First of all, I have a story today at The Daily Beast on the fallout over Mark Driscoll’s “controversial” new book, Real Marriage. It’s probably not news to most Patrol readers, but check it out if you’re interested. At least I had fun describing Driscoll as a “testosterone-oozing Calvinist bruiser.”

Something that came up in passing in the piece was the simultaneous release of Texas pastor Ed Young’s Sexperiment, which he’s promoting by livestreaming himself and his wife talking in bed on the church roof. You’ll remember him as the guy who ordered the couples in his congregation to have sex every day for a week, and received a massive amount of media attention and a book deal for doing so.

Another thing that came up is how much of a re-run all of this is. There have been explicit-ish evangelical sex books before, and others have preceded the Driscolls in basically approving of “deviant” sex acts between married couples. But the media blitz for Real Marriage has been enormous, and its press materials were packed with salacious buzzwords about how it would send “shockwaves” through the Christian world. It’s explicitness is being oversold all over the internet (not least in some prudish comments by Tim Challies in this post), as is the edginess of its argument.

So what is the deal here? Why is this sex talk able to take up so much oxygen if it’s not new or all that scandalous? Are evangelicals just obsessed with sex? I came up with a few very speculative reasons, and welcome input and correction.

1. Keeping up with the culture. As I noted elsewhere recently (and Darryl Hart argues similarly in his new book), evangelicals are intensely concerned about keeping pace with the culture around them. It’s a weird form of progressivism, a fear of being left behind by history, even if it is rather spotty and selective. So because sex is such a huge deal culturally and politically, it is “on the brain,” and tends to push that sort of issue to the forefront of the discussion. I think at one point there was a sense, even if it isn’t as raw now, that talking about sex in a frank, explicit way could make up for the ways evangelical theology forces believers to remain culturally backward. It sort of combats the pervasive cultural stereotype (which I agree is both prejudicial and contradicted by most empirical evidence) that married and religious people are repressed, sexless and frustrated.

2. Holding on to the kids. Evangelical ministers and parents realize that the conflict between how their children are asked to behave in a modern secular culture and the norms of that culture is overwhelming, intense, and pervasive. The kids (I use the term loosely) are going to hear and see stuff, very explicit stuff, about sex frequently if not constantly. (As Penn Jilette put it: “They’re going to hear Katy Perry.”) There is no longer any escaping it, so the only choice is to compete with it. And that means dealing frankly with a lot of things that used to be unimaginable in church/parent sex talks. I think parents also feel pressure to model a Christian marriage/sex life if there’s going to be any hope that their kids follow them in it, so it makes it a live subject that people can’t hear enough about.

3. It sells. In general, I don’t really believe evangelicals are any more obsessed with sex than anyone else in America. (There’s the abstract fixation on the sexual other as enemy of society’s moral order, but that’s a different thing.) The proliferation of books and media hype in the evangelical world is driven by the same thing it is everywhere else: money. Pseudo-salacious, pseudo-controversial books like Driscoll’s sell very well, particularly when they’re written by an already-huge Christian celebrity, and probably even have a bit of crossover appeal. Christian publishers are in this to make money as much as regular ones, and I have no doubt that the keeping the idea going that church is in dire need of “serious conversations” about sex is great for business. (It may happen to be true, but a Mark Driscoll book isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I think of how that conversation might go.)

I’m not saying any more about the book itself because I probably disagree with its authors’ first principles too much for that to make any sense. Plus, Susan Wise Bauer has written a perfectly good review, and Matt Lee Anderson has some interesting things to say as well.

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About The Author

David Sessions

David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol, and is currently a doctoral student in modern European history at Boston College. His writing has appeared in The Daily Beast, Newsweek, Jacobin, Slate and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter here.

0 Responses to Mark Driscoll and the Evangelical (Publishers’?) Obsession with Sex

  1. Sex Mahoney says:

    Started listening to Penn Jilette without realizing it was a 20 minute rant. By the time I caught on, it was too far in to end early and I had to listen to the rest. Thank you for the recommendation.

    Dedicated parents CAN raise kids without exposing them to popular culture, but the longer the deficit, the worse the surplus. Oedipus didn’t end up with his mother because Laius made sure they spent a lot of time together.

