Three Critiques of Authorized that Bear Weight with Me

Mark Ward

It’s been really, really hard to get responsible, unsympathetic people to offer critiques of Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible. I have come to feel that a patient and careful response from one’s opponents is one of the rarest honors accorded to a writer these days. Social media is a huge invitation to people to go off eighth-cocked.

But I’ve been listening hard to my critics, and here are the top three substantive points they’ve scored against my viewpoint:

1. Let’s not make an “only-not-King-James” tribe to compete against the “KJV-Only” tribe.

This one came from the president of an organization whose acronym starts with “F,” as in “Formerly Known As.” And I think it’s apt. It was a good and godly reminder to me. When I first heard it I thought, I’m not doing that! But I have decided to work to heed his wisdom. I have purposed in my heart not to judge everyone who uses the King James Version. I don’t know all the reasons they have for doing so unless they tell me. And given that, until two years ago, my own pastor preached from the KJV, I certainly do not want to say—or leave the impression that—using the KJV in preaching and evangelism is always and everywhere a sin. That would indeed make me guilty of the same kind of tribalism that I’ve critiqued in others.

I ultimately came to this in my book, after many pages of argument:

Children and new converts should not be given copies of the KJV. Paul said no to that option when he tied intelligible words to edification in 1 Corinthians 14. (120)

And I stand behind that statement. But that “should not” and that “no” are capable of some flexibility. People need time; people need patience; people need to not be made the objects of someone else’s tribalism. May God help me.

(Plus: there are many more important issues in the church than which English Bible translation most people use.)

2. Not all false friends are false friends to all readers.

This one came from a guy who read the book and produced a longer review than just about anyone else. I think he’s right in his criticism, though I’m stating his argument in a form more congenial to my viewpoint: not all false friends are false friends to all readers.

In Authorized I defined a false friend as a word that is 1) still used today but 2) meant something different in 1611. And, crucially, I added this idea: false friends are words 3) that have “changed in such a way that modern readers are unlikely to notice” (119). And a number of the examples I gave unquestionably meet these three criteria. But that third one is squirrelly, and I didn’t account for rodents adequately. Take this example that I gave in the book:

Men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good. (2 Tim. 3:2 KJV)

I wrote of this word incontinent:

Today this means men will lose control of their bowels. In 1611 it meant lacking in self-restraint. (45)

I do think some readers will stumble here and and fail to notice that incontinence is an odd character quality to put in a vice list. Incontinent, for some readers, meets all three criteria of a false friend. But surely some readers today, many readers, will notice that our modern sense doesn’t make sense in this context. Is it still a false friend?

In a future edition of my book I’ll spell out these three criteria explicitly and be a little more careful to distinguish words that meet two from those that meet three. But I’ll say this: there is no saying once and for all which words are dead words, which are false friends, and which aren’t either. Different readers have different skill levels. What kind of skill level should a Bible translation aim at? Defenders of the exclusive use of the KJV are very confused on this point. One minute they’re saying, “Complaints about KJV readability are ludicrous! It’s on a fifth-grade reading level, as computers show! And [here’s an actual quotation] ‘many individual passages would be lower’!” The next minute they’re saying, “Modern versions dumb down the Bible by using contemporary English!” As if an accessible reading level is a good thing in the KJV and a bad thing anywhere else…

So, sure, ideally every Christian would be a great reader. But they’re not, and they’re never going to be. Not many wise, not many noble are called.

And what indeed do you call a word that is still used today but meant something different in 1611? Even if a good reader notices, I’d still call that a false friend. It looks familiar: we feel we should know what the word means. But the sense we know doesn’t work in the given context. It is okay for our main Bible translation to include many words like incontinent when without self-control is readily available?

3. Let’s not talk as if only the Greek and Hebrew are the word of God.

Now, I’m not really willing to say, exactly, that this is a point scored against me. This is one I am not guilty of—precisely because I’ve read the excellent preface to the KJV too many times. But it’s worth heeding and remembering, and I want to make sure to clarify my support for it in a future edition of Authorized, if there is one.

