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?