On my endorsement of Joshua Ryan Butler's Beautiful Union
Thank you for this, friend. I was troubled by the excerpt, but knowing you had endorsed it (and knowing how seriously you take endorsements), I was eager to hear your thoughts on it all. As expected, you were nuanced and honest. I'm grateful for you always.
I am so thankful for your patient, humble, thoughtful response to controversy. It’s a model and an encouragement!
Jen, you know I always appreciate your thoughtfulness, and this statement is no exception.
There’s many things I could comment on, but will focus on one here… I was disturbed by your reference to “the historic Christian sexual ethic.” I am skeptical that such a creature exists, but settling that skepticism aside, if one exists, I find it problematic to associate it predominantly with the act of heterosexuality, given that the apostle Paul (I Cor. 7) and many others throughout church history have lauded celibacy as a vital stream of Christian sexual ethics. Of course, I’m married and not celibate, but I’m wondering how the uber-hetero imagery in this excerpt lands with sisters and brothers who have committed themselves to celibacy? (And of course, that’s only one historical objection to the association of JB’s work with historic Christian sexual ethics).
I think we all need to be cautious when using terms like “the historic Christian ___.” History is much more vast and diverse than we wish it would be… LOL And I’ve seen phrases like this too often used as swords to attack those whose experience falls outside the realm of that which is perceived as normal historic Christianity. I don’t believe that was your intent, but this phrase in particular struck me as lacking the nuance and care with language that I’m come to expect from your work.
Grateful for you and your work,
Have you read this excellent essay by Dr. Beth Felker Jones on the problematic theology Butler presents? I would appreciate to know your thoughts on her breakdown. https://open.substack.com/pub/bethfelkerjones/p/protestant-bodies-protestant-bedrooms
There is a profound integrity on display here. Thank you, Jen.
I think this is helpful. I read the excerpt and, while finding it a bit crude in places, I did not find it as horrifying as (apparently) so many did. Maybe… uncomfortable? A bit much? I definitely did not find it to be the same as Doug Wilson’s infamous posts. Not even close. But the analogy of sexual union seems not so far off what many prior interpreters of Song of Songs have done. And maybe they were wrong too! I acknowledge that possibility. But I just didn’t find myself shocked or horrified by others. I would like to read the entire book. Butler’s other two books were, I think, spectacular. I have found them so encouraging and helpful. Perhaps those are biasing me away from seeing this as truly bad. However, I highly respect your own judgment so I’m even more interested in reading it.
I appreciate your calm, clear explanation of your own endorsement response. You’re a really helpful thinker and writer and I think seeing your response is helpful for me. Thank you for all your work. Keep it up!
I have a good friend who retracted his endorsement, and his peculiar reasons for doing so seemed sensible to me. But I also find your rationale for not doing so sensible. After decades of getting so much wrong, it should not surprise anyone that those striving to cast a positive vision of human sexuality don't get everything right. The church needs a sound theology of sexuality but it also needs forbearance and patience. The subject matter touches the depth of our created vulnerability, is the place of tremendous pain, and so understandably provokes and evokes profound visceral reactions. But those striving to articulate a positive vision should be commended with some forbearance and those who write on the topic should make soft and humble claims!
Thank you for weighing in on this, Jen. As always, I'm grateful for your graciousness and humility. I found the excerpt pretty unsettling, but was interested to learn more seeing a number of endorsements of the book from people I respect, including you. Thank you for continuing to me an example of faithfulness, even in controversy.
Appreciate that you read the book in its entirety Jen. I was troubled by the excerpt on a number of levels but have not read anything more than that first chapter. I do believe authors are ultimately responsible for what they put out there. However, LOTS of other people read what we write before it goes to press. Did no one bring these potential concerns to Josh? Did TGC not see the possible problems with this excerpt? This whole thing reveals many of the problems in Christian publishing and within our culture at large. I have no idea if the Keller Institute asked JB to step down or if he voluntarily did so but it does smack of cancel culture to me.
I rarely look at Twitter anymore, but occasionally browse on a desktop when I'm particularly craving baseball updates. The question that arises every time I logon is "what are we (Christians) fighting about online today?" While there are many topics that are worthy of discussion and charitable discourse, I rarely see that accomplished on any social media site. I appreciate very much your thoughtful engagement, maybe even especially that you chose to address it on this forum rather than Twitter. I consistently find you to be a wise, trustworthy voice in the chorus of chatter in online spaces, and your commitment to Jesus and His Gospel is evident in all that you write. Grateful for you and your work!
Thank you for this. One of the benefits of engaging an author's work over a period of time and genres is gaining a fuller understanding not only of their ideas, but also their methods. If you chose to give a response, I expected no less than a well thought-out response from you at the right time, and you gave us just that. This is encouraging to all. Thank you for this and for modeling how to approach these types of disagreements with charity, humility, and wisdom. So grateful for all of the hard work you do for and share with us.
Thank you for addressing this, friend.
Thank you again for thinking and writing and sharing. We all can be better listeners..and a better listener should listen to a person's whole thought!
Thank you so much, I’m grateful to have read this.
Grace and Peace
Thank you for this thoughtful response, Jen.
Jen I appreciate you, and I always have. I appreciate that you blurbed a book you had actually read. But I am struggling with what sounds to me like a lack of understanding for the theological underpinnings he lays out in chapter 1. The critiques of his exegesis of Ephesians 5 are thorough. Even if the rest of the book is pastoral and accurate, it’s a house built on a faulty foundation. So my question for you is direct, asked without malice.
Are you qualified to commend the quality of Butler’s theological work? Did you agree with his exegesis of Ephesians 5?