  2. John says:

    I appreciate the way you’re trying to play this, but as long as you’re taking a stab at caricaturing the motivations of an entire bloc of people based on one book written by a pastor you claim everyone loves to hate, allow me to make a few observations:

    I’ve read your blog since from when it was CCM Patrol, and every year you get more and more patronizing. (“Well of course it’s got to be New York City, because that’s where all the action is.”) You get off on making everyone look stupid. Is the point of your blog (and your work in general) to review religion and the modern world, or to repel religion in the age of the modern world? True, Driscoll can be downright frustrating to someone who wants a calmer “discussion leader” that promotes peace, love and harmony. But the flip side of visible anger is smarminess. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but with every post on this blog, you get a mix of “You go girl!” type comments – i.e. people that agree with you – and then you get a mix of “Well, okay, but it wasn’t necessary to write it in such a snarky way” comments. It’s basically the same thing you see over at a New Atheism blog. Do you see this condescension in your writing at all, and if so, does it matter to you? I mean, clearly you’ve managed to get a job writing about people you don’t like, which makes it a pretty easy job. (For example, I don’t like baseball – if I had a job where all I got to do was rip on how boring and terrible the sport is, I would have a ton of fun.) But I don’t understand how this becomes a passion ultimately worth pursuing.

    I mean take a look at the whole Bethke post. “Ah, haha, fundamentalist Christians probably don’t know who Drake is, but we do because we’re culturally relevant!” “Look at how little he knows about the world around him, look at how dangerous he is!” Did it not occur to you that the guy is sitting in an evangelical subculture, so what he’s saying is full of evangelical subtext, and so what he’s talking about will not make sense to someone so brilliantly educated as J-Fitz? Yes, the production is meh, the words are overrated, and the statements are not up to the quality of a published journal article. (Because that’s always what we expect from YouTube videos.) Even so: How is this elevated discourse that rises above, say, criticism of a chain letter? How is this not something a Pharisee would do?

    Come on, man. You’ve got to elevate your level of respect for people, even if you think they’re completely bonkers. Sure, you won’t always get to write like an ass. But not being a dick forces you to do your homework, and actually review religion and the modern world, rather than just rolling your eyes at it.

  3. John, I try to be as open to correction as I can, but I don’t think this is constructive criticism. It’s just projection-filled ranting. I don’t doubt that you can find certain instances where Patrol writers have demonstrated the attitudes you describe, but we’re human and go through changes, transitions, and growth like anyone else. But overall, I don’t recognize our work or general posture in your description; in fact, I think it’s thoroughly one-dimensional and unfair.

    • John says:

      How is “keeping up with the culture” and “holding on to the kids” not projecting and one-dimensional? Does every conservative Christian book have to be fit into the stereotype of conservative Christians fearing new things, finding themselves left behind as society seemingly moves forward? Point 3 is fine, and jibes very well with what all the reviews on the book that you linked to stated. Turns out it’s not that controversial, and the book is being hyped to sell. But Points 1 and 2 are just opportunities to paint people you don’t like in a negative light. “Look, they’re dying, they’re scared little people, and they’re trying to hold on to something that is wrong.” There’s nothing about sex that you’ve explained in Points 1 and 2 that makes it fundamentally unique from any other issue in conservative Christianity as it pertains to modern culture. And then you take the time to sneak in all sorts of other little claims, like “evangelical theology forces believers to remain culturally backward.” Like what, they don’t use technology? Or they don’t have multiple sexual partners before they get married? And is “culturally backward” beyond a mere statement of fact, or is it (as I think you’re putting it) laced with disdain?

      And to some of my other stuff – I don’t think you’re evenhanded in how you treat Driscoll at all. The stuff you linked to – I liked all of it, even the stuff I disagreed with – but your specific Daily Beast column is hyper forceful with “here’s what you need to know about Driscoll and here’s what you need to think about him.” The whole Bethke commentary by Fitzgerald is snarky, and in fact there are about 100 posts on your blog telling you that. Sure, number of posts doesn’t correspond to the truth of what’s being said, and you probably got a lot of heat from some conservative site that linked to you. But this comes up on many posts I’ve read here over the years, and if you honestly don’t believe that the superiority of tone is increasingly a major issue for this blog, then… well, you’re free to figure out a way to discard the comments you get.

      I’ve always appreciated your critical attitude towards evangelical culture – it’s needed, and it makes me rethink people like Driscoll, rather than just accepting what he says. But conservative evangelical thought is a little more subtle and nuanced than you give it credit.

  4. Hip-Hop Republican says:

    haha, mocking people for not knowing who DRAKE is? his albums are depressing submarine music for women and tryhards who want their rap to be “deep.”

    all the cool kids know that Lil Wayne is more clever with the puns anyway.

  5. boohoo says:

    people may read your failing website more if you ever wrote anything positive about people who LOVE JESUS. All you do is bash other Christians who are trying their hardest to LOVE people and LOVE Christ.

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