Ben Bennett is joined by Sean McDowell to discuss God’s design for sex, singleness, and marriage. They talk through how Christians often make sex and marriage the ultimate goal even though singleness is an equally Biblical way of loving God and others. Ben and Sean explore why God created sex, freedom from sexual shame, and what true love is all about.
Sean McDowell is a speaker, podcast host, author of more than 20 books (including “Evidence that Demands a Verdict with Josh McDowell”), and Associate Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology.
Connect with Sean at seanmcdowell.org and on Instagram @seanmcdowell
Subscribe to Sean’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/SeanMcDowell-info
Visit the Resolution Movement website: resolutionmovement.org
Follow us on Instagram @resolutionmovement
(upbeat music) - Welcome to the Resolution podcast where we believe it's possible to overcome struggles and thrive in life. Here, we discuss mental health, trauma, brokenness, healing, and ultimately how we can experience a thriving life with Jesus and others. These conversations are informed by my new book, Free to Thrive, coauthored with Josh McDowell. I'm your host, Ben Bennett. Welcome to season two. Well, hey everyone, welcome back again to another episode of the Resolution podcast. Let me just say today's episode is gonna be phenomenal. I'm joined by Sean McDowell, and we'll be getting into a better view of sex, basically what God says about sex, and how it leads to our flourishing. Sean is a speaker, he's an author of more than 20 books, an associate professor in the Christian Apologetics Program, at Talbot School of Theology, man, Sean, so good to see you, thanks for being with me today. - Hey, thanks for having me on and just your partnership with my dad in ministry is awesome. - Thanks man. Love it. Well to those listening and watching, honestly, traditionally, we probably haven't done the best job as Christians painting the grand picture of God's design for sex and what it's all about. You know, for me growing up, I basically heard the message of abstain as long as you can, if you can, then when you get married, go nuts. And that was such a short-sighted view of sex which undermined so much of what we see God say all throughout the Bible. And Sean man, you've been speaking on this topic, you've been writing on this topic for years in such a biblical thoughtful, engaging, informed way. I knew we had to get you on this season, so thanks again for joining me. So as we get going, will you start out by sharing when and why did you become passionate about speaking about God's design for sex? - Oh, that's a great question. In some ways it takes me back to how I was raised. As you know, my father, Josh McDowell was writing the book on sexual purity in the eighties called Why Wait. And Ben, when I am like 11, 12, 13 years old hitting puberty, he is writing books, speaking around the world, having conversations with our family about these things. So I kind of grew up seeing the church wrestle with these ideas in the AIDS scare of the eighties, and all that that culture entailed coming out of the sexual revolution. So it was implanted in me early. So I've been speaking, writing, to a degree over that really probably in college is when I started speaking to students, addressing these issues. My first book in the early two thousands, there was a couple chapters in there, but recently had a chance to write a book on this more formally. And I think the biggest motivation was my kids, Scotty, Shane, and Shauna. They, you know, I have three gen Zers in my home and I see the messages that they're getting all the time. About identity, about love, about freedom, about pleasure, about fulfillment, and the students that I speak to are getting false messages all the time through Netflix, TikTok, the educational system. And my background in a worldview and apologetics, I just looked out there and thought, there's no resource that approaches this biblically, that's positive, but understands the cultural moment that we're in right now. And so the publisher actually, they first came to me and I was like, this is great timing. I would love to speak into this issue and help students realize when it's all said and done, that how we approach sexuality is just a subset of our larger discipleship. It's a subset of who we are. And how we approach sexuality really answers the question, are we really living a life that loves God and loves other people, or are we in it for ourselves? That question has to be answered first. So your experience, Ben I hear all the time from people, basically what's called the sexual prosperity gospel. In the nineties and early two thousands, the idea was if you just don't have sex although that was never really defined, then you'll have endless awesome sex and a lot of babies in the future. And the problem has been two things. Number one, that's not biblical, and number two, it doesn't work. So I interviewed a girl named Rachel Joy Wel... oh my goodness, my