What Does the Bible Say About Sexuality?
About the Guest
Pastor Todd Wilson talks about God's design for sexuality. Wilson challenges listeners to consider what God was doing when He intentionally created humans male and female. Wilson tells how he would tutor his own seven children on sexuality and help them relate to people who don't share their same views.
Todd WilsonTodd Wilson (PhD, Cambridge University) has spent over a decade in pastoral ministry and is currently the Senior Pastor of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois. He is the cofounder and chairman of The Center for Pastor Theologians, a ministry dedicated to resourcing pastor theologians. Todd has authored or edited a number of books including Real Christian: Bearing the Marks of Authentic Faith and The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision. Todd is marrie...more
Pastor Todd Wilson talks about God’s design for sexuality. Wilson challenges listeners to consider what God was doing when He intentionally created humans male and female.
What Does the Bible Say About Sexuality?
Bob: In the midst of the current cultural debate over gender and sexuality, Pastor Todd Wilson says there is foundational, fundamental truth that needs to be held to firmly.
Todd: Being male and female—having male- and female-sexed bodies, biologically—is theologically significant and morally significant; that is to say, theologically, it matters to God—God has a design in that that’s significant. We should understand that it impacts everything about who we are in the world, and it’s morally significant. It ought to shape our behavior; it ought to shape our interactions; shape our community; of course, shapes marriage. It’s taking seriously this idea that we have been created in the image of God as male and female—that’s the essence of the Christian vision.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, June 11th. Our host is Dennis Rainey; I'm Bob Lepine.
When the culture and the historic Christian church disagree on issues of gender and sexuality, where should we land? We’ll talk about today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I don’t think we ever imagined we’d be spending as much time exploring this subject as we have spent over the last couple of years and that we have to continue to spend; wouldn’t you agree?
Dennis: I agree.
In fact, who would have thought, when this ministry was started back in 1976—that the battle would come, not only to marriage and family, but also to issues around male and female sexual identity. That’s what our guest on today’s program has written about. He’s written a book called Mere Sexuality. Todd Wilson joins us on FamilyLife Today. Welcome, Todd.
Todd: Thank you; great to be here.
Dennis: We’re thrilled to have you here. Todd’s married to Katie for 21 years—has seven children—three bios and four adopted children from Ethiopia. There has to be a story you can tell quickly of—did you get all four at once?
Todd: No; we got them in pairs. There were two sets of siblings: two twin boys that we adopted when they were six months old; and then, when we were in Ethiopia to adopt the first pair, we were so overwhelmed with the needs to adopt older kids that we decided, as soon as we got back, that we needed to go back. A couple years later, we went back and adopted a six-year-old and an eight-year-old.
Dennis: Well, Bob and I are pro-life and pro-adoption, which, by the way, I think are two sides of the same coin.
Todd: Yes; I agree.
Dennis: If you’re going to be pro-life, you better be pro-adoption; because if you honor life, there are going to be some orphans who need a mom and a dad to care for [them].
You’re a senior pastor of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois.
Dennis: You’re in a big city, and you’re taking on a big issue in a big city.
Todd: Yes; yes. It’s a risky thing to do—
Dennis: It is. Why’d you go after—
Todd: —particularly in Chicago and, especially, in Oak Park.
Bob: It’s not like you’re in Wheaton; right? [Laughter]
Todd: No, no, no; exactly; exactly. I used to be a Wheaton right before I came—for a couple of years, pastoring a church in Wheaton before I was called to Calvary.
Dennis: So, why’d you tackle the subject?
Todd: Yes; great question. When I came to Calvary—let me lay this out, and I hope this isn’t going to take too much time—but when I originally came to Calvary, Calvary was known—well, before I was even called and I was initially contacted, I did what any good person would do. I didn’t exactly know about Calvary Memorial Church, and I didn’t even know where Oak Park was.
I got online and I “googled.” And what I discovered was that—
Dennis: Did you discover then that Paul Harvey went to church there?
Todd: I didn’t discover that till later. But what I discovered, after a little Google® searching about Oak Park and Calvary, is that Calvary was known, I don’t think entirely fairly, but known as the “gay-hating church” in Oak Park—
Bob: Oh, wow.
