Civilizing The Sexual Barbarians
Men and Marriage, by George Gilder (Pelican, 1986, xix + 219 pp.; $15.95, cloth). Reviewed by Jan P. Dennis, editor in chief, Crossway Books.
Civilization is fragile. It is based on truths, mores, patterns, institutions, and, yes, roles that may be tampered with only so much and no more. When these constituent parts are sufficiently disrupted, a society dissolves. Perhaps better than anyone else, George Gilder understands this. His new book Men and Marriage, a revised and updated edition of his 1973 book Sexual Suicide, is an extended meditation on how modern society, by substituting ideology for reality, is self-destructing.
For Gilder, the linchpin of civilization is the mutual sacrifice of the sexes (echoes of Eph. 5:21), each according to its nature, for the preservation and advancement of society. A married woman gives herself up to the care and nurture of young children and the establishment of a stable, comfortable, and loving home. This she does according to her nature (or perhaps according to the divine decree that we read in Gen. 3:16). Likewise, a married man gives himself up to 50-and 60-hour work weeks, to narrow specialization, to earning his bread by the sweat of his brow (more echoes of Genesis 3) for the sake of a woman’s love and the prospect of posterity. This he does according to his nature.
Each, theoretically, can do what the other does. And throughout history each has done the work of the other, when necessary. What is novel today, according to Gilder, is the idea that the members of each sex ought to do the other’s work, or that it makes no difference for society who does what.
Gilder’s impressive array of evidence—biological, anthropological, historical, and psychological—often undermines this dominant feminist ideology. Men and women are indeed different. While a plain reading of Scripture should have protected us from the illusions of androgyny, many Christians will find it helpful to collect the evidence of natural revelation to support the teaching of special revelation. (Gilder does not support his argument from Scripture or theology, since his research preceded his conversion.)
Here is the heart of Gilder’s argument: Men are rapacious, predatory, disloyal, and philandering. They are, in short, sexual barbarians. Marriage induces men to rechannel these chaotic and destructive behaviors into a way of life that is productive, edifying, and lasting, namely, the family. The result is civilization.
On the other hand, sexual liberation (or as Gilder more precisely terms it, “sexual liberalism”) enfranchises these negative male tendencies and brings with it a way of life that is destructive, degraded, and impermanent, namely, that of the sexual barbarian. The result is chaos.
Unless men can be persuaded by women to channel their energies into creating, maintaining, and sustaining a home and family, says Gilder, they will revert to sexual barbarism. A woman can do this only by tying her agreement to have sexual relations with a man to his promise of a lifetime commitment to her. In this way, the man’s drive for sexual fulfillment is satisfied and the woman’s need for a safe and stable environment in which to raise her children is met. Both parties benefit. And the way is paved for the rise of civilization.
This sex-for-support contract is, of course, far from a complete picture of what marriage is or ought to be. It is, however, a fundamental social reality.
Sexual liberation, so-called, destroys this pattern. By detaching male sexual activity from permanent man-woman relationships, society lays the groundwork for the return of the sexual barbarian—now variously called “swinger,” “playboy,” “womanizer,” “libertine”—the very creature marriage was meant to get rid of. The renewed presence of the sexual barbarian in society entails certain rearrangements, including such sources of turmoil as “living together,” serial marriages, “no-fault divorce” and single parenthood.
The Barbarization Of Women
The solution proposed by our social engineers and sexual pundits is not a return to the former arrangement but, incredibly, the attempted barbarization of women along the lines of “if men get to be sexually liberated, women have that right as well.”
Women, Gilder asserts, are much more difficult to barbarize, having never, before our enlightened age, actually been sexual barbarians, and given the fact that the nomadic “cruising” lifestyle appears to go against their basic make-up.
Nevertheless, the effort proceeds apace. We see everywhere images of liberated, sexually available, no-strings-attached women. Meanwhile, whatever imagined gains ensue from such abnormality come with a high social price tag: a floodtide of single mothers, birth rates below replacement levels, a glut of unwanted pregnancies, pandemic venereal disease, a raft of careerist women waking up in their late thirties to discover that what they really wanted was to raise a family.
The sexperts have “solutions” to all these ills: state-financed day care, abortion on demand, condoms and other “safe sex” practices, artificial insemination, “the right of every woman to conceive and bear children,” and male homosexual and lesbian parenthood. Never mind that these and a host of other “value-neutral” behaviors practiced by consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes are wreaking havoc on our fair republic. Decency, propriety, health, tradition, family, history, anthropology, psychology, and nature itself—all must be sacrificed on the ideological altar of sexual liberalism.