mind just went blank. I've interviewed so many people lately. Rachel Joy Welcher. And she wrote a book on sexual purity. And it was called Talking Back to Sexual, Talking Back to Purity Culture, that was the title, Talking Back to Purity Culture. And she was given the message you were given. Had a marriage that was blessed by her pastor, marriage that was blessed by her family. The only problem was five years into the marriage, her husband became an atheist, divorced her, and she was single in her thirties. So that message you were given, we need to stop giving that message to kids. It's unbiblical, it's harmful, and it's false. - Wow, so well said so powerful. And you're getting into this stuff all on social media, on TikTok, talking about God's design for sex. You're getting in the culture, speaking on this stuff. So biblically speaking, Sean, what actually is the greater message? What is God's design for sex in a nutshell? - Be holy, because I am holy. That's the message. We are not to be sexually pure because of anything we get out of it, or don't get out of it. In the passage in Leviticus 18, where it's all about different kinds of aberrant sexual behavior that Moses writing to the people of Israel. But interestingly enough, it's also other nations are not supposed to engage in this behavior. What's the motivation, be holy because I'm holy, be set apart, use your body and your relationships to love God and love other people. Everybody would say they wanna be motivated by love. But the proof is in the pudding. So I start off in the book that I wrote asking students, and I use an example from The Matrix. I know it's dated, but my high school students are like, everyone's still seeing The Matrix. Where it's like Neo the lead character has a decision, the blue pill or the red pill. One pill represents living in this artificial world, that's false, but pleasure filled. The other one is like, I want to know truth no matter what it costs me. I want to be liberated so I can liberate other people. And we're all rooting for him to reject this pleasure-filled artificial life and to embrace truth. That's the kind of invitation Jesus has for us. He says, "Seek ye first, the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Love God and love other people." So the heart of the question is, do we want to live a life loving God? Do we wanna actually love other people? And if we answer that in the positive, then we go to scripture and start to realize how God defines love, his design for sexuality. And whether we feel like it or not, we orient our lives around that truth because that's what sets us free. - Love it, love what you're saying. And I think in our culture we can think that sex is just something we do, and it's, you know, if you grew up in purity culture, it's like, wait till marriage, like the message I got, go nuts, it's all about pleasure, but it's such a short-sighted message. Sean, why did God even create sex? I've heard you talk about this, but are there a couple reasons you would say God created sex? - Yeah, I think there's three reasons why, and my dad and I differ on this a little bit, interestingly enough. Number one is procreation to make babies, that's obvious.Genesis 1:
26-27, God made them male and female, says, multiply, fill the earth. That is a blessing from God, and it's a command.Number two, Genesis 2:
24, says a man shall leave his father and mother, bond with his wife and the two shall become one flesh. So how do they multiply and fill the earth from Genesis one, it's through the institution of marriage becoming one flesh, and then they will have babies who leave their mother and father and also have babies, and through the family it's meant to be God's design. Now, when it says bonds with his wife, it's unity, that's the second purpose of sex. So to make babies and have unity. And we actually learn, and you know this Ben, that there's chemicals in the body like oxytocin that are released during affectionate and sexual touch that have been called the love hormone, 'cause they actually created desire to have a connection with somebody. So when it says the two shall become one it's not just a spiritual oneness, it's not just emotional oneness, it's not just financial oneness, although it's all of those. It's also a biochemical oneness and unity. So God made sex to make babies, number two, for unity. Number three, I think to foreshadow heaven. God gave us sex as one way of anticipating heaven. Now here's what I don't mean by that. What I don't mean by that is what you see in certain Islamic circles. That if you die in a jihad and you're male, you get 70 dark hair, dark-eyed virgins, that's not what I mean. What I mean is God gave us sex as one way of knowing people relationally deeply that anticipates the kind of relational knowing we'll with God and other people when we get to heaven. So some translations of the old Testament would say, Adam knew his wife Eve, Abraham knew his wife Sarah. Why, because sex is not meant to just be physical and