Now and then we read Playboy—not often, confessedly, but when Hugh Hefner, its editor, occasionally sends a copy hoping CHRISTIANITY TODAY will debate his philosophy of sex and give him free promotion. There seems to be only one aspect of grammar that interests Mr. Hefner as an editor—gender, the feminine particularly, so exposed as to suggest a maternal attachment that Mr. Hefner hasn’t yet outgrown. Some of his magazine’s enthusiasts, ministers included, have the gall to commend Playboy for an interpretation of sex more authentically Christian than that given in the churches.

Today new currents of opinion are gaining force. This is not necessarily bad. Some man-made codes have too long been invested with divine status—for example, the Roman Catholic rule that sex is only for the procreation of children and that any other intention is wicked. The tardy revision of such misconceptions often raises doubts that would have been avoided had the authority of Scripture always been respected.

In the Republic, Plato asks whether one can accumulate all the benefits of being just by merely appearing to be just. If one could make himself invisible, would he hold up a bank or ravish a beautiful girl? Is the fear of being found out what really keeps us straight? This issue is raised in a new way by the scientists’ discovery of “the pill.” For the pill promises intercourse without physical consequences. What it does not promise is ideas without consequences.

The “new morality” asserts that love alone justifies intercourse and that, if two persons intend to marry, love is the only other precondition for sex relations. Christianity does not say “No” to sex; it says “Yes” on the basis of divine creation. But it says “No” to premarital sex on the basis of divine commandment. The Christian view is that sex relations are legitimate only within the marital institution.

As a protest against marriage without love (of which there is little deficiency in our time), or against marital intercourse without love, or, for that matter, against prostitution as a relationship in which both marriage and love are lacking, the plea for the centrality of love is wholesome and necessary. The Christian emphasis on personal love in the very nature of God and on Christ’s love for his bride carries an implicit protest against the discounting of agape in the sexual life of the modern world. Our confused generation has lost the profoundly Christian meaning both of monogamous marriage and of love. It needs the example and guidance a generation of evangelical young lovers and young married couples can bring it at this moment in history. Any generation that prizes intercourse above all other intimacies and thinks that through physical love alone, apart from any transcendent relationship, the sex act unlocks life’s deepest secrets and exhausts its mysteries, is doomed to deadly superficiality. What the world needs is couples capable of such a tremendous love that they want love as God gave it before Adam and Eve lost it, couples aware that in accepting the new morality one is in danger of falling, not into love, but into sin, and that love is something that one stands up for, reaching for the stars rather than the spirit of the age.

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The proposition that intercourse is validated by love, not by marriage, is simply not true, Ideally, romantic love, monogamous marriage, and sexual intercourse are all bound together, and intercourse is last in order. No marriage is legal and binding until the conjugal act is performed; the courts will annul a marriage incapable of sexual consummation. Intercourse validates marriage but does not always reflect love. Outside marriage, intercourse always violates love, since it shatters the divine framework of sexual morality. Any person who loves self-indulgence more than obedience to God is ready neither for marriage nor for intercourse. Someone has aptly described mature love as “union under the conditions of preserving … integrity.” If love in the New Testament sense is present in the intention to marry, it will insist on marriage before the conjugal act.

To justify sexual indulgence before marriage by identifying modern engagement with biblical betrothal has three weaknesses. First, it obscures the fact that modern engagement is neither so formal nor so binding as biblical betrothal. Betrothal included payment of the dowry (Gen. 24:58 ff.) and hence involved parental consent. After the betrothal, the parties were legally in the position of a married couple, and unfaithfulness was adultery (Deut. 22:23, 24). Second, the identification of modern engagement with biblical betrothal lacks direct scriptural support; for its assumption that intercourse is permissible during betrothal depends upon the argument from silence. Finally, the comparison fails to stress the scriptural view that intercourse belongs to the divine institution of marriage.

If the unmarried cannot wait, there remains only one way to please the Lord—that is, to marry. The apostle says of the unmarried: “If they cannot contain, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn” (1 Cor. 7:9). Nowhere does he approve marital privileges without marital obligations; he insists on the very opposite. It is to the husband that the wife is to give the conjugal due, not to the intended husband; it is to the wife that the husband is to give the conjugal due, not to the intended wife.