The genius of George Gilder is that he can venture into the heart of this tempestuous rage aware that its fury is about to break full force on our heads, and yet send back this calm, rational, even hope-filled message in a bottle. The question is: Will we read it? And, even more important, will we heed it?
The Divided Flame: Wesleyans and the Charismatic Renewal, by Howard A. Snyder with Daniel V. Runyon (Zondervan, 1986, 108 pp.; $6.95, paperback). Reviewed by Karl G. Wolfe, senior pastor of the Ypsilanti (Mich.) Free Methodist Church.
During my dozen years as a pastor, I have interacted with charismatics regularly. For four years I served on a church staff where the senior pastor was involved in the charismatic renewal. I then moved to pastor a church in the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti (Mich.) area, the home of one of the largest charismatic communities in the world. Throughout, such experiences have been positive. It has been a surprise, then, to encounter in my denomination an antagonism toward, and fear of, charismatics (using charismatics in the popular manner—persons who claim to have received “extraordinary” gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as “word of prophecy,” “tongues,” and “interpretation of tongues”).
The antagonism is all the more puzzling given the fact that my church is among those steeped in the “holiness” movement. We Wesleyans talk frequently and warmly of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We emphasize that faith in Christ is best described if we speak of being in relationship with him. We paint such a relationship as dynamic and alive because the loving Lord, by the Spirit, is present and active in us.
With such emphases, it would appear we have much in common with charismatic Christians. To be sure, there are abuses and immature teachings and attitudes within the charismatic movement. But surely antagonism and less-than-loving attitudes do not heal past wounds and bring us into closer fellowship with others in the family of God.
Tearing Down The Barriers
Well, enter The Divided Flame: Wesleyans and the Charismatic Renewal. In this small volume, Howard Snyder—a pastor in my denomination and a prominent Wesleyan voice—with Daniel Runyon, calls for those in the holiness tradition to tear down the barriers, put away the guns, and do what is necessary to bridge the gap between the Wesleyan and charismatic camps.
After giving us a bird’s-eye view of New Testament references to charismatic gifts, the writers go on to recall for the reader the history of their use, especially glossolalia (tongues speaking), from the apostolic age to our time, showing how these gifts have recurred periodically throughout church history.
The book focuses particularly on John Wesley, whose ministry marks the beginning of the present-day congregations that fly the holiness banner. The authors insightfully note that, though not required to face the matter of glossolalia, Wesley’s theology regarding the Holy Spirit, as well as his view of Christian community, parallels that of the contemporary charismatic movement. Indeed, Wesley and his heirs called Christians to a deeper relationship with God through a special work of the Holy Spirit (called “entire sanctification” or “Christian perfection”) that takes place after the salvation event. Such an emphasis, say Snyder and Runyon, eventually gave birth to Pentecostalism. (Unfortunately, many in holiness traditions regard charismatics as illegitimate offspring.)
After showing how Wesleyans and charismatics share common roots and give similar attention to God working in human experience, The Divided Flame provides some theological bases and practical guidelines for dialogue between the two groups.
The call for re-examination of the common heritage of Wesleyans and charismatics is long overdue. However, the volume is not the last word. Critical matters are consistently underdeveloped. For example, Snyder and Runyon offer little more than a list of the germane biblical texts. Exegesis and application are absent. Historical background is thin. The analysis of Wesley is interesting, but it does not go far enough. And while the authors want to persuade Wesleyans to fellowship and minister with charismatics, they seem reticent by their tone, as if unsure how strongly they want to issue their call.
Still, I rejoice to think we Wesleyans may begin to accentuate elements shared with the charismatic movement rather than the differences. I hope The Divided Flame is a beginning of the bridge building that is both natural (because of the common heritage) and important (for the upbuilding of the kingdom of God).
Robertson’s Date With Destiny
America’s Dates with Destiny, by Pat Robertson (Nelson, 1986, 322 pp.; $15.95, cloth). Reviewed by James L. Sauer, director of library at Eastern College, St. Davids, Pennsylvania.
According to conventional wisdom, it would take a miracle for Pat Robertson to be elected President. But the Sovereign Lord does intervene in history, and he does answer prayer. The question is whether he will answer Pat Robertson’s prayers, George Bush’s, or Jack Kemp’s. Who knows, God might even respond to the petition of a Democrat.
“I have written America’s Dates with Destiny,” says Robertson, “to summarize briefly just a few of the major moments in American history that shaped our past for good or evil.” He has also written Destiny in order to buttress his bid for the Republican nomination.