This is what the KJV translators say:

We do not deny, nay, we affirm and avow, that the very meanest translation of the Bible in English set forth by men of our profession (for we have seen none of theirs of the whole Bible as yet) containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God: as the King’s speech which he uttered in Parliament, being translated into French, Dutch, Italian and Latin, is still the King’s speech, though it be not interpreted by every translator with the like grace, nor peradventure so fitly for phrase, nor so expressly for sense, everywhere. For it is confessed that things are to take their denomination of the greater part…. A man may be counted a virtuous man though he have made many slips in his life (else there were none virtuous, for, ‘in many things we offend all’), also a comely man and lovely, though he have some warts upon his hand, yea, not only freckles upon his face, but also scars. No cause therefore why the word translated should be denied to be the word, or forbidden to be current, notwithstanding that some imperfections and blemishes may be noted in the setting forth of it. (xxviii)

And I say, Amen!

This third point is a criticism of Authorized in that when I urge people to use multiple Bible translations, I do indeed relativize them all. Now, suddenly, none of them is final. And it is possible that a layperson would come away from my arguments bestowing too much honor on the Greek and Hebrew compared to the English. He might always be thinking to himself, But these English words aren’t really and truly what God said. This might destabilize his faith or provide him a way to wiggle out from under God’s commands.

I have not met such people, but I do not care to deny that they exist. I’d say to them just what the KJV translators did. They called all good translations “the word of God.” But they implied standards translations meet to varying degrees in various places: grace, fitness, and even accuracy (“nor so expressly for sense”). In other words, they did not accord final authority to any translation but, along with their Reformation forebears, to the originals alone.

We’ve got to be able to hold up an English Bible, whichever one it is; say, “This is the word of God”; and yet add a footnote—“Remember, folks, this translation isn’t inspired or perfect.” And people need to accept this, because it’s true. When they don’t accept it, when they treat one and only one English Bible as if it is perfect, we have an English-Version-Onlyism. We have bibliological error.

Defenders of exclusive use of the KJV seem to me to be motivated by something very good: the desire for certainty, for a firm foundation for their faith, A More Sure Word. They do this in textual criticism and in translation. But they are wanting a world God didn’t give us. He could easily have given inspired translators to each nation, but he didn’t. He could easily have maintained jot-and-tittle perfection in every Hebrew and Greek manuscript copy, but he didn’t. We must not demand that God give us more certainty than he in fact gave. I believe in the inspiration of the Bible, both the Old and the New Testaments; sometimes indeed I’d love to have perfect copies and translations of both, rather than the highly accurate ones we do have. But I’m willing to accept God’s actual providence instead of looking over his shoulder and editing his choices.

As the KJV translators go on to say,

For whatever was perfect under the sun, where Apostles or apostolic men, that is, men endued with an extraordinary measure of God’s Spirit, and privileged with the privilege of infallibility, had not their hand? (xxviii)


It’s disappointing when people don’t even bother to listen to one’s carefully wrought book, when they set up a straw man and knock it down (He thinks we should make the whole Bible easy enough for a dyslexic kindergartener!), when they keep using arguments I humbly feel I demolished (I’m looking at you Flesch—and you, too, Kincaid!). But I was ready for all of that before I published Authorized.

What I didn’t know to expect would be that only one person among those many people and institutions who defend the exclusive use of the KJV would try to answer my central argument. Only one person tried to answer the question, “If there are false friends in the KJV, words people don’t know they don’t know, how are they supposed to know to look them up?” The only way to answer that question is to know Greek and Hebrew yourself, use multiple English translations to check for misunderstandings, and do some counting. One friend of mine—Ben, a sometime commenter on this blog—did this for one NT book, Philippians. I’m grateful and honored. That’s responsible interaction.

