Another excellent resource from Anglican evangelical theologian Martin Davie has been published, this time in collaboration with colleagues associated with the Church of England Evangelical Council. ‘Glorify God in your Body: Human identity and flourishing in marriage, singleness and friendship’ at well over 200 pages is intended as a major submission from a conservative perspective to the ongoing ‘Living in love and faith’ project of the Church of England, and also as a handbook for the local church and personal study.
The contemporary debates about gender, sexuality, identity and marriage are a minefield for the church. What should Anglicans believe and teach in this context? How should clergy and congregations cultivate care and respect to all, given the realities of human nature, while at the same time encouraging faithful discipleship?
Some say that we should not be considering these ‘issues’ at all; rather it’s just a matter of full inclusion for LGBT people. The foreword to Davie’s book makes clear that personal narratives and shared experiences, however compelling and deeply felt, cannot form the basis of the Church’s theology and ethics. Nor are we free to abdicate responsibility, hopefully avoiding controversy by steering clear of the subject altogether, or pretending that the Anglican ‘via media’ means neutrality on conflicting worldviews. Rather, what Christian communities believe about any issue, and how they act towards every person, should first be informed by the “apostolic understanding of Scripture”.
This is not only important for the church, but for society, as Christians hold out the good news of God’s vision for humanity to a culture which has “lost its historic and Christian ethical moorings”, as the foreword to Davie’s book says, and which is described in the Introduction’s brief survey of the Sexual Revolution that we are currently living through.
The burning contemporary questions: “should the church bless the sexual union of same sex couples, and celebrate transgender identities?” are not answered till later in the book, and then set in the context of other areas of sexual behaviour. First, though, Davie helps us to think about more fundamental questions. How do we know what’s true, real, and right? If human beings are created with souls/spirits as well as bodies, then the Creator is the source of moral authority. Knowing God and what he wants of us is not straightforward, as our reason is clouded by sin, and our hearts incline towards idols rather than God. Revelation is necessary for us to know who God is and what our need is, in order that we can be saved, flourish and do good according to his principles.
Davie continues in the next two chapters to explain, from principles of biology and Scripture, what makes us human beings, male and female. He explores the purpose of sex and sexual difference, and the meaning of marriage according to Jesus’ teaching. Interestingly, he devotes a number of pages to life in the world to come, both as a way of explaining how our identities are inextricably connected to our physical bodies, and in reiterating the sometimes uncomfortable but clear teaching that how we use our bodies sexually affects our relationship with God and our eternal destiny.
Equally uncompromising is the setting out of principles of marriage according to Scripture, which rule out any idea of same sex marriage. The husband-wife model mirrors the divine-human, Christ-church relationship in sacrificial care, headship and submission. The usual objections to this teaching are acknowledged and answered.
There is then a full treatment of the subject of singleness, abstinence and celibacy, beginning with the early church’s positive view of virginity. And then, whether married or single, all Christians are called to be friends to others, and the church can take practical steps to promote this.
So by the time Davie addresses contemporary challenges to the historic Christian approach on issues such as transgender, homosexual practice, sex outside marriage, and divorce, he has established a strong and reasoned method of arriving at ethical decisions, and a positive biblical anthropology.
I hope this book will be widely used for group study, reference for preaching, and personal growth. Before the appendices, the book ends with a summary of some of the key points of the book, and then a brief but powerful answer to the question: “What is the Church called to do in the present situation?” Could this provide the basis for a follow-up book?
Rev Andrew Symes
The Rev Andrew Symes is Executive Secretary, Anglican Mainstream