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“This Momentary Marriage” Now in Paperback with a New Cover

John Piper’s This Momentary Marriage is now available in paperback with a freshly redesigned cover.

Reflecting on over forty years of marriage, Piper looks into the unexpected contours and real-world implications of this “parable of permanence” —this profound display of Christ’s covenant-keeping love for the church.

What some have said about This Momentary Marriage: 

“Theologically, this book exalts human marriage as a metaphor for the ultimate love story in Christ. Practically, it applies that glorious vision of grace to our daily experiences in marriage, singleness, parenthood, and the most universal of human realities-sin. This book opens our eyes and guides our feet with the grace of Christ.”
— Raymond C. Ortlund Jr., Lead Pastor, Immanuel Church, Nashville, Tennessee

“This book is a treasure in an era when the common perspective on marriage has been more shaped by sitcoms and self-help books than by Scripture. Dr. Piper lifts our hearts and minds to God’s vision for marriage. Embracing God’s design and purposes for marriage can make our homes tastes of heaven.”
— Nancy Leigh DeMoss, author, Biblical Womanhood in the Home; radio host, Revive Our Hearts

“A highly original contribution to Christian teaching on marriage. A copy should be put into the hands of every couple preparing for lasting and loving wedlock.”
— Charles Colson, founder, Prison Fellowship and the Colson Center for Christian Worldview

Ian & Larissa

If you haven’t yet watched the beautiful story of Ian & Larissa, inspired in part by This Momentary Marriage, we encourage you to take a few minutes to watch this video produced by Desiring God.

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September 5, 2012 | Posted in: Dating and Singleness,Marriage,Men, Husbands, Fathers,Video,Women, Wives, Mothers | Author: Lindsay Tully @ 9:00 am | 0 Comments »

How Far is Too Far? (Part 3)

Earlier this week, Gerald Hiestand expressed the need for pastors and ministry leaders to develop a more thought-out premarital sexual ethic. Research shows that only 20% of Christians remain abstinent prior to marriage. As evangelicals, we are often ready to take a necessary stand on homosexual ethics, yet the issue of heterosexual purity is compromised for nearly 80% of us. And so we want to begin a conversation that may feel offensive, overly conservative, or at a minimum, uncomfortable. Nonetheless, we think it’s an important one to have. We encourage you to begin by reading Gerald’s post and How Far is Too Far Part 1 and part 2 for an introduction to this series of posts.

How far is too far? Perhaps this is the wrong question, but it’s one that is asked nonetheless. Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas give a thought provoking answer in Sex, Dating, and Relationships. What does it mean to adhere to the New Testament’s vision of sexual purity? Here’s a short excerpt:

Don’t eat the cake.

Imagine that a man comes home from work one evening to find that his wife has baked a cake. As he walks into the kitchen, she sees him eying the cake and explicitly states, “Don’t eat that cake; it’s for our party this evening.” He nods in understanding, and she leaves the kitchen. As soon as she leaves, he cuts himself a large slice and places it on his plate. And then, bite by bite, he chews the cake and spits it back onto his plate. Having thus chewed the entire piece (but not swallowed, mind you), he scrapes the chewed piece back into the empty space on the cake tray. At this moment his wife walks back into the kitchen and looks at him in horror. “What are you doing?!” she exclaims. “I told you not to eat the cake!” He looks at her calmly and says with an assuring voice, “And indeed I have not. You see, dear, I define eating as ‘swallowing.’ And since I didn’t swallow the cake, I didn’t eat the cake. In sum, I did not have eating relations with that cake.”

Is “making out” porneia?

A silly story, but one that makes the point. When the wife tells her husband not to eat the cake, she means, “Leave it alone—don’t touch it.” And in real life she doesn’t need to be more explicit, because he knows perfectly well what she means. It’s the same with the Bible’s teaching on sexual immorality. When the biblical authors wrote, “Abstain from sexual immorality,” their hearers knew exactly what they meant. In the first-century context, appropriate conduct meant treating members of the opposite sex in a completely nonsexual way. The New Testament simply assumes and affirms this standard of sexual purity. Given this historical and cultural framework, we can understand why the biblical authors did not need to spell out how far is too far. They could simply say, “Avoid porneia,” and everyone knew what they meant. In sum, all premarital sexual activity—even light sexual activity such as passionate kissing—is outside the bounds of New Testament morality.

“Let’s not put even a toe in the water of sexual immorality.”