There are some intelligent people in the KJV-Only world who read me with the skeptical eye that only disagreement can generate. I actually want to hear their best shots. I’m grateful for the three trenchant criticisms above, even if I’m still waiting for answers to my central thesis.

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Why Does the World Need the Church?

Mark Ward

When popular Harvard political theorist Michael Sandel was a graduate student at Oxford in the 1970s, men and women were still separated into different colleges. Further befitting a staid institution such as Oxford, male visitors were not permitted to remain overnight in women’s rooms.

By Sandel’s time these rules had gone the way of jaywalking, ignored by perpetrators and authorities alike. “Most college officials no longer saw it as their role to enforce traditional notions of sexual morality,” Sandel says. But a number of older women on the St. Anne’s College faculty still felt squeamish about these relaxing standards. They were equally reluctant, however, to reveal their scruples to be what they were: moral. Immorality had won the day to such an extent that morality dared not speak its name.

So,the spinsters borrowed from Bentham and took a utilitarian tack. Sandel describes their tactic in his excellent book of moral philosophy, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? They complained that overnight male visitors would cost the college money by taking hot baths and requiring more frequent replacement of mattresses. This argument sealed the progressives’ victory, of course, for they quickly found a way to defray these costs: women would simply have to pay fifty pence for each evening on which they entertained male visitors. (The Guardian proclaimed, “St. Anne’s Girls, Fifty Pence a Night”!)

As Sandel summarizes it, the language of morality “had not translated very well into the language of utility.” In a short time, the fees joined the rules as casualties of the sexual revolution.

* * *

Hear, then, the parable of the pence: The world needs the church, because the church gives its members guidance and strength for using moral language in the public square.

Christians whose light shines in public places should prefer the language of morality to that of utility, that they ought to self-consciously speak of “right and wrong” whenever possible. It doesn’t help the world for Christians to hide their allegiances, placing their lamps under baskets. But we all know—we just know—that “premarital sex decreases graduation rates” is an acceptable argument for a legislator to make, while “premarital sex is morally wrong” is not. Major institutions of the West are arrayed against the very possibility of speaking moral truth to cultural power. The church, despite its flaws, provides a strong institutional basis for Christians to speak moral language in the public square—and this is good for the world.

Public squares are never naked

Let me remind the already skeptical or the already nervous of a truism that is starting to feel like a slogan, the kind of thing you shout at your opponents when you’ve given up on persuading them. This slogan needs to be stated, illustrated, dramatized, even shouted, because it targets one of the most breathtaking blindnesses of our age.

It’s this: public squares are never naked.

Neutrality is always a myth. Supposedly secularized iron cages always have back doors through which metaphysical and theological beliefs get smuggled. Whose Justice? Which Rationality? can always be answered by pointing to a particular who and which. Everyone’s views on everything are prostrated before either creature or Creator. There are no godless regimes. If Jesus hasn’t (yet) put a particular square inch under his feet, some principality or power is standing there instead.

This ought to be especially evident today, when elite opinion has actually begun to put less weight on the claim that all of its positions are utilitarian, neutral, procedural. There is a definite moral cast to their arguments in favor of the ongoing sexual revolution. It’s no longer enough to say that every pattern of sexual desire ought to be treated as “equal” in a laissez-faire fashion (except, for the moment, for pedophilia, incest, and bestiality). The emancipatory project has become a positive good, a distinctly moral imperative. “Let It Go, Let It Go!” is our cultural anthem, and everyone had better wear the ribbon or else.

Western culture is currently speaking to itself out of both sides of its mouth. If asked directly, it will still commonly insist that any pre-rational commitments once found in its public square have committed seppuku—metaphysician-assisted suicide—for the public good. There are no theological justifications left inside the square.

