Erotic Desire and Effeminate Worship Pastors

As many of you will know, Mark Driscoll, known for a lack of control over his mouth (to put is as lightly as I can) made a Facebook comment recently asking about people’s own personal experience with “effeminate” worship pastors. When I heard about this latest debacle by one of the “New Calvinists” favorite bad-boys, I happen to be reading Belden C. Lane’s new book, Ravished by Beauty: The Surprising Legacy of Reformed Spirituality. Belden mines the depth of actual Reformed thought with a particular emphasis on Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and the strain of Puritans known as the “spiritual brethren.” In doing so, he develops a constructive proposal built on retrieval, with a particular focus on spirituality and ecology. It is, to say the least, a fascinating project.

My particular interest in light of Driscoll is a comment Belden makes concerning gender roles and the Puritans. If you have not read the Puritans, you may be surprised to find out that their spirituality leaned towards the erotic. Like the vast majority of interpreters in church history, the Puritans recognized the Song of Songs as a text on Christ and his bride. Belden notes this in a discussion of Puritan society that was unusually egalitarian, even as it held on to a patriarchal value system. Belden suggests that a major reason for this provocative balance was the fact that the men in society were struck with biblically induced gender dissonance. At once they were men who were meant to rule, govern, and lead, and yet their main identity was bride. They valued conquering their prize, and yet they were the conquered.

Belden notes that the Puritans had unusually full and vibrant marriages and family life, and that the wives often were given much freedom and authority (for that culture). Since marriage was the most perfect antitype of Christ’s relationship to his people, there was a depth of value put on marriages and a recognition of mutuality as the husband knew himself as both husband and bride.

Again, if you don’t know the Puritans you might think this is something of an exaggeration, which is certainly true for some of them. But it would be a mistake to simply read those we find more comfortable. Joseph Bean, a Boston Puritan, wrote out a marriage covenant between himself and God. Thomas Watson claimed that, “God is a delicious good. That which is the chief good must ravish the soul with pleasure: there must be in it rapturous delight and quintessence of joy” (99). John Cotton talked about his wedding day to his wife as a “double marriage.” To jump into a slightly different image, breasts were often used from the Song of Songs to talk about Christ’s nourishing his church. Jonathan Edwards talks about the twin breasts of Christ nourishing the church as the two sacraments. In all of these images, desire and pleasure dominate the discussion, such that, at times, the Puritans would talk about true conversion necessitating that they not only say their vows at the altar to Christ, but continue on to the bedroom.

I offer this as simply an interesting contrast. It is curious, if nothing else, to have Driscoll attempting to stand on the shoulders of those who saw themselves as primarily “bride” before Christ. Any thoughts?

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9 thoughts on “Erotic Desire and Effeminate Worship Pastors

  1. This is one of the most fascinating things I’ve read on this blog. Reminds me of one of Driscoll’s phrases about how men don’t sing “prom songs to Jesus.” Great stuff…

  2. this work sounds like a far cry from the mysogeny of the “reformed” Driscoll as well as the simplistic subordinationism of other contemporary pastor/writers. i wonder why, if calvinist tradition is so full of complex readings of gender, much of what is seen in the contemporary church is so simplistic when it comes to gender, marriage, and patriarchalism?

  3. Looking forward to getting that book! I’m glad to hear someone cares about beauty besides the Eastern Orthodox!

  4. Kyle,

    You know Richard Sibbes was quite the Marital Mysticism guy himself; it’s interesting, isn’t it, how The Spiritual Brethren are usually glossed over by The Intellectual Father types who make up American “Calvinism” today. I know my mentor, Ron Frost, can’t stand this current state of affairs in American Calvinism; but he chooses, unlike me, to get involved in any kind of debate around this stuff (anyway, I’m starting to digress).

    Good post, my wife actually read it before I did; she was intrigued by this, as of course am I. For anyone interested Janice Knight’s book: Orthodoxies in Massachusetts: Rereading American Puritanism helps develop the history and distinction between “The Spiritual Brethren” (the more “erotic” kind) Calvinist versus what has become the dominant and best known strain of Calvinism in America The Intellectual Fathers (in the trad of 5 point and Federal Theology).

    • Knight’s book is still the best thing I’ve read to get into this mode of Puritan thought. I was incredibly impressed with Lane’s knowledge of the Puritan material though.

  5. Some related material: the Bible often declares that our earthly marriages are not continued in Heaven; where furthermore, we are like the angels, neither male nor female.

    It seem there is a lot of variability in marriage and gender, in the Bible. And that if anything , we are destined for bi-sexuality or androgyny in Heaven itself. While normally, Heaven is regarding as a model for the earth as well.

    To be sure, biblical gender-bending, and variability in “marriage”s, is at times, disturbing and disorienting. But it seems enough to suggest that current “Conservative” views on the subject are not really Biblical or Christian at all.

  6. Pingback: Weekly Roundup | The Two Cities

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