My friend Damian and I had a recent email exchange regarding preaching tendencies related to the contemporary evangelical culture. This comes with a philosophy that we need to be so relatable that it ends up obscuring God’s overall redemptive program. He talked about this one class in his seminary program in which discussions of Song of Solomon which resulted in placing a good dose of emphasis on human sexuality. With his permission, I’m posting his full response:
I am firmly convinced of the allegorical interpretation of the text as God’s love, expressed in anthropomorphic terms, for His people. Karl Barth’s idea, echoed by John Paul II – that sexual differentiation is the defining feature of our humanness, the key that unlocks the door to human identity – seems to have conquered the day in modern evangelicalism . But I would challenge this thesis: If Christ is truly the fullness and definition of authentic humanity, we must say that marriage, sex, and parenthood tell us nothing whatsoever of ultimate significance about humanness since Christ did not participate in any of these.
There appears to be an obsession in modernity, swallowed hook, line, and sinker, by the evangelical church, that by analyzing our own sexuality, we believe we will finally discover the deep secret truth of our humanness. To borrow from Foucault, he claims that we are obsessed not with sex itself (as a physical act), but with “the truth of sex” – with the idea that sex is a revelation of truth. Thus we form sexual sub-cultures; we worry about the ever-more-precise definition of all our sexual habits and preferences; we constantly think about our sexuality; we write about it incessantly; we “confess” our sexual secrets and peculiarities; we have never been fully honest about ourselves until we have given utterance to our sexuality. (A fascinating example of this is the way biographers assume that the sexual life of their subjects will disclose the deep secret truth about who they “really” are.)
Could it be as Rowan Williams has indicated, that when we approach the bible with our questions about sex we are met with a quizzical face, a resounding, “Dear Sir, these are your questions, why do you come to me with them?” Could it be that our assumptions about the revelatory character of sex are so deeply ingrained that we simply assume that the New Testament writers were also preoccupied with questions about the meaning of sex, or that they must have some answers to our own pressing questions about sex?
I think this can be especially hard for Christians to grasp, since a very deep part of our moral formation has been the belief that human identity is ultimately wrapped up in the suburban family life. This is also why our churches are often so strangely inhospitable to “single” people. We simply can’t really believe that these people are “fully formed human beings.” And so we treat them with all the “sympathy” that their singleness demands; our charity might even compel us to subject them to the peculiar indignity of a “singles” social event, all in the hope that the bright truth of sex will at last dawn in their dark lives.
I think Christians ought to take much more seriously the category of friendship, while thinking a good deal more critically about the unbridled theologizing of marriage and the so-called “family unit.” Is it at least possible that the idea of friendship might tell us more about “what it means to be human” than any modern preoccupation about sex? Might friendship itself – so lacking in anxiety, so free and undemanding – provide a much-needed critique of our culture’s profound sexual anxiety, an anxiety which is simply part and parcel of the dubious doctrine that the truth of our humanness is disclosed in the truth of sex?
Well, I am not convinced that Song of Solomon is allegorical. But I think he’s on to something regarding friendship. That does mean there isn’t marriage. Of course there is and should be honored. Some desire marriage and some don’t. The greater reality is the body of Christ and her attention to her Lord.
Isn’t this what was going on in 1 Corinthians 7? People were so obsessed with sex (or avoiding sex), that it was causing disruptions. Paul’s main point about the passage concerned devotion to the Lord not whether one should be single or married or to make a case for the exaltation of one over the other. Do what is needed to avoid being obsessed so that attention can be devoted properly to the Lord.
See because the bigger issue is God’s redemptive program. I am convinced by scripture that our present reality as the body of Christ should be a reflection of our eschatalogical reality – the New Jerusalem as seen in Revelation 21:1-4. I think Damian is on to something regarding the theology of friendship. Yes there will be marrieds. There will be singles. But there is something rich and robust about friendship in which the two intersect and perhaps give us a glimmer of the believer’s eternity together.