The book is divided into three sections. Part one traces the Christian and moral heritage of the United States, beginning with the first colonists and ending with the 1886 dedication of the Statue of Liberty. Part two, “Losing Our Way,” concerns the growth and dominance of liberalism and kindred aspects of modernist social dissolution. Part three, “Finding Our Way Again,” suggests that the 1980 political awakening of the evangelicals, and the subsequent election of Ronald Reagan, mark the turning point in contemporary American history. Not surprisingly, Robertson suggests that “Election Day, 1988,” marks “Another Date with Destiny.” The historical text is interspersed with homey, personal asides and observations.
This book represents a clear, spiritual, and conservative chronology of the American story, and it will serve not so much as a manifesto of Robertson’s campaign as an articulate expression of the New Christian Right’s vision of the American Dream.
Robertson’s vision of America as a New World Zion is a beautiful myth, and not without appeal, nor some accuracy. It is certainly more appealing to evangelical Christianity than the false secularist vision of America as a libertarian, progressivist utopia. That vision will not do for anyone acquainted with human nature, let alone our founding documents.
Whether Robertson can persuade the American voters of this vision is another matter. It is certainly improbable for a Pentecostal TV evangelist to be elected to the Oval Office. But this, after all, is America. Who would think that a grade-B movie actor would someday be commander in chief? Miracles do happen.
Christianity Today Talks To George Gilder
On how his views have changed since the publication of Sexual Suicide in 1973:
The amazing thing I discovered was just how durable the facts of life are. My views have been consolidated into a system of settled convictions. During those 13 years I got married. Marriage is just as good—it is better—than I imagined. And I’ve become much more religious. By deep immersion in the literature of sociology and anthropology I discovered the paramount teachings of the church, and I was surprised to discover that the old clichés my mother had taught me were in fact unyielding truths of human life. My discovery that the essential themes of Christian teaching about marriage and family were true led me to the church, rather than the other way around. Christianity is true, and its truth will be discovered anywhere you look very far.
On the church and society’s morals:
The church is right, and it should know it is right and speak with authority. It should not allow itself to be bullied by the media into abandoning its great patrimony, the traditional values about sex and family. Too many ministers pick up a copy of the New York Times or see an episode of “Sixty Minutes” and assume the whole world is transformed; and they think that in order to deal with it they have to capitulate in all sorts of ways. That is a terrible mistake, because it betrays the church’s purpose.
On the church and sinners:
When the church refuses to recognize the sinfulness of promiscuous behavior, it actually becomes an obstacle to redemption. The church can’t even forgive people without acknowledging their sin. Upholding God’s law strengthens the church. It weakens itself and destroys its function by capitulating to transitory secular waves and pressures that are reflections of social breakdown rather than indications of the emergence of a stable new form of human behavior. The church doesn’t just preach at sinners; it loves them. It brings them in and shows them the way. “The past is past—go and sin no more” is what the church should transmit to sinners.
On women and work:
Married women today, as always throughout history, have to work, and they should learn things to do that are valuable to their society. But women and men have different attitudes toward work. Women in intact families do not use their career credentials to maximize their earnings. They use their credentials to maximize their flexibility. The more credentials and qualifications a woman has, the more likely she is to prefer part-time work. (The man’s pattern is exactly the opposite.) The fact that women are getting increasing credentials does not mean that in the future they are going to be competing more for full-time, permanent careers. It means they’ll be able to earn enough to supplement the family income without pursuing full-time careers. By becoming a lawyer, a woman doesn’t work so hard as if she were a waitress. She can be home more with her children and can work more at home.
Masculinity is critical to the a ongoing business of society provided it is subordinated to the essential principles of feminine morality—a greater sense of the value of individual human life, of ongoing generations, of responsibility toward the fabric of human civilization. If you want to create a civilization capable of building for the future and serving God in a productive, continuing way, you want masculinity to be sublimated in the family, and I think that is what marriage achieves. Men need marriage, but they have to be taught to need it. That’s why it’s so critical for women in their youth to focus on converting barbarians into useful citizens, teaching them the important values.
By LaVonne Neff.
Find hope and historical insight. For a limited time, explore 60+ years of CT archives for free!
- Daily devotions from Timothy Dalrymple during this pandemic.
- Hundreds of theology and spiritual formation classics from Philip Yancey, Elisabeth Elliot, John Stott, and more.
- Thought journalism that inspires you to think more deeply about your faith.
- Learn more