Saturday, August 03, 2019

Joshua Harris' hour of reckoning and heirs to his legacy: considering a "sexual prosperity gospel" that continues in red state and blue state forms by way of Nadia Bolz-Weber and Mark Driscoll

From about 2002 to 2007 at what used to be called Mars Hill Church there was an idiotic fad.  This fad was for courtship.  I regarded it as idiotic while I was there and not because I was particularly liberal in my theology or my political views.  I was friends with people who did advocate courtship and I argued with them in private and on the Midrash discussion forum about things from time to time.  I argued that the Bible as a whole shows no particular interest in "how" people meet and marry and that, in any case, most of the people who would have written or heard the biblical literature as contemporary literature probably didn't have a choice about if they would marry or necessarily even have a choice about who they would marry.  The Bible had clear instructions against adultery and discouraging divorce and discouraging the abuse of spouse and children.  But the courtship fad was full of people who insisted that there were checklists to be followed and that "God's design" for you was to pair you off.  That seemed foolish.

Another reason I regarded the courtship fad as dubious was it held up explicitly and implicitly a model of suburban middle class nuclear family life that I was (and am) convinced is not plausibly going to last much longer in Western post-industrial societies.  Extended family systems have been more normative, as best I have been able to tell, in much of the world.  A marriage is often not between the two lovers as it is a union that combines families, networks of families, even clans.  The idea of a marriage as a functionally and practically autonomous romantic dyad seemed too common in courtship instruction manuals and I have never been able to shake the impression that as the United States continues into an economic decline (just bear with me on this part, okay) that nuclear families were going to be less and less feasible.  

So when I heard people in the neo-Calvinist scenes bewailing the "epidemic of singleness" they treated the perceived failure of young men and women to jump through the hoops and check off the checklist of suburban matrimonial domesticity that this had to be because Americans were rejecting "God's design" rather than considering, which is what I've considered all of this to more likely be, a reflection of the fact that the mid-20th century to late 20th century nuclear family based marriage system has a shelf life in economic terms and that younger people not buying cars or homes and not officially marrying was not a sign that they didn't care about sexual fidelity, loyalty and mutual fulfillment but that the checklists included things they couldn't afford; they were not buying in for a specific marital script taken for granted by middle-class American urbanites with upscale ambitions more than they were rejecting love and marital commitment.  Would not the activism for gay marriage in and of itself prove that the ideal of marriage was still powerfully appealing enough for those denied those legal options to seek them?  

There were plenty of marriages at Mars Hill and Driscoll used to brag about how many people were marrying and having kids.  I left Mars Hill around the 2007-2009 period.  I didn't renew my membership but I still liked to spend time with my friends there and so I didn't forsake hanging out with them.  By about 2007 the courtship fad ended, probably mainly because one of the most prominent advocates for courtship at Mars Hill decided it was necessary to leave when significant structural changes to the corporation occurred connected to governance and ... also ... because his highly sought after daughters had already been spoken for, basically.  Suddenly guys who spent years pretending (I'm being cynical here) they believed in courtship quit pretending when the six foot tall blonde beauty they had been coveting decided to get married to a man who was not one of them.  Now if you were to go track down people who would admit they were at Mars Hill they might remember who this blonde is.  She and her husband were held up as the gold standard of how courtship "worked".

But ... since the woman and man are beloved friends of mine I was able to learn that the gap between the public idea and their frustrated and frustrating dating relationship was large.  They made sure to uphold Christian purity but that turned out to not be nearly as frustrating as navigating the skepticism of family members and the rules laid down by the dad of the bride.  They did not exactly act like a couple in public settings and so sometimes ambitious dudes might hit on the woman at Mars Hill social events and the guy learned how to hold his peace.  They had agreed to abide by this ... but they also considered eloping, they considered it very seriously!  They didn't and are glad they didn't but they shared with me that they were THIS CLOSE to eloping.  When things seemed at their worst the woman sent the man she loved a card drenched in perfume with lyrics from a Portishead song to encourage him.  I don't have to tell you the name of the song, if you've heard any Portishead you should know which one.  Suffice it to say the young man took heart!  They married quite a few years ago and although they were touted as the "ideal" their "courtship" period was one of the most miserable times of their lives, both shared with me.  They also said it was okay if I shared their story. 

 I've opted to be general and discreet but in case any readers who were once at Mars Hill worked out who I'm talking about, yes, I got permission from them to share this.  I used to tease the bride's father by saying:  "You say. `Any Christian guy can take any Christian gal and make the marriage work," but the reality is that what you mean is, `Any Christian guy can take any Christian gal that is not my daughter and make the marriage work."  The man laughed and said I had him dead to rights but he said, "Surely, since you're friends with my daughters, you can understand why I feel that way."  Oh, yes, definitely.  I regard them all as wonderful friends and understand a father's wish that his daughters marry good men.  That was part of why I made fun of him when he promoted a paradigm of courtship in which "any" guy and gal ought to be able to make a marriage work because the truth is different.  

I can respect the desire for self-control, mutual respect, love, care, nurture, dignity and a desire to make the union of two people not merely about the two people but a bonding of a network of families.  What I don't respect are cheap self-help books that fraudulently promise that this sort of union of body and soul and families can be passed through as though we were looking at a mass-produced car that has rolled off some assembly line.  So I didn't feel any qualms about belittling the courtship fad not because I had no appreciation for the values of what some call "purity culture" but because I thought the hoop jumping checklists sold an illusion of respecting those ideals and were passed off as respecting the relational dynamics the ideals sought to protect and cultivate. Avoiding sin is not the same thing as cultivating righteousness, whether love for God or love for neighbor.  

