Stemming from the controversy over Mark and Grace Driscoll’s new book Real Marriage—especially the chapter about what Christians are allowed to do sexually—Doug Wilson has written a few posts on what nature teaches us about sex. I wanted to attempt to distill these right down to their essence because I think he has given a very important response to issues raised by that book.
Wilson sees warrant in at least two passages of Scripture for looking to the outside world (which, he clarifies, includes human culture as well as the natural order) in order to discern what sexual behaviors are pleasing to God. This means that even if an particular act is not strictly forbidden in Scripture, nature may still teach us that it is displeasing to him.
In his post “Dinner for Two at Angelo’s” (Be warned: In this article Wilson speaks frankly about certain sexual acts) he looks at Paul’s indictment of homosexual behavior in Romans 1:26-27. There Paul calls such behavior an exchange of “natural relations for those that are contrary to nature,” and Wilson spells out the application:
Paul is saying in Romans 1 that we learn certain things from nature, and that some men in the grip of lust revolt against that lesson. One of the things that we learn from nature is what goes where.
If a man is going to have sex with another man, he is going to have to alter the game plan. Altering the game plan when you don’t have to [i. e. a husband and wife engaging in sodomy] is not an equal sin (because God has expressly abominated homosex), but it is an equal failure to learn the what-goes-where part of nature’s lesson.
In another post, titled “Sexual Obedience Outside Scripture,” Wilson considers Hebrews 5:14, where the author speaks of training your powers of discernment through constant practice to distinguish good from evil. He says that this idea of “constant practice” is the Scripture’s way of leading us to develop our discernment through going beyond Scripture and actually applying it to our culture.
He gives the example of how a woman must apply the command in 1 Timothy 2:9 to dress modestly:
Women, dress yourselves modestly (1 Tim. 2:9). But how? We see that obedience to Scripture requires careful thought while shopping, while applying make-up, and while buying jewelry. A woman has to make decisions about modesty while sorting through a rack of dresses at Macy’s, and we may be confident that the apostle Paul never saw any one of those dresses in all his born days, or in any of his dreams, and would not know what to make of them if he did. The Bible tells women to dress a certain way, in order to achieve a certain effect, and tells them to do this without giving them a dress code. This means that obedience requires women to make decisions about their sexual attractiveness in their culture. Here is the principle — certain kinds of obedience cannot happen unless we learn how to go beyond Scripture. Women need to learn how to be attractive without attracting all and sundry, and they must do this without specific warrant from the Scriptures for any one of their particular decisions.
He then gives an instance of how this principle of “cultural awareness” applies to making decisions about your sex life in areas where there are no particular prohibitions in the Bible:
All these same realities apply to the marriage bed. For example, the apostle Paul says nothing about video-recording a marital sex act on your cell phone. This is because he wrote to the Ephesians, to the Galatians, and not to the Idiots. If he were writing to the Idiots, he might have felt constrained to mention it. Oh, no, you might reply, feeling a little stung by my insensitive use of the word Idiot with an upper case I, you and your wife are being “very careful.” Very careful. I see. So careful that when you both die in a car wreck nobody is going to go through your effects?
Wilson finishes at Paul’s command in 1 Thessalonians 4:4-5, “That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God.” (KJV).
In order to able to obey this, in order to make love not like they do, it is required that we be able to read what they are doing. And when we read what they are doing, and why, we are not reading it in the pages of the Bible. But we are doing something better — we are obeying the pages of the Bible.