What is the Meaning of Sex? by Denny Burk

sdcvdvfImagine a scenario where millions of people are in engaging in an act that very few can adequately and meaningfully explain. Everyone agrees it is pleasurable, fun, and even important but very few can ultimately say why it matters outside of certain feelings it brings. What is the act? Sex, of course. In his work What is the Meaning of Sex?, author, pastor, and scholar Denny Burk seeks to answer the questions surrounding the act of sex. Why does it exist? What is the meaning of sex? Does it have a definitive reason for why it exists outside of the propagation of our species? Denny Burk is professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate wing of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky. He also serves as associate pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church in the same town. He is an author or contributor to various books including Four Views on Hell, Transforming Homosexuality: What the Bible Says about Sexual Orientation and Change, and Women in the Church. He is also the author of dozens of scholarly and popular articles and book reviews ranging a host of biblical, theological, and pastoral topics. He received his BA from Louisiana Tech University, his Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, and his Ph.D. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. At the seminary where he teaches, he serves as the director for the Center for Gospel and Culture.

The aim of Burk’s book is clear from the introduction. He writes, “…my aim has been to make explicit what the Bible teaches about the meaning of sex” (13). Writing from a biblical and theological perspective, he notes that his book really is about the glory of God. All things exist for God’s glory including the beautiful gift of sex. The ultimate and final purpose or goal of sex is the fame of God’s name. Other important yet subordinate purposes of sex include the consummation of marriage, procreation, love, and pleasure. These subordinate purposes though exist and function within the matrix of the penultimate goal. He perceives merits in teleological, consequentialist, deontological, and character ethics.  In determining the ethical significance of sex, Burk takes a blended approach in utilizing various ethical theories. The rest Burk’s book is an attempt to flesh out his grand thesis and answer probing questions that arise from this discussion. He writes, “Christian faithfulness in our generation requires that we be prepared to apply the Word of God to the gritty issues of life” (40).

dcgbfgChapter one is an exegetical summary of 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 wherein Paul commands Christians to glorify God with their sexuality. We were bought with a high price, are temples of the Holy Spirit, and are intricately bound with Jesus in a salvific union. Our sexuality is a sacred and holy aspect of what it means to be human. Chapter two is a chapter on hermeneutics. Burk seeks to rebuff the common liberal and progressive attempt to pit Paul versus Jesus when it comes to sexual issues in the Bible. Ultimately, the author rejects the “cage-match” hermeneutic because all of the words of the Bible are equal with authority and significance. Those who seek to give extra weight to the red letters do a profound disservice to themselves and God because he has inspired the whole Bible from cover to cover. He closes the chapter offering three interpretive principles that will benefit the readers. Chapter four explores the nature of sex within marriage while also discussing the prevalent issue of divorce. Sex is not only a good thing within marriage—it is a commanded action!

Chapter five is a unique chapter in the book that seeks to discuss the issue of family planning for Christian couples. Burk shows how the introduction of the pill has radicalized and revolutionized societies from the inside out by eliminating one of the chief functions of sex, procreation. He gives general guidelines concerning family planning and closes the chapter with a thorough and informative discussion about birth control pills. A pro-life Christian must take the utmost care when using birth control in order to make sure the purposes of sex are being fulfilled and unintentional abortions aren’t taking place. Chapter six is about glorifying God with your gender. The author discusses a myriad of capstone problems within our culture once gender is recognized as a mere social construct. If gender is completely deconstructed, the Christian’s view of marriage goes with it. Chapter seven is about homosexuality and provides a concise understanding of the moral status of homosexuality. The church has an obligation to resist our culture and stand upon biblical convictions in the debate. Chapter eight is about singleness and how to glorify God within it. Burk closes the book debunking three myths about sexuality and offering three truths that Christians ought to contend for within our day.

