Some are asking me more about my theology of gender. I’m working on another book that will continue to speak to that, but mainly because I want to reinvigorate the church in Song of Songs. This book, found in the center of our Bibles, teaches us about Christ, his church, man, and woman. It teaches us the whole point of it all. And it’s not a list of roles and hierarchy, but a love song. We are ripe for a positive kind of sexual revolution in the church and recovering a good theological anthropology will have a lot to do with it. I am convinced that it will take a cooperation of academics, pastors, and informed/thoughtful laypeople (men and women) to do it. We desperately need to peel away the Aristotelian mindset of men and woman that still pervades much of the teaching on sexuality in the church today. Teaching on some of the themes in the Song of Songs is just one contribution to this. Here is an excerpt from a chapter I am working on:
Our Bodies Speak
When God made us in his image, he gave us bodies and souls—“he created them male and female” (Gen.1:27c). God is spirit and does not have a body, and yet he gave us bodies to image him. Why did he do this? What do our bodies speak? In the incarnation, Jesus took on human flesh to be our mediator of the new covenant. That’s how much he cares about our bodies. He was born of a woman (Gal. 4:4). Christ didn’t just come to save our souls, but to be the firstfruits of the resurrection so that we too will be raised with new bodies upon his second coming (1 Cor. 15:20). We will be given eternal bodies. Our bodies matter to God and they should matter to us. They speak, making visible the invisible, the marital story of Christ’s spousal love for his bride and the eternal communion we will share with him on the new heavens and the new earth.
And the Song enfleshes this metanarrative. In it, we see the distinction between the man and the woman, as well as communion through giving of the self in and through these differences.
Do you hear the melody of what we are supposed to be? It is the bride who sings it! And in the Song, the groom bids us to look at her. In the center of the Song, when we are bidden to gaze at the King on his wedding day, the Groom immediately points us to the bride. He poetically praises her beauty in wasf form, praising seven parts of her body. Perfection! And yet, this description leads us no closer to know what she actually looks like. We instead are given imagery of what her body evokes.
The Groom uses temple language as he delights in her. Her hair portrays livelihood and movement streaming from Mount Gilead, a holy place for Israel’s history. Her lips, like a scarlet cord, remind us of holy garments. Her brow is like a slice of pomegranate, which were embroidered on the priest’s robes. She is likened to the mountain of myrrh, the temple mount of Jerusalem, and he will make his way to the mountain. She is the holy edifice and the bride. Why is this? Because he is within her! The bride is joined to the Spirit. To behold her is to behold “the holy city of Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21: 2). Like the Proverbs 31 woman, she is the glory of her husband (Prov. 31:23).
That’s the thing about beauty, isn’t it? It speaks. As Robert Jenson suggests, “beauty is realized eschatology, the present glow of the sheer goodness that will be at the end.”
Woman’s Prophetic Meaning
And this matters because what’s true of the bride is true of us. She tells the story behind the story for the beloved of Christ. Clement of Rome put it this way when writing about Rahab, “Ye see, dearly beloved, not only faith, but prophecy, is found in the woman.” Pope John Paul II emphasizes that when Paul reveals the mystery of marriage in Ephesians, he “enables us to think of a special kind of ‘prophetism’ that belongs to women in their femininity. The analogy of the Bridegroom and the Bride speaks of the love with which every human being – man and woman – is loved by God in Christ. But in the context of the biblical analogy and the text’s interior logic, it is precisely the woman – the bride – who manifests this truth to everyone.” And so, the Song is prophetic as well. It grabs the lyrics from creation and the imagery of the prophets and enfleshes them in man and woman to sing of our groaning now and the rhapsody that is to come. We see so much of this story in the typology of the woman.
Woman reveals the endgame. We were created to be the bride of Christ. She is an embodiment of eschatological glory. We see woman’s distinct glory from man in dynamic, synergetic, fructifying of the word. And the typology of the bride endgame is showcased in Revelation 21:11 and 22:17, prophetically adding her voice to the Spirit’s, calling her brothers to perseverance to come to the water of life, of which her whole body is a homology. In her we see the responsibility of laymen and laywomen, as the bride of Christ, to hear and speak the testimony of Jesus, spurring one another to wakefulness and perseverance.
