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Mentor Series: Sex and the Single Guy

This is the first of two excerpts of an interview we conducted with Scott Croft and Michael Lawrence, addressing sexuality in dating relationships.

After months of planning, we found ourselves in Washington, D.C., sitting in a musty library/meeting room off the main sanctuary of Capitol Hill Baptist Church. The place had the feeling of a well-loved really old brick building with stories to tell.

Present was the entire Boundless team. Steve Watters, Motte Brown and Candice Watters were set to conduct the interview. Ted Slater was set up to record everything to the hard drive of his PowerBook.

Across the table were the men we were there to interview: Scott Croft and Michael Lawrence. They were ready to be candid. The subject: guys and sex. And what they had to say was worth the effort to get there.

We almost didn’t make it to the interview, stuck as we were in traffic on K Street in NW D.C. After sitting for a long time without inching forward, we saw what was holding us up. The sharpshooter riding outside and on top of the black SUV was the giveaway: We were on the waiting side of the Presidential motorcade. Once the long line of official cars, trucks, SUVs and ambulance passed, we were finally on our way.

Good thing because what they had to say was a whole new way of looking at an age-old issue. So essential, so foundational, so traditional. It’s nearly shocking. It’s about time.

* * *

Boundless: Let’s start by talking about Sex and the Supremacy of Christ. You two along with Matt Schmucker and Mark Dever were invited to speak at last year’s Desiring God Ministries conference on the issue of sex and the single man. Tell us how that came about.

Michael Lawrence: The Genesis of this occurred here at Capitol Hill Baptist with a series of discussions that Mark and Matt in particular were having with single men in the church. And what came out of these discussions was the realization that we needed to do some teaching here in the church specifically to single young men on both the whole question of sex and sexuality, and then marriage — why young single men should be thinking about marriage and pursuing it and what that should look like. And so we ran a seminar where Mark, Matt and I spoke on different aspects of those themes. So that’s how it began. It began as a conversation among the pastors and staff of this church wanting to speak directly to single men in this church.

Boundless: What specifically were you seeing in the young men of CHBC that made the leaders of this church start thinking on these issues more intentionally?

ML: Well, I think two things. We saw the single men in this church not being at all serious about pursuing marriage — instead really enjoying their extended adolescence and all the freedom that came with that. We also saw the single men of this church, in that context, taking liberties with the women they were involved with physically and emotionally that we understood to be not just inappropriate but wrong biblically.

Boundless: There doesn’t seem to be a great body of evidence about what Christian sexual activity is taking place. Have you seen more anecdotal evidence, or are you aware of any good empirical evidence that this a problem in the church?

Scott Croft: It’s been long enough since we put the original curriculum together that I don’t have anything current, but the anecdotal evidence is pretty powerful.

ML: It’s powerful.

Boundless: And is part of the problem just how open people are to actually talk about their sexual activity?

ML: Yeah, well one of the things that I learned, and I think I learned this the hard way, when I was on college campuses as a staff worker, I was often meeting with the young men and asking them questions about purity, seeking to hold them accountable. And I would hear, “I am struggling,” and “pray for me.” And we talk about it, and we would pray. What I learned was I was asking vague questions, and they were taking cover under the vagueness of my questions when some real serious sexual activity came to light. I took away from that and took it into my ministry a commitment to ask specific questions.

Boundless: So “struggle” could be anywhere along the —

ML: Yeah, so I specifically ask “Are you struggling?” “Yes.” “OK, tell me what you are struggling with. Are you sleeping with her? Have you had intercourse? Yes or no? OK, if it’s no then what does ‘struggle’ mean? Are you touching her in these inappropriate ways….” And I embarrass them because I understand that sin likes to hide in the dark. It loves the cover of anonymity and vagueness.

SC: And there is an additional cover for a lot of Christian single guys which is the assumption that intercourse is not really in play. Michael felt there were certain things that could be taken for granted, so he was asking vague questions with one thing in his mind: The guy is giving a vague answer covering up sexual activity that was probably, not just maybe, but probably happening.

Boundless: So are you saying that most of them are not having intercourse but everything else?

