Carl Trueman has an interesting take on the current obsession that evangelical pastors seem to have with sermons on sex. They are becoming increasingly frequent and in some cases bawdy. Trueman writes:
The current evangelical obsession with sex seems more like an intrusion of the culture than a priority of scripture… If, for the sake of argument, we were to allow that there might occasionally, just occasionally, be a vague and distant analogy between Hollywood and the church, I wonder if middle-aged pastors writing and speaking about sex is not becoming the evangelical equivalent of forty-something actresses doing nude scenes. Look: your career is in decline, the only cover shoot you have had in months was for Professional Librarian Monthly, younger stars are rising, or maybe you just want to keep yourself way out in front. What do you do? You tell the cameraman to switch to soft focus, you put the airbrush team on standby and you take your kit off. Never fails.
I think the analogy is interesting, though I think we can only speculate about the psychology that motivates pastors to preach this way. I do think, however, that the first line is something we would all do well to consider. Is it true that the current obsession with sex sermons is more an intrusion of the culture than a priority of scripture?
In one sense, the answer to the question has to be “no.” It is precisely because sex is such an obsession in the culture that pastors must speak to sexual issues more directly and frequently. The sex-crazed Zeitgeist demands that pastors preach to their congregations more comprehensively about the Christian sexual ethic, manhood, womanhood, and gender issues in general. Pastors who aren’t addressing those topics on a fairly consistent basis will be conceding ground to the world and the devil at a front that is being fiercely contested at the moment. The Bible’s teaching on those issues is a consistent theme throughout the narrative of scripture, and pastors must speak to them.
But I don’t think that is the kind of sermonizing that Trueman has in mind here. So in another sense, the answer to the question has to be “yes.” There is a genre of sex sermons that is not a priority of scripture. I think Trueman has a valid concern about “how to” kinds of sermons that are more salacious than they are scriptural, the kinds that are more likely to scintillate than to sanctify. It’s the shock-jock version of preaching, and you can pack folks into your church if you will say those explicit things that nobody ever expects to hear from a pastor. There is a kind of humorous novelty to it that attracts people. That kind of preaching is indeed out of proportion with scripture.
It’s not that the Bible is altogether silent on such topics. The scripture speaks to such issues, but the pastor’s aim ought to be to explain what the Bible says using the exact level of discretion that the Bible uses. At this point, someone will usually chime-in and invoke the Song of Solomon as the Bible’s permission-slip to preach salacious sermons. What these folks often fail to remember, however, is that even the Song of Solomon gives us a poetic depiction of the marital act that is cloaked in symbolic language. Pastors need to ask themselves if their sermons reflect a similar discretion.