A bible-based, evangelical approach to Christian faith and sexuality: new book sets out CEEC view

Jan 29, 2019 by

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Another excellent resource from Anglican evangelical theologian Martin Davie has been published, this time in collaboration with colleagues associated with the Church of England Evangelical Council.  ‘Glorify God in your Body: Human identity and flourishing in marriage, singleness and friendship’ at well over 200 pages is intended as a major submission from a conservative perspective to the ongoing ‘Living in love and faith’ project of the Church of England[1] and also as a handbook for the local church and personal study.

The foreword makes clear that its method does not follow the popular contemporary approach of working out from personal biographical narrative to what the church should believe and do with regard to LGBT people. Rather, Davie’s book begins with “a robust exploration of an apostolic understanding of Scripture” as a basis for the church’s theology and ethics: how Christian communities should care for all people concerning “key life issues”. Unlike the Church of England’s apparently neutral or even positive approach to “a society in which understandings and practices of gender, sexuality and marriage continue to change” (LLF), CEEC judges this society to have “lost its historic and Christian ethical moorings”, hence a need for a clear re-statement of these foundations.

The title ‘Glorify God in your body’ of course is taken from Corinthians 6:12-20, one of a number of key New Testament passages dealing specifically with sexual morality. In his book, Davie waits until chapters 7 and 8 to specifically address the radical differences between biblical standards, and the norms of most cultures (especially our own) in this area. The apostle Paul insists that how we view our bodies and use them sexually is of profound importance spiritually, not least because it affects our relationship with God and our eternal destiny. In these chapters Davie explains how this applies to how we view contemporary issues such as prostitution, pornography, masturbation, sexual surrogacy and cohabitation, as well as transgenderism and same sex relationships.

So the answer to the burning questions: “should the church bless the sexual union of same sex couples, and celebrate transgender identities” are set in the context of other areas of sexual behaviour. This comes after a number of other chapters showing the philosophical and biblical groundwork underlying an overarching evangelical theology of being human, in which sexual ethics are set. It’s an effective way of showing that evangelicals are not fixated on opposition to gay sex or worse, LGBT people, but have developed a reasoned approach which is consistent with an overall ethical framework, and has compassionate and realistic pastoral application at local church level.

In his introduction, Davie provides a brief survey of the contemporary sexual revolution, which he believes originates mainly in consumerist individualism, the rejection of externally imposed moral boundaries, and the search for authentic identity of the self. While the Christian faith shares with this philosophy the value of each individual and the goal of flourishing in this life, it offers a radically different diagnosis of the problem (internal sin rather than just external restrictions), and the solution (conformity to God’s will).

The first two chapters build on this, explaining “why ethics needs God”, using at first arguments from natural law rather than the bible. If human beings are created beings with spiritual as well as physical components, then the Creator is the source of moral authority. Knowing what God wants of us is not straightforward, as our reason is clouded by sin, and our hearts incline towards idols rather than God. Revelation is necessary for us to know who God is and what our need is, in order that we can be saved, flourish and do good according to his principles.

Having established these foundations of reason and Scripture for how we know God and how to establish what’s right and wrong, Davie continues in the next two chapters to explain, from principles of biology and Scripture, what makes us human beings, male and female. He explores the purpose of sex and sexual difference, and the meaning of marriage according to Jesus’ teaching. Interestingly, he devotes a chapter to life in the world to come, highlighting biblical teaching that we will retain our identities as male and female, but without sexual activity and marriage.

Two chapters follow on “marriage, singleness and friendship”. Continuing the theme of eternal life, Davie courageously asserts the reality of heaven and hell, and the destiny of every person being dependent on our earthly decision to be intimately connected to God in Christ, or focussed on self. Equally uncompromising is the setting out of principles of marriage according to Scripture, which rule out any idea of same sex marriage, and mirror the divine-human, Christ-church relationship in sacrificial care, headship and submission. The usual objections to this teaching are acknowledged and answered. There is then a full treatment of the subject of singleness, abstinence and celibacy, beginning with the early church’s positive view of virginity. Whether married or single, all Christians are called to be friends to others, and the church can take practical steps to promote this.

So by the time Davie addresses contemporary challenges to the historic Christian approach on issues such as intersex and transgender, sex outside marriage, divorce, and birth control, he has established a strong and reasoned method of arriving at ethical decisions, and a positive biblical anthropology. The book ends with some useful appendices and a sort of short catechism summarising some of the key points in question and answer form.

I would definitely commend this book for group study, reference for preaching, and personal growth. While I don’t take issue with any of what the book says, I hope I can tentatively suggest some omissions which perhaps need to be addressed in another book or a supplement to this one.

Firstly, just a small technical thing which is presumably to do with editing and not the author: a bibliographical list showing in one place the wide range of authors consulted and shown in the footnotes, would be very helpful.

As to the content, there is no mention of abortion, apart from a brief reference to certain types of ‘morning after’ pill. One third of tiny human bodies are destroyed before birth in Britain, without being given the opportunity to ‘flourish’ or ‘glorify God’ in any way. The omission of this topic mirrors a general pattern of disengagement from beginning and end of life concerns by English Anglican evangelicals (compare with what is happening in the US, for example). It would be good for CEEC to discuss this in future.

Then, while I understand the aim to set the issue of same sex relationships within the wider framework and not to focus on it, I thought the explanation of why the wider Christian tradition has always considered them to be immoral could have been more detailed, or at least with the addition of more references to other good resources on the subject. There could have been more on the consequences of sexual promiscuity for physical and mental health, and also a mention of how counselling and prayer can help to break patterns of wrong desires and addictive behaviour, especially since General Synod’s controversial support for a ban on this important aspect of pastoral care.

Lastly, while I agree that the affluent, capitalist West has given rise to a culture of consumerism and individualism, the power of the sexual revolution can’t be attributed to this alone. It does not explain why those who hold to the orthodox Christian teaching summarised so well by Davie and CEEC are increasingly not just ignored, but accused of bigotry and hate, even threatened with the force of law. Gabrielle Kuby’s ‘The Global Sexual Revolution’, detailing the influence of cultural Marxism on radical gender theory and the rise of LGBT political power, is mentioned in a footnote and would benefit from being summarised. Our attitudes to sexual morality do not only concern debates in Synods and pastoral care in our churches, or even our individual relationship with God, vitally important though these are. Our views on sex may in future be increasingly connected with the extent to which we are free to practice and propagate biblical faith in a secular nation.

[1] The question of whether it is a worthwhile exercise for biblically faithful Anglicans to engage in this project , and the wider issue of how to maintain a witness in a heterodox denomination, require another article…

See also: Elephants and penguins: one view of gay marriage. Review from Church Times.

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