Author of The Great Sex Rescue, Sheila Wray Gregoire, explains why she was horrified at Joshua Ryan Butler’s Gospel Coalition article that equated the Holy Spirit with semen.
Every now and again something so awful appears on the internet that the only response is: “What in the world did I just read?”
On March 1, the US based Gospel Coalition published an excerpt of Joshua Ryan Butler’s new book Beautiful Union, which paints sex as an icon of salvation. Butler wrote: “Christ penetrates his church with the generative seed of his Word and the life-giving presence of his Spirit, which takes root within her and grows to bring new life into the world. Inversely, back in the wedding suite, the bride embraces her most intimate guest on the threshold of her dwelling place and welcomes him into the sanctuary of her very self. She gladly receives the warmth of his presence and accepts the sacrificial offering he bestows upon the altar within her Most Holy Place.”
Implying that a man’s climax is his “sacrificial offering” has horrible repercussions for sexual assault victims.
Incredulity and outrage quickly followed. First, it seemed blasphemous to equate the Holy Spirit with semen. But the practical implications for male-female relationships were also concerning. Implying that a man’s climax is his “sacrificial offering” has horrible repercussions for sexual assault victims. And Butler’s declaration that the female side of sex is “hospitality” blurred issues of mutuality, and even consent, in sex. In our survey of 20,000 predominantly evangelical women for our book The Great Sex Rescue, we found the idea that “a woman is obligated to give her husband sex” is widespread in evangelical literature, and leads to lower orgasm rates, lower marital satisfaction, and higher rates of sexual pain. Framing sex as female accommodation of male need has real world consequences.
Two days later The Gospel Coalition doubled down, posting a link to the entire first chapter in place of the excerpt, claiming that the excerpt had “lacked sufficient context”. Once people read the full context, though, the cries grew louder. The context was simply more of the same. Finally, on Sunday, four days after the article initially appeared, The Gospel Coalition took down both and apologised for not reviewing carefully. They announced that Joshua Butler would no longer be speaking at their autumn conference, and that he had resigned from The Keller Center of Cultural Apologetics.
The Gospel Coalition has seven board members and thirty-four council members, all of whom are male.
As one who was part of that Twitter storm, it was heartening to see our concerns heeded. At the same time, I’m not sure the proper lessons have been learned. Yes, people thought the article (and book) were highly problematic. But in sidelining Butler, the Gospel Coalition appears to be scapegoating him. After all, Butler has been teaching this view of sex within Gospel Coalition circles for years. Influential people within The Gospel Coalition endorsed the book, including Andrew Wilson, teaching pastor of King’s Church in London, who called it: “One of the best books I have read on anything in the last year.” Was the problem really that they didn’t have proper review processes? Or was the problem that the book was actually in line with their theology, and they simply got caught? The Gospel Coalition has seven board members and thirty-four council members, all of whom are male. Perhaps it should not be surprising that they didn’t pick up on how describing a man’s sexual pleasure as being a sacrifice would sound to women.
Sex is a wonderful thing. Reducing it to penetration in a hospitable vagina–and calling this an icon of the gospel–is not.
Sex should be mutual, intimate, and pleasurable for both. Sex shows us the ecstasy of true intimacy, where we’re vulnerable before each other, with no pretext. That’s a wonderful thing. Reducing sex to penetration in a hospitable vagina–and calling this an icon of the gospel–is not.
I hope The Gospel Coalition learns the right lesson. It’s not just about getting rid of one book; it’s about starting to listen to other voices. Because as it is right now, they have yet to prove they have ears to hear.
Buy Sheila Wray Gregoire’s book The Great Sex Rescue here.