During the peak of the courtship fad at Mars Hill Church I said to one of my siblings: "I don't care how many people are getting married at Mars Hill.  That doesn't matter to me.  Anybody can start a marriage. I want to know how many of these people who married at Mars Hill will still be married, ten, fifteen and twenty years from now.  Something tells me that twenty years from now we'll have just as many divorces as everyone else and we'll look like fools for it."   

That's the best approximation I can provide of what my statement was.  My siblings and I were sort of known as dissenters from what we regarded as the stupidity of the courtship craze at Mars Hill Church.  Observing, though at some distance, the divorces of what used to be Mars Hill marriages leaves me with the impression that I was, if anything, gently sugar-coating my 2004 era skepticism.  Even I didn't want to go so far as to say that these marriages taken up in brand-promoting delusions of grandeur were going to detonate as the sham and shame of the whole thing revealed which people married because they loved each other and which people married out of something like what Girard used to call mimetic desire. 

In the years after I left Mars Hill I was talking to someone who expressed regret that I didn't find a wife during my time there.  I said that although there was nothing wrong with the women I knew and befriended there I was grateful to God I didn't get married at Mars Hill.  I feel like I dodged a bullet, maybe several bullets, by not marrying at Mars Hill Church.  Here in 2019, about five years after Mars Hill fell apart, I hear and see enough evidence of marriages that have fallen apart that I am afraid I have to say that I am still grateful I never married anyone during my time there.  The are marriages even within those who were once in the leadership orbit of Mars Hill that have broken apart.  In my time at Mars Hill I learned that many of those who espoused courtship for us had done nothing of the sort themselves.  

Perhaps the most flamboyant such admission was Real Marriage itself, in which Mark and Grace Driscoll give the impression they were screwing like bunnies before they got married and then when they both decided they were Christians stopped having sex and then, to Mark's great dismay, they could not pick up where they left off after having guiltily turned from all the sex they were having prior to marriage.  It was, as I suspected, a case of Mark Driscoll grandiosely proclaiming "this is what you should do" on the basis of "Do what I tell you the Bible says you should do, not as my wife and I did."  That there's an argument to be made that the lovers in Song of Songs are not even described as married would be something Mark Driscoll would evade altogether and that a Nadia Bolz-Weber would camp out triumphantly ... but we'll get to them later.  It is with all this in mind that I finally turn to the man of recent headlines, Joshua Harris.  

I was in college in the early 1990s and heard about some guy named Joshua Harris, who wrote a book called something about kissing dating goodbye.  Eventually I heard about courtship and I didn't think much about it at the time.  I wasn't exactly on the market or seeing myself as having any reason why I would or should be dating so what was the point of kissing goodbye something that didn't seem like a smart life decision at the time?  

Then about a decade later I had ended up at Mars Hill Church and courtship was a confounding and idiotic fad in the period from roughly 2002 to 2007 that I found was impossible to not hear about.

The Harris book was not exactly a prominent part of that fad.  I heard of the book and a friend of mine said she read the Harris books.  The first one, she said, seemed sort of okay but the second one impressed upon her a conviction that Joshua Harris was a total idiot. It had something to do with how he and his girlfriend were cuddling in a hammock and they decided she needed to wear pants or something. I confess I forget details about this since I found it impossible to take Harris seriously enough to find out for myself from his books.  My friend said that what the man and woman showed was that rather than admit they were getting too hot and bothered for the sake of their own consciences they made a point of jumping through some hoops that they thought would ensure they were acting righteously.  

What I began to notice during the Mars Hill years was that there was a way in which the official line and how things worked didn't always seem to match up.  There might be a time where a woman's father expressed reservations about a pairing and if the Mars Hill leadership decided everything was cool the not entirely thrilled future father-in-law might be told to suck it up and just deal.  Despite lip service to the idea that dad gets veto power within the Mars Hill scene there were hints that what the leaders of Mars Hill really believed in practice was that once they decided to give their blessing to a couple of the objecting parent was not themselves a member of Mars Hill they could stick it where the sun don't shine.  

I can't help thinking of Mark and Grace Driscoll's Real Marriage in which he claimed marriage is more like poetry than a math equation. Yet over the years I have gotten a clear sense from writing about marriage and divorce that many a divorce happens over things that can be quantified on a spreadsheet, things like fights over money and fights over income (and how the income is or isn't obtained).  Mark presented himself and his marriage as the ideal to follow and so when Real Marriage came out and the various revelations were shared about how bitter he was at his wife and how she was uncomfortable with sex it began to seem as though most of what Mark had said from the pulpit from the 2000 to 2007 period might have been a sham, a sales pitch for an imaginary marriage that didn't exist except in Mark Driscoll's pulpit-based stand up routines. I confess today what I have said in the past, that by the time I finished Real Marriage I had concluded that if this was what real marriage looked like according to Mark and Grace Driscoll that real celibacy seemed like a healthier alternative.

But whereas Mark Driscoll sought out and cultivated the celebrity Christian shtick Joshua Harris was born to it.  He was like some kind of legacy admission/legacy conscript to a kind of already-famous Christian whose job is to shill stuff for the sake of a larger brand.  What I've caught of online discussion of Harris' divorce and formal announcement that he does not currently identify himself as what he would identify as a Christian in the last few weeks has tended to bracket into discussions of  1) "purity culture" or 2) the topic of Harris' divorce and potential apostasy.  Not all discussion, fortunately.  There is a piece by Katelyn Beaty about how what Joshua Harris had to sell in his somewhat famous book was a sexual prosperity gospel.  I believe that this third area of focus is the more enlightening path, particularly because, as I hope to suggest, as we consider what a sexual prosperity gospel might be we can see that it would be mistaken to think that it's uniquely evangelical or even necessarily conservative.  But first let's consider what Beaty says the sexual prosperity gospel is.

