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What’s wrong with premarital sex, cohabitation and watching porn? Apologist Sean McDowell answers

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While many Christians are taught that premarital sex and cohabitation aren't advisable for many reasons, a growing number of single believers are following secular society's model instead of the biblical model. 

In the most recent episode of "Challenging Conversations" on the edifi podcast network, host Jason Jimenez, who's also a pastor and founder of Stand Strong Ministries, was joined by apologist Sean McDowell to discuss why some 60% of professing Christians believe cohabitation and sex outside of marriage are OK. 

Jimenez said he and McDowell, who hosts classes on premarital sex and marriage at Summit Ministries, wanted to speak truth in love, as Ephesians 4:15 says, and began the discussion by reading what the Biblical Counseling Coalition says about sex outside of marriage:

[P]remarital cohabitation has become common in the Church because many Christians have made today’s secular values their own. Our society cherishes 'trying before buying,' convenience at any cost, sex without rules, companionship without commitment, and relationship without responsibility — everything premarital cohabitation provides. Instead of questioning such values — if not downright opposing them — countless Christians have adopted them. It’s no wonder so many of them are living together before tying the knot.

Similarly, exposure to pornography on television and social media, they added, has been a leading cause for why many Christians are engaging in premarital sex and think it's “taboo or outdated” to only have sex in biblically defined marital relationships. 

LISTEN TO THE ‘CHALLENGING CONVERSATIONS' PODCAST ON EDIFI

Speaking about the saturation of unbiblical ideas about sex, pornography and relationships that Gen Zers and youth are exposed to, McDowell noted that, unlike the 1980s and '90s when exposure was limited to select movies, MTV and a few other sources, today, youth have easy access to porn and are inundated with unhealthy messages.  

“In every Netflix show, TikTok video, social media — the amount of information … and the big change, I think, is the ubiquity of porn. … I think this has shaped how this generation thinks about sex and relationships more than anything else. It affects their brains. It affects their bodies. It affects their expectations. This is truly a pornified generation,” said McDowell, who published a book in 2020 titled, Chasing Love: Sex, Love, and Relationships in a Confused Culture

Another reason why more Christians are having casual sex outside of marriage and engaging in increased porn use, McDowell said, is because depression and loneliness are at an all-time high due to the lockdowns in response to COVID-19.  

“So you take emotional hurt, relational breakdown, an increase in secularism and this nonstop message of an unbiblical or nonbiblical, and sometimes anti-biblical view of sexuality, we can begin to understand the soup our kids swim in, so to speak, on these issues,” McDowell added. 

To illustrate why cohabitation isn't a beneficial way to "test drive" what marriage might be like, McDowell said he recently told students in a high school class he teaches that living with someone actually puts couples at a disadvantage for having a successful, future marriage. "Living with someone lacks the very thing that makes a marriage work, which is commitment," he stressed. 

Pornography, the other societal ill that Jimenez and McDowell discussed at length, is destroying people's ability to have strong relationships and marriages, including for couples who regularly attend church. 

“The ethic of pornography is that a noncommitted one-time spontaneous sexual act is the most fulfilling," McDowell said. "That’s the narrative of much of pornography. That’s the opposite of what you’re experiencing, the opposite of what Scripture teaches.” 

"Sex has a relational, it has a spiritual, it has an emotional component designed by God to be best experienced when all of those are present in a married relationship," he said. 

Two areas where the Church has gone astray, he added, is to say one of two things. Either that "sex is bad, don't do it." Or to say, "'You think the world has good sex … come to church, we’ll give you the best sex.’” 

“I’m like, wait a minute … we are playing by the exact playbook of our culture rather than Scripture,” McDowell said in response to what some church leaders tell Christians on how to view sex.

“So what we should say is that sex is designed not just for physical pleasure in the way that the culture describes it. It’s meant for commitment, vulnerability, love and trust. And it is most beautiful — in fact, somebody flourishes the most and has a deeper sense of love … [when] sex is designed for a loving, committed, marital relationship where there is trust, and there's care, and there's commitment.” 

Jimenez noted that in the church world, sex is often a "taboo" topic and it isn't "handled in a biblical fashion." He asked McDowell why that is. 

"Ignorance is bliss," McDowell said, adding that churches fear having the conversation and aren't aware of how much children are being bombarded with messages pertaining to sex through social media and the educational system. "They'd rather convince themselves that it's somebody else's kid than deal with the messiness of it." 

"The other thing," he added, "is that it's just an unbiblical viewpoint" and "bad theology" to say that sex is bad, despite what the Bible says, especially in the Song of Solomon. "It's when we step outside of God's design that sex is bad and hurtful and harmful."

Parents and grandparents, he said, must have these challenging conversations with the children and youth in their family because the world has changed, and they're going to take in messages from the secular world if they're not taught the Christian view of sex. 

Jimenez also raised concerns about so-called "Christian" leaders and authors who are promoting the message that sex outside of marriage can be just as "sacred" as within marriage, as long as it's consensual. 

"Sadly, this progressive pastor you're referring to ... has bought a complete gnostic worldview. ... It's one that favors the mind and disparages the body. So basically, come to the conclusion that the body carries no inherent meaning as long as we decide the context. Then sex outside of marriage is just as meaningful as sex within marriage. So our mind trumps our bodies. That's a gnostic worldview; that's not a biblical worldview.

"The Bible says we are body and we are souls. And we are to honor God with our bodies. Offer yourself as a living sacrifice. And love God with your bodies. ... This is the same reasoning we hear behind a lot of the transgender narrative ... the body is malleable. That's not a biblical worldview.

"The biblical worldview is that God has made us male and female, and marriage is meant to be that a man leaves his mother and father and clings to his wife and the two shall become one. That is God's design for body and for soul." 

Jimenez then asked McDowell to respond to the argument from some that the Bible doesn't specifically condemn sex outside of marriage. McDowell replied that that was "partly because of the culture people lived in," which wasn't a hook-up culture like post-sexual revolution America. 

"It didn't condemn it because there wasn't the same kind of phenomena we've seen" in society today. "But it sets up a pattern of what marriage is supposed to be. ... All other kinds of sexual immorality is unequivocally condemned," he added, noting that the church in Corinth and others had failed to live it out. 

Jimenez added that intimacy is a gift God has given to marriage and encouraged married couples to share that intimacy together.

Listen to this fascinating discussion on the 'Challenging Conversations' podcast

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