Todd: —because my predecessor, to his credit, took some bold stands on sexuality in this very progressive community. The community reacted in a pretty hostile way. I could go into that story, but I won’t; but anyway, so the church was sort of branded this way—as this very large, conservative church in the heart of Oak Park that was the “gay-hating” church. This was the word out on the street, among the high school kids.
When I came, I made the decision—and some people disagreed with it—I made the decision to not speak on the issue of homosexuality, even though I knew it was, obviously, a culturally-pressing issue, for a number of years—
—a kind of moratorium, personally imposed, on speaking to this issue until the demographic started changing in the congregation from boomers and some Gen-Xers to being filled with millennials.
What I realized was that these younger Christians—they didn’t need to be told, “Hey, we should love homosexuals the way Jesus does.” They needed to be told, “Hey, the historic Christian view on these things actually matters,” because there was just such confusion and lack of awareness of the importance of the Christian vision—theological vision of sexuality—and even what the Bible taught. That was very arresting to me—as a pastor, seeing the shift in my congregation—and I thought, “Now’s the time to speak to this issue.”
The book originally began as a sermon series I preached back in—maybe it was 2015, I think; 2014?
Bob: And you went back, in the sermon series and in the book, to kind of foundational issues—
Todd: That’s right.
Bob: —rather than saying, “Let’s dive right in and talk about contemporary homosexuality.”
Todd: That’s right.
Bob: You said, “Let’s talk about God’s design for sexuality in the first place.”
Todd: That’s exactly right. What I sensed was that what Christians needed was—they needed a theological vision of human sexuality. There were a number of books out on the market at the time—you know, a couple years ago—on how to relate to homosexuals, which were helpful—Chad Thompson being one of them. And then there were very good books; for example, Kevin DeYoung’s onwhat the Bible really says about homosexuality. So, a kind of approach to it, pastorally—you might say, relationally—and then a biblical approach.
What was missing was a theological vision of how—not just what Leviticus says, or Romans says, or 1 Corinthians says—but “How does Jesus’s sexed-body relate to my sexed-body?” and “How does male and female relate to my personal identity?” and “How does sex relate to babies?” “…relate to…”—so on and so forth; so on and so forth—all hugely important theological questions.
That, it seemed to me, was missing.
Why that was important was—what I saw with the younger millennial Christians that I was interacting with was what I call, in the book, a “loss of functional biblical authority,” which is a way of saying that younger Christians are growing up in a world of “pervasive, interpretive pluralism”—is the word that Christian Smith, the sociologist, uses—which is to say, they know that there are good, Bible-believing, godly, Bible teachers who hold this view and then good folks that hold the opposite view; so they kind of, as it were, cancel each other out; so the Bible doesn’t have any functional authority anymore.
“What does the Bible teach about homosexuality?” If you ask a millennial, they’ll say, “Well, some people say it condemns it; other people say it condones it.”
Dennis: So it’s theology by multiple choice.
Todd: Yes; yes, or biblical exegesis by multiple choice. What needed to be brought to bear, in my view, was theology;—
Todd: —because there are compelling theological reasons—there’s a compelling theological rationale for the traditional view of marriage and sex, and so on—that’s what I wanted to lay out.
Bob: Just to make sure that our listeners are clear on this, when you talk about the difference between looking at something biblically and looking at something theologically, explain that difference; because a lot of people say, “Aren’t those the same thing?”
Todd: Yes; great question. So, to look at the issue—let’s say, of homosexuality, biblically—would be to say: “What does the Bible teach about this question?”—“Where does the Bible speak to it, and what does the Bible teach about it?” or “Where does the Bible indirectly speak to it, and what does the Bible teach about it?”
Bob: “So let’s look at Romans 1,” “Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 6,”—that kind of thing; right?
Todd: Exactly. “Let’s do an exegesis of Genesis 1,” and there are very good books that have covered that landscape.
To approach it, theologically, is to ask a little bit more about that deeper logic of: “Why do we have sexed bodies? What is God’s design and purpose in all of this?
“Why is it, when God created human beings in His image, He created them male and female?” I mean, that’s such a given for us; but that is spectacular, theologically.