It is ironic, then, that Christians who denounce the prosperity gospel have in recent years touted its sexier, if subtler, form: the sexual prosperity gospel. This is my term for a core teaching of the purity culture that erupted in the 1990s, telling young evangelicals that True Love Waits. It holds that God will reward premarital chastity with a good Christian spouse, great sex and perpetual marital fulfillment.

Sexual prosperity theology was supposed to combat the mainstream culture’s embrace of no-strings-attached sex and sex education in public schools. Purity culture arose in a time when the traditional sexual ethic looked increasingly prudish, unrealistic and kind of boring. Writers like Joshua Harris, Josh McDowell and Eric and Leslie Ludy held out the ultimate one-up to secular licentiousness: God wants to give you a hot spouse and great sex life, as long as you wait.

The giveaway of any prosperity teaching is an “if/then” formula: If you do this, then you will get this. If you put a $100 bill in the offering plate, then you will get tenfold back. If you stay chaste now, then you will later be blessed by marriage and children.

When prosperity teachings fail to pan out, it not only puts the teaching in question, it also calls into question the very goodness and faithfulness of God.

Most of us will never know the details of Harris and Bonne’s separation. The fact that their marriage is ending is not an occasion to gloat. Nor does it suggest that chastity itself is bad.

But as a new generation of Christians works out a sexual ethic in the wake of purity culture, it’s worth recalling that formulas cannot shield us from the pain, frailty and disappointment of being human in a broken world. Sooner or later, life catches up with us, and we can either shake our fists at an unfair God, or recognize that God never promised fairness in the first place. It is we, not God, who come up with the formulas.

The stated aims of the purity movement was to avoid heartache.  The heartache in mind was, most likely, the discovery that whomever you partner with has had sexual partners besides you.  The courtship fad and the purity movement struck me as dubious despite my having been a conservative sort because it was a set of checklists.  In the era in which the biblical texts were written (setting off to the side all the debates about whether the Old Testament reflects ancient authorship or more recent theories that it was created and compiled in the Persian exilic period) it was possibly moot how one went about seeking a spouse. Whether you were married at all to begin with and who you married might partly involve your input but might involve more input from your parents and older relatives.  That mutually selected erotic pairing entered into by the lovers themselves with the approval of their friends and family could be appreciated as a poetic ideal could seem strongly indicated by Song of Songs.  

Ironically, but not surprisingly, both Bolz-Weber and Driscoll have insisted on pointing out the woman does most of the talking in Song of Songs and is sexually aggressive and expressive and the Church fathers were flummoxed by this sensual poetry and so invented theological paradigms to explain that all away.  Whether you read Shameless or Real Marriage you'll get this shared commentary. 

Having read both Shameless and Real Marriage the two celebrity preachers have real differences,  that can be described as blue state and red state is significant, but they have the same core gimmicks.  Both Bolz-Weber and Driscoll are cussing pastors with folksy styles, a penchant for attention-getting stunts, and both position themselves within their books as having gritty teaching on sexuality that they present as healthier than the sexual baggage and restrictive ideas of the early Church fathers, specifically Augustine and Origen.  

If you want the red state version of the sexual prosperity gospel you can buy the Mark and Grace Driscoll book.  Should you want the blue state version of the sexual prosperity gospel you can by the Nadia Bolz-Weber book.  In both cases you part with a small amount of your money to purchase a book that promises that God wants you to have mind-blowing sex.  The sexual prosperity gospel isn't as overt as some televangelist telling you to send in seed money for a tenfold blessing in return but the implicit (or maybe explicit?) promise of Shameless and Real Marriage is that if you buy the book for a small amount of money you'll get the relational tools and the Bible verses you may want to get that life of mind-blowing sex you deserve.  Both books sell themselves as giving you the real deal as written by authors who ... well ... let me just say that I personally would not trust relationship advice from either Nadia Bolz-Weber or Mark Driscoll at this point in my life.  Just because they both say Augustine and Origen had hang-ups about sex doesn't really prove anything.  To observe that is to shoot fish in a barrel and it's not even why people keep reading Augustine and Origen.  I've got Augustine's treatise on music on one of my shelves and plan to get to it, for instance.  

Joshua Harris' version was probably the beta version of a sexual prosperity gospel that has had time to evolve and to be tailored to more niche markets.  The super-charged steroid driven version of the red-state sexual prosperity gospel, at least in my experience, was engineered by the likes of Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill Church.  Its apotheosis, at least within the context of Mark Driscoll's writings, would be in Real Marriage.  The chapter "Can We ______?" signaled that all of the other chapters were functionally building up by way of steady crescendo to the climax of the chapter in which Mark and Grace Driscoll would go through a list of things and declare whether Christian couples in heterosexual marriage could or should do them.  There was a simple range of parameters to each potential activity: did the Bible forbid it expressly?  Was it beneficial?  Could it be enslaving?  Those were the core ideas.  

The blue state copycat variation on a sexual prosperity gospel is Nadia Bolz-Weber's Shameless.  Cussing pastor?  Check.  Ripping on Augustine and Origen?  Check. Insisting that the primary or even only way to understand Song of Songs is as Hebrew erotica that the Church fathers were too squeamish about?  Check.  Slang-laden vernacular rehashings of biblical narratives that reflect the agendas of the author?  Check.  There's hardly a thing in Shameless in terms of literary gimmicks that Nadia Bolz-Weber uses that weren't fine-tuned by Mark Driscoll in his cussing pastor younger days.  As different as their positions on gay marriage and trans people may really be, what makes these two peas in a pod for an American sexual prosperity gospel is that they have the same basic set of gimmicks and they have the same core message in relationship to earlier theological writing and biblical interpretation, uptight guys from the early Church fathers period with hangups about their boners decided the Bible discouraged sex and that Song of Songs had to be an allegorical but we're here to tell you it's all about wifely stripteases and holy blow jobs if it's Mark Driscoll and it's all about passionate holy sex that involves "union" if it's Nadia Bolz-Weber (Driscoll did that "unity" thing, too).  As real as the differences are between Mark's red-state and Nadia's blue-state messages are, what makes them purveyors of a sexual prosperity gospel is that they have deigned to write books that tell us what we are free to do and what we shouldn't do.