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The woman who indulges in premarital intercourse because she intends to marry may not be a prostitute, but she is neither wife nor virgin (1 Cor. 7:34, 35). The man too is a fornicator (v. 1). Although a wife cannot claim her body as her own, the wife-to-be can and ought to do so. The single girl is to give her husband-to-be only what is due the husband-to-be, not what is due the husband. Paul differentiates “the wife and the virgin” (v. 34); nowhere does he refer normatively to premarital loss of virginity.

In the same context Paul clearly states that fornicators, adulterers, and sodomites, along with drunkards, thieves, and idolators, shall have no part in God’s kingdom (6:9–10), and that professing Christians must put such sinful works to death or fail to inherit that kingdom. Both fornication and adultery detach intercourse from the institution of marriage, whether the offenders intend to marry each other or not. Fornication is used figuratively in the Bible in the sense of idolatry—of “whoring after” false gods.

If intention to marry justifies sexual intercourse and the actual fulfillment of that intention (or marriage itself) is not immediately relevant, then how is such intention distinguishable from emotional passion only? Recently the writer spoke at the junior-senior banquet of a large Christian college in Oklahoma. Twenty couples publicly announced their engagements that evening. The class adviser, asked for a fair estimate across the years of how many would go through with it, said 25 per cent would not. On that basis, the percentage of engagements of evangelical college students that are broken is higher than the percentage of worldly marriages that end in divorce—quite apart from the issue of premarital intercourse. This estimate is based only on formally announced engagements, and these at the college level.

The notion that two persons are free to follow their desires as long as they love each other is an invitation to exploit passionate impulses irrespective of moral restraints. Love is not self-defining; in this twentieth century it has been equated with pacifism, with socialism, and now with sexual license. A few years ago, when a divinity student at Howard University killed a young Washington woman, he said he did it because he “loved her” so much. Love that spurns the commandments of God always destroys and kills. In the nature of God, love and righteousness are equally ultimate, and agape is self-defining; but in the nature of man—finite, fallen, not yet fully conformed to the divine image even in redemption—agape is not self-defining. If our love of God and our love of neighbor are sullied and need divine direction, why do we think that the ideal direction of sexual love is self-determinable? “If ye love me,” said Jesus, “keep my commandments.” And some of his most serious indictments bore upon the failure even of the religious leaders of his day to understand the depth of God’s claim in the area of sex. “Whosoever looketh upon a woman to lust after her …”—how seriously do we take that? There is considerably more temptation to look and leer today than in the past, and the line between appreciation and lust is getting more difficult to draw.

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Love is responsible to the commandments; it is responsible also to family, to society, and to the state. Its requirements are not exhausted by the private life of two persons. The lovers are to leave father and mother and cleave to each other, becoming one flesh. There is to be no cleaving before leaving. The family is the basic unit of society; young lovers who destroy the claim of the family are indirectly destroying themselves. Love does not overlook responsibility to parents, and those under eighteen or twenty-one are under the guardianship of their parents and should secure parental consent for marriage—or, if they prefer, for premarital intercourse! Moreover, the state is divinely willed to preserve order and justice in a sinful society, and marriage includes a responsibility to the community. Marriage is established by God and confirmed by the state; it is not dissolved by the absence of love (1 Cor. 7:10, 11) nor constituted solely by the presence of love (7:8–9). The bonding element between man and wife is not simply their private love and sexual privilege. (“Art thou bound to a wife?” asks Paul. “Seek not to be loosed” [7:27].) The couple are “bound by the law,” Paul says (7:39). Private intention is not the same as a public ceremony; the connection of sex with marriage attests its answerability to both love and justice. A liberal theology, which telescopes God’s wrath and God’s justice into his love, has produced a liberal ethics, which artifically narrows the moral claim to agape alone, and in so doing falsifies the content of agape.

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Assume now that not marriage but preferential love justifies intercourse, and that marriage is built on this prior premise. What happens if—in some hard hour—love evaporates in the home, even for a season, and the wedding expectations turn for the “worse” rather than for the “better”? And if one of the partners then loves a third party (assuming that intercourse-approving love is love for one at a time)? If marriage is really binding, then intercourse with other than one’s wife is spiritually and legally excluded. But if love is the only bonding factor, the implications of this view will swiftly undermine the social order. If marriage binds in a way that preferential love does not, then the unmarried—for all their intentions—simply are not maritally bound. The revealed will of God sanctions monogamous marriage, but it nowhere sanctions extra-marital intercourse. The fact that such a relationship is pursued outside wedlock with one person at a time and continues over a long period with but one person does not sanctify it; what is wrong once is no less wrong through a process of multiplication or addition, even by the addition of the wedding ceremony.

