The Gospel Coalition & Sex as Conquest: it’s still misogyny, however unintended {2}

Yesterday, I talked about a recent brouhaha over some comments by Douglas Wilson and Jared Wilson (no relation) over at The Gospel Coalition about gender and marriage. Jared quoted a book by Douglas where he says, among other things, this:

…the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.

His (and Jared’s) main point was that they believe there’s an inherent “loving” “authority” exercised by men in marriage, even in the sexual act. Further, this is God’s loving design that Christians are to embrace. They believe that some of our culture’s male addiction to porn and female addiction to S&M bondage fantasies stem from our culture’s rebellion from this “proper”  and “loving” exercise of male authority over women, causing them to turn to “improper” ways of exercising these God-given drives.

Needless to say, they got a lot of flack over this. They insisted time and time again that they are not advocating forcible marital sex or that women should just be treated as passive “receivers” of sex. They defended themselves, attacked their critics, and yet, (inexplicably, to them) critics kept saying these harsh things about them. Yesterday, I wrote about the background of this, the responses, and then wrote some words to Jared Wilson. Please go to that link for that relevant information. Today I want to give more of my specific perspective on this:

First, to both of the Wilsons…

As I said yesterday, I don’t think you’re stated opinion is that sex should be forced, dominating, unloving, or the like. But there’s a reason that people have continued to comment and say the same things even after you clarified them.

It’s because it still doesn’t seem like you see the inherent misogyny in your words, however genuinely unintended it might be.

It’s simply not the case that you can use the language of “penetration”, “conquering”, and “colonization” for sex and then turn around and use the language of “mutual submission”, “cherishing”, and “love”.

It would be like saying that blacks, though equal in “value” in the eyes of God, should have “separate but equal” places in society and in relationship with other races, but then saying you’re not at all being racist (or at the very least, clearly appearing that way).

It’s like blowing up innocent civilians and saying it’s for the cause of peace.

It at least sounds similar to a tweet John Piper put up a couple of years ago telling women they “shouldn’t complain” about their husband’s porn addiction if they watch movies with him that have nudity.

This all reminds me of this line in this song by Derek Webb:

…tell me since when do the means justify the ends
and you build the kingdom using the devil’s tools?

It appears you want to say that the “ends” of love, mutual submission, and cherishing are arrived at through penetration, conquering, colonizing, and “seeding”. How is this not building the Kingdom using the tools of the devil–tools that have been subverted, reversed, turned upside-down and backward through the Cross of Christ? As J.R.D. Kirk so beautifully said in his post on this issue:

When Jesus came and showed us what Christian manhood was all about, he did not conquer, but allowed himself to be conquered; he did not pierce, but allowed himself to be pierced; he did not plant by scattering his seed forcibly, he planted by giving up his own life–the grain of wheat falling to the earth and dying that it might produce a crop 100-fold.

“Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

You want to be a man in the bedroom? Learn what it means to give up your power rather than clinging to that primal desire to conquer.

You want to be a Christian man in the bedroom? Go and learn what this means: “The husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Cor 7).

Even the bedroom is to be part of the way of the cross. Play the part of the Roman centurion, and you’re not telling the Jesus story any longer.

A couple of months ago, I posted an extended quote from William Struthers’ book Wired For Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain that also speaks of a more biblical portrait of masculinity than the one you guys promote. I encourage you to read it.

In the end, people can’t just “take your word for it” that you swear you’re not a chauvinist any more than they can with someone giving that “separate but equal” line even as they swear they’re not a racist. Many people keep talking about this because they’re trying to show you the logical endpoint of your language–and ultimately, your perspective on this entire issue.

I know both of you Wilson’s love your wives dearly. But I would humbly submit that the moments you can think of that you have loved them best would have been precisely those moments when you were the least “authoritative”, hierarchical, and instead submitted your whole self to her and for her. In other words, when you–even unwittingly–suspended the practical and logical outworking of your theological opinion about this issue.

In other other words, I wonder if you have loved your wives best when you were being very bad complementarians (however you try and “re-define” that term to mean something it does not).

The clear implication of Wilson’s quote (no matter how much you want to belittle your readers and insult their “reading comprehension skills”) is that men rape because of a twisting of their God-given drive for conquest; a drive that’s intended to be directed in love towards wives, but when that’s rebelled against, it gets perverted into things like rape. But, according to your theology, what are some of the ways this “rebellion” displays itself in our society? Women working for most of their lives even after having kids, women sometimes being the breadwinners, women teaching men theology, women elders caring for the hurt and broken in their community, and women leading Gospel-centered churches that are growing believers in faith and maturity.

And so, it’s not a very big jump to connect the dots and come to the logical conclusion that you’re saying that if that stuff wasn’t going on in our culture (Christian and secular), then their might be less rape in the world. I don’t think it’s entirely unreasonable to say that the quote implies a connection between all of those things.

Once again, I am not saying you yourself are directly and intentionally preaching this or believe this. Please don’t misunderstand me. But this is what your worldview preaches–even in spite of you. No matter your intent. No matter your motive. No matter your heart. It is, as Jamie Smith might call it, a “cultural liturgy” that you are participating in simply by using this language; and it will acculturate you (and others) one way or the other, whether by conscious assent or subconscious catechizing of your heart.