So wait. Are we saying that passionate kissing is sexual immorality? Yes, after a fashion. But we aren’t suggesting that passionate kissing is the same as sex, any more than Jesus, in his teaching on lust and adultery, meant to suggest that lust carries exactly the same consequences as adultery (see Matt. 5:27). Lust is, of course, a sexual sin. And in that sense, lust is a form of sexual immorality. But we don’t invoke church discipline on every person who lusts. There’d be no church left! Christ’s point wasn’t that those who lust should be treated the same as those who commit adultery. Rather, his point was that lust is the first expression of a big sin, and as such, is itself a sin. In the same way, make-out kissing, while not the same as premarital sex, is the beginning of premarital sex and as such is itself a sin. Lesser expressions of big sins are still sins. That was Jesus’s point about lust, and that’s our point about make-out kissing. God calls us to absolute purity. Let’s not put even a toe in the water of sexual immorality.

Intrigued by the conversation? Read a free sample chapter of Sex, Dating, and Relationships.

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June 22, 2012 | Posted in: Dating and Singleness,Purity,Pursuit of Holiness,Sexual Immorality,Sin & Temptation | Author: Crossway Staff @ 8:00 am | Comments Off »

How Far is Too Far? (Part 2)

Earlier this week, Gerald Hiestand expressed the need for pastors and ministry leaders to develop a more thought-out premarital sexual ethic. Research shows that only 20% of Christians remain abstinent prior to marriage. As evangelicals, we are often ready to take a necessary stand on homosexual ethics, yet the issue of heterosexual purity is compromised for nearly 80% of us. And so we want to begin a conversation that may feel offensive, overly conservative, or at a minimum, uncomfortable. Nonetheless, we think it’s an important one to have. We encourage you to begin by reading Gerald’s post and How Far is Too Far Part 1 for an introduction to this series of posts.

WHAT CONSTITUTES SEXUAL RELATIONS?

How far is too far? Perhaps this is the wrong question, but it’s one that is asked nonetheless. Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas give a thought provoking answer in Sex, Dating, and Relationships. What does it mean to adhere to the New Testament’s vision of sexual purity?

Nearly all Christians who take the Bible seriously will acknowledge that sexual activity should be reserved for marriage. And it’s doubtful that anyone—Christian or not—would really try to make a case that oral sex and fondling are not sexual activities. So the line is pretty clear as far as those activities are concerned. But what about kissing? Many (perhaps most) Christian dating couples regularly engage in passionate kissing.

Answering the kissing question is not as difficult as one might think. Clearly some forms of kissing are nonsexual; we kiss our children and our mothers. But there are some forms of kissing that we reserve exclusively for our wives. And the reason we do so is precisely that those forms of kissing are sexual.

Considering an activity against the backdrop of the family relationship is immeasurably helpful in clearing up nearly all of the confusion surrounding the question, “How far is too far?” If a man would not feel comfortable engaging in a particular action with his sister because doing so would be sexually inappropriate, then that action is of a sexual nature and is to be reserved for the marriage relationship.

That we often fail to identify certain activities (such as passionate kissing) as sexual is seen in how many Christian singles frequently use the term physical relationship to describe such activities. The use of the term physical implicitly suggests the couple’s actions are something other than sexual. But passionate kissing is not merely physical—it’s sexual. Unlike a hug or holding hands, passionate kissing is clearly off-limits between biological family members. And the reason it’s off-limits is that we intuitively know passionate kissing to be a sexual activity. Thus we can conclude:

1) Sexual relations are to be reserved for the marriage relationship.
2) There’s more to sexual relations than sexual intercourse.
3) Any activity that is sexual in nature must be reserved for the marriage relationship.
4) Some forms of kissing are sexual in nature.
5) Sexual forms of kissing must be reserved for the marriage relationship.

The logic of the above is, we believe, inescapable. What’s more, viewing an activity against the backdrop of the family relationship has biblical warrant. In 1 Timothy 5:2 Paul suggestively ties together the familial treatment of the opposite sex with absolute purity. In this often overlooked verse he writes, “[Treat] older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (NIV). Most helpfully, Paul here links together the familial treatment of the opposite sex with sexual purity.

Any and all sexual activity, even when it stops short of more intense sexual expression, is outside the bounds of the Bible’s sexual ethic. It is (can we say it so boldly?) a sin. And not only is such activity itself sinful; it inevitably leads to sexual and emotional frustration, which in turn leads to further sexual temptation. It’s a perfect storm of presenting our “members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness” (Rom. 6:19). This is a simple reality that no doubt many of you can testify to from your own experience, and one that we have seen played out over and over again in our respective churches among adolescents and single adults.

Adapted from Sex, Dating, and Relationships by Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas

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June 21, 2012 | Posted in: Dating and Singleness,Ethics,Purity,Pursuit of Holiness,Sexual Immorality,Sin & Temptation | Author: Crossway Staff @ 8:00 am | Comments Off »

How Far is Too Far? (Part 1)

Yesterday, Gerald Hiestand expressed the need for pastors and ministry leaders to develop a more thought-out premarital sexual ethic. Research shows that only 20% of Christians remain abstinent prior to marriage. As evangelicals, we are often ready to take a necessary stand on homosexual ethics, yet the issue of heterosexual purity is compromised for nearly 80% of us. And so we want to begin a conversation that may feel offensive, overly conservative, or at a minimum, uncomfortable. Nonetheless, we think it’s an important one to have. We encourage you to begin by reading Gerald’s post and stay tuned as this is part one of a three part series.