Between Shameless and Real Marriage from 2019 and 2012 respectively, the sexual prosperity gospel is easily adapted to whichever American audience wants to buy in.  To suggest that this was something that evolved from evangelicalism, for instance, could be to miss that there are other ways this range of ideas can be articulated.  There's probably nothing in Bolz-Weber you couldn't find in Matthew Fox, for instance, in some form.  It seems doubtful that a sexual prosperity teaching has to be defined strictly in Protestant terms ... although Fox did become Episcopalian ... although not all Episcopalians identify as Protestant a la the magisterial Reformers but ... anyway, let's set that off to the side.

Having said all of that it wouldn't do to not actually quote Bolz-Weber and Driscoll to demonstrate why I'm suggesting they are sexual prosperity gospel teachers.  But one of the interesting ways to get a clearer sense that the Bolz-Weber and Driscoll teachings about sexuality can be construed as a sexual prosperity teaching program can be observed from what they make a point of leaving out.  Neither Bolz-Weber nor Driscoll have any real use for discussing Jesus' cryptic remark about eunuchs and the history of theological debate and interpretation about that saying.  You would not be able to guess from reading either Bolz-Weber or Driscoll that in the book of Isaiah there is an oracle given to the eunuchs who served in the court unless you've made a point of reading Isaiah for yourself.

Isaiah 56: 3-5 (NIV)
Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.”
And let no eunuch complain,
“I am only a dry tree.”
For this is what the Lord says:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant—
to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever.

Compare the oracle in Isaiah to Nadia Bolz-Weber, who admonishes her readers in Shameless to grieve the years they could have been having sex but didn't because they were harmed by church teaching. 

Nadia Bolz-Weber
Copyright (c) 2019 by Nadia Bolz-Weber
Published in the United States by Convergent Book, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC

ISBN 978-1-60142-758-8
ebook ISBN 978-1-60142-760-1
page 158

As I have talked with my friends and my spiritual community, I have realized that many of us need a space where we can grieve lost or twisted sexuality. Do you, too, need this?  If so, I invite you to let the unprocessed trauma that is stored in our bodies find its way out.  Maybe with a trusted friend. Maybe alone.  Maybe in a church.  Let's tell the truth about those scares.  Not because they define us, but because we can define them. Let us grieve that we were not taught to love and respect the inherent dignity of our own human bodies. Grieve the decades we avoided sex when we could have been enjoying sex. Grieve the pain. Grieve the abuse. Grieve the loss. Grieve the harm done to us by the messages of the church. Grieve our own sins and mistakes.  

Grieve for the years in which you weren't getting laid, or the sex you did have was awkward because church teaching messed up people by saying sex was bad?  Why does that seem familiar?  Oh, right.  Real Marriage and also ... : 

William Wallace II
Member   posted 01-18-2001 11:13 AM              
Christian pornography.  Christian phone sex. Christian cyber-sex. Christian lap dances. 
Someone recently asked me about these issues. And, they are quite valid. 

The problem with many unfaithful unmanly unmen is that they have heads filled with desires and dreams, but they marry a Christian women raised on a steady diet of gnosticism (so she hates her body) psychology (so she thinks too much before she climbs into bed) and guilt ridden don't have sex because it's a dirty nasty thing that God hates and makes you a slut youth group propaganda from hell/Family Books. 

So the poor guy is like a starving man who is told he can only eat once ever couple weeks and his restaurant only has one crummy unspiced bland item on the menu and he either eats it or starves to death. 

Bummer for that guy. 

[WtH: Nadia Bolz-Weber might call it "ethically sourced porn" in 2018-2019 but Driscoll mentioned it in 2001.  Even at the level of stunt statements it's fascinating to observe that Nadia Bolz-Weber can be seen as just a blue-state variation on a set of gimmicks that Mark Driscoll pioneered for his red state sexual prosperity gospel about two decades ago, at least two decades ago if you go all the way back to his 1998 Song of Songs sermons.]

What the guy wants is to see a stripper, a porno, and have some phone and cyber sex. What the guy needs is a good Christian woman. The kind of woman who knows that men like unclothed and sexually aggressive women. Why? Because they are breathing. As long as a man is alive he is ready for sex every minute of every day. 

Ladies, listen closely. The guy will never get the big dreams out of his head. He can either explore them with his wife, become bitter and sexually repressed, or sneak off to Deja Vu or log on to the net and escape in a moment of adventure. Birds fly, ducks float, dogs bark, and men think about sex every minute of every day because they have a magical ability to continually think of two things at one time, one of which is always sex. Any man who denies this is a liar or has broken plumbing.

So it would behoove a good godly woman to learn how to strip for her husband. Some nice music, a couple of drinks, candlight and a wife who has thrown her youth group devotionals to the wind would be nice. Most women do not do this because they are uncomfortable with their bodies. Know that for a man there are two variables with a woman's body. One, what does she have to work with? Two, how does she use it? Now I will tell you a secret, number two is the most important. 

