John MacArthur, Mark Driscoll and The Song of Solomon

Tim Challies has a post recapping the recent criticism Pastor John MacArthur has kicked up toward Mark Driscoll’s style of preaching the Song of Solomon.  You can watch all of Driscoll’s teaching on the book or download the sermons here and judge for yourself.  While I dig most of what Tim Challies writes and have often linked to him here on this blog I think he might be a bit off base on this one.  Challies thinks we should leave the veil on Song of Songs and let it stand as evocative poetry.

While Song of Songs is obviously poetry this does not mean it is free of meaning and teaching content.  God obviously had an intent he sought to convey in including it in the Bible.  Besides since we as Christians affirm that all Scripture is God breathed and useful for teaching we must not shy away from understanding what it is the author is trying to teach us.

The great preacher Haddon Robinson said there are only three things we can do with scripture, explain it, apply it, and illustrate it.  Pastors must not be afraid to do just these very things when it comes to the SoS.  Of course this must be done with wisdom and tact, but truth be told, all scripture should be taught with wisdom and tact.  A few more thoughts.

1.  Some claim it is distasteful to talk about the sexual acts and behaviors that SoS seems to speak of.  But I would simply ask what do you mean by distasteful?  This attitude seems to carry an idea that has for far to long infected Christianity; that sex is dirty.  Sex is not dirty, it is a gift from God that practiced within the confines of heterosexual marriage is glorious and honoring to God.  There is no need for Christians to have a pragmatic/Augustinian approach to sex.  This might come as a shocker to some, but God invented it.  It a gift from Him to us, we must not see it as dirty, but rather something to be redeemed.

2.  Another idea I hear is that there is too much talk about sex in the church recently.  Not sure how you quantify this, is there 10% to much? 20%?  And who decides this?  Now I could understand this complaint if a church had been doing a series on sex for the last five years 52 weeks straight, but just because a handful of churches do 8 week or less series on the topic does not mean there is too much teaching on the subject.  And might I point out the obvious that when Mark Driscoll was doing his series, IT WAS ON A BOOK OF THE BIBLE.  He was teaching scripture.

Besides, if the church does not talk about sex then our people will get their sexual beliefs, values, and ethics from pop culture and the world around them.  It seems every year culture becomes more and more relentless in preaching a secular sexual ethic that pervades almost all areas of life.  Culture is preaching about sex 24/7 and people are listening.  The Bible clearly has teaching on the subject and we should not be afraid to teach it.

Now a word of caution.  As Matt pointed out to me, a preacher can go too far in teaching that just because certain sexual acts are going on in SoS they are prescriptive for all married couples and things we must do.  This is a grievous error and one that could lead to marital abuse, rejection, violation, and the breaking of oneness.  The Big Idea of Song of Songs is not the how and what sex should look like with your spouse.  Rather, it is that there is freedom in the marriage bed for a couple to honor God by liberally enjoying one and other.



8 Responses

  1. I recently listened to Mark’s teaching on the Song of Song’s with my wife. We both live in a community where we have heard extensive teaching on the Song of Song’s in a spiritual way. I love the book being taught that way. There is so much information on how God feels towards us in that book – very moving.

    That being said my wife and I greatly enjoyed Mark’s teaching on the book. It was refreshing and very enlightening. To be honest – I wish I would have heard that sermon series in High School – it would have kept me from making some stupid teenager mistakes. We can not and must not make sex dirty. It is ordained by God and the book gives us such great insight into the beauty of a human relationship.

    Those are my thoughts – I enjoy your blog…

  2. MacArthur said, “[Song of Solomon] is, of course, a lengthy poem about courtship and marital love. It is filled with euphemisms and word pictures. Its whole point is gently, subtly, and elegantly to express the emotional and physical intimacy of marital love—in language suitable for any audience.”

    At Driscoll’s church, the Sunday morning jumbo TV screens carried a titilating “MH-17” warning – to put parents on notice that the material was not for little ones. What message did that send? Did they actually think that parents who came on a Sunday would send their children back to the car to wait until the service was concluded?

    And, while the graphic material may have been appropriate for use in a married couples only class, how is it appropriate to present it in mixed company to the unmarried, singles, teenagers and tweens on a Sunday morning?

    • i understand your point, but just to clarify, when the material of the message was deemed (by the elder board) to be inappropriate for young people, an alternative option was offered so parents did nothave to “send their children back to the car to wait until the service was concluded”

    • Fact is, for years and years the majority of churches have refused to address and unpack Song of Solomon.

      Attempts that I saw were watered-down and half-hearted. Sex was spoken of “reverently”… but look at how rampant pornography is among church-goers, amoung PASTORS! Clearly, refraining from being frank about sex in “mixed company to the unmarried, singles, teenagers and tweens” isn’t working.

      Taking the veil off of SoS is a good thing.

  3. Simply put – to me hearing Mark preach it the way he did made me realize the beauty of marriage and the glory in keeping all the comes with marriage sacred. I too wish I would have heard the message as a teenager. It made me realize the greatness of what God has designed.

  4. I question myself the issue brought up by James. Not sure I buy that sermons should be perfectly appropriate for all ages. It just doesn’t bear up in the Bible, does it? I think it is a message we are used to promoting as moral Americans, but is that truly where the Sunday morning line is drawn. One thing preachers do or could do is speak in a way that the kids just won’t get it. That can be pretty effective.

  5. for the past two tears I have listened to ALL of Driscoll’s sermons since E003 EXCEPT the SOS series. As a single woman, I didn’t feel that the material was going to edify my life as well as all of the wonderful teachings I have had from Driscoll. I think he is a wonderful Bible teacher and will continue to pray fpor him.


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