We don’t need more ‘context’ to understand Josh Butler’s article on sex and the church
This article originally appeared at Baptist News Global on March 6, 2023.
In the wake of The Gospel Coalition publishing a male-centric sexual fantasy about Christ penetrating the church, we are getting a clearer picture of how their alliance is characterized by carelessness and control in an attempt to build author platforms by cultivating and protecting their image.
In their founding documents, TGC states: “We often see the celebration of our union with Christ replaced by the age-old attractions of power and affluence, or by monastic retreats into ritual, liturgy and sacrament.” How ironic that they now find themselves caught in a national controversy due to sacramentalizing male power through sexually charged metaphors about their union with Christ.
Julius Kim, president of TGC, released statement over the weekend that replaced Josh Butler’s original article extolling how the human sexual act symbolizes and sacralizes Christ’s relationship with the church. BNG’s current Clemons Fellow, Mallory Challis, called this the “pornification of Christian women and the church.”
Butler’s controversial article — it was removed less than 24 hours after it was posted — was an adapted excerpt from his forthcoming book, Beautiful Union. Readers who had found or shared the link to the excerpt were instead greeted Thursday night with a message from Kim, who thanked readers for their feedback and patience as TGC considered how to respond.
Kim said Butler resigned his position as a fellow with the Keller Center, the new apologetics venture TGC has started and named for longtime PCA pastor Tim Keller. Additionally, the study cohort based on Butler’s new book as well as his appearance at the TGC23 conference have been canceled.
“The Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics is a new effort by TGC, and we are still learning how to work with our directors and our fellows to produce content that will serve our readers in a way that is trusted and wise,” Kim said. He went on to promise that TGC would improve its review systems and publication processes to ensure accountability.
A history of sacralizing male sexual hierarchy
This isn’t the first time TGC has used the gospel to sacralize male sexual hierarchy over women. In 2012, they published an article where Jared Wilson quoted Douglas Wilson saying, “The sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage.”
“A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.”
That 2012 TGC article continued: “Men dream of being rapists, and women find themselves wistfully reading novels in which someone ravishes the ‘soon to be made willing’ heroine.” And this: “True authority and true submission are therefore an erotic necessity.”
The late Rachel Held Evans responded at the time, “What is perhaps most disconcerting is the fact that even after multiple women expressed their concerns in the comment section, both Jared Wilson and Doug Wilson repeatedly dismissed these concerns with exasperation and condescension, ridiculing the commenters’ lack of ‘reading comprehension.’”
TGC doubled down with a follow-up post by Jared Wilson where he claimed the “outrage” simply didn’t understand his larger context. Eventually, TGC published one last article where Wilson thanked those who encouraged him, explained that his original article wasn’t worth “all the mess,” and apologized to members of TGC and complementarians for bringing “ill repute upon you,” as well as to those he offended.
In her final post on the topic, Evans said TGC dismissed the pain and perspective of women and concluded: “The Gospel Coalition’s response to this matter has spoken more loudly than the original post.” Evans noted how TGC’s follow-ups “said a lot about what they don’t mean, but nothing about what they do mean.”
She was left with no answer to the question, “How is complementarian sex supposed to be different than egalitarian sex?”
A pattern of publishing harm and dismissing concern
Lest we think TGC’s publishing practices are limited to two articles across an 11-year time span, Dennae Pierre said in the retraction of her endorsement of Butler’s book after reading his article, “TGC has long frustrated me in what it is willing to publish. … I believe there is a clear need for institutional repentance and organizational change. Why? One reason is the ways they tolerate and promote harmful perspectives of women.”
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