ML: No, that’s not what I am saying. I am saying, though, that there is a high percentage of Christian men, evangelical men, leaders in their churches, in their college campus ministries who are having intercourse with their girlfriends.

Boundless: I have also heard, I think it was Al Mohler who said, you just assume now that young men are also struggling with online pornography.

ML/SC: Yes, I think that’s fair.

Boundless: So even if they are not acting out with their girlfriend, they are at least sexually promiscuous in their minds.

SC: Interestingly, I think there is a strong connection between this lack of pursuit of marriage that Michael mentioned and the increasing pervasiveness of online pornography. If you talk to a professing evangelical Christian single man and ask him if he is remaining pure and he says yes, he may well again in the vagueness of that question have in his mind I am not sinning live with another woman. And some guys say they are not ready for marriage or that they may be called to celibacy because they say they aren’t struggling. Well, then you start asking questions like, “OK, does your idea of not struggling mean that you are not masturbating and looking at Internet pornography and that you don’t have intimate friendships with women who are satisfying your, what Al Mohler has called ‘intermediate needs’?” It used to be that being single meant very limited association with the opposite sex and that when all of the sexual desires that come with maturity kicked in, marriage or at least pursuit of marriage was the result. But now there are a number of ways to meet the need —

Boundless: — to open the release valve.

SC: Yeah, that’s right. Both sexually and even in terms of companionship.

Boundless: So most men should be preparing for marriage. In that preparation, getting back to your writing, Michael, you go beyond Dos and Don’ts and say that the theology of sex is important for men to understand in pursuing marriage. Why is that important?

ML: Because men typically think of sex as something that is pleasurable and therefore an end in itself. What the Bible presents is that the sexual act is the sign of, and the means of creating, a covenant relationship. Marriage is a covenant, and the sign that seals that covenant visually and physically is sex itself. This is what’s behind the force of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 6, when he talks about the absurdity of somebody casually having sex with a prostitute. He says, “Don’t you realize that you are being united with her? You are actually forming a covenant relationship with her. And yet you have covenanted yourself to the Lord. What are you doing? You know this wasn’t just a one-night stand. This wasn’t just something that gave you physical pleasure. Something spiritual happened there, and it shouldn’t have.”

Boundless: I saw a B movie one time that had this guy trying to talk his girlfriend into having sex, and she is saying, “Do you really love me? Do you really want to be one with me?” He says yes, and they have sex, and they wake up in the morning, and they are physically joined. And I thought, You don’t get to see that many object lessons in the secular world. But it should be what is going through every guy’s mind: I am becoming physically one and being joined to this other person.

ML: I make the analogy with baptism. We are united with Christ when we repent of our sins and place our faith in His death on our behalf. There is a union, a spiritual union that happens. Well, there is a sign of that covenant union that visually pictures for us what was going on there: the ordinance of baptism. The same sort of thing is going on in the relationship between sex and marriage. A covenant union is created in marriage. The picture of that union and the thing that actually affects it — and without it, there is no marriage — is this physical union of sexual intercourse. Now then, I think it’s important for us to ask, “What is sex? And is sex just intercourse?” Well, I would argue no. I would argue that part of our problem is we have tried to create boundaries and draw lines within a whole category of activity that we call an experience as sexual intimacy. And we think we can draw the line here or here or here, and all Christians probably agree we have to at least draw the line at sexual intercourse. And then we get into trouble when we do that, right? When we draw our line we say, “OK, we will go this far physically but no further. And then what do we do? Well, we come right up to the line because that’s what lines invite us to do. We come right up to the edge of that line, and we fall over it. And we are surprised? We shouldn’t be surprised because there really is no qualitative difference between the kind of activity on one side of the line and the kind of activity on the other side of the line. It’s all sexual activity, and God created it that way.

SC: And biblically all such lines are synthetic. They are artificial.