How about a Christian guy who wants to watch porno? Maybe his wife should get a Polaroid and snap a few shots of her in various states of marital undress and bliss and sneak them into his Bible so that when the guy sits down to eat his lunch at work and read some Scripture he has reasons to praise God. Or, maybe if the lady would plug in a camcorder and secretly film herself showering, undressing, making love to her husband etc. she could give it to him when he's on the road for weeks at a time, or maybe just so the poor guy can see his wife as some undressed passionate goddess. I have yet to find a wife take me up on this be rebuked by her husband. 

And what guy breaking his stones on the job every day wouldn't like a hot phone call from his wife now and then telling him in great detail what awaits him when he gets home. Or how about the occasional instant explicit message from his wife rolling across his screen giving him some reasons to expect that dessert will precede dinner that night. 

Do you know why the adult entertainment industry is raking in billions of dollars? Because people like to have sex and have fun. Does it lead to sin? Yes. Can it lead to worship. Of course. If you resist this message, please stay single until you get your head straightened out. If you are married and fully constipated, bummer for you and your upcoming divorce. 

I'm going to quote a bit more of Mark Driscoll here and I realize it's a big chunk, but I am not the only person who has written to the effect that Mark Driscoll has shilled a kind of sexual prosperity gospel (that has elements of what Lutherans would call Law to it).  Jessica Johnson's Biblical Porn discusses Driscoll's approach to sexuality at some length and I reviewed the book over here.

Bolz-Weber mentions "asexual" once or twice and then devotes Shameless to those who are presumed to have a sexual market value and who very much wish to put it to use.  She's not written a book for those who believe they should be celibate for whatever reason.  And to underline my point about Bolz-Weber and Driscoll having no use for discussing eunuchs, let me quote for you a punchline Mark Driscoll had about eunuchs from his Esther series:
Jesus Has a Better Kingdom
Pastor Mark Driscoll
Esther 1:10–22
September 21, 2012
about 8:39 into the sermon.

Number two, men are castrated. Men are castrated. I’ll read it for you. “He commanded—” and these guys got names.  “Mehuman—” That’s kind of a rapper name, I was thinking, like, ancient Persian hip-hop artist, Mehuman. That’s how  it’s spelled. “Biztha.” Sounds like a sidekick. “Harbona, Bigtha.” That’s my personal favorite. If I had to pick a  Persian name, Bigtha. Definitely not Littletha. I would totally go with Bigtha. “Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas.” Okay, a couple things here. The Bible talks about real people, real circumstances, real history. That’s why they’re  facts. It’s not just philosophy. Number two, if you ever have an opportunity to teach the Bible and you hit some of the parts with the old, crazy names, read fast and confident. No one knows how to pronounce them, and they’ll just  assume you do.

Here are these guys. So, you’ve got seven guys, “the seven eunuchs.” What’s a eunuch? A guy who used to have a good  life, and joy, and hope. That’s the technical definition of a eunuch. A eunuch is a man who is castrated. [emphasis  added] Proceeding with the story before I have to fire myself.

Never mind what Isaiah shared with eunuchs as a word from the Lord.  Pastor Mark made it clear that a eunuch was a guy who used to have a good life, and joy, and hope and that's the technical definition of a eunuch.  Forget Isaiah 56 if ever you read it.  Pastor Mark has the real deal about life and sex ... and so does Nadia Bolz-Weber.  Mourning the years of bad or not-had sex and encouraging people to grieve the years they could have been laid but for the bad teaching of the church can look different because of a lot of real differences, but consider the possibility that once you get deeper than those differences a Nadia Bolz-Weber and a Mark Driscoll may have something more in common than either of them might be willing to admit.   You won't likely see a book called Real Celibacy from either of these people.

What is fascinating to observe about Shameless and Real Marriage is that there can be those who praise one book and condemn the other without observing the possibility that there is a core underlying message that is conveyed through the style and persona of the authors.  It's more than just possible for someone who disliked Real Marriage to praise Shameless, after all--someone could critique the former and like the latter enough to write an endorsement blurb for it.  Your parents meant well but they steered you wrong.  Buy this book, read it, and see how the earlier church teachings dropped the ball and how you can have much better sex and a more intimate partner relationship with the help of this celebrity preacher.  

Sure, maybe one of them found it necessary to develop a way to treat his depression by getting more sex from his wife, and maybe the other one of them amicably divorced from her husband of some twenty years but nobody's perfect and both authors assure us they have counseled a lot of people about issues of sexuality within their churches.  But for their respective fans it might be insulting to suggest that Bolz-Weber and Driscoll are ultimately selling the same shtick calibrated to different niches within the market.  The possibility, which I personally endorse, that neither a Bolz-Weber or a Driscoll is really in an ideal situation to counsel any of "you" on matters of sexuality, may not be one that either Bolz-Weber or Driscoll have stopped to consider.  

These sorts of celebrity Christian figures are selling books to those who, if I had to hazard a guess, have already decided that their sexual market value is high enough that they should be going out there and finding that special someone.  These are not writers who spend any time discussing practical Christian instruction or theological traditions dealing with eunuchs.  There's nothing about the Pauline advice that if you aren't already married by now that you shouldn't be in a rush to marry but that if you do marry you do not sin but marriage, should you enter it, will be full of challenges.

This may come full circle to one of the reasons I thought the courtship fad, in all its forms, was idiotic.  It treats the wedding night as the finish line more than it seems to have reason to.  Yes, lip service is paid to communication and conflict resolution and all of that but the sexual prosperity gospel is mainly focused on the sexual finish line in every possible sense of that set of words.  You're not going to read anything from those who espouse a sexual prosperity teaching about what life is like should you and your spouse bring a child into the world who has an autoimmune disorder or the possibility one of you could be dismembered through an accident.  These peddlers of the sexual prosperity gospel have nothing to tell you about how to cope with the death of your child or the emergence of a kind of cancer that could make your spouse unable to have sex with you for the last years of his or her life.  