biological, that's what our culture says. Sex is a deep way of knowing somebody. Now in the garden when Adam and Eve sin what happens, they cover themselves because of shame. We hide because of sin and we cover ourselves. Sex is meant to be a way that people uncover themselves without experiencing shame, and are held and loved and cared for in real intimacy. You see, when we get to heaven, we don't have to have a mask on anymore, and I don't mean a COVID mask, I mean a fake mass where we pretend to be somebody that we're not. The true goodness of heaven is that we can love God and be loved by God who knows our faults, and our weaknesses, and our insecurities, and our sins. And we can be loved by others amidst our weaknesses and our failures. That's real intimacy where shame is gone. That's the deepest yearning of the human heart, and sex is meant to be one way, not the only way, one beautiful way of anticipating the kind of intimacy we'll have with God and others in heaven. Now, some people will say the other purpose of sex is pleasure. I don't think that's the purpose of sex, I think that's the motivation. Just like food, the purpose of food is not pleasure. But God blessed us with steak, and strawberries, and coffee, and things that I think tastes good, that's a blessing. But we have to eat to stay healthy. God has blessed us. Sex feels good, God designed it to be pleasurable. That's the motivation and the blessing, but not the purpose. - Wow, so beautiful. And I think in that picture, the three things you laid out, we see God's heart for us. We see God's heart for our flourishing, you know, in my new book with your dad, Josh, we explore this idea of wholeness that there's this completeness that comes when we follow God's design. And you know, Sean in your recent book Chasing Love, absolutely love it, you talk too about how God wants us to flourish through his design for relationships and sex. Can you speak a little to protecting and providing, how God wants to protect and provide for us when we follow his design for sex? - Yeah, when I was probably 12 years old, my father had a conversation with me and I remember it, and he uses it in his books and his talks which has always been fine with me. Where he's basically saying, son how do you define love? And I was like, I don't know. And he takes me to Ephesians chapter five, where Paul says husbands love your wives as you love your own bodies. Well, that raises the question, if a husband wants to know how to love his wife he has to think through how he loves his own body. Then the next verse says, as you nurture and cherish. Now, if you translate that, it actually means to protect and provide. So if a husband wants to know how to love his wife, he has to know how he loves his own body. Now what's interesting is we don't have to be taught how to love our own bodies. We don't always choose to do it well, but we naturally know and have self-interest built in. That's not a bad thing. What you have to do is think, not just to naturally care for ourselves, but to extend that care to others, that's what we have to learn. But the point my father was saying is, again, husbands love your wives, love your own bodies. Love your own bodies by protecting and providing for them. So that means if I wanna know how to live my wife, and you can extend this principle even further, how to love my daughter, how to love my friends. I would seek to protect and provide for them. So protect means, is I would not put harm in their way and the image is like an Eagle that swoops down and protects either the eggs or the baby Eaglets from harm, there's this protective. And providing is nourishing, like the water, and sunlight, and soil that something needs to grow. So what our culture gets wrong, is our culture pretty much says love equals affirmation. But biblically speaking, you can affirm something that doesn't lead to providing for someone. You can affirm something that doesn't lead to protecting somebody. That's where the biblical definition of love comes into conflict with a cultural definition of love. And that's where Christians have to say, you know what, I want to protect and provide for people, even if I'm called a bigot, even if people think it's unloving. 'Cause reality is, Ben you know this, people can do something they think is loving but it's not. The people who put Jesus to death thought they were doing the right thing, at least some of them did. And they were putting an innocent man to death. So that's a clear cut example that love does not mean affirmation. Love is not a feeling. Love is operating in what is best for another person, spiritually, emotionally, physically and relationally. Now with that said, I think deep in the human heart Ben, even non-Christians in our culture knows that that's really what love is. They know it, I mean, look at the End Game movie where Ironman dies in a climax of 10 years of Marvel movies, and I don't feel bad giving away, everybody's had plenty of time to see it. Basically he's the sacrificial character who