Bob: “Why not one—
Todd: That’s exactly right.
Bob: —“or why not seven?”
Todd: “Why are we not angels? Why are we not asexual beings? What’s God up to?”
To ask a theological question is more to ask, “What is God up to?” Of course, the Bible speaks to that, and the Bible has theology embedded everywhere; right? And the Bible is our starting point and our norm and guide for theological reflection, but it’s asking slightly different questions.
Bob: It’s looking at something 30,000 feet as opposed to looking at something, walking through the forest, and looking at each tree; right?
Todd: Yes; yes. And what I wanted to help millennials see is—you might even put it this way: “Once you understand the way Christians have thought, theologically, about human sexuality, then the question of gay marriage or the viability of homosexuality should be a no-brainer to you. Once you see the theological vision, it should be a no-brainer what the answer to it is.”
Bob: So, when you preached this, did people go: “Well, duh! Okay; that makes perfect sense. Now that you’ve explained it to us, we all get it; and…”—because, if that’s the case, let’s go ahead and just put you on—we’ll buy some TV time tonight and—[Laughter]
Todd: That’s right. I could be rich and famous!
Bob: That’s right! [Laughter]
Todd: It wasn’t quite that simple, because sexuality is such a deeply personal issue. We can wax eloquent, theologically, about it all day long; we can talk about what the Bible teaches; but at the end of the day, this is profoundly personal for all of us.
Dennis: Let’s talk about that for a moment.
Dennis: What is a Christian view of sexuality?
Todd: Yes; great question.
Dennis: The reason I’m asking this question is—we have listeners who couldn’t articulate that; but we have some parents who desperately need to know the answer to that question so they can help teach their sons and daughters—maybe some grandparents who need to instruct their grandkids—about “What does the Bible say about this?”
Todd: Yes; that’s the essence of the book, Dennis. It’s what I’m trying to capture with the title, Mere Sexuality—
—that there has been an historic Christian consensus on this question for 2,000 years. Sometimes, you hear people say, “Christians have always disagreed about this issue.” That’s patently not the case—not since about the 1960s have Christians really disagreed about this. There’s been a long-standing historic Christian consensus, rooted in the Bible, on the essence of what sexuality is—a Christian view of sexuality.
It comes down to this: That being male and female—having male- and female-sexed bodies, biologically—is theologically significant and morally significant; that is to say, theologically, it matters to God—God has a design in that that’s significant. We should understand that it impacts everything about who we are in the world, and it’s morally significant. It ought to shape our behavior; it ought to shape our interactions; shape our community; of course, shapes marriage. It’s taking seriously this idea that we have been created in the image of God as male and female—that’s the essence of the Christian vision.
Dennis: So, if your son or your daughter came and asked this question: “Daddy, what’s it mean to be a girl and not a boy?” or “What’s it mean to be a boy and not a girl, from a theological perspective, Daddy?”—how would you answer the question?
Todd: That’s a great question! I have three girls and four boys; so this has come up on more than one occasion, as you can imagine. I think I would begin, with a kid, very concretely, with your body.
Todd: “Your body, as a girl, is different than the body of a boy; and Mommy’s body is different than Daddy’s body,” and “I have facial hair,”—and so on. You know, you speak in age-appropriate ways, of course. I would start there, and ground their sense of identity and the way they approach this—this is really key—in something objective; that is to say, the physicality of our bodies.
This has been why our culture’s in such a state of confusion—is we have distanced ourselves from this objective reality of our physical bodies; and [today] the preeminent thing / the most important thing for people in trying to figure out what it means to be a man or a woman is how you feel inside.
Bob: Right. In fact, as you say that—I read something earlier this year, and this had a profound shaping of how I’ve been thinking about these issues and other issues. This author was saying that:
Years ago, we said: “What is true is what science reveals to us.”
In the modern age: “What is true is what technology can demonstrate.”
In a post-modern age: “What is true is, ‘How do I feel about these things?’—
Bob: —“at the deepest, most profound level, that is true; so what science says is less true than how I feel about it.”
Bob: But this author said: “Neither is as true as revelation; and as Christians, we begin with a presupposition that what science teaches, or what I think,—
Dennis: —“or what I feel”—
Bob: —“or what I feel are both subservient to what revelation says.