Whether in its red state or blue state forms the sexual prosperity gospel says Jesus wouldn't give you a sexual market value you're not supposed to use and you are, it is assumed, someone people want to have sex with.  The sexual prosperity gospel certainly isn't for the incel because the incel is probably some white guy who can't get laid who hates women in the blue state form and in the red state form it's some worthless beta cuck who can't get laid because he doesn't deserve to be.  Bolz-Weber can sell this idea by way of saying you could have been robbed of a great sex life through the bad teachings of the Church.  The Driscollian variation is a bit different and it may be these differences which make the two seem as if they don't share a few gimmicks in common--Driscoll used to say that unless God called you to smuggle Bibles into China or some other life-threatening spiritual ministry then you "should" go out there and find a spouse and that men are taking wives and women are given in marriage.  

Yes, the blue state and red state differences are significant but notice, if you would, that even in Driscoll's version the only reason you should refrain from being in a relationship where you're getting laid all the time is because God has insisted that you, and the default "you" here is very probably white in an Anglo-American context, have been called to go smuggle Bible to people of color in some not-America place where you are likely to become a martyr for the faith.  Got that?  And a Mark Driscoll might invoke someone like the prophet Jeremiah but let's just see if we can revisit that passage wherein the prophet Jeremiah describes how he came to understand he was not to marry, or attend any weddings or attend any funerals.

Jeremiah 16: 1-13

1 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 2 “You must not marry and have sons or daughters in this place.” 3 For this is what the Lord says about the sons and daughters born in this land and about the women who are their mothers and the men who are their fathers: 4 “They will die of deadly diseases. They will not be mourned or buried but will be like dung lying on the ground. They will perish by sword and famine, and their dead bodies will become food for the birds and the wild animals.”

5 For this is what the Lord says: “Do not enter a house where there is a funeral meal; do not go to mourn or show sympathy, because I have withdrawn my blessing, my love and my pity from this people,” declares the Lord. 6 “Both high and low will die in this land. They will not be buried or mourned, and no one will cut themselves or shave their head for the dead. 7 No one will offer food to comfort those who mourn for the dead—not even for a father or a mother—nor will anyone give them a drink to console them.

8 "And do not enter a house where there is feasting and sit down to eat and drink. 9 For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Before your eyes and in your days I will bring an end to the sounds of joy and gladness and to the voices of bride and bridegroom in this place.

10 “When you tell these people all this and they ask you, ‘Why has the Lord decreed such a great disaster against us? What wrong have we done? What sin have we committed against the Lord our God?’ 11 then say to them, ‘It is because your ancestors forsook me,’ declares the Lord, ‘and followed other gods and served and worshiped them. They forsook me and did not keep my law. 12 But you have behaved more wickedly than your ancestors. See how all of you are following the stubbornness of your evil hearts instead of obeying me. 13 So I will throw you out of this land into a land neither you nor your ancestors have known, and there you will serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.’

Jeremiah wasn't told to not marry because he had been called to a life-threatening ministry.  He was told not to marry because he understood that there was a disaster coming, a disaster so great that the sound of wedding parties would cease and no one would bother to bury the dead.  

Neither Driscoll nor Bolz-Weber have any use for even discussing this kind of biblical passage.  They preach a Jesus who wants you to get laid if you follow the guidelines they have and Mark has more and Nadia has less rules but ... what if we consider the possibility that even though these people say "Jesus" it could just be venerating Hera and Aphrodite?  Hera was the goddess of marriage and domesticity, a jealous goddess who punished the women Zeus took as lovers.  Aphrodite still needs no introduction.  Maybe Bolz-Weber leans a bit more Aphrodite and maybe Driscoll leans a bit between Aphrodite and Hera ... but to the extent that they avoid dealing with the Jesus who talked about eunuchs and the Isaiah quoted earlier, they may be selling a sexual prosperity gospel that's more a song to Hera and Aphrodite than the Galilean teacher who was crucified and, at least to go by the canonized accounts of him, never married.  

If Joshua Harris has repudiated his courtship advocacy and indicated he no longer can think of himself as a Christian that's newsworthy but it remains to be seen whether that is the same thing as noteworthy.  I was too busy looking to find work and pay rent the year the Harris book was published to know or care what the book was.  It was already useless and irrelevant to me the year it was published.

One of the things that has been repeated is the observation that Harris, as a symbol of a sexual prosperity gospel, was tied to the young restless Reformed movement, of which Mark Driscoll was also once considered a part.  Carl Trueman has written on Harris as part of the movement recently and I'm going to quote from him at some length. Trueman points out something I believe is important to understanding what Joshua Harris became.  Trueman makes the observation I noted earlier on how Joshua Harris was a legacy admission/legacy conscript within a movement, in contrast to the sort of figure like a Mark Driscoll who didn't come from a family with preachers, let alone celebrity preachers.  If a Driscoll or a Bolz-Weber chose to endorse a sexual prosperity gospel of some kind for their red and blue state consumers, the tragedy of Joshua Harris is that he may have grown up in context in which continuing family brands hung on him like an albatross.