Assume again that preferential love, not marriage, justifies intercourse—and that professors and students are free to act in this way, and unmarried ministers in their congregations. Assume that a Christian would be quite willing to tell his sister or daughter that she ought to let some young man possess her, even if the prospect of marriage is years off (remember, the intention is decisive), so long as they wave the banner of love and carry the pill. If, in fact, the connection of courtship and intercourse is permissible and proper, normative and ideal, then no lover ought to withhold this relationship from the loved one; in that case it is morally and spiritually due, so long as unmarried couples make it clear that they are courting each other, and for as long as they prefer courtship to marriage.

We can assure the Church that no doctrine it has ever propagated will be as welcome as this one. For in a single stroke what has been regarded as gross sexual immorality down through the Christian ages will be protected and promoted as an ideal fulfillment of a moral and spiritual imperative. The world will hail this late twentieth-century “insight,” and the Church may count upon an innumerable host of “converts” to this notion—in fact, many unregenerates were already “converted” to it before the church’s discovery, and almost every young couple in the churches will now want to follow suit.

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But any such development will mark the day when the Church has gone out of the business of morality and defected from her role in the world. By maintaining the morality of sex, the Christian community fulfills a divinely given role in the world—not simply of proclaiming the standards by which God will judge the world, but of illustrating the blessings of obedience.

The new doctrine is simply a by-product of the existential spirit of our times, which has lost contact with objective norms and standards and, above all, with divinely revealed truths and precepts. In the name of agape it destroys agape, because it transgresses the Word of God. In the name of personal love it violates Christian personality, because it impairs the divine image in man by neglecting the will of God. In the name of sacramental love, it forfeits the sacredness of marriage in exchange for a few months of premature self-indulgence.

Since God is the opener of the womb and man may prevent life but only God can create it, the next step will be to honor children born outside wedlock as the fruit of agape. When that happens, little or nothing will be left for marriage to add. And, in the eyes of a Sodom and Gomorrah generation, marriage will appear as the enemy of love. But the devout believer will recognize this trend for what it is—a rationalization of human passions, which one man applies in the world of sex, another in the world of economics, and another in the world of international affairs, in an age whose heart is set against objective moral standards.

Exemplary Goals Of The Southern Baptists

At their national convention in Dallas last month, Southern Baptists not only voted to continue the present practice of allowing for a second presidential term but also re-elected without opposition their vigorous and able president, Dr. Wayne Dehoney, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Jackson, Tennessee.

Dehoney told the press of his goal for Southern Baptists: “to face realistically the business of launching the greatest missionary thrust the world has ever known.” His presidential address gave a compelling push in that direction.

On the global level he urged: (1) Supporting Billy Graham’s crusades and next year’s World Congress on Evangelism, to be sponsored in Berlin by CHRISTIANITY TODAY; (2) uniting of North and South American Baptists in 1970 in a simultaneous hemispheric evangelistic crusade; (3) undergirding with prayer, money, and surrendered lives an accelerated program to bring the number of missionaries on the foreign field up to 5,000. At the local level, Dehoney set forth a plan for Southern Baptist penetration into urban centers.

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The convention responded with appropriate resolutions and a record missions budget of $21.8 million. We salute the Southern Baptist Convention for exemplary goals worthy of the attention of all Christians.

When Psychology And Theology Meet

Many interesting dialogues occur today at points of contact between religion and psychology and between religion and psychiatry. In this twisted secular world, having one’s own psychiatrist has become a status symbol for many suburbanites, and the German theologian Helmut Thielicke even warns that in the cult of psychiatry America faces the snare of a new religion.

A much more constructive attitude is possible at these frontier points, of course, although the dangers are not to be denied. The panel discussion in this issue of CHRISTIANITY TODAY is a contribution toward better understanding in these areas.