I actually see the attractions of a world in which Christ’s opponents feel some burden to step behind Rawls’s veil of ignorance, to appear neutral and evenhanded. Secularism has actually managed at times to be a common-grace restraint on majoritarian evils. But secularism is itself an evil, and this must not be forgotten. The idea that public arguments ought to be made on the slimmest basis possible, usually a dollar bill turned on its edge, is a challenge to Christ’s authority. It is its own kind of moral language; it assumes a non-Christian “vision of the good,” a moderator of polite opinion who is not God. Sex outside marriage is not bad, finally, because it increases costs to the taxpayer; it’s bad because it violates the most powerful possible picture of Christ’s exclusive commitment to his church. It’s wrong because God said so. Against you, you only have I sinned.

All I’ve known is the secular order; I do fear what a balkanizing “resurgent discourse of identity“ will do to a system that has helped my family “live peaceful and quiet lives” (1 Tim 2:2 NIV). I can very nearly get a justification for secularism out of that one verse, for at its heart it’s an agreement that no intrasocietal disagreements should lead to bloodshed. But I’m so weary of the temptations secularism has given the church that I find myself glad its star is fading. This fading actually clarifies the line between light and darkness—like the crisp perimeters of the shadows during a total eclipse. Now both conservatives who have syncretized Christianity with civil religion and liberals who have syncretized it with the emancipatory project should be able to see their compromise. In a post-secular future, I pray that the Western church will be able to teach its members to speak a public moral language more effectively because it will be harder for the syncretists to dilute.

All people have consciences

The church builds a community around the truths God has revealed in Scripture; it sets up plausibility structures founded on the rock of God’s word. And that’s what it will take for Christians to prefer moral language when the rains descend and the language of utility beats upon our house—when utilitarian arguments seem to offer immediate public-square success. Far from telling us that our opponents in any given public conflict are minions of Satan, the church’s founding documents insist that all people are made in God’s image and have God’s law written on their hearts.

When Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them. (Romans 2:14–15 NIV)

Notice that Paul holds out the possibility that non-Christian consciences can not only accuse them but excuse them, defend them. In other words, people who refuse to follow Christ personally nonetheless sometimes follow and obey their God-given consciences.

I believe the pro-life movement has had the success it’s had in the United States precisely because it has appealed to non-Christian consciences. It has done this by sticking to moral language and avoiding—abhorring—merely utilitarian tactics. If certain legislators vote for a bill requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and if they full well know that the effect will be to curb abortions, and if they nonetheless give a utilitarian justification for their vote (We’re just keeping up medical standards!), nobody is fooled. Worse, some pro-choicers will be incensed at the evident duplicity: it will violate their own consciences. In my experience, however, pro-lifers are open about their desire to end the scourge of abortion. They whittle away at the abortion rate through whatever legal means they can find without being embarrassed—and without failing—to call it a precisely moral evil. And this moral language calls forth a grudging respect from pro-choice people. Oppose transgenderism, and you’ll be called the meanest name our culture hurls at its pariahs: “bigot.” But I don’t see that epithet sticking to those who oppose abortion. Non-Christian consciences are, I believe, accusing them too loudly to let them try.

Of course, large crowds still march in favor of abortion rights. Not all “gentiles” obey their consciences (not all “Jews” either). To be pro-choice is, in fact, to “suppress the truth in unrighteousness,” a rather common sin as Paul tells it (Rom 1:18 ESV). How could anyone not know that killing defenseless babies is wrong? Only by assiduous cauterization of God-given moral feelings. The practice is “heartless” (Rom 1:31 ESV).

But suppressed feelings have a way of rebounding. When Abby Johnson, director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas, was called in to assist an abortion one fateful Saturday in 2009, she experienced a sudden and disorienting emotion, one that overcame years of rationalization. Her conscience began “bearing witness” loudly to the truth. You are what you love, and that day Abby showed herself as loving her tiniest neighbors. She ceased her work for Planned Parenthood and sought help from the very pro-life group that had long prayed outside her clinic. If her local pro-life groups had studiously avoided moral language and prayer in a bid to be more secular and therefore more persuasive, Abby would have felt intuitively that she didn’t belong with them. I have to imagine that the language of utility would have bewildered her.