Bob: “My thinking and my feeling are less true than what God has revealed.”
If we don’t start with that as a framework, then we’re going to be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine or emotion.
Todd: Yes, yes; I agree entirely. I would just want to add, with what God has revealed is where we start—that God has revealed Himself in two books—the book, the Bible, and the book of nature—and that our bodies are part of the book of nature.
Todd: I mean, again, Genesis 1:27—we were created “in the image of God; male and female He created them.” Male and female—the sexual distinction and complementarity of being a man and a woman—is right at the heart of what it means to reflect the image of God; that’s amazing. I don’t think we’ve reflected deeply enough on what that actually means and the implications of all of that.
Dennis: And how are you helping your children to live, and to think, and to love people who aren’t like them and who don’t think like them?
Todd: Well, that’s a big question. I’ll just take a couple of stabs at the things that are coming right off the top of my head. I mean, one of the things we try to do, Dennis, is parent, not from a place of fear, but from a place of confidence.
It seems like a lot of parenting is motivated by fear, particularly as the Christian faith intersects with the secular world. You have a kid, who’s in high school and all the rest of it; and mom and dad are at home worrying about what they’re learning in science class, or sociology class, or whatever.
Bob: —or on the playground!
Todd: —or on the playground; yes, that’s right; exactly.
Dennis: And let me just stop you there. That’s what this broadcast is all about—is giving parents the confidence to speak into their children’s lives and say: “You know what? The Bible is not this ancient book that is irrelevant to today’s issues! It speaks to them. Listen carefully to what it says!”
Todd: Yes. I love that; that’s the burden behind the book I wrote, Mere Sexuality—is to say: “Christians do not need to be coy, or bashful, or embarrassed about what we hold to be true. It is so compelling; actually, it is so powerful, beautiful, compelling.” We just need to cast a vision for it to help our own people—our own families, and congregations, and so on—see it and then commend it to the culture.
We’ve tried to parent, not from a place of fear, but from a place of confidence. We try to prioritize people, and people’s stories, and the complexity of their experiences alongside teaching truth. Now, this is the grace-truth balance. There are folks that are really strong on the truth side, but the grace side suffers. When the grace side suffers, people—and their stories and their lived experiences—it seems, to me, gets marginalized and suffers.
We try to wade in, you might say, to people’s stories and experiences so that someone—you know, one of our high school kids would come home and talk about [how] one of their friends declared themselves to be gay, or bisexual, or transgender—let’s say. Rather than—with our body language or snide kind of exasperated comments—doing this sort of thing in communicating to our kids—we try to sort of wade into that and talk about the complexity of what that must be like for that child, and why that’s difficult, and “How does Jesus enter into that?”
This is the kind of posture that we’re trying to demonstrate to our kids.
The bigger vision for discipleship is—we’re trying to help our children be a faithful presence in the world—not defensive against, as the primary posture—but faithfully present within. They need to have confidence, and a willingness, and humility to enter into the messiness of life.
Can I say one other thing on this? The other thing we try to do is—speak, very candidly, about sex/sexuality—and try to commend the beauty of all of it.
Bob: We had a guest who said that moms and dads need to practice—and I think this is right—you need to practice your “not-shocked” face—
Todd: Yes; yes.
Bob: —when your kids come home and say, “So this happened at school today…” You have to practice going, “Tell me more,”—
Todd: Yes. I love it—love that.
Bob: —as opposed to, “What?!”
Todd: I love that.
Todd: I think that’s exactly right.
Dennis: The thing I like about what you’re doing and what you’re saying there is—and you point this out in your book—
—you said the reason our attitudes have changed about homosexuality, so dramatically, is that people now know homosexuals—
Dennis: —especially teenagers—they have a face to it. And for a lot of baby boomers, who grew up in a conservative community, who didn’t have a face—they didn’t know someone—they didn’t know the story/the context. So, for many of us, it’s been a lesson in loving.
Todd: Yes; yes!
Dennis: And I think this is really an opportunity for the church to show up—and especially for parents to engage their kids to know how to practically love someone, who doesn’t believe like you believe / doesn’t behave like you behave—and not be pious in it but genuinely engage in their story.
