I spent my day off with my Godsister Courtney and my Godson Christopher on a trip down to Tyler, TX. We were charged to set up and man a table for a fantastic Christian summer conference at a Josh McDowell event at a local Christian School/ church. It’s not the first time that I’ve heard apologetics events like these, and not the first time I’ve heard one from McDowell. I, like many other fine-arts oriented Christians, believe that “beauty will save the world”, and that there are strong limitations to Christian apologetics.
The Christian Apologetic mission is not limited because it is wrong, but because it’s a solution that often fits the problem it tries to face the way defensive driving classes fit speeding. Information of this kind can influence behavior people are ambivalent about, but it will not change your life.
As a sophomore in High School I took a class called “Apologetics”, and for our main text we used McDowell’s A Ready Defense. Though later on I would find some issues treated a little simply, for the most part the book was wonderfully helpful. Truth be told, I believe that book saved me a lot of grief because it helped me to think through some issues and provided me with some credible reasons to believe Christianity was true.
It was not enough to save me from doubt and anxiety. This was because my anxiety, like most people’s, didn’t have to do with the exact number of texts that attest to the historicity of Holy Scripture, or textual variances in certain manuscripts. No amount of McDowell or William Lane Craig can give to the human soul what Chesterton’s Orthodoxy or Lewis’ Till We Have Faces can. These books do more than testify to the historical veracity of Christ, they reflect the One who is Truth and Beauty in their very makeup. The human being craves more than just information, and needs much more than the facts in order to mature and make good decisions. Plato reminds us that there is a great discrepancy between knowledge and information, and what McDowell wanted to do — self admittedly– was to dispense information to the mass of Christian youths.
After McDowell’s apologetics greatest hits, he dedicated a session to sex and love. You might think, as I did, that the information gushing was now likely to slow down and leave room for fatherly wisdom. This was not the case; McDowell started delivering the important statistics that teens are not usually told: how the number of STD’s has increased by hundreds of percents over the past decades, how condoms are only 70% effective, etc. Certainly this is good to know, but does it solve the problem?
And this is what Courtney and I talked about in the car on the way back: what is this event, and those like it, trying to fix? We might surmise that this particular segment was trying to combat sexual activity among teens. It would be naïve to think that this kind of solution would be greatly effective; keeping say, 50% of the teens in the crowd that would otherwise be fornicating with their serious significant other from doing so. Certainly it is good, but is it a solution?
I don’t think it is a good solution because I don’t think the problem is the right one to treat. The goal of stopping kids from having sex is a bad goal. I say this not because I’m ambivalent about premarital sex or about teen health, but because such a goal cannot but come across as unwarranted policing. To put my point into contrast, why not give skin cancer the same treatment we give STD’s? It’s a problem that is easily cured by self-control, and knowing the risk may help temper kids vanity as they decided whether to join the rest of sunbathing crowd. The answer is that there is much more to sex than health risks and divine commands. Sex is a meaningful and precious thing, and its misuse is sorrowful; like spray paint on the Sistine Chapel.
The reason McDowell, and the others like him, grab a microphone and fill an auditorium with their young’uns is because they love them (however generally and abstractly) and want to see their lives develop into something wonderful. Instead of calling the problem “teen sex” the problem is “helping awaken kids to the Good Life”. Abstinence is just a part of living a meaningful and beautiful life.
That is why I shuddered when McDowell tried to separate “love” from “sex” for the young crowd. He was trying to help those who think that they must sleep with the person they love, and he thought the thing to do here is to make sure that the definition of “sex” and “love” did not overlap. That’s why he said,
We call sex ‘making love’ but that is really a misnomer. Love and sex are two VERY different things. It is not ‘making love’. It’s just getting it on!
I contend that the single greatest threat to our children is the withdrawal of meaninglessness from their lives. Stealing meaning from sex by divorcing it from love is a recipe for disaster, even if it successfully keeps teens abstinent. What kind of marriage do we want for our kids? If sex is a rather meaningless activity that, by the way we should only engage in within the bounds of marriage while consider the significant health issues involved, then what human activity is meaningful?
I’m sure that if you asked any of the kids, parents, or teachers in the audience if you thought that was what McDowell was driving at they would rush to his defense. And they are right to do so insofar as he is not intending to further an agenda of meaninglessness. However, statements like this have significant impact as part of the “dreadful tide” that mounts against the souls of this culture.
Add “Sex is just getting it on” to “Food is just fuel” as innocuous slogans that rot away a generations ability to find meaning, joy, and happiness in life.