The whole Bible can be summed up in five words: "God wants to marry us," says a Catholic lay minister whose ministry showcasing the beauty of Christian sexuality and marriage is growing in popularity among evangelicals.
As debates about sexual identity continue to rage in contemporary American society and in some churches, Christopher West, founder of the Cor Project and author of Fill These Hearts: God, Sex and The Universal Longing, is anchoring this, the touchiest of subjects, to the greater biblical story. And this great story is a nuptial one.
"We are going through the worst of times and the best of times, because, as Paul tells us [in Romans 5:20], where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more," West said of the current state of affairs regarding sexuality in a recent interview with The Christian Post about his ministry among evangelicals. And when it comes to sex and the breakdown of marriage and family, sin and sexual confusion are indeed abounding, he said.
"But grace is abounding, the Holy Spirit grants the Church what she needs when she needs it. And the Holy Spirit will never abandon His Church. And I firmly believe the antidote has been given."
That antidote, he maintains, is Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body.
West, 47, who is based near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he lives with his wife, Wendi, and five childen, has dedicated his life and ministry to furthering it wherever he will be received. Our bodies themselves proclaim the Gospel, West explains with vigorous enthusiasm, and the Gospel is a divine, marital story.
In its original form, the Theology of the Body is a series of teachings that Pope John Paul II authored in response to the sexual revolution — 129 short talks that he delivered over the course of five years during his Wednesday addresses in the 1980s. Though West frequently ministers in Catholic parishes and institutions, more doors are opening for him in a variety of evangelical Protestant congregations, as more of them are discovering the teaching for the first time.
"It's nothing but a Bible study from beginning to end," West told CP in language that undoubtedly resonates with evangelicals. Protestants need not be concerned that it was a Roman Catholic Pope who promulgated this, as it's for every Christian, he emphasized.
"And it's based initially on the conversation that Jesus had with the Pharisees where they are questioning Him about divorce and He says, 'Haven't you read that in the beginning that God made them male and female,'" he said, citing Matthew 19, "where He called the two to become one flesh."
In that exchange the Pharisees infamously retort that "Moses allowed us to divorce our wives, what about you Jesus," West recounted. But Jesus responds: "Because of the hardness of your hearts, Moses allowed you to divorce your wives but from the beginning it was not so."
The words "from the beginning" are essential if we are to understand the crisis in our day surrounding marriage and sexuality, West explained, and we are suffering today because we do not know what it means to be male and female. Today, he observes, culture continues to add an "infinite number" of identities and sexualities and the confusion is only deepening.
Yet what we see if we follow the Words of Jesus back to Genesis 1 is a sexuality that is "oriented toward the infinite," he said. Absent an understanding of the human being, we are bound to say things like "God made me this way" and call sexual brokenness healthy, which is a grave mistake, he said.
"But the Good News of the Gospel is Christ came into the world to restore Creation to the purity of its origin, and that means that it's OK that we're all broken. It's OK that we're all confused, because there is remedy here."
When West teaches around the country and overseas he deliberately makes a point to show how throughout the Old Testament God speaks of His love for His people as a husband loves his bride. And that martial theme infuses the pages in the New Testament and is literally embodied when the Word is made flesh, he said. At the end of the great story, in the book of Revelation, Heaven is described as a wedding feast, the marriage of Christ and the Church.
"The Bible begins and ends with a wedding," West said, "and the Apostle Paul brings these two bookends of the Bible together for us in Ephesians Chapter 5 when he says, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh' this is a great mystery and it refers to Christ and the Church."
To put it plainly, West said, "the whole Bible in five words, here it is: God wants to marry us."
"And God wanted that eternal love story, that eternal marital plan, to be so plain to us, so obvious to us, that He chiseled an image of it when He made us male and female."
The reality of male and female is where Christians of many stripes believe that a particularly fierce spiritual warfare is occurring today, especially as the definition of "male" and "female" is being contested in various spheres of influence and in government bodies around the world.
"If the union of man and woman is the main biblical icon, the main biblical image of the eternal plan of God and there is an enemy who wants to keep us from that heavenly marriage, where is he going to aim all his arrows?" West said of the spiritual battle.
