To be honest, re-reading and posting on the nature of the sexual culture from Generation Me left me drained, disheartened, and somewhat despondent. I thought about the 120 High School Seniors who daily sit before me somewhat comfortably in their Christian school bubble. I thought about the world they live in and the world of the large secular university most of them will enter soon. When I thought about my own 15-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter…fleeing to some modern day Masada seemed reasonable enough.
How? How do I help teens and twenty-somethings confront a world of deception, depravity, and sensual delight? How do I shepherd those who are naïve and those who are not; those who have already fallen morally and those who possibly will? And how do I shepherd those who won’t fall morally without leading them into self-righteousness about their chastity?
My favorite professor, Dr. John Hannah, once said, “the job of a prophet is to point his face into the wind and spit!” So . . . here’s a little spittle.
1. Community. I decided to ask my students, the vast majority of whom are presently chaste, what they thought were the largest contributing factors to their resistance thus far and what they anticipated would help them in the college years to come. There were cliché answers, of course. But one river of thought that was fed through several streams was community. Community standards, community expectations, community accountability, community examples, and community guides were all the tributaries. I pointed them to C.S. Lewis’ sermon/lecture, The Inner Ring where he argues that one of, if not the, driving forces in the human soul is to be on the inside of some desired circle and cautioned them that they may be leaving a warm community and entering a post-high school foreign land. They will face the trap of missing community and compromising in ways they cannot anticipate to acquire the precious inner ring of association.
2. Non-cliché truth about sexuality. My students (and I) have benefited (or suffered) from nearly innumerable chapels and special speakers on sexuality. They boil down to Pastor Skip’s exhortation to the health class in the movie Saved that, “good Christians don’t get jiggy with it till their married.” Some are high energy, some are frank, some are silly in their hopes that if “protect the diamond zone” is said often enough the moral imperative will stick. Hardly any offer an alternative for their affections and thus leave them warned but not warmed to anything better. Chalmers argued that, “A moralist will be unsuccessful in trying to displace his love of the world by reviewing the ills of the world. Misplaced affections need to be replaced by the far greater power of the affection of the gospel.” I would argue that less glitz and more gospel story would serve better.
3. Redeeming Grace. For God so loved the world . . . And in quintessential Johannine fashion, he records a truth and then illustrates it. John 4 follows John 3:16. In John 4 we meet the epitome of world – (pardon me) a Samaritan Slut. John 4 opens with, ”now he had to go through Samaria . . . .” Not geographically. He had two alternative routes. This is a “had” of purpose. The ‘had’ was to bring the water of life to a very thirsty woman . . . the worldliest of worldly to a Jewish reader. He loved her and made her thirst disappear. That’s what Jesus does for the fallen. The fallen need to know this love and restoration and they need to see it lived out in us too. How did the conversation continue without her stomping away from this ‘self-righteous’ Jewish rabbi when he confronted her with her stuff? How did he bring up her sin without destroying her at the same time? I think two things stand out to me. First, he went to her when no one else of his kind would have been miles that close. Second, and this is just conjecture, it must have been the way he said it. I yearn to have that art and skill of speaking truth without a trace of superiority (which He had!!!). In a word . . . grace.
4. Preserving Grace. Peter was certain he would not fall and deny Jesus. He trusted himself way too much. Peter trusted in the vitality of his commitment and the strength of his own character. He should have trusted the veracity of the words Jesus spoke and in the strength that comes in trusting Him. “Watch and pray“, Jesus told them, “lest you enter into temptation.” Peter bragged and slept. When we are sure are we not most vulnerable? The enemy to Peter was both outside and inside of him. His pride, his self-reliance, his moral ego were the tools the external enemy used to sink him.
The moralistic approach to sexuality fails because it places them in the Peter predicament. It ultimately teaches the listener to rely on themselves. A self-important and self-assured generation loves to hear that they are sufficient . . . but they are not. Those that fall will likely seek out another community where the bar is not so high while distrusting the institution that moralized them with the Bible. Those who remain chaste may follow Jesus as teacher and model but may very well avoid him as Savior.
This brings the circle back around to community. What type of community? A cross shaped community that understands the utter significance of the indicatives and not just the imperatives of the Bible. A cross shaped community that is wary of self-help and hungry for Jesus and is growing in her ability to show his surpassing greatness. A cross shaped community where struggle is normal and where hard gospel truth challenges the self confident and transforms them from sleepers to watchers. A cross shaped community that takes seriously the command to purity but pursues purity as a means to the greater end of having unfettered delight in the greater glories of Christ. A cross shaped community that beckons younger brothers to come home and goes out to them as Jesus came to the Samaritan woman and to us with hearts that are saturated with restorative and preserving grace that has broken the power of self-righteous morality and replaced it with compassion driven love.