Male and Female Love
There are layers of meaning and application to this. We should be led to worshipful praise of our Groom as we spur one another on. Our theology isn’t mere doctrine on how to get right with God but is saturated in erotic love language that brings us into delightful communion with him. As we learn about the love of God, we are in awe of him. And as we behold him, we learn about ourselves and even our sexuality. We learn about male and female love and can grow in understanding of how that should look on the ground. Again, Pope John II is helpful here:
Christ is the Bridegroom. This expresses the truth about the love of God who “first loved us” (cf. 1 Jn 4:19) and who, with the gift generated by this spousal love for man, has exceeded all human expectations: “He loved them to the end” (Jn 13:1). The Bridegroom – the Son consubstantial with the Father as God – became the son of Mary; he became the “son of man”, true man, a male. The symbol of the Bridegroom is masculine. This masculine symbol represents the human aspect of the divine love which God has for Israel, for the Church, and for all people. Meditating on what the Gospels say about Christ’s attitude towards women, we can conclude that as a man, a son of Israel, he revealed the dignity of the “daughters of Abraham” (cf. Lk 13:16), the dignity belonging to women from the very “beginning” on an equal footing with men. At the same time Christ emphasized the originality which distinguishes women from men, all the richness lavished upon women in the mystery of creation. Christ’s attitude towards women serves as a model of what the Letter to the Ephesians expresses with the concept of “bridegroom”. Precisely because Christ’s divine love is the love of a Bridegroom, it is the model and pattern of all human love, men’s love in particular.
Isn’t this beautiful? Does it not make your soul sing? Pope John Paul II explains how the Bridegroom is the lover and the Bride is the beloved. The very dignity of the woman is measured in this order of love. It is a reciprocal love, as she wears, fructifies, and returns man’s love. We see this foremost in the spousal love of Christ. And that transforms the way we see ourselves and love others. Yes, it will certainly teach us in our marriages. But since Christ is our ultimate Bridegroom, the Song is for singles, divorcees, and widows. The Song is for those who suffer with body dysphoria, those born intersexed, and those struggling with same sex attraction. Your body speaks. Even with the effects of the fall, it is loved. It is meant to glorify Christ. He gives his people dignity and fulfillment in longing.
And Christ’s bride—all the collective people who make up his bride—is a locked garden (SoS 4:12). Nineteenth century preacher, Charles Spurgeon explained it this way, “But it is a garden enclosed, and so enclosed that one cannot see over its walls so shut out from the world’s wilderness, that the passer-by must not enter it—so protected from all intrusion that it is a guarded Paradise—as secret as was that inner place, the holy of holies, within the tabernacle of old.” We are talking the holy of holies kind of love and presence here! Our love must be properly oriented, first vertically in Christ, and then in its appropriate expression as brothers and sisters or in both erotic and agape love in marriage between a man and a woman.
There is an already-and-not-yet truth welling up inside of us. We have been given new life in the Spirit, so we experience a taste of this communion in the holy of holies. But we await its consummation, so it is partially hidden to the world and even in our own reality now. As our bodies are temples of the living God inhabited by his Spirit, we mediate his presence to the world, his love flowing out of us. We are all feminine in the sense that we are the receivers of his love. And now in our respective, distinct bodies, we spread its fragrance. Our bodies speak. So, speak the truth. No, sing it!
 See Westminster Confession of Faith, 2.1.
 See Christopher West, Our Bodies Tell God’s Story, 11-16.
 See 1 Sam. 13.
 See Exod. 28: 5, 6, 8, 33.
 Exod. 28: 33.
 2 Chron. 3:1, known as the mountain of myrrh because it was the incense burnt at its temple services.
 Robert W. Jenson, Song of Songs, 46.
 1 Clem. 12:8
 John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, apostolic letter, August 15, 1988, §29, http://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/1988/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_19880815_mulieris-dignitatem.html
 John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, §25.
 John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, §29.
 Charles Haddon Spurgeon, sermon, “A Secret and Yet No Secret (SS 4:12 & 14)” in Charles Spurgeon on the Song of Solomon: 64 Sermons to Ignite a Passion for Jesus! Kindle Edition (Christian Classics Treasury, 2013), loc. 7990.
6 thoughts on “The True Sexual Revolution”
In his letters Samuel Rutherford speaks of Jesus in the Song of Solomon – the aroma of His garments (S. of S. 4:11), the fragrance of His breath (S.of S. 7:8), the wonder of His kisses (S. of S. 1:2), the taste of His apples (S. of S. 2:3,5). Rutherford also spoke about the Lord taking him into His banqueting house (S. of S. 2:4). Could it be that we afraid of this depth of spiritual reality because we are weak on spiritual experience?
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“Some are asking me more about my theology of gender.”
Reading your existing books would be a step toward learning about that.
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I’ve just discovered your blog. I am now a Catholic but was formerly OPC. I love the way you interact with the thought of JPII in your article. I, too, have found his thoughts helpful in thinking about these kinds of subjects.
I wonder if you might consider adding a feature to your blog whereby people can follow you by email? I don’t know if that would be something worth doing, but, at least for me, it’s my favorite and most effective way to follow a blog.
Have a great day!
I guess Aristotelian natural law was correct in male as active and female as passive principles. Hard complementarianism seems to be the natural outworking here -men are truly more God’s image than women for God can never be a “receiver”.