The Fall and The Revolution
I wonder about the church’s current interest in the sexual revolution. What incites this interest, especially since the revolution began over half a century ago?
One simple answer is that the effects of the sexual revolution are being felt more than ever today. A much more complex answer is that society’s institutions have been reconstituted with terms that redress that which they previously upheld. That is, the principal social framing institutions like law, medicine, and education now reflect society’s desire for conceptions of sex that historically have been deemed transgressive.
One feels the force of this social restructuring, which identifies an inversion that is nearing completion: what was sexually transgressive is now a social good.
But even if this is the case, why is the church so interested in the sexual revolution? In short, those who interpret the inversion as moral decline seek answers regarding its genesis. By comprehending the original cause one can more adequately address the effects or at least lament the moment. And so a genealogical inquiry is needed to locate where it all went wrong. This inquiry leads many in the church to the sexual revolution as the cause of the present demise of sex.
However, framing the sexual revolution as the cause of the demise of sex harbours a theological misstep. When we narrate the sexual revolution as the cause of the demise of sex, we unwittingly explain the sexual revolution in ways that mimic the Fall, which, we will see, justifies a Christ-less, yet righteous crusade to save sex. The Fall, like the sexual revolution, is the genesis of the present evil age from which we all need saving. If the Fall names and locates the fall of humanity, then the sexual revolution names and locates the fall of sex. The implication is that society must be saved from the fall… of sex.
Let us be clear, the church is not interested in the sexual revolution, but sex, and in particular, the fall of sex.
The Desire for Paradise
Lamenting the Fall’s impact on the world reveals one’s desire for that which was lost by virtue of the Fall. Similarly, the present interest with the fall of sex points beyond itself. But whereas in Eden what preceded the fall was innocent and not shameful, indeed something to be desired, what precedes the sexual revolution is not sexual innocence and purity, but another era of fallen sex.
We are left with a dilemma: what does one desire if not that which was lost by virtue of the fall of sex? Furthermore, if what precedes the fall of sex is not desirable, what kind of fall was the fall of sex that is attributed to the sexual revolution? Such questions expose the confused nature of the church’s desire of sex.
Could one appeal to the pre-Fall to find firmer ground? That is, can we order a desire for sex to what God desires as found in a traditional reading of the creation account? Of course, and we should, but the train of thought we have followed does not permit such a move. The reason we cannot jump back to the creation narrative is because we are caught up, not in the Fall, but in the fall... of sex. We have already seen that desire has content and it is not for God’s desire. Our desire for sex is in fact the desire to be saved from the fall of sex.
Herein lies the theological misstep. By conflating the sexual revolution with the Fall, what has fallen and is in need of saving is not humanity, but sex. We desire a saviour, but not to save ourselves or the world from sin, but sex. This is the reason for the interest in sexual revolution—we learn that we need a saviour to save sex.
For all the hustle and bustle about sex (and gender) at the moment, and for all the boasting of gospel-centredness and Christ-focus that is said to characterise our various churches, books, blog posts, and sermons, there is one curious absence and silence—Jesus.
Where is Jesus the Christ? Where is Jesus’ penetrating voice? Why is the one by whom all things are created and sustained nowhere to be seen or heard? How can it be that Jesus is given so little a part to play in Church dialogue about sex and gender discussions, either amongst people of the Church or with wider society?
Two answers are revealing.
The first reveals the gravity of the theological misstep. Jesus finds himself in the outer or in the wrong game – because he came to save people, not sex. Jesus’ mission has to do with the Fall, not the fall of sex. Sex is caught up in Jesus’s saving work, but only as an aspect of what it means to be human. In short, we don’t hear about Jesus because Scripture does not identify Jesus as a saviour with the mission of undoing the fall of sex.
The second reason Jesus is largely absent from discussions about sex (and gender) is as disturbing as the first. It is true that Jesus is of little use to us for the reason above, but also because we have already found our saviours of sex in the people of Adam and Eve. If Jesus is the wrong kind of saviour, Adam and Eve are not.
Much should trouble us about these saviours, not least the fact that Adam and Eve are dead, literally. They died a long time ago and their bodies were returned to the earth to decompose. This means that the bodies of Adam and Eve, which we conjure up to address the fall of sex, are static images. In other words, Adam and Eve are held up to fallen humanity as the means of salvation even though they cannot hear, speak, touch, taste, or see. Why would we hold up such impotent images as the means of saving sex?
It is worthwhile reflecting on the images of Adam and Eve as they exhibit God’s created perfect, good, innocent, and pure sex. Surely it is becoming clear that their perfection does not bring salvation to fallen sex. What the perfect images do is reveal that sex is fallen. Was this not the point of Jesus’ use of Adam and Eve in the gospel of Matthew: to show the cagey Pharisees that fallen marriage wasn’t always fallen?
The punch line hits where it hurts the Christian the most. It’s a charge of idolatry, ironically, of perverted desire. Gazing on Adam and Eve’s bodies as a means of saving sex cannot be construed in any other way than the worship of created things. Here is the deadly misstep: the salvation of sex is underwritten by the worship of two particular humans. To save sex one must replace the creator for the created beings, which means that Jesus is not only unable to participate in saving sex due to his coming to save people from their sins, but is actively removed and replaced by other created humans who are given the mission to save people from fallen sex. Sex is fallen and instead of looking to God for its salvation, we look to created images to save it.
However mute the images of Adam and Eve are, they are not indifferent to the fall of sex. Their principal function should not be underestimated or underrepresented. As perfect images of man and woman, Adam and Eve have no capacity to save sex. What Adam and Eve are able to do as perfect images is operate as a law that condemns. The law of Adam and Eve are a perfect law and without speaking a word, they judge sex as fallen. They do not bring life, only condemnation. Adam and Eve do not save, but identify the need of a saviour.
We must reflect further on why we continue to return to the sexual revolution. The sexual revolution was a fall of sorts, but it represents the Fall no more or less than the era from which it emerged, and no more or less than the era it spawned. Sex is fallen, but only because the world is fallen. By (re)locating the fall of sex in the Fall, the church finds the theological ground to resist the desire to save sex through its own feeble means, but instead has cause to hear the alive and risen Jesus. Only in Christ, is sex redeemed, which means that our use of Adam and Eve to save sex tends towards being an attempt to justify ourselves, while condemning others.
Jesus’ voice has been sorely missed.