Another helpful effort is the summary of an address by Dr. John Finch, a Tacoma, Washington, psychologist. Regrettably, however, a reading of an interview with Dr. Finch, entitled “Coping with the Stresses of Life” and published in the May issue of Christian Herald, raises more problems for evangelical faith than any psychologist can solve, and leaves us wondering how effectively evangelical Christian faith can operate in a climate of incompatible beliefs.

In this interview Dr. Finch tells us that “one must be very discreet in introducing new ideas … making the new so approximately like the old that he can accept it.” But one will find that the way the Apostles proclaimed the Gospel to the first-century Jews gives no precedent for such an approach, even though the modernist dilution of historic Christianity may. Dr. Finch tells us that “the more insecure” one is, “the more dogmatic” he is—a verdict that has strange and remarkable possibilities if applied not only to the systematic theologians but to the Apostles. In fact, Dr. Finch thinks evasion of one’s personal responsibility “is almost the reason for dogmatic systems: the system relieves us of our own experience.…” The manner in which a haphazard working of both sides of the street strengthens one’s personal responsibility is nowhere made clear, nor, we suspect, can it be. The contrast of “dogmatic affirmations as against the attitudes and experience and indications of real love” rests on an imaginary contradiction which does not exist in fact; Dr. Finch substitutes one set of arbitrary affirmations for the dogmatic affirmations of Scripture, in which love is not opposed to divine disclosure of objective truths.

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One wonders how any reader of John 5:47 (“But if ye believe not his [Moses’] writings, how shall ye believe my words?”), or 8:58 (“Jesus said unto them … Before Abraham was, I am”), or Matthew 11:29 (“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls”), can square such verses with the dogmatic assumptions that “Jesus was … the first existentialist” and that Jesus’ “whole attitude was existential” (italics ours). Or how passages like Matthew 4:4 and Luke 16:29 (“Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them”) are to be reconciled with Dr. Finch’s emphasis on experience as “the basis of an understanding of truth.”

What happens to divine revelation and to reason, we ask, in the declaration that we must “display such an intimate acquaintance by our own experience with truth that [we are] persuaded by the facts of life, not by the logical arguments of life”? By the frank declaration that “truth is true only when it is true to you” and “otherwise … remains a theory,” the existence of every absolute truth is denied, and how anything can ever become true remains unclear.

The doctrinal content of the Christian religion is repeatedly divided and downgraded. Dr. Finch recalls Kierkegaard’s protest against the mechanical catechizing of children, and repeats SK’s question whether a parrot that passed the course should be baptized and confirmed. The evangelical reply is, of course, that Christianity expects children (but not the parrot) to understand and believe; it is not that scriptural doctrines may be abandoned or ignored whenever they are beyond one’s personal experience. It is true enough that, as Dr. Finch notes, Jesus did not say, “If you repeat the parables …,” but it is equally true that Paul said, “If you … believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead …” (Rom. 10:9, RSV).

Dr. Finch obliquely handles a question raised by one of the editors of Christian Herald that goes to the heart of the matter: What then happens to “absolute truth, something that is a fact whether I accept it or not”? The illustrations Dr. Finch gives of “greater [or later] truth” displacing earlier “truth” do not really focus on the question whether such earlier “truth” was really truth or whether truth in fact exists at all.

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If, as Dr. Finch contends, “all we can really understand even of God is what we ourselves personally experience,” the logical conclusion would seem to be that God does not tell us anything outside our own experiences, and that the historic Christian view of an authoritative written Word from God containing statements and standards of what is to be believed and practiced must be discarded. Dr. Finch contends that Christians should sing hymns of the faith “only to the extent” that they “can experience” them. But a single trial run in a morning church service should serve well to dramatize evangelical Christianity’s great dependence on realities of another world revealed in Holy Scripture and the poverty of what an experience-based psychology proposes as a modern substitute. The creation of the world out of nothing, the virgin birth of Christ, the miraculous atonement, the bodily resurrection of Christ, the future judgment of all men, and much else would vanish; in fact, once personal experience is made the sole arbiter of truth, every tenet of evangelical Christianity is subject to moment-by-moment revision.

In the present intellectual turmoil, coordination of various disciplines of learning is imperative, the more so if evangelicals hope to show the way. Even mosquitoes emerge from a whirling lawnmower, humming the refrain “Let’s get together.” Evangelical theology and psychology ought to do no less, as Dr. Finch himself says in his essay elsewhere in this issue.

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