protects and provides for others by laying down his life. He is a Christ-type figure. So our culture knows that, they're just confused about what God's design is. They're confused about the nature of sex. So that's a clarity of love that when we have that definition can serve us well to avoid some of the lies and confusions in our culture and actually operate in a way that's consistent with God's character, consistent with the way Jesus lived, and consistent with the way he called us to live. - Wow, you know, I think about the protecting and the providing in my years of, because I didn't hear it from the church, I didn't hear from relationships like I said earlier, my years of just trying to figure it out, figure out God's design on my own. Although I thought I had it figured it out, but getting trapped in pornography, and then later just the extensive healing and recovery work, and therapy I had to do with God and others to finally get free, and learning what it does to our brains and how it causes frontal lobe atrophy, the withering away of the higher reasoning portion. It's, just a powerful way, that's just one example of how God wants to protect and provide for us that culture often rejects. I think of, I recently posted a TikTok, eight seconds. - Data boy. - You're your brain on porn and showed that image. And it blew up, you know, well, 30,000 views, I guess that's not that great for TikTok but- - That's fantastic. - And people like the comment section blew up. Cap, cap, cap, fake news, this is, yeah, right porn, you know, your brain on porn just looks like a normal brain, this has probably been debunked. So I did a response video and actually got like no backlash 'cause I posted all these scientific articles of, no, this is actually proven. But I think with pornography, what we're seeing it does to the brain, that's a perfect apologetic, and example of God's design for sex is for our flourishing. And I had all those objections, but you know, Sean, you're in this world a lot. you're on TikTok, what are common objections you often see in culture to God's design for sex? - Well, there's a bunch. I think you, you hit at one, namely that tied to pornography, that it's not a big deal, it doesn't affect me. And the reality is that it does. There's actually a document, it's from 2012, but it was by five professors, including Jill Manning. And they brought together, I'm sure you're aware of the study. Rather than doing new study, they got all the studies available at that time in 2012, about how porn affects adolescents. And they walked through it, they're like people who regularly look at porn are more likely to engage in sexually risky behavior, more likely to have negative views of women, more likely to be distracted by thoughts of sex, on, and on, and on. To me, that's pretty strong empirical proof that pornography is a big deal and it affects people. That's one. The other one people say is, well the sex is not a big deal, it doesn't matter. It's just, if you go back to the sexual revolution, one of the ideas was to kind of demystify sex. It's not sacred, it's not holy, it's just a physical act between consenting adults, it feels good. In fact, one activist is like, it's no different than drinking a glass of water. Now of course I'm like, I don't know what water you're drinking, but I digress right? I'm like, tell me about this water. Well, look, one of my favorite illustrations Ben, is that if you take a beach ball and you push it under water, it's going to pop up. Why, because of gravity, the nature of the beach ball. Our culture's pushing lies about this, but the truth is going to pop up. So there's this movie five years ago in 2016 called Passengers, with Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. And in this movie, there was a sex scene. And I didn't see it, but I read all about it, and I saw an interview with Chris Pratt and he was asked like, how do you care for your CoStar when filming a scene like this? And Chris Pratt, Mr. Cool was clearly uncomfortable, and he's like, I have as few people on set as I can, and I make sure my co-host is fine. And I thought if sex is not a big deal, why do they ask you about that scene. Of all the scenes in the movie, why that one? Because we know it's a big deal. But then it turns out at that time, that was the first scene of its kind that Jennifer Lawrence had done. She got herself drunk to film one scene in that movie. Take a wild guess which one it was, you know the answer. The night before filming it Ben, I have a daughter, I literally can't tell the story without getting teary-eyed. She called her mom the night before and says, "Mom, I've never felt so vulnerable in my life. Can you just tell me everything's going to be okay?" - Gosh. - Don't tell me sex is not a big deal, the entire Me Too Movement tells us that. Now on the flip side, the mistake we made in the church is we made sex the biggest deal. We made too big of a deal out of it. We can error on both sides. Now scripture speaks very seriously about sexual