Satan fervently aims to distort that one-flesh union, he continued, because if he can twist the meaning of the body, then it no longer points us to Heaven but in a very different direction. And if the human body has no ultimate meaning then Jesus coming to Earth as a man — the eternal Word of God who became flesh — likewise has no meaning.
"So here we see a battle between the Word and the anti-Word, between Christ and the anti-Christ, between meaning and anti-meaning, the logos and the anti-logos. It's a battle for the meaning of the body."
"[The Christian faith] is an incarnate faith. We must be very careful to never fall into the temptation of de-incarnating our faith. And we know immediately that is the work of the enemy" he stressed, citing 1 John 4:3, which calls spirits who deny that Jesus that came in the flesh "anti-Christ."
"He's always trying to separate Christ from the Body."
West's ministry, called The Cor Project — "Cor" is Latin for "heart" — "equips men and women to learn, live, and share the beauty of the divine plan for human life, love, and sexuality in a new evangelization."
When Christians capture God's nuptial love, evangelism is a glorious byproduct, it just happens. But learning to live from one's "cor" means engaging the messiness of life and it's a journey West has had to learn personally.
In a short film titled "The Cry of the Heart" that can be viewed on The Cor Project website, West recounts his own journey learning to get in touch with the deepest hungers of his soul and how angry he became with God for giving him all kinds of desires with seemingly no hope for fulfillment.
In the film he recalls a time of prayer where he dared to engage some of the heartache.
"God I get it, I get why people are atheists. I get why people don't believe in you," West recalls raging in prayer. "Why do you give us all these desires just to leave us to wait? What the *bleep* is that?"
He felt conflicted about that prayer, but a priest would later tell him that he had in fact prayed something very good.
"You don't need to confess that you got honest with God," the priest told West. "You need to confess that you haven't been honest with God. You need to confess that you have been wearing all these masks. Now you're taking them off. That's prayer. Prayer is where we get naked before God so He can love us as we really are."
Such transparency coupled with his theologically robust teaching is being seen as a welcome, timely change among many evangelicals who, when it comes to sexuality, haven't been taught much about it except sexual morality.
While the moral dimensions are important the tack falls short, West contends, and that incomplete approach is often rooted in an evangelical framing of the Christian faith that begins at the wrong starting point, beginning with the Fall of Man in Genesis 2 instead of the very good creation of Genesis 1. What is needed is what John Paul II called "an adequate anthropology," a proper Christ-centered vision for what it means to be human.
"When our proclamation of the Gospel starts with the Fall — when we begin and we say, 'You're a sinner and you need a Savior' — that's a truncation of the Gospel," West asserted.
"We don't even know what sin is if we don't go back to the beginning!" he said.
The gift, then, of the Theology of the Body is that it follows the Words of Christ back to the very beginning, reestablishing the fundamental goodness of the body, the goodness of sexual desire, of human fertility and the two becoming one, and the command to be fruitful and multiply. Like everything else was, sexuality was distorted at the Fall, but the Theology of the Body also engages what Christ did on the cross to heal and restore it.
There is a reason why the Apostle Paul calls the call of God on the life of the Christian "the redemption of the body," West said, referencing Romans 8: 21–23.
"Christ came in the flesh to redeem our flesh. The human body, is therefore not only profoundly theological but is itself a proclamation of the Gospel message," he stressed.
The dire need for a more comprehensive theology of sexuality has not been lost on leading evangelical theologians in recent years. As Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler wrote in 2014, a distinctly theological vision for the body and sex is of particular importance given the crisis facing Western society.
"What makes the current moral and sexual revolution so different from previous moral revolutions is that it is taking place at an utterly unprecedented velocity. Previous generations experienced moral revolutions over decades, even centuries. This current revolution is happening at warp speed."
Craig Carter, a theology professor at Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto, Canada, has predicted evangelicals will embrace the Theology of the Body in great numbers, and "those who do will come to an understanding of sexual morality that is grounded in divine revelation," he is quoted as saying on West's website.
"If the Church can recover that kind of sexual morality, then I think the Church will be in the position to launch