All of the people I’ve met in my local pro-life group are churchgoing Christians. The Christian church has been the major institution sending articulate speakers of moral language into the culture war over abortion. My little group wouldn’t even know how to make utilitarian arguments for life. And look at the good God has done through Christian speech for the most defenseless people in existence: abortion has been restricted in and even harried out of many communities. There is far more work to do, and I pray that our efforts to appeal to gentile consciences with our moral language will bear good and lasting fruit.

The church, the eschaton, and our political moment

The only everlasting good that will ever come to this earth, of course, will come in the eschaton. For now the Father has told the Son, “Rule in the midst of your enemies” (Ps 110:2). Abortion will go away only when the final opponent of Christ is put under his feet: “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:26 NIV).

So moral language will not win every battle in any public square, not until Christ does. This means that the church must be prepared to see defeats. The fusty female Oxford dons who complained of the financial burdens brought by promiscuity thought they could avoid defeat by playing the utilitarian game. But they still lost—and if indeed any of them were Christians, they did something worse than losing. They acted as if they could put their Christian discipleship on hold for a moment in order to purchase political success. That success would no doubt be offered back to Christ once they got it—at least that’s what (in my now-speculating imagination) they told themselves. But they forgot that Christ doesn’t need them to win his battles. They forgot an important truth only the church will teach its members in our secular age of buffered selves: this age is not the only or even the most important one humans will be part of.

I am utterly dismayed at the failure of the church to teach this lesson to its U.S. members. I was just coming of age when every evangelical leader was saying with one voice, “Character matters for a U.S. president!” I remember this very distinctly. I believed they meant what they said. I never imagined that respected evangelical pastors, theologians, and other leaders would defend the character of a thrice-married reality TV star who, who… who needs no more digital ink spilled about his infamous exploits. When he won the Republican nomination, I assumed we would get hold-your-nose-and-vote-for-the-lesser-of-two-evils opinion pieces in Christian publications. I did not expect what I actually got, which was rah, rah, and rah, every rah a blow to my gut. Some evangelical leaders stood firm on Christian principle, but I still genuinely feel like I’m walking around in Bizarro World.

U.S. evangelicals were indeed given a terrible, apparently no-win situation. They could get their Supreme Court picks (the importance of which is itself a testimony to the breakdown in our political discourse) and hope everyone forgot what they said about presidential morality oh so long ago, or they could invite an apparently gleeful progressive evisceration of their agenda. But there is always a way to escape temptation for individuals (1 Cor 10:13), and there has to be one for groups. It was the church’s job to create a community of sojourners and strangers who had the eternal perspective necessary to notice that the current election is always The Most Important One Ever. Only a church that believes that the arc of history bends toward a final, divine justice can possibly entrust the next four years to him who judges righteously. The American church may never know what authority we could have had to speak moral language in the public square if we had not revealed decisively that our morals are “a wholly owned subsidiary of our political loyalties.” As it is, my progressive friends aren’t sure whether to blow a social media gasket or have a party as they behold this evangelical hypocrisy.

The authority for moral language: a clarification

My most important mentor throughout my graduate-level biblical studies work was the PhD-toting pastor of my own local church. Besides my parents, he shaped me more than any other person. And the key lesson he taught me as a student of Scripture came in the form of two questions. Every preacher, he said, asks one of them at the beginning of every sermon prep: either “What can I say about this?” or “What does this say?” Every homiletical journey starts with a massively significant fork in the road. Choose the wrong way, and you cut yourself off from your only source of authority as a preacher. Choose the right way, and by God’s grace you will be a faithful herald of the divine message.

This lesson left me with an abiding dread of saying “thus saith the Lord” without adequate work to discern what he has in fact said. I take this same dread into the public square.

So I must make an important clarification: I do not have the authority to use moral language—to call something “right” or “wrong”—unless God grants it to me through general and special revelation.