immorality. In every vice list, Paul and in the scripture, sexual morality is in there. So I don't wanna under-do it. But like you started, purity culture, overdid it, and said basically your identity is all about what you do with your sexuality. What is more important than sexuality, although this is an expression of it, is the first commandment, do we love God, and then do we love other people? It's God's, it's idolatry that is the greatest sin. So the way you framed it is gold. We don't tell people and young people, don't have sex because you'll get something out of it. But we do tell them be holy because God is holy. And when we live the way God designed us to live there tends to be a natural flourishing that comes in our relationship that matches up with our deepest desires as human beings. That's the way I think we frame it, that's accurate and faithful with scripture. - Come on, love it. You know, in this conversation, thinking about man, just that story you shared with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence and the Me Too Movement, in this conversation, there's so much hurt for people as you know Sean, whether it was from purity culture or maybe experiencing some kind of sexual trauma or sexual abuse, or maybe just, like my story going off the rails a bit outside of God's design in pornography and sexual activity and the shame that that led to. What would you say to someone, how would you encourage somebody who has experienced shame because of what's been done to them, or the sexual activity that they have willingly engaged in outside of God's design? - The first thing I would say is I am so sorry that this happened to you. If somebody took advantage of you sexually, whatever that looks like, it's not your fault. It's not your fault. It's my father who was sexually abused seven years. He said he dealt with this because he knew it wasn't his fault, and he knew that he wasn't used goods because of it. And that was before he was a Christian which is so powerful. He had that biblical idea, but didn't understand the roots of it. So if that's happened to you, I grieve for you, and I am so sorry, and I promise you, there is freedom. If you will tell somebody, a trusted teacher, a trusted mentor, a parent, there is freedom for you. Second, if you're like, well, it's not something happened to me, I made a mistake, I looked at something or did something. I would say, I want you to think of the story of the father and the prodigal son. The prodigal son basically said to his dad, give me my inheritance now, which means dad you are dead to me. I'm a parent, I can't imagine the hurt and shame of a child saying that to me. That would rip my heart out. And he leaves and goes engages in wild living, probably every sin of the planet we can think of and some. I envision that father every single day, opening up the version of the curtains they had in the first century, and just looked out and said, maybe today is the day my son will come home. And his son came home with an excuse, and the father just embraced him saying what, you belong, I love you, I forgive you. If anybody's listening to this and they have hurt, and they have pain, I'm telling you, God loves you, and God forgives you. Satan is the accuser. Jesus is speaking this truth into your life. You are my precious son, you are my precious daughter, you are made in my image, and I paid for your debt on the cross, shame is gone. Open yourself up so I can love you, and heal you, and forgive you. (Ben sighs with relief) - Amazing. For those who aren't watching, who are listening, tearing up just hearing that message, the love of the father. I think it'd be so powerful just to bathe in that for a second, that we're never too far gone, the father welcomes us home, even if we don't think we deserve it. Of course we don't deserve it, it's unmerited favor, it's grace, he loves us deeply. To transition from that powerful moment, here's another question I really wanted to ask Sean. And we hinted at it throughout our conversation that Christians can often elevate marriage, elevate sex to be this ultimate achievement in life when, you know, I've heard you, and I think it was in your recent book, Chasing Love, talk about how that's not what the Bible does or says, the Bible doesn't teach that. So for singles, how would you encourage them? Singles like myself, how would you encourage us when it comes to our view of sex and honoring God's design? - First thing is I think as a church, we need to repent, because we have made an idol out of marriage. - Come on. - We have. Pastors, writers, we have basically said, God has somebody out there for you, and your fulfillment will come from that relationship. That is not biblical. Biblically speaking, 1 Corinthians 7, Matthew 19. There are two equal ways to honor God and honor other people, singleness and marriage. