You Can Touch That

Michael Metzger

This morning, a few thoughts on Protestant Evangelicals pillorying pastor Joshua Butler over his essay on sex.

On the first of March a friend sent me a link to Joshua Butler’s essay on sex. Josh wrote the piece for The Gospel Coalition. I liked it. It’s biblical. He isn’t saying anything that John Chrysostom (c. 347-407), an archbishop of Constantinople, didn’t say in his 12th homily on Colossians. But that didn’t stop Protestant Evangelicals from heaping scorn on Josh. As a result, The Gospel Coalition took the essay off their website and the Keller Center, a new project of TGC, separated itself from Josh, who resigned.

If you’re unfamiliar with this controversy, Rod Dreher offers an excellent recap (which includes select portions of Chrysostom’s 12th homily on Colossians). But the irony here is how it’s the Protestant Evangelical community that’s pillorying Josh who happens to be a Protestant Evangelical pastor. Why all the scorn? It reminds me of what happened in the church in Corinth. It heaped scorn on the Apostle Paul. But why?

Two words: Sexual immorality. The church in Corinth was riddled with incest, adultery, premarital sex, prostitution, and so on. As a result, the conscience of Christians in Corinth was defiled. All sin defiles, but no sin affects the body like sexual sin. It treats something pure, like sexuality, as ipso facto pornographic. Can’t touch that. So it’s not surprising that Protestant Evangelicals, many of whom are deep into sexual sin, are pillorying Josh.

My evangelical friends seem to have forgotten what Paul wrote: “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted” (Titus 1:15). Josh sort of blundered into a forbidden topic, as the evangelical conscience, defiled by porn, visits to massage parlors, or outright affairs, has come to associate sex with evangelicals’ porno-saturated past. Can’t touch that. Anyone who does deserves the vitriol of fellow believers. He deserves to be cancelled.

This whole controversy is a terrible witness to the gospel. If you’re interested in a far better witness to God’s love and human sexuality, watch this YouTube video: Don’t Cancel This Man! A Defense of Josh Butler. Find out how ancient Christian traditions can touch the mystery of our bodies telling God’s story.



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  1. Mike, thanks for bringing this to our attention. I often have looked at the Gospel Coalition as a great source of thoughtful articles and discourses about our faith. I find it disturbing that they would choose to cancel this writer. The accompanying podcast you sent that is in defense of Josh Butler was compelling in that they believe Butler’s critics were likely responding to one chapter of the book sent out as a tickler, out of the context of the entirety of the book’s entire message. I find this happening quite often in our cancel culture of the day who tends to jump to conclusions without doing the work to get at the nuanced truth. Butler seems to be controversial in a manner similar to Christ. I am really disturbed that the Gospel Coalition which I have always found to be a terrific aid to my formation of a sound Christian and ecclesiastical world view has chosen this course of action.

  2. Thank for the article. Readers of your column will not find Butler’s article and probably his book offending to them. We have already talked about how our bodies are symbols of the Bride of Christ. Perhaps he can join your ministry? It does sadden me when people don’t take the time to read source material and instead read the headlines and then comment as if they really did read the whole thing…:-(

  3. Sounds like Josh Butler was mistreated. It also sounds as though it was the fringes of “Evangelicalism” that made the most noise. Not surprising to see that happen on social media.

    I am thoroughly evangelical, and I have no problem with the points that Butler or Chrysostom (or Solomon for that matter) made.

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