Burk’s overall purpose appeared to be accomplished in the writing of his book. In the preface, he remarked that his book was a primer, was biblical, and was for sinners (12-14). Stating that his work was not meant to be comprehensive but introductory was helpful. He offered an aerial view of the most important issues. He also aimed to be biblical rather than philosophical or political. While admirably sticking to this goal, he also discussed some philosophical and political implications along the way. He also was both convictional yet kind to those who have a broken sexuality, which is every sinner on the planet. The audience throughout was those sitting in a pew or a theology or ethics class for the first time. His work reflects a need within our churches and seminaries—a simple yet biblical articulation of the Christian sexual ethic in a written form. He more than accomplished his purpose in writing.

bgfbfhhA work like this is invaluable for various reasons. First, it really was a good introduction to the issues. When discussing sexual ethics within our culture, one can feel like you’re trying to drink from a fire hose. There simply is a myriad of dysfunctions and problems relating to this issue. Burk’s book addressed many of the common topics that will necessarily arise in evangelism and discipleship in our day. Second, his book was unique to include a chapter on family planning , hermeneutics, and gender. I have never really read too much concerning family planning or even seen a chapter included in a book on Christian sexuality. His chapter opened my eyes to the great need to be careful and responsible in this area. I’m prolife and certainly do not want to unwittingly cause the death of a human being made in the image of God. The inclusion of a chapter on hermeneutics at first seemed out of place until I finished it. Most of the debates between evangelicals and progressives are interpretive issues. Until agreement can be reached concerning the most honoring, consistent, and responsible way to interpret the text, meaningful dialogue and debate cannot happen. His chapter on gender is also an absolute necessity in light of the changes within our culture over the past decade. His estimation that the Christian view of sexual ethics hinges on certain capstone beliefs about gender seems correct. We would be wise to be very discerning in this regard. Third, his succinct understanding of the purposes of sex is helpful. Our culture values sex insofar as it is a vehicle for pleasure. Burk’s work will be utilized in future discussions about the importance and sanctity of sex.

Burk’s book contains numerous strengths. It was very winsome. As I read the book, I thought the author did a profound service to the church in showing how to talk about complex issues in a kind fashion. He demonstrated how these topics ought to be handled in an honorable fashion. It was very convictional. While being kind, Burk also sought to remain faithful to the God of the text. We do not have a right to play fast and loose with the words of the living God. He again demonstrated how to handle such a complex discussion. He critiqued the publications of Mark and Grace Driscoll, Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, and even evangelical scholars like Ben Witherington III and Richard Hays. He did so in a respectful manner while holding to the truth.  It was very readable. Any person could pick up Burk’s book and understand the topics he covers. They were very accessible. It was very researched. Burk has done his job well. I often go to the footnotes of a book for lengthier discussions and Burk did not disappoint. His footnotes as well as his bibliography pointed me to more thorough areas of research that I stored away for future times of study. It was very honest. At one point, Burk admitted that the church is often times looked as a hypocritical institution in regards to the LGBTQIA debate. Why? We have been very loud in regards to that issue but almost virtually silent on the issue of no-fault divorce. The world has noticed such a problem. He admitted many times pastors and preachers have been silent on that issue because it would directly affect the people within our pews. Yet, to not speak is to speak. Silence on various sexual problems means people will invariably suffer under the weight of their sin.

sdcvdvfI did not perceive many weaknesses within the work. Because Burk’s aim was not to be comprehensive, I cannot fault him for not including a chapter on every sexual issue that has arisen in our culture. Such a book would be limitless. Others have taken a slight issue with Burk’s reliance on Dennis P. Hollinger’s view of the subordinate purposes of sex. Other subordinate purposes that Bible mentions include the following: companionship, avoidance of sexual sin, depiction of the inner-life of the Trinity, and communication of certain dynamics of the Christ/Church relationship.[1] The author was a conservative, evangelical pastor and scholar who wrote from that bias. I share his biases and do not think they hindered his research throughout the book. Many people will reject his positions because they possess a completely different worldview. In closing, I would recommend this work to anyone remotely interested in sexual ethics from a Christian perspective. As long as people struggle in this area, books like this one will be necessary.

            [1] Jones, David W.. “What is the Meaning of Sex by Denny Burk” cbmw.org. December, 16th 2013. Accessed March 28th, 2016. http://cbmw.org/topics/book-reviews/what-is-the-meaning-of-sex-by-denny-burk/

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