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7, in fact, Paul says, "I wish you were like me and single." He seems to say, singleness is better than marriage. I haven't heard that preach from a lot of pastors to be honest with you. There's two ways to honor the Lord. They both have benefits, and they both have burdens. Jesus was single, Paul was single. So we need to recover a theology of singleness. One of the things I was doing in the book that you mentioned, is most sexual purity books that I've read don't even talk about singleness. So when I talk about God's design, I do sex, I talk about singleness, and then I talk about marriage, to flip the narrative a little bit 'cause all students reading this are single anyways, and singleness is beautiful and important and a good way to serve the Lord. So one encouraged I will give to you, Ben, I see this at Biola where I teach. Sometimes people are like, it's the bridal Institute of LA. At basically every Christian College, not unique to Biola, there's this pressure to get married quickly. What happens is students miss out on enjoying and maximizing the season of singleness because they're looking past that season. And then people get married and then they rush past the early season of marriage without kids to have kids. Then they have young kids, they rush past that, and like, I just can't wait to have dinner without having to feed my kids. And then you rush through the seasons. We're failing to encourage people in two ways. Number one, if you get married someday, this is a season you have for X number of months or years. Enjoy it, flourish in it, use it for the kingdom. And if you never get married, you can find fulfillment in your relationships, loving God, and loving other people as a single person. - Well, for those listening, receive that encouragement if you're single and I receive that encouragement, Sean, it's such a great reminder of, God has us where he wants us in our singleness. It's not a curse, it's a blessing. We see that all throughout the new Testament, Jesus, the Apostle Paul, you haven't arrived if you somehow one day get married, that's not the next achievement in life, God wants to use us where we're at and we can be fully content. I remember just learning at some point in my healing journey, that sex is ultimately not what I do, it's who I am. I'm made in the image of God as a being with sexual desires. And I can flourish whether or not I'm married. I need to not elevate marriage as some kind of ultimate thing. Well, as we wrap up Sean, you've got so many great books, so many great resources. Where can people follow you on social media, how can they stay up to date with everything you're doing and get your books? - Probably, the first and easiest place to go is just my website seanmcdowell.org, and you'll find links, I have a ton of, I've got a YouTube channel, Folks on Worldview Apologetics, on Twitter, on Instagram, TikTok, I blog, all of it at the website, seanmcdowell.org. People could see, and a ton of it is free. And my whole value Ben, is I wanna bring value to people on social media. Sometimes that's a laugh, but videos, resources, quotes, interviews. I just wanna bring value to equip people related to the very things we're talking about. - Yeah, well, you're doing that? You're killing it. To those watching and listening, Sean is actually one of my favorite people to follow on social media. I don't know how you do it all Sean, but so many good videos, so many good interviews, so many good tweets, sharing research. You really stand out and help further equip me in my faith, and in my research, and then just how we address winsomely important topics today in our culture. So check out Sean's website, follow him. Yeah, for everyone watching or listening, do that. And also just remember that God wants us to flourish. His design, his principles are there to protect and provide for us. In our sexual lives, in our relational lives. We see the heart of God and how much he cares for us. And honestly, this stuff, as I follow him more and more and dive into his design it just causes me to be blown away and to worship him all the more, and then to wanna share his love and his goodness with other people. Well, Sean, thanks for who you are, but what you're doing, thanks for joining me today, and thanks for your recent book, Chasing Love. It is just, and I would also encourage people to pick that up. It's like what, 17 chapters. All these different topics, common questions that we may have, current day questions about sexuality, a number of topics, pick that up. Sean, thank you so much. - Thank you Ben, I appreciate it. (upbeat music) - [Ben] Thanks for checking out the Resolution podcast. To go deeper on today's topic, get my new book Tree to Thrive at resolutionmovement.org. As well as access a variety of free resources. If this episode encouraged you, please take a moment to rate it, share it and subscribe. You can listen to us Wherever podcasts are found, as well as watch the visual version of each episode on our YouTube channel. Connect with us by searching resolution movement on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube. See you soon. (upbeat music)