A Secularized Sexuality
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Cooper loves student ministry and served as Junior High Director at Briarwood Presbyterian Church (AL) before coming to study at Westminster Theological Seminary. Having volunteered, interned, and been on staff, he has served in various capacities in youth ministry and has a passion to help students live with sexual integrity and to walk with them as they follow Jesus. Cooper, a Georgia native, graduated from Samford University (AL) with a degree in History and a minor in Religion. He and his wife, Katie, have one, beautiful daughter. He loves sitting on the beach, reading fiction, drinking sweet tea, and watching the Food Network.
One God, eternal, sole, my creed doth know,
Mover of Heavens, being Himself unmoved;
Loving, desiring Him, around they go.
– Dante, Paradiso, Canto XXIV, 142-145
When Dante looked up at the night sky, he perceived that the universe was literally moved by the Author and Creator Himself. In other words, Love set the circles of the cosmos in motion. I think it’s safe to say, we don’t naturally think like that, especially in regards to sexuality.
Our sexuality is naturally secularized. The reason it is secularized, however, isn’t because we live in a progressively-secularized culture; our sexuality is secularized because we live in a cosmic insurrection, a post-Eden, pre-New Heavens/New Earth jam-fest of sin and rebellion. So what is the most foundational part of a secularized sexuality? And in light of that, what is the one thing we can give students to help them live sexually faithful lives as followers of Jesus?
Burning Jacob’s Ladder to the Ground
In defining secularization, I haven’t come across a better definition than this: secularization is “essentially forgetting Christ, because secularization is the isolation of the world within its own immanence” (G.C. Berkouwer, The Work of Christ, 18). A secularized sexuality has forcefully isolated itself, drummed up its own existence as all-defining, and attempted to burn Jacob’s ladder to the ground. We have asserted ourselves as creators, movers, and independent powers over and against the reality that we are creatures to be moved and dependent on the goodness of God for the very breath we breathe. And Genesis 3 declares that it is our abandoning of God Himself which actually causes and accounts for all of the angst, confusion, loneliness, guilt, shame, and absolute mayhem we experience in our secularized sexuality.
If we want to recover a meaningful sexuality; if we want to experience freedom from the guilt and shame of porn; if we want to know that our same-sex attractions are not the end of the story; and if we want the peace that comes from knowing that the sexual chaos in this world, including our own fear, insecurity, pain, and longing, is not calling the shots, we need to wake up: we do not live in an isolated, cosmic snowglobe. In attempting to torch Jacob’s ladder, we have forsaken our only hope of sexual meaning, purpose, and peace.
Recovering the Wonder
While we can talk about best practices in terms of technology, relationships, sexual boundaries, etc., the most fundamental aspect of discipling a sexual struggler is to reposition his or her gaze around the Love that moves the universe. We must aid them in rekindling the wonder, devotion, fear, and love that come from knowing the One Who is the “Image of the invisible God” and “the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15), through Whom and for Whom all things were created (v. 16); the One who is “before all things” and in Whom “all things hold together” (v. 17); the One who is the “head of the body, the church”; “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (v. 18); the One in whom dwells “all the fullness of God”; and the One through Whom peace was made “by the blood of his cross” (v. 19-20).
You might be surprised that most youth ministry curricula actually fail to talk about Jesus and His work. How many small group or large group talks simply edit Christ out of the picture and promote either moralism or licentious living through cheap grace? Do we pray with our students, coming to the feet of Jesus together? Are we constantly talking about Him and His work in our talks and in our relationships with kids?
As parents, are we actually talking—and I mean literally talking—about Jesus? Do we pray with our children? Do we stop at the sunrise to comment on how our Saviour and King loves to give good gifts to us? When we visit my parents, my mom will sing in the morning, “This is the day that the Lord has made” to my little girl. What a wonderful reminder of the Creator and Sustainer of our universe! Do we confess sins specifically in our homes and ask for forgiveness? Is there grace extended in the name of Jesus?
Combatting the secularized sexuality of our students—and of ourselves—starts with turning our gaze elsewhere, with developing a family and ministry vocabulary that centers around the reality of Jesus Christ. This is about escaping the prison of our own immanence to rejoin the universe in its grand song to its loving Creator, Sustainer, and Savior.
The opposite of a secularized sexuality is a Christ-exalting sexuality, and a Christ-exalting sexuality has been de-isolated from the self. It has re-established a communion bond with God, a heavenward gaze that stands in wonder, awe, fear, and love at the face of our God in the person of Jesus Christ. The one who glorifies God with his or her sexuality thinks like a creature, as one who is dependent, finite, and above all, loved. Only when we fix our gaze on Jesus will our sexuality find its true place in the universe: not as creator, but as creature; not as master, but as servant; not as mover, but as moved. Only then will we be set in motion, not by pride, selfishness, angst, isolation, and fear, but by Love Himself.
High phantasy lost power and here broke off;
Yet, as a wheel moves smoothly, free from jars,
My will and my desire were turned by love,
The love that moves the sun and the other stars.
– Dante, Paradiso, Canto XXXIII, 142-145
“In attempting to torch Jacob’s ladder, we have forsaken our only hope of sexual meaning, purpose, and peace.”