity.”

• • •

Finally, two books on matters of sex and marriage that I recommend instead of the two that have received so much publicity lately are:

  •  Sexual Character: Beyond Technique to Intimacy, by Marva Dawn. This is a thoughtful presentation of distinctly “old-fashioned” character and virtue when it comes to marital and sexual matters. Marva Dawn is one of the church’s best teachers because she speaks out of personal weakness, suffering, and maturity as well as intellectual depth. Her own physical handicaps and limitations, an extended period of life in which she was single and serving God, and the delightful friendship, partnership, and romance she shares with her husband give her profound credibility when addressing the subject. One big idea which permeates the book is that the health and holiness of our “genital sexuality” is dependent on the strength of our “social sexuality.” That is, the relational supports we have in our life apart from sex must be strong in order for us to keep sexual intimacy in proper perspective — “…we need complete support of our personal identities. Without affection, approval, and the knowledge that one belongs in some sort of community, a person might become desperate and falsely assume that what is need is genital sexual expression rather than social affection.” Part of the problem in our society is that families and churches are not forming communities wherein such support is strong.
  • Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity, by Lauren Winner. One of our finest young authors resurrects the old word “chastity” and recommends it as the framework of her frank discussion of contemporary sexuality from a Christian perspective. “I don’t offer instructions or hard-and-fast-rules. Instead, I offer a flawed example, a few suggestions, some thoughts about what works and what doesn’t work, and the occasional reminder of why, as Christians, we should care about chastity in the first place,” she writes. Like Marva Dawn, Lauren Winner insists that individual sexual behavior is and should be a matter of community concern, and that in Christ, we have a loving duty to both encourage and admonish one another on the subject. She suggests that not only our culture, but also the Christian community tells lies about sexuality, and she calls the church to remember our theological tradition, which assigns three purposes to the sexual relationship: unitive, sacramental, and procreative. The final section of her book deals pointedly with the actual practice of chastity. I appreciate that Winner does so within and not apart from the broader context of spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines, and solid theological perspectives about such matters as vocation, community, and confession.


  1. Randy Thompson says

    Thanks for the mental health break on this issue (with apologies to Andrew Sullivan for lifting this idea from him).

  2. “For Christians, modesty isn’t grounded in fear or shame: it is a positive good, aimed at increasing the beauty of the person and appropriately recognizing the dignity of what’s covered”

    Excellent point. This seems to agree with the modesty described in Proverbs or even the Jame’s epistle. Modesty of the mouth: that’s awesome.

  3. “I genuinely rejoice that they are “works in progress,” “work together as one” and the like. But the effect is less stirring than if there was equal time (at least) devoted to either side. Or instead, if they weren’t kept in “sides” at all, but we were treated to the glory of redemption breaking through every moment of the heartbreaking tale. The result is that while they tell us how “real marriage” can get better, they do not quite show us what it looks like now that it is.” – from Part 2

    This seems to me to be very evangelical, almost parallel to it’s approach to salvation and sanctification. It supposes there should be a dark, sinful before, a moment of epiphany, and a holy or at least constantly improving after. This is pretty deeply written into the evangelical philosophical DNA, it’s hard to imagine how the blog author could have expected any different.

  4. David Cornwell says

    Driscoll and Young follow the lead of our culture in the further degradation of sexuality. Modesty is the result of respect. When respect goes away, talk becomes cheap. Their talk about “family values” turns into a stunt to promote capitalist Christianity. And now even the culture has lost respect for us. All their talk about valuing marriage and its sacramental nature apparently is JUST talk. These people need to get their own house in order before even thinking of lecturing those they label as abnormal.

    My rant could continue… but…

  5. I appreciate the point about “Esteeming Singleness.” In our contemoporary church culture, there is an openness to discussing issues of sexuality that would have been unthinkable a few decades ago. While that is sometimes beneficial, too often it leads to a “let-it-all-hang-out” approach where couples feel free to flaunt their relationship status in everyone’s faces. Even if they don’t realize that’s what they are doing, that’s what the effect often is on those who are unattached.

    I am not calling for a new legalism from the pulpit, but rather for the couples themselves to recognize that they are not the only persons in the room, and to realize, as the writer of Ecclesiastes said that to everything there is a season. When you are alone with each other or at least in a setting where such things would be appropriate that’s one thing. But when we are gathered as the people of God, we are there to fellowship with everyone: the young and the old, the sick and the well, the shy and the outgoing, etc. As long as couples continue to treat church gatherings as extra date time, I am concerned this trend will continue.

  6. I think the best response to the Driscolls and Youngs is to ignore them.

    Humans: The only animals that don’t know what to do with sex.

  7. Thank you. The small piece you quoted from Mr. Anderson is one of the most sane and grace filled responses I have seen. I find myself deeply edified with a new clarity of understanding. He clears away the smoke and fills the room with the Light. Thank you for publishing it here and to him for writing it.

  8. Good thoughts on all of this. But everyone seems to be focusing on young, healthy married couples, for whom sexual intimacy is an urgent and consuming issue.

    So far, no one has even MENTIONED the fact that illness, age, and other outside issues can lead to abstinence within marriage, whether temporary or permanent. (I am NOT speaking of deep seated psychological issues and sexual dysfunction!)

    The love, the closeness, the intimacy has not gone away, even if the ability to make love in the traditional sense has. I have had illnesses and surgeries that have led to this in my own marriage, and have seen it in the long-married patients I have cared for in their homes.

    So, maybe we should think just for a minute of how things change sexually as health fades—or a sudden illness like a stroke or spinal cord injury occurs. I know now what I could not even CONSIDER in my youth—that some times the physical goes on a back burner, yet the spiritual and emotional closeness grows anyway.

    • Marva Dawn’s book speaks some to this. She has a number of physical handicaps and infirmities and is not one of the “beautiful” people who have perfect bodies and youthful stamina.

    • “I know now what I could not even CONSIDER in my youth—that some times the physical goes on a back burner, yet the spiritual and emotional closeness grows anyway.” So true!! It takes maturity, grace, compassion and much more to come to grips with the painful reality that even in a very fulfilling marriage, the physical doesn’t just go on the back burner, it will never happen again. Learning to allow the spiritual and emotional intimacy to flourish also requires the support of a select few friends who understand the grieving process that goes with that situation. Thank you for your post!

  9. Considering how much firepower has been expended on this issue lately, it’s surprising there are only a handful of comments almost a full day after this article was posted. Unless, I guess, everyone has already said everything that needed to be said…

  10. Matt Purdum says

    Everyone’s tired of Young and Driscoll. Marriage is in real trouble and guess what? It’s NOT the fault of gay people. Tim Keller also has a current book out about marriage and I’m sure it’s got more substance than anything Young or Driscoll could say.

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