Some hot political issues are truly and merely that: political. The various participants already agree sufficiently on a vision of the good—a world in which no one urinates in a particular subway terminal stairwell, say; they merely differ on the best way to accomplish this goal within a large group of people. Christians need not prefer the language of morality when that of utility is all they can use with confidence. There is no Bible verse giving instruction on Stairwell Urination Mitigation. In this case Christians cannot speak with authority unless they have a prophetic gift. It’s okay to limit one’s argument to, “Well, this plan worked in Vancouver.”

In fact, utility is your only permissible appeal in such a situation, lest you appear to claim God’s support for something he never said. Careful analyses of past court decisions, diligent tabulation of survey data, and insightful examinations of historical precedent cannot and must not be replaced with facile appeal to Bible verses (Banish homeless men to Baffin Island, because 1 Kings 16:11 says, “He left him not one that pisseth against a wall”!).

I am not walking back everything I just said. My argument is not that Christians must always and everywhere use moral language; it is that the church will help us and guide us in using it. And guidance means telling us when we’ve mixed up our own opinions and God’s. This is a genuine and massive problem in its own right—but not the focus of this article.

You are my witnesses

Recently, somewhat by accident and against my better judgment, I found myself in a social media debate with strangers, where I was the lone defender of the idea that pirating movies is an immoral act. I was quickly informed by my two interlocutors, digital Robin Hoods both, that movie moguls are rich; that movie (and music) stars are not really “working” anyway; that even if they are, they are getting paid too much.

One wonders what key grips, prop handlers, and boom mic operators might wish to say. But what a Christian would say should not be in doubt. I brought a biblical moral framework to the issue. Thou shalt not steal. The laborer is worthy of his hire. My Christian worldview does not guarantee that I see all things clearly; it only means I have access to a clear standard by which to judge all things (though that judgment is subject to my own fallenness and finiteness, I readily grant). I chose to use my moral language explicitly in this small corner of the public square, citing the eighth commandment. This is what I was told by the other participants:

Participant 1: “Quoting the bible. Hah. I’m done.”

Participant 2: “Not everyone has the same religious background as you, so for your moral arguments to carry any weight you need to stop making faith-based arguments…. I’m not talking right and wrong at this point, just thought processes and reasons.”

When I pointed out that these proposed ground rules for our public-discourse-writ-small effectively put duct tape over my mouth, eliminating anything I could feasibly contribute to the discussion, Participant 2 decided he had not used enough tape. To his credit, he seemed to dislike the task I had forced him to perform, and he told me kindly,

I am not asking you to compromise your principles, but your arguments need to hold up to those who don’t believe as you do, otherwise you’re only “preaching to the choir.”

He seemed concerned for me—like I was a culturally jet-lagged foreign exchange student who just did not understand that “football” is played by entirely different rules ‘round these parts. (Perhaps I should have said, “Studies show that thou shalt not steal.”)

What did I accomplish by my resort to moral, yea, even biblical language? I didn’t “win.” One guy left and one guy patronized me. I ran right into old-format Western secularism and got flattened. I got shut out of the public square.

I’ll tell you what I accomplished: witness. “You are my witnesses,” Jesus told the apostles, the foundation of the church. Not, “You are my Super PAC.”

The words of Peter Leithart ring in my ears:

Perhaps Christians are called to do no more than speak the truth without worrying about persuasiveness. Perhaps we have entered a phase in which God has closed ears, so that whatever we say sounds like so much gibberish. We can depend on the Spirit to give ears as He pleases.

My safe home in the church—the guidelines it gives me for moral language, the final judgments that, it reminds me through liturgy and word, are in God’s hands—grants me the confidence to tell Herod he can’t have his brother’s wife, to stand up against pharaonic filicide, to be willing to lose an election if the alternative is losing my movement’s own soul. Thank God for the church. It is indeed good for the world.

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Why do I have to learn this stuff?!

Mark Ward

I recently preached a message at the opening for a Christian school in my town, one several church members have attended. It answers the perennial question, “Why do I have to learn this stuff?!”