And lastly, to The “Gospel” Coalition…

I have remained in shock ever since I realized that “ministries” like The Gospel Coalition, Together for the Gospel, Acts29, and The Resurgence (among others) will compromise with each other and work together with those of differing opinions on infant baptism but not women in ministry. Really? The most fundamental expression of New Testament covenant theology can be tossed aside as “ambiguous” and “open to various interpretations”, but not a women’s role in the church, home, and marriage?!

(Maybe a post is in order outlining why I believe egalitarianism is the only clear, loving, and sane perspective on this in the Bible. We’ll see.)

As Rachel Held Evans has pointed out time and time again, the structuring of relationships so the man will “rule over” women is precisely part of the curse laid on humanity in the garden. You can’t take three specific verses in the New Testament (verses that have many well-documented historical, cultural, contextual, and translational issues) and build a whole theology of women in Christianity around it.

But I’m getting off topic.

I’m not saying that these organizations should begin discriminating on the basis of infant baptism. Rather, I’m saying that they should stop treating such tertiary “opinions” (like complementarianism) as part of the “Gospel” proper.

I’ve written before over how much my heart breaks over this branch of conservative Evangelicalism that wants to divide over these smallest of issues**; how they’ll deprive themselves of some of the best pastors in the world based on their views on this stuff.

(And now for the longest single grammatically-correct sentence I’ve ever written.)

And so ultimately, it saddens me that a site that calls itself “The Gospel Coalition”, in a post by a guy whose blog is called “The Gospel-Driven Church” (by the way, I see that the URLs for and are available. Just FYI.) would want to expend so much of its energy defending–of all the possible “ideas” in the world (I won’t respect it by calling it a “doctrine”)–a system of belief that perpetuates twisted relationships in society, bad interpretations of the Bible, poor relationships with the wider culture (which, for some of these guys, is a virtue), and, worst of all, the degradation of the dignity, honor, strength, and souls of our precious sisters in Christ.

This is the opposite of love.

This is madness. This is power. This is shameful. It has to end.

May we all repent for how we’ve perpetuated this.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus….

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures

–The Apostle Paul


** Yes, yes, I know that you can twist the theology of all of this to make this into some “gospel” issue by appealing to the authority/submission within the Godhead and its expression among humanity. But people were able to find ways to make geocentrism “essential” to the gospel based on ideas of the earth being the centrality of God’s focus, work, and redemption in the cosmos. They’ve also been able to show how slavery, genocide, war, crusade, and conservative politics/economics were all “essentially” tied to the Gospel. This doesn’t mean they were right.

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15 thoughts on “The Gospel Coalition & Sex as Conquest: it’s still misogyny, however unintended {2}

  1. you’re right, i like this less.

    I think ‘colonize and conquer’ terms were dumb, and yes, I guess they then color what might be interpreted about penetrate and seed. But i don’t want that to obscure that penetrate and seed are perfectly acceptable and valid terms for what goes on, even if one wanted to argue its not literally true from in an atomized scientific perspective (heck in the restricted rarefied terminology of mathematics, topologically, the womb is ‘outside’ the woman). The symbolic freight of what goes on between a man and a woman is colored by the form of the act itself. and 2 of those terms are insanely proper.

    Kirk’s post, by implying that ‘penetration’ is what a Roman does to Jesus to kill him, almost seems to be saying that in the new way jesus shows us, men won’t have penetrative sex with their wives*, or men wouldn’t say, ever be on ‘top’, or want to, or want to because they like something about it that they don’t like about not. If what jesus shows us about authority doesn’t actuallys ay *anything* about how you can now have sex, then the default creational symbolic aspects of kto kogo (in russian) still stand.

    * From only one limited perspective (the eschaton) that’s true, but we don’t immenantize the eschaton.

    “But I would humbly submit that the moments you can think of that you have loved them best would have been precisely those moments when you were the least “authoritative”, hierarchical, and instead submitted your whole self to her and for her. ”

    This is true many times. But there are also moments when my wife has been very appreciative of my taking charge of a matter that she felt incapable of handling because of emotion and fear that I was able to approach with an authoritative, yes, i know what to do and what I’m doing, perspective. That’s incredibly useful and valuable.

    (BTW, my back-of-mind perspective on this was shaped by a complementarian who taught me that male headship didn’t mean you got what you wanted when deciding, say, if you wanted to move to take a job in another city and she didn’t because of whatever reason. It meant that you actually had to consider her reasons and make the wisest choice that factored in her perspective. )

    ” But, according to your theology, what are some of the ways this “rebellion” displays itself in our society? Women working for most of their lives even after having kids, women sometimes being the breadwinners, women teaching men theology, women elders caring for the hurt and broken in their community, and women leading Gospel-centered churches that are growing believers in faith and maturity.”