HOW FAR IS TOO FAR?

How far is too far? Perhaps this is the wrong question, but it’s one that is asked nonetheless. Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas give a thought provoking answer in Sex, Dating, and Relationships. What does it mean to adhere to the New Testament’s vision of sexual purity?

If you’re living somewhere between puberty and marriage, it’s a significant question. I (Gerald) can recall sitting as a young man with my pastor and discussing the issue of purity. With me were four or five other guys. We all believed that the Bible clearly prohibits sex before marriage, but our convictions did not reach far beyond that. Our answers ranged from “prolonged kissing” to “as long as the clothes stay on.”

Often times the approach is to build our own lists of sexual standards. Conversations may sound a bit like this:

You may want me to tell you, in much more detail, exactly what’s right for you when it comes to secular boundaries. But in the end, you have to stand before God. That’s why you must set your own boundaries according to His direction for your life. [To] keep my mind and body pure, I chose not to kiss [my wife] until the day we were engaged. I’m not saying this has to be one of your boundaries too. I want you to build your own list of sexual standards.1

Can this be right? Do we really think God wants us to build our own lists of sexual standards?

THE THREE GOD-ORDAINED CATEGORIES

God has grouped male-female relationships into three categories. Though the titles we have assigned to each category may be slightly arbitrary, the categories themselves are not. Each is based on unique standards that God has given regarding sexual activity. Understanding these distinct categories is the key to overcoming much of the subjectivity surrounding sexual propriety, helping us to build proper boundaries of sexual expression.

THE FAMILY RELATIONSHIP

In early Bible times, God did not prohibit sexual relations between blood relatives. But with the giving of the Old Testament law, God changed that standard: “None of you shall approach any one of his close relatives to uncover nakedness. I am the Lord” (Lev. 18:6; in this verse, the phrase “uncover nakedness” is a Hebrew euphemism for sexual relations).

Today we do not find this command at all unusual or even necessary. The thought of engaging in sexual relations with someone in our immediate family is revolting to most of us. But this has not always been the case. As we look back through biblical history prior to the law, we find that sexual relations between blood relatives were not uncommon. Abraham married his half sister (Gen. 20:11–12). Lot’s daughters approached their father while he was drunk and had intercourse with him (Gen. 19:31–36). Jacob married two sisters, a practice later banned under the law (Gen. 29:23–28). Presumably Cain, Abel, and Seth, as well as Noah’s sons, all married blood relatives.

God did not encourage the practice, and we later learn that he disapproved of it (Lev. 18:26–28). But he did not ban it until the giving of the law. Regardless of the reason for this prohibition, God’s command for sexual relations within the family relationship is clear: no sexual activity is to occur between blood relatives.

THE MARRIAGE RELATIONSHIP

Within the context of marriage, sexual relations are commanded. In 1 Corinthians 7:3–5 Paul commands married couples not to abstain from sexual relations. Paul goes on to note that a healthy sexual relationship within marriage is a good safeguard against infidelity. The physical oneness that results from sex between a husband and wife is an image of the spiritual oneness that results from our union with Christ. Sex is a picture of the gospel, and thus our enjoyment of it within the context of marriage is necessary as an expression of Christ’s spiritual oneness with the church.

THE NEIGHBOR RELATIONSHIP

The last category of male-female relationship we have labeled the “neighbor relationship.” And it is here the Bible resolves for us much of the ambiguity regarding sexual purity between unmarried men and women. Following Jesus’s inclusive definition of a neighbor, this category includes all those who are neither a blood relative nor a spouse (e.g., friends, strangers, schoolmates, coworkers). The commands regarding sexual purity for the neighbor relationship are sown throughout the New Testament, and one of the most telling passages in this regard is 1 Corinthians 7:7–9.

In this passage Paul is responding to a series of questions posed to him by the Corinthian church. Given the widespread sexual immorality of the day, Paul does not encourage all believers to embrace a celibate lifestyle. Those who have a strong desire for sexual intimacy (i.e., “burn with passion”) should fulfill that desire within the context of a marriage relationship. The implications are clear: the marriage relationship is the only legitimate context for sexual relations. What is plainly stated here in this passage is the assumed standard of sexual propriety seen throughout both the Old and New Testaments. Thus, the Bible’s perspective on sexual purity within the neighbor relationship can be detailed as follows: sexual relations are prohibited.

Now, we know what you’re thinking: “No sexual relations outside of marriage. I get that. But I already knew that. How does this help me answer the question, ‘How far is too far’?”

