Sex as sacrament
I’m going to get personal here. It might make you uncomfortable. Because I don’t mean to pry, but how is your sex life? Jonathan Grant, in his book Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships, would argue that the answer to this question is not just something for you and your partner to agree upon. Sex is not just about two people consenting to action under the sheets but something that impacts society as well.
Strangely, in our hypersexualized culture where sex seems to be shouted from the rooftops, we reduce it down to actions undertaken by consenting adults. Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, père of current PM Justin, famously stated when decriminalizing homosexual acts in the 1960s, “There’s no room for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.”
The first half of Grant’s book is distressing to read. The author provides us with a laundry list of ills that befall us in our postmodern, secular age where sex is commodified as one’s own unique pathway to happiness: pornography, online matchmaking, so-called serial monogamy, sexual fantasy. When the locus of these activities occurs outside a shared, covenantal marriage commitment, these isolated and isolating activities feed oneself alone. As mentioned in previous posts which highlight the challenges of a postmodern reality, these experiences are flat, and for all the buzz around sexual freedom and experimentation, strangely two-dimensional. They are also addictive, and new neurological links are created that urge their voracious feeding even more.
In the second half is where some hope begins to peek through. Grant claims that a robust Christian imagination for sexual ethics and practice has four areas for consideration: eschatological, metaphysical, formational, and missional. Reviewer Brad Lau states, “A Christian vision is eschatological in that sexuality is seen within the larger context of creation; it is metaphysical in creating consistency between the way things should be on earth and the reality of heaven; it is formational in guiding us toward what Christ wants us to be and do in terms of values and character; and it is missional in that sexuality should express our living witness in and to this world.”
Already one can see that the original purpose of sex is beyond one’s immediate self-gratification. Yet today’s culture warriors resist this notion as self-expression is given priority status, and one’s own pleasure take pre-eminence. Dustin Resch accurately perceives how the author adapts Charles Taylor’s language for our secular age, stating: “The age of authenticity is a description of the uniquely modern phenomenon in which individual self-expression (authenticity) with regard to sexual behavior is taken as an ultimate value, such that any suggestion of moral guidance that might curtail sexual expression is not well received or is disregarded.”
In contrast, Grant proposes that sex has a greater purpose and role in society. It’s more than the exchange of bodily fluids, a fleeting orgasmic release, and a warm cuddle after. Within the marriage covenant, sexual union is one of the greatest building blocks of society, based on a willingness to trust another without restraint, each union representing a lifetime of sacrifice and surrender. Procreation is always implicit, as sex engenders life and the continuity of humanity. The good feelings, in my opinion, are only side benefits.
Lau correctly states that Grant “…offers a glimpse into a covenant community of connected relationships that frames our own individual stories within a much larger story. It is this sense of community that is counter-culturally life-giving and points to the Gospel and to a dynamically engaging relationship with Jesus Christ as the true source of meaning and purpose.…Grant affirms C. S. Lewis in noting “that it is not the taming of desire that will set us free but rather the unleashing and enlarging of true desire”. And, of course, that “true desire” is found only in the One who truly satisfies every longing of the human soul.”
Understanding sex as sacrament is one way to enrich and expand the way we currently tend to see sexual union. Sacraments are means by which people of faith worship God and are a means by which God extends His grace to us. By the grace of this sacrament, community is built. By the grace of mutual, covenanted surrender, we are formed into Christ’s image. Grant states, “In contrast to the modern view, sex indeed has mystery! It is ordained as an all-consuming act of union between committed lovers that points toward our bonding with God himself…. The role of sex as a bonding agent among lovers and as a sacramental window into the kingdom of heaven makes it a key battleground for Christian formation.” Let us hold this treasure in hands that value and honour this gift and mystery.
 CBC Digital Archives, “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”, accessed 7 March 2019, https://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/omnibus-bill-theres-no-place-for-the-state-in-the-bedrooms-of-the-nation.
 Brad A. Lau, “Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age” Christian Scholar’s Review 46, no. 2 (2017): 191. Accessed 7 March 2019. https://georgefox.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.georgefox.idm.oclc.org/docview/1873850621?accountid=11085.
 Dustin Resch, “Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age” Anglican Theological Review 98, no. 2 (2016): 406.
 Lau, 192.
 Jonathan Grant, Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age (Grand Rapids MI: Brazos Press, 2015), 154.
8 responses to “Sex as sacrament”
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The elite 8’s get all the good readings. I suppose the 9’s have to mature a bit more. Very interesting read. Thanks.
You’ll get there mate!!
Just be patient, Digby. You’ll get there. 😉
“Within the marriage covenant, sexual union is one of the greatest building blocks of society, based on a willingness to trust another without restraint, each union representing a lifetime of sacrifice and surrender.”
Beautifully written Mark. I wholeheartedly agree that this trust and sacrificial relationship goes so counter the drive to satisfy self that those concepts are lost in the modern pursuit of “happiness”. good words brother!
Understanding sex as a sacrament is a critical development that the church should be more focused on communicating. Unfortunately it seems that the church has chosen to almost completely ignore the issue as though it was inappropriate for polite ‘christian’ conversations. Recognizing that human sexuality is far broader than physical intimacy but an expression of communal life helps us more fully give ourselves to our spouses, our neighbors and ultimately to God. Thanks for your post.
Great post, Mark!
You mention, “Sex is not just about two people consenting to action under the sheets but something that impacts society as well.” How? I understand that sexual ethics and sexual formation color our perception of Christ and culture. However, how does that impact society? Sex as an act has become normative in conversation, media presentation and even in Christian sermons. I agree that there needs to be a greater understanding of the 3-dimensional understanding of sex; however, how will that change the church and change the culture?
You mention, “The role of sex as a bonding agent among lovers and as a sacramental window into the kingdom of heaven makes it a key battleground for Christian formation.” How does this translate to those at St. Stephen’s University who are choosing to remain single because they’re self-actualized in their calling or those who choose to marry and not procreate?
You asked how our sexual choices impact society. I think if one starts by seeing sex not as something I choose for myself, but rather a commitment to creating community. Inherent in the sexual act is the potential for creation of life – the joy of sex is that little familial communities come from the intimacy and longevity of a committed married couple.
All that said, we live in a world where the ideal doesn’t always happen. And what about those who aren’t married? I think recommitting oneself to the creation of community is the higher purpose that both singles and marrieds can have in common, and sexual energy can be directed platonically to see new, vibrant, and vulnerable communities emerge.
I love this idea of sex as a sacrament and our sexuality being so much bigger than what we do with our genitals. I am not really sure what to do with this book, if anything. Do you have any use for it beyond this reflection?