Todd: Yes; I agree entirely with that. I think our temptation, as Christians—who are concerned with the truth of the Bible, and want to maintain orthodox convictions, and see the assault of the culture on those—
—I think we sometimes slip into thinking, “If I engage with humility and with a listening heart with someone I disagree with, I might compromise,” or even doing that itself is a compromise.
But, I don’t think the gospel is going to advance—we’re not going to commend the beauty of the gospel if we don’t have a more humble, listening posture: “How do we love people we disagree with and disagree with us?” I think the starting point for that is in humility, listening to their stories and their perspective rather than coming in, all guns blazing with Mere Sexuality and, “You have to get your stuff sorted out.”
Bob: Tim Keller says our starting place on cultural engagement ought to be, “There is something I can learn from the culture.”
Bob: When we start with that—as opposed to, “The culture needs to learn from me,”—“There’s something I can learn from the culture,”—that foundation of humility really does open up dialogue in a way that just coming in and saying, “You guys need to sit down and listen, because I have truth to unload for you,”—that’s not going to work.
Todd: I agree.
Dennis: Todd, you see my Bible here. I have a very odd habit. I collect funeral programs of friends and family members that I’ve been to their funerals, to remind me of how to live as long God gives me life. You can see this one; you recognize who that is on—that one?
Todd: Oh, yes, of course; wow.
Dennis: Chuck Colson.
Dennis: The reason I bring this up is really this topic of what we’re talking about here. At his memorial service, which was in the heart of Washington, DC—they stood up and shared about his life and the values and faith that marked his life. Here are four things that I wrote down about Chuck Colson’s life that I think have application to us today around this subject, with our children, our grandchildren, and with our coworkers, and with people we relate to in the community.
Chuck Colson defended the weak.
He lived a courageous life. He did his duty. He said, “There’s work to be done,”—he was on mission.
Dennis: And then the last thing—and this is what hit me as you were talking—he was a friend of sinners, and even ate with them. [Laughter]
Todd: That is beautiful! [Laughter]
Dennis: Isn’t that a great statement?
Todd: That sounds like Jesus!
Dennis: It does; doesn’t it? And of course, his life was marked by a ministry to prisoners.
Dennis: And our lives ought to be marked by a ministry to prisoners too. We’re all relating to people who are prisoners—of addictions, of different sins, of a past—who need to meet the Savior. You may be the closest thing to the love of God that they get next to in their lifetimes.
Dennis: So the question is: “Will they see Jesus in your life? Will they see the love of Christ and hear about the redemption of Christ and forgiveness of Christ?”—that’s our message!
Bob: And will your grace and your love be grounded in an understanding of truth?—just as you were saying. Are grace and truth both robust in your life, so that people can’t deny either one about you because of the other? That’s where I think to have your book, Mere Sexuality, is so helpful for people to frame this subject in a way where truth and grace are held up together.
We have copies of the book, Mere Sexuality, by our guest, Todd Wilson. You can order it from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the title of the book, Mere Sexuality: Rediscovering the Christian Vision of Sexuality, by Todd Wilson. Order online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call to order: 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, this subject of intimacy and romance in marriage is something that your wife, Barbara, wrote about in the book that she wrote: Letters to My Daughters.
It’s a book that actually began as letters that Barbara was writing to daughters and daughters-in-law on the subject of marriage. It got expanded out into a book for, not just your daughters, but for all of our daughters. We’re making that book available this month to any of our listeners who can help us with a donation to support the ongoing work of FamilyLife Today—the cost of producing and distributing this program—in fact, the cost of all that we do, here, at FamilyLife® is underwritten by those of you who are partners with us in making all of this happen. Every time you give a gift, you are helping extend the reach of this ministry so that more people can more regularly receive practical, biblical help and hope for their marriages and their families.
Again, if you can help with a gift today, we’d love to send you a copy of Barbara Rainey’s book Letters to My Daughters. You can make your donation, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Be sure to request the book when you call us; or request the book when you write to us with a donation at FamilyLife Today, PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to continue our conversation about the Christian vision of human sexuality and why it’s so important for us in our day. Todd Wilson will be back with us tomorrow. I hope you can be back as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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