Read tomorrow’s post where Gerald and Jay explain what constitutes sexual relations according to the Bible.

Adapted from Sex, Dating, and Relationships by Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas

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June 20, 2012 | Posted in: Dating and Singleness,Ethics,Purity,Pursuit of Holiness,Sexual Immorality,Sin & Temptation | Author: Crossway Staff @ 8:00 am | 1 Comment »

Pastors, We Must Do Better on Premarital Sexual Ethics

by Gerald Hiestand, co-author of Sex, Dating, and Relationships

The September/October 2011 edition of Relevant Magazine includes a remarkable update regarding evangelical sexual ethics.[1] In the article, “(Almost) Everyone’s Doing It” author Tyler Charles, drawing upon data gathered by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy, informs us that forty-two percent of (single) evangelicals between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine are currently in a sexual relationship, twenty-two percent have had sex in the past year, and an additional ten percent have had sex at least once. Assuming the accuracy of Charles’ data, this means only twenty-percent of young evangelicals have remained abstinent.

Only 20% of single evangelicals remain abstinent.

When I first heard these numbers they seemed a bit high, so to ease my mind I took an informal poll of the singles at my church. Without disclosing their own personal history, they collectively agreed that the numbers were probably too low! So much for peace of mind. Statistics can be a tricky thing, but even if the survey’s data were wrong by half, the numbers would still be concerning. In my own pastoral experience, I see a significant amount of confusion and compromise among Christian teens and singles, particularly as it relates to premarital sexual ethics.

And the pastoral community must shoulder much of the blame here. Simply put, we pastors are not quite certain how to counsel singles and teens regarding appropriate sexual boundaries. We either offer subjective-biblical standards (‘the Bible says be pure’) which can be massaged around like a wax nose, or objective-personal opinions (‘keep it above the neck), which lack any real authority. Singles need an objective-biblical standard of premarital sexual ethics, and we pastors are the ones responsible for providing it. Of course, we clearly teach that sexual intercourse should be reserved for marriage. But beyond this, there is no clear consensus among evangelical clergy about where the boundaries should be drawn. Instead we tend to push the burden of this question back onto singles. One pastor typifies the counsel regularly given by evangelical clergy:

You may want me to tell you, in much more detail, exactly what’s right for you when it comes to secular boundaries [in dating relationships]. But in the end, you have to stand before God.  That’s why you must set your own boundaries according to His direction for your life. . . . I want you to build your own list of sexual standards.[2]

Do we really want to build our own list of sexual standards?

But do we really mean to say that Christian singles should “build their own list of sexual standards”? Certainly this can’t be right. Is oral sex permissible? Fondling? Mutual masturbation? Passionate kissing? Pastors and ministry leaders have been sending a mixed message about premarital sexual activity. We’ve left the door open to sexual foreplay, while insisting that singles refrain from consummating that foreplay. In essence, we’re telling Christians singles that it is (or might be) permissible to start having sex, just as long as they don’t finish. Which is, of course, not a workable sexual ethic.

Is it little wonder then, that many Christian singles—while largely agreeing that intercourse should be reserved for marriage[3]—find themselves unable to live out their own ideal? It is time for the pastoral community to reach an objective-biblical consensus on this crucial issue. Until we—the shepherds of the church—are clear on this issue, there is little hope that Christian singles will make any progress.

In our recent book, Sex, Dating, and Relationships: A Fresh Approach, co-author Jay Thomas and I work hard at constructing an objective-biblical standard for pre-marital sexual ethics.  Not everyone may agree with our conclusion, of course, but we do hope that many will engage in this conversation. And if you’re a pastor, it’s a conversation the singles in your congregation can’t afford for you to neglect.

Gerald Hiestand is Senior Associate Pastor of Calvary Memorial Church, Illinois, as well as Executive Director of the Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology. He is the author of a number of scholarly papers.

Learn more about Sex, Dating, and Relationships or read a free sample chapter.


[1] Tyler Charles, “Almost Everyone’s Doing It,” in Relevant Magazine, September/October, 2011. The article gets its data from the National Survey of Reproductive and Contraceptive Knowledge, conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy, Dec., 2009. The survey can be found online at:  http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/fogzone/PDF/survey_questionnaire.pdf, accessed October 24, 2011.

[2] Jeramy Clark, I Gave Dating a Chance: A Biblical Perspective to Balance the Extremes (Colorado Springs : Waterbrook Press, 2000), 108-09.

http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/fogzone/PDF/survey_questionnaire.pdf

[3] Charles goes on to note that “76 percent of evangelicals believe sex outside of marriage is morally wrong.” See “Almost Everyone,” 65.

June 19, 2012 | Posted in: Dating and Singleness,Ethics,Purity,Pursuit of Holiness,Sexual Immorality,Sin & Temptation | Author: Crossway Staff @ 8:00 am | (7) Comments »