Boy Does This Guy Sound Threatened!

Meanwhile, a reader (a big fan of Cornerstone and “completed Evangelical” who is now happily Catholic yet still, like me, fond of Evangelicals) writes them:

Greetings and blessings, brothers and sisters. I just stumbled onto Jon Trott’s review of Open Embrace on your website, and I had to respond. I hope you’ll take these ideas as I offer them, in a spirit of respectful Christian debate. Here goes.

First off, Trott subtitled his review by saying the Torodes “offer super spiritual nonsense and gummed up metaphors”. I can’t help thinking that it touched a nerve personally with Trott, because this is the language he usually reserves for cultists and anti-rock crusaders. He calls the Torode’s approach “anti-woman” and “anti-sex”. It was hard at first to understand why this subject touched off such a tirade, but on looking closer at it, I think I’m getting a handle on what’s going on…

The term “becoming one flesh” is symbolized, iconified by the Torodes into sex without birth control. It is, most bluntly, their opinion which they are trying to guilt the rest of us into. Shoulds and should nots rooted in opinion (whether my opinion or that of others) are… well, opinion. But I suggest that comments such as the above are extra-biblical attempts to claim an authority they don’t in reality have.

Jon is really wrong here. Where to start… The spiritual import of the image of husband and wife as one flesh has not been “symbolized”, “iconified”, or otherwise created out of thin air by the Torodes. Rather, it has been in use in Christian thought since the beginning – e.g. Paul speaking of Christ and the Church as bridegroom and bride (Eph. 5:21-33, Hel-LO.) All students of church history will recognize that the principles of sexuality the Torodes have apparently discovered – openness, giving, and mutuality – are part and parcel of the traditional Roman Catholic and Orthodox view of sexuality. See, it’s one thing to say that it’s just the Torode’s opinion that they’re uncharitably foisting upon us. The reality is that it’s not just their opinion. Christians through the centuries, particularly traditional Catholics and Orthodox, have resisted acceptance of artificial means of contraception. My sense is that Jon knows this, and disagrees not with the Torode’s unfair requirement of him personally, but rejects the more weighty claim of the traditional Church to bind his conscience. As I say, he’s free to do so. But let’s be clear as to whose “authority” he’s rejecting (the Torodes specifically don’t claim any) – and thus, where the “guilt” comes from.

So what’s [the Torode’s] real point? Over and over, their point is that birth control is not just a physical barrier, but a spiritual and psychological barrier, between the husband and wife. As I will show, this argument is rooted in confusion between symbols and reality.

Ah. Here’s the real objection. Actually, Jon, the Torode’s argument is not “rooted in confusion between symbols and reality”, but the fusion of symbol and reality. In other words, it’s rooted in sacramental theology – the idea that certain core, deeply human actions (sexual intercourse being a major one) have a spiritual dimension, that in the midst of that action, God is there in a special way. God uses such actions (that are both symbolic and physical) to break into space and time with His glory and power – to comfort, to heal, to bring understanding, and in this instance, to create new human lives. You chalk up this use of symbolism to “poetry [as] idolatry”, but I believe Kierkegaard has misled you here. Sacraments are about both matter and spirit, about physical objects and actions that through Christ have cosmic effects. To allow the spiritual dimension is not to exclude the physical dimension, and vice versa. Think of the Incarnation of God the Son as the God-man Jesus Christ. Think of the Cross – a physical thing, an actual instrument of death for Jesus of Nazareth, but through the action which took place upon it, every Christian is saved through faith. Our God, Emmanuel, comes to be with us through sacramental actions- in baptisms, at weddings, and in all times of worship, prayer, and consecration. All the Torodes are trying to say, I think, is that this relatively ordinary but deeply significant human action of sexual intercourse is a holy thing that they think should be practiced in a holy way – that is, with the biggest vision of God in your heart that you can stand.

I mentioned above that Jon’s tone in his review is the same vitriolic one he uses with anti-rock crusaders. But wait – maybe the Torodes are anti-rock crusaders! He quotes a passage about ¾ of the way down that (unfortunately) betrays the authors’ view of CCM as fraught with negative cultural baggage. He frames the quote as casting doubt on the authors’ ability to judge any part of culture:

As mentioned earlier, the logic of many of the Torodes’ arguments rests on some serious play in the world of symbols, what a human body “means” or what sexuality “stands for.” That’s fine… as long as the discussion remains within biblical parameters… Outside such parameters, it’s just so much speculation, no matter how poetically put. And sooner or later, the cultural bigotry / elitism [emphasis mine] underlying such speculation is bound to show up in the Torodes’ approach. This is illustrated by comments regarding Christian rock music:

Evangelicals are known for “engaging the culture.” Contemporary Christian music, for example, often mimics the sound of secular music while adding Christian lyrics, as though the music conveys no message of its own. Problems arise when we begin engaging the culture and end up marrying it.

Here is where I and many of my evangelical contemporaries just will not — thank God! — go. A world in which even music one might otherwise listen to cannot be enjoyed because it mysteriously “conveys a message” of secularism…. a world in which sex between man and wife can’t just be sex without assigning guilt in the guise of symbols, and thus symbolic meaning, that is sinister.

Sinister? On reading this, I have to say, Geez, Jon, where’s the conspiracy? Are people who think and pray their way toward this holistic, traditional Christian view on sexuality somehow in cahoots with a satanic cabal with a “subtle… anti-woman, anti-sex”, anti-CCM agenda? How does my engagement in “unprotected” (as if children were an evil we need “protection” from) sexual intercourse with my husband, which may challenge me to a greater faith in God, unjustly hold me down and make me just another woman “in bondage to the patriarchy”? Are you trashing the Torode’s opinion on artificial birth control just because they don’t like Christian rock and roll? How did you guys get so far doing counter-cultural apologetics with such a thin skin?

In accusing the Torodes of cultural bigotry and elitism, Jon is just as guilty, since on this point he lifts his own opinion above Christian tradition. He is certainly free to disagree with that tradition; no one is denying him his right to do so, certainly not his fellow Protestants the Torodes (“We would say that [artificial contraception] is not ideal. Rather than pointing fingers, we want to point to a better way.”). Jon accuses them of guilt-tripping all married readers by explaining their views in this book. Of course, the Torodes think they’ve discovered a good thing, a “better way”; why else would they have written the book? Don’t they have a right to their opinion too? Or is it that Jon’s opinion is just more right than theirs, and he has a right to espouse his views, but they really shouldn’t, because they’re “sinister” and “anti-woman”? Can he say that the Bible contradicts their principles? I Cor. 7 plainly doesn’t. The plain meaning of Scripture, now – sorry, Kierkegaard doesn’t count.

I’m still left wondering why Jon reacted to Open Embrace as if it were a guilt trip. Charles Stanley has written tons of Bible studies that I haven’t read and I don’t plan to; I’m sure they’re fine, but I don’t feel guilty about not reading them or following his theology. Why does Jon vilify this couple and baldly accuse them of subversion for expressing views that have been part of Christian thought for thousands of years? I don’t get it.

My friend (a woman) is, no doubt, “anti-woman”.