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Cheap Sex: A Review

Mark Ward

Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and MonogamyCheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy by Mark Regnerus
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A quick check of the Goodreads reviews for Cheap Sex by sociologist Mark Regnerus suggests to me that everyone has strong feelings about this book—which tends to support the author’s thesis, I think. In other words, sex is not what Captain Kathryn Janeway said it was in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, namely a component of good hygiene. One time when her crew visited a resort planet she encouraged her senior commanders to make sure to go have sex with the planet’s prostitutes. None of this was stated so bluntly; it was given instead with a wink and a nod and the good-natured air of a friendly schoolmarm doling out health advice.

There is no Kathryn Janeway, of course. People wrote her lines. Western people. American people. People describing and promoting their worldview through the tool of TV. A worldview Regnerus subjects to withering critique in this book.

Stat after stat. Story after story. The tools of sociology set in skillful array. Regnerus shows that the pill and porn have lowered the “price” of sex, made it more accessible than it ever has been, and therefore put women at a disadvantage in the sexual marketplace. I don’t have the capacity to question Regenerus’ research practices, nor the time to examine his data. Am I supposed to? Everything held true to my experience and worldview. How many readers will do anything other than run his conclusions and arguments through the grid of their own values—just as I have done?

And here’s what I came out with when I did this: validation of words that have guided me since long before I could ever possibly understand sociological stats, since long before my parents would ever have let me be exposed to the very frank stories and personal testimonies in the book. When I was a young teen I read what Jesus said,

You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.(Matthew 5:27–30 ESV)

I read it over and over because, in my adolescent mind, I thought it was cool that this paragraph was part of the longest unbroken stretch of red letters in the New Testament. I now know that it’s called the Sermon on the Mount.

At that age there was no way I could process the pros and cons of sexual temptations and opportunities on my own individual level, let alone on a societal one. All I could do was listen to Jesus and trust him. Or not. (And listen to Solomon in Proverbs 5–6 or not. Etc.) I was provided, in God’s providence, the very kinds of help Regnerus describes to help me side with Jesus rather than with the sexual revolution. I had a conservative religious community with its much-maligned “purity culture.”

And after reading Cheap Sex, I have never been more grateful. I argued once in a blog post that every group holding no-sex-before-marriage ideals is going to come up with mechanisms of in-group policing. It doesn’t have to sound so bad, and Cheap Sex shows why: encouraging others to be sexually pure is a way of protecting people. Women especially, but not only them. They’re the ones who suffer the most obvious and immedaite effects of the lowering price of sex. But men also suffer, even if at 24 and the height of their sexual “wealth” they think they’ve got it made in this society. They are betting away future happiness at the price of present pleasure. (Regnerus shows that they’re betting away present pleasure, too, actually. A life of lonely porn and masturbation is not fun.)

I look at my present pleasures—a beautiful wife, healthy children, loud children—and I’m grateful for a culture that knew, because Jesus told it and because of experiences encoded in it, to put guardrails around me during a time when those pleasures seemed impossibly far away.

Ironically, perhaps, I’ve been listening to lesbian feminist Camille Paglia read some of her essays on the one hand defending pornography—that’s her pagan, Dionysian streak—and on the other hand insisting that gender is not a social construct and that feminists in the academy have become man-bashers unwilling to acknowledge the good men have done for women for centuries—that’s her truth-seeking streak. The protection, the work, the war. Egalitarianism hasn’t raised women up and given them the power of men; it has made them play by men’s rules. To the detriment of them first and the whole society as a result.

A must read for pastors and those in Christian education.

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C.S. Lewis on the Pleasure of Pleasing People without Being a People Pleaser

Mark Ward

A few years ago I had one of those little formative experiences. I was leaving a long-term evangelistic ministry to teenagers in which I participated at my church. After six years of Friday nights, after countless hours of work I loved and loved sharing with other church members, it was time to step aside and let others fill my spot.