Many Christians were helped by all this. The YRR theology was at best a diluted form of Calvinism, but it had a largely positive influence in the pews.
But the movement’s leadership was often arrogant. In public, critics were derided and then ignored; in private, they were vilified and bullied. An extensive informal network of individuals, institutions, and organizations who wanted a slice of the YRR action was happy to oblige the padrini by keeping critics on the margins. And one by one big leaders fell from favor: Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald, Tullian Tchividjian, C. J. Mahaney, now Josh Harris. On Friday the news broke that The Village Church, home of YRR megastar Matt Chandler, is being sued over alleged mishandling of sexual abuse.  
But at no point has there been any apparent heart-searching, among those left in the movement, as to whether such falls indicate a problem in the very culture of the YRR—at best a lack of judgment in its choice of headline acts, at worst a fundamental lack of integrity. Sorry, as Elton John sang, seems to be the hardest word. Which is odd for a religion predicated on repentance.
Early in the movement’s history, I spoke with a couple of the leaders. One told me that his organization was “God’s means of doing something great in this day and age.” As delusional as such a claim obviously was, it did seem to reflect the general ethos at the time. Another told me that I needed to understand that the movement was “leveraging celebrity culture to do something for the gospel.” Boromir tried to do something similar with the ring of power, as I recall. 
Many evangelical Christian organizations and movements have a similar kind of messianic self-consciousness. And it eventually leads to great evil. As soon as you identify God’s purposes with those of yourself or your organization, ordinary Christian principles—honesty, decency, etc.—quickly disappear. A few years ago, a minor evangelical arriviste was caught in serious sin. His employer’s announcement of this might be summarized as follows: “When we are doing so well for the Kingdom of God, we can expect the Devil to attack our best men.” Maybe. But the logic was that of every tinhorn cult leader: The evidence that we are corrupt, or employ seriously corrupt people, is really just evidence of how important to God’s Kingdom we are. How convenient. It is the Christian equivalent of Wall Street’s “too big to fail” ethic.
And this brings me back to Harris. It is sad that his marriage is at an end. It is sad that he has abandoned the faith. He alone must take final responsibility for his actions. But he was also the product of, and a major player in, a wider movement that is proving increasingly problematic. As a product, he was exploited by those who saw in him a marketing opportunity and consequently gave him far too much exposure and responsibility far too soon. He was used. I wonder if any of the leading YRR lights have spent a moment reflecting about whether they and the culture they created bear any responsibility for this mess. [emphasis added] Or is Harris’s apostasy merely another of those Satanic attacks that confirm that they are on the right track and must press on?   
As a player, Harris might be qualified to do the evangelical church one last favor: He can expose the behind-the-scenes shenanigans—the money made by at least some of the leading lights, and the power wielded by an unaccountable few—of Big Evangelicalism. That would seem a more important contribution than emotive talk of personal journeys, gobbledygook about repentance detached from any notion of God, and the continuation of life as performance art.
The body count in the YRR leadership is already high. Harris might be able to ensure that the leaders who are left will operate with more humility, transparency, and integrity in the future. 
My friends at Mars Hill, that young couple held up as the poster children of "courtship" didn't want to be poster children to justify the courtship fad.  They loved each other and wanted to be married.  Thankfully they still are married and have some wonderful children and and being a fan of animation and a reader of theology I've had the pleasure of lending them a lot of animation and a few theology books.  May they go the distance.  I certainly pray they do.  
Harris was someone who was, as Trueman put it, a product of the movement he was born into.  Perhaps Harris had time to understand more fully what it has meant to be a product, and treated like a product, by the movement that spawned him, and is rejecting that.  That is not an easy thing to do.  I personally believe the only way to truly reject that legacy would be to reject being a public figure altogether and not simply turn around to shill a new kind of sexual prosperity gospel in which he goes out and tells those whom he feels his old tradition has abjected should be free to do as they do.  Now that's not to say he can't believe that but to put this another way, in light of what I have been saying about sexual prosperity gospel 2.0, Joshua Harris does not need to become a Nadia Bolz-Weber just because he realizes he has been a Mark Driscoll in the way he formulated and promoted sexual prosperity gospel 1.0.  It remains to be seen whether in walking away from the old sexual prosperity gospel if he walks away from being a public figure or if he, as so many of these sorts of people do, he shows that there seems to be nothing else he can do except be the sort of public figure shilling something like a sexual prosperity gospel.  
I saw a link to a TED talk in which Harris explained that at one point in his youthful days.  A minute into the video he says he prayed, "God, let me write a book that will change the world."  He immediately quipped, "Be careful what you pray for."  Now the very idea that Harris' book changed even the United States seems ... dubious.  Maybe that is part of the trouble, that Harris grew up in a milieu in which simply being a normal moderately well-adjusted person wasn't enough.  I'm ex-Pentecostal for a variety of reasons, though I would not go so far as a variety of Reformed folks go and declare Pentecostals not Christians at all; but I wearied of a Pentecostal cultural norm in which people might tell you God had called you to some powerful ministry.  
I resolved that these sorts of oracles were not going to be how I lived my life.  I was not going to feel obliged to believe I was called to some world-changing prophet ministry just because any friends or family got that idea about me, however potentially well-meaning that sort of dream might be thought to be.  Instead I made a point of reading the prophetic literature and reading about prophets and began to get a sense that prophets were not writing or saying what they were saying to "make books of the Bible" but to challenge people to live by the revelation already available.  For the times I was told that God was intending to use me to play some prophetic role in the church I resolved that "if" that was ever going to happen it had to be an unforeseen providential side effect of figuring out how to love God and love neighbor, not because I set out to have such a legacy.  Among the young, restless Reformed seeking that world-changing legacy seems to have been the point and you have to be able to see the legacy with your own eyes rather than, say, live in faith that whatever positive legacy you might have would be one you wouldn't see.  
That Harris came to a point where he could think that he should or could have such a legacy and to have it through writing a book is troubling to me.  What about living a life minding your own business and working quietly with your hands?  Is that not regarded as a virtuous and honorable path by the biblical authors?  Joshua Harris may have wanted to write a book that would change things but that could speak of a vision of heroic action in which the illuminated special one comes back with "the boon", something that could easily come from Joseph Campbell's monomyth rather than having anything to do with a biblical text. 
But I've heard this kind of hope in the Joshua Harris prayer before, because it is a hope for a world-changing legacy.  It's the kind of hope that emerges in Mark Driscoll sermons not just for himself but for the sorts of men he has wanted to inspire.  
Now there are some who are noticing that. amidst the discussion of Harris' divorce and distance from Christianity. the purity culture has come under fire.  Matthew Lee Anderson has a piece up called "Sex Ethics After Purity Culture: what do the critics want?"