    Does Wilson actually say the first two? Or even the next-to-last (excepting the term ‘elder’, since complementarians are probably ok with ‘elder women’ caring for the hurt and broken, though they do it without ordained institutional ‘authority’ just servant authority we all possess. I agree its a tough call to say get rid of egalitarianism in churches and society and rape will decrease. I certainly don’t think that’s the case. I think perhaps he’s just claiming that we’re not going to rid outselves of rape by adopting ‘egalitarianism’ as an ideal (Wilson keeps talking about submission to God as the main point: yes, i know egals believe their view is the most submissive to God’s authority. But I also think its ok to critique baptist culture for some of the ways their theology leads to unique failures)

    It is interesting how TCG works together ignoring baptism and not gender roles. I think when the gender role division has been around for 500 years we may see a new TCG that works together on that too: we all know we divided over baptism a long time ago, and if we wanted, we could point to political forces that led to that division. But gender role division, of course, is more recent, and (thereby also) looks to the one side as a recent compromise with a liberal cultural spirit. So yes, its ironic, but i can understand it.

    [i had some more here, but it got eaten, will add it later]

  2. Well said, Paul.

    I think the best response I’ve seen to this issue so far was Rachel Held Evans asking, what does “complementarian” sex even look like? How is it different than “egalitarian” sex? She says:

    Does preserving male authority mean that a man must always initiate sex? Does it mean that the missionary position is the only acceptable one for Christians? Is it too “egalitarian” for both a man and woman to be pleasured? … The Wilsons have yet to clarify what they mean when they assert that “true authority and true submission are…an erotic necessity.” … As one commenter put it: “If an appropriate sexual relationship within marriage is not an ‘egalitarian pleasure party’ but is not legalized rape, what exactly is it?”

    Who knows the exact thought process that went into this, but it sure seems like he didn’t think that far ahead. That he just thought the connections he was making made sense and that people would agree. It seems like the post just wasn’t well thought out and the whole controversy caught them off-guard.

    I say a lot of throw away things in daily conversation and debate that I couldn’t defend well if someone really called me on them. They make sense in my head and a lot of times sound good at a glance. But when you’re a well-known speaker/blogger and you make the assertions in Wilson’s original post then you’ve got to be ready to defend every bit of your thought process before you hit the “Post” button. Otherwise it’s too easy just to post things that you think your constituents will eat up without giving any critical thought and your opponents will gloss over without taking the time to argue.

  3. What’s funny is that with these guys and others like them, their desire to “love and protect” women feels like prison bars. Ironically, the plethora of posts from men, yours included, speaking up for the dignity, integrity, and ability of women feels EXACTLY like love and protection – an uplifting and affirming love and protection, rather than a condescending one. One that would actually be welcome.

    All that to say, I cheered through most of this. Thanks a bunch.

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  5. I really wish I’d read the original post in question here before it was removed. Now that it’s gone, it’s a bit hard to tell who said what, what they meant, where there heart was…That being said, I appreciate that your (Paul) posts have really made me freshly think through these issues…

    Also, I can’t help but posting a link to a post by Douglas Wilson’s daughter on this whole ordeal –

  6. Here’s an excerpt from one of Douglas Wilson’s blog posts on the whole thing. Curious to hear your thoughts/reactions, Paul.

    “Then there were the other terms that some folks tripped over. In the next few paragraphs, let me just expand on some points I made in the comments at Jared Wilson’s blog.

    It is not possible to talk about this without talking about it. “Penetrates.” Is anyone maintaining that this is not a feature of intercourse? “Plants.” Is the biblical concept of seed misogynistic? “Conquer.” Her neck is like the tower of David, and her necklace is like a thousand bucklers. “Colonize.” A garden locked is my sister, my bride. C’mon, people, work with me here.

    Incidentally, I know and understand that both husband and wife have sexual authority (1 Cor. 7:4). Her eyes conquer him. “Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me” (Song 6:4-5). She is like an army with banners. So the language of conquest is language of mutual conquest, but it is still there. But when language of conquest is used with regard to the woman, it is unfortunate that some women get huffy. Guys generally don’t. When she starts to militarize, he gets a sly grin and adopts a policy of craven appeasement.”

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  9. Wow a Chrisitian man actually said this, I feel physically SICK! I really do wonder if some men understand the complexity a woman’s sexual nature. We weren’t just put on the earth for your sexual desire so we can just be penetrated; we are not property. Thank God the men I am surrounded by affirm my value in GOD. To the men that are too stupid to understand if you refer to having sex with a woman in dominating terms like colonising she will just end up hating you.

    I knew a lady who is now divorced as her rather dumb x husband always demanded sex from her and used emotional abuse to get it. Always demanded to be on top and to cut a long story short used her for his sexual pleasure. As a result the poor lady views men as nothing short of rapists. Of course this is a more extreme case but it did start with an over dominating man who failed to understand to submit sexually to his wife or the sexual dynamics of a woman. Sadly this is quite prevalent among Christian men, however there are still some decent ones left.

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  15. I’ve written before over how much my heart breaks over this branch of conservative Evangelicalism that wants to divide over these smallest of issues**; how they’ll deprive themselves of some of the best pastors in the world based on their views on this stuff.

    Until you reach the theoretical end state: MILLIONS of One True Churches, each with only one member, each in constant Jihad against all the Heretic Others.

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