The leader of the group thought it appropriate to have a few words said on my behalf, and to give me some parting gifts from the church bookstore. The books were generous, but it was the words that yielded the lesson. The leader asked two men who’d worked alongside me to speak briefly about my impact. It was a little awkward; it always is when you have to listen to people thank and/or praise you. What they said was very gracious, but it was vague. What they said could have been said of all the other faithful people there, many of whom invested more hours than I (some of whom still do, ten years later).

But then the leader stood up to say his own parting words, and he was specific. He had carefully noticed the one thing I had most dedicated myself to doing in the ministry; I won’t say what it was. But I was always doing it, and he had seen it.

I felt a correspondingly specific pleasure, a rare one in my life, a pleasure I C.S. Lewis describes in my favorite piece of his ever: the pleasure of a child being praised by a parent, the pleasure of pleasing someone I respected greatly whom it was my God-given duty to please. I had not been pandering. I hadn’t done the work primarily to please him, or I wouldn’t have pleased him; but when I did, and when he named the reason specifically—what a God-given joy.

I’ve tried since then to keep my eye out for the specific gifts of others, and to name them when possible.

Here’s Lewis:

I turn next to the idea of glory. There is no getting away from the fact that this idea is very prominent in the New Testament and in early Christian writings. Salvation is constantly associated with palms, crowns, white robes, thrones, and splendour like the sun and stars. All this makes no immediate appeal to me at all, and in that respect I fancy I am a typical modern. Glory suggests two ideas to me, of which one seems wicked and the other ridiculous. Either glory means to me fame, or it means luminosity. As for the first, since to be famous means to be better known than other people, the desire for fame appears to me as a competitive passion and therefore of hell rather than heaven. As for the second, who wishes to become a kind of living electric light bulb?

When I began to look into this matter I was shocked to find such different Christians as Milton, Johnson, and Thomas Aquinas taking heavenly glory quite frankly in the sense of fame or good report. But not fame conferred by our fellow creatures—fame with God, approval or (I might say) “appreciation” by God. And then, when I had thought it over, I saw that this view was scriptural; nothing can eliminate from the parable the divine accolade, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” With that, a good deal of what I had been thinking all my life fell down like a house of cards. I suddenly remembered that no one can enter heaven except as a child; and nothing is so obvious in a child—not in a conceited child, but in a good child—as its great and undisguised pleasure in being praised. Not only in a child, either, but even in a dog or a horse. Apparently what I had mistaken for humility had, all these years, prevented me from understanding what is in fact the humblest, the most childlike, the most creaturely of pleasures—nay, the specific pleasure of the inferior: the pleasure of a beast before men, a child before its father, a pupil before his teacher, a creature before its Creator. I am not forgetting how horribly this most innocent desire is parodied in our human ambitions, or how very quickly, in my own experience, the lawful pleasure of praise from those whom it was my duty to please turns into the deadly poison of self-admiration. But I thought I could detect a moment—a very, very short moment—before this happened, during which the satisfaction of having pleased those whom I rightly loved and rightly feared was pure. And that is enough to raise our thoughts to what may happen when the redeemed soul, beyond all hope and nearly beyond belief, learns at last that she has pleased Him whom she was created to please. There will be no room for vanity then. She will be free from the miserable illusion that it is her doing. With no taint of what we should now call self-approval she will most innocently rejoice in the thing that God has made her to be, and the moment which heals her old inferiority complex forever will also drown her pride deeper than Prospero’s book. Perfect humility dispenses with modesty. If God is satisfied with the work, the work may be satisfied with itself; “it is not for her to bandy compliments with her Sovereign.” I can imagine someone saying that he dislikes my idea of heaven as a place where we are patted on the back. But proud misunderstanding is behind that dislike. In the end that Face which is the delight or the terror of the universe must be turned upon each of us either with one expression or with the other, either conferring glory inexpressible or inflicting shame that can never be cured or disguised. (36–39)

Read his whole essay, the first in this collection.

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Mark Ward