It was by no means perfect—but its flaws were such that a sensible 16-year-old could easily detect them without too much damage. Most young people inside evangelicalism were not going to purity balls, and had little problem moving on from Harris when they left high school. Legalism pre-existed Harris’ book, and has long endured after it.
At the same time, people resonated with Harris’ view in part because there was no meaningful alternative. Parents like David French spoke loudly about the joys of going on dates in critiquing Harris, without realizing that as a social practice it had largely died by the late 1990s. A few heroic figures would gamely try to keep it alive, but that was just the problem: that script for finding a marriageable partner now required a heroic sort of virtue, which inherently ruled out many of us.
The absence of a script for how to enter marriage was partially a consequence of the loss of a social vision for why one would marry in the first place—and on those scores, Harris offered a picture of a world that in fact might have been better than the Calvinball-like environment surrounding us. It was nostalgic, yes, and was doomed to be distorted in being implemented. But then, every vision is.   ...
Yet to consider what Harris said of himself and about his prayer in the TED talk we might want to back up a bit.  Which came first, the purity culture that Harris has been credited as helping to popularize, or the desire to write a book that would change the world?  This is not, of course, really an either/or question, because it could seem that in Joshua Harris' case the two impulses were potentially inseparable and, in any case, decades in the past.  

If there is something that we have been seeing about the young, restless and Reformed movement that starts to stand out after a while, whether it's Joshua Harris' description of the prayer he prayed about writing a book that would change the world, or the entire public career of the Mark Driscoll who tells men they should live with a legacy in mind, a legacy spanning generations from children to grandchildren, it may be that the young, restless Reformed are obsessed with legacy-making.  They are not necessarily focused on legacy as something to preserve, that might be more aptly said to be the concerns held by the older sort of Reformed traditions, whether a Carl Trueman or, if we stretch out the net very widely indeed, a Robert Schuller or even a Fred Rogers (he was an ordained Presbyterian minister, correct?).  There are men who demonstrate that a legacy is something we can build together and share together.  

More and more the thought leaders and pioneers of the young, restless Reformed men, if they be a Mark Driscoll or maybe a James MacDonald or maybe a Joshua Harris, can seem to reveal themselves as men who are concerned with legacy but of a sort in which they build the legacy in some way and can witness within their own lifetimes.  A cynic with biblical literacy could say that these are men who want to build towers on the plain of Shinar so they may see for themselves the legacy they have created. If providence reveals these towers of Babel are being destroyed perhaps Harris is showing some wisdom in walking away from the tower he played a significant role in building, the courtship craze.  

But if he walks away from a Driscollian variant to become a Bolz-Weber champion of those whom in an earlier career he might have disregarded then there's a danger that he may remain a peddler of a sexual prosperity gospel but of a more secular and progressive-minded kind.  Seattleites know perfectly well that there was a blue state sexual prosperity gospel instructor who was opposed to Mark Driscoll over the last two decades and his name was Dan Savage.  That's the thing about a sexual prosperity gospel, it doesn't really require that one be religious at all, just that one is willing to make a living off of telling other people how, how often and with whom they should get off.  

If Harris is walking away from a sexual prosperity gospel, to stick with Beaty's concept, he doesn't need to convert to selling a secularist blue-state alternative because, as those of us in Seattle have known for a while, there's already a Dan Savage and there's little reason to think a Dan Savage would welcome a Joshua Harris to the club. That I know of, Savage hasn't commented on Harris.  Neither Savage nor Driscoll could resist commenting on the fall of Ted Haggard and it demonstrated how entwined their respective brands and personas were.  It's possible that with Nadia Bolz-Weber we're seeing someone else who can, less directly, define her brand against a brand like Driscoll's.  

These two celebrity preachers are indebted to the legacy of Joshua Harris, who is a relatively recent pioneer in shilling a particularly red-state form of sexual prosperity gospel, but Dan Savage had mastered the blue state variation more or less by the time Harris wrote his book.  There may be all sorts of ways to venerate Hera and Aphrodite without being official about it and that may ultimately be what the sexual prosperity gospel turns out to be, but for those who call themselves Christians, you can't very well sell millions of books unless you figure out how to hide the sexual prosperity gospel behind some suitably reverse-engineered version of Jesus, ideally the kind of Jesus who somehow is a reflection of you.  

Adolf Schlatter, a Swiss pietist theologian, wrote in his commentary on Romans that it is the height of covetousness to make God in our own image and to make our own lusts God's will.  If he could see the work of a Joshua Harris, a Mark Driscoll and a Nadia Bolz-Weber he might observe that, for all the apparent differences in red and blue state trappings and marketing gimmicks of these three, they may, after all, have been selling the same core thing, venerating Hera and Aphrodite while disguising that veneration under a version of "Jesus".  Thanks to the political balkanization of our age, people will look at the red state and blue state distinctions on the surface and miss the underlying core.   What Harris has done, in contrast to his heirs within Christian popular publishing, is express doubts about the quality of the product that made him famous.  That is likely more than can be said about what his heirs may say and do. 


I realize 10,127 words is extravagantly long ... but attempting to do justice to a topic like this, the ways in which popular level Christian publishing has wielded a sexual prosperity gospel across the red state and blue state divides, deserves a treatment that can do some justice to the last twenty years of the gimmick.  It didn't quite hit me just how long this single post was while I was writing it. :)