ML: That’s right, they’re all artificial, they’re all synthetic. So I don’t want to create new boundaries within that sphere of sexual activity. I actually want to move the boundary to outside of sexual activity. That’s where the real boundary should be. Biblically, the boundary is between sexual activity and not sexual activity, not between the kinds of sexual activity we are going to engage in. And married couples understand this I think because married couples engage in a lot more than just sexual intercourse. They do all the things in their love making that an unmarried couple does on what they consider the safe side of the boundary. And they do all of that and they enjoy it and they call it foreplay. And they do it because it leads, in a same way that an on-ramp inevitably leads you up onto the highway, all of that foreplay, does a really great job of leading you onto the highway of sexual intercourse.

Boundless: So is it OK for a dating couple to be affectionate in non-sexual ways? You mentioned that you should treat women as either your sister or your mother or your wife. What about the woman who is your intended? Is there any distinction between the intended and your sister or mother?

ML: Sexually, no, because the Rubicon you’ve got to cross is marriage.

Boundless: All right, but is there affection that you would show your intended that you don’t show your sister or mother?

ML: Well, I want to talk about what the intent is and how public and committed that intent is. So let’s talk about engagement; let’s just not talk about girlfriend. Let’s say you have intended to marry this woman, you have made a public commitment to do so. And basically the only reason you are not married to her is because it takes a certain amount of time to plan and pull off a wedding in our society. OK, in that context, yes, you have made a commitment, it’s a unique commitment, and it’s not the way you relate to all the other women in the world. And so there must be legitimate means of expressing that commitment including the emotional affection that you feel toward her. That should not include anything sexual, biblically. Because sex is what affects the marriage along with the words “I do, until death do us apart.”

Boundless: So kissing, how does that fit into it?

ML: Well, I would say it doesn’t fit. When you kiss a woman, particularly if you are kissing her on the mouth, if you are kissing her for any extended period of time, things … can I be really direct here?

Boundless: Absolutely.

ML: Things start happening in her body to prepare her to receive you sexually. There it is. That comes from kissing. That happens because God made it that way. And so we just know. You don’t need a pastor to tell you what’s sexual and what’s not sexual activity. You know. Your body tells you.

Boundless: So that’s why the sister and mother metaphor is still in play. So the idea is you want to express your affection in ways that you would a mother or a sister in an engagement.

ML: In a non-sexual way. That’s right.

Boundless: So just as it might be appropriate for you to hold your mother’s hand, you can hold the hand of your intended. However, if your intention is not to marry her then even that subtle display of affection may be considered inappropriate, may be considered defrauding behavior.

SC: And what’s particularly relevant is what you as a man have expressed to that woman. This idea of defrauding as we talked about earlier is implying a commitment or an arrangement between the two of you that doesn’t exist, if you as a man imply some commitment. And it need not be spoken because from a biblical perspective conduct can belie what you are saying with your mouth. And so if I am dating a woman and it’s very early on in the relationship and intentions are unclear and I try and clarify things say in a casual direction and yet I am physically or sexually or even at some levels emotionally intimate with her in ways that the Bible defines a marriage relationship, then regardless what I have said to her, I am defrauding her. And that can flow both ways. I mean we typically think of men as the initiators of these sorts of relationships, but peoples of both sexes can mislead one another.

PART 2: Sex and the Single Guy »

Copyright 2006 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Michael Lawrence

Michael Lawrence began his ministry at Hinson Baptist Church in Portland, Ore., in September 2010. He came to Portland from Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C., after serving there as Associate Pastor for over eight years. He also served as a   Campus Staff Minister with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at UNC-Chapel Hill.

He earned a B.A. from Duke University in 1988, an M.Div. from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in 1997 and holds a Ph.D. in British History from Cambridge University (2002). Michael is the author of Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church, co-author with Mark Dever of It is Well:  Sermons on the Atonement, and has contributed to many publications, including Church History Magazine, Preaching, and 9Marks EJournal.

Michael is married to Adrienne and has five children, ages 15 to 3 years.


About the Author

Scott Croft

Scott Croft served for several years as chairman of the elders at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., where he wrote and taught the Friendship, Courtship & Marriage and Biblical Manhood & Womanhood CORE Seminars. Scott now lives in the Louisville, Ky., area with his wife, Rachel, and son, William, where he works as an attorney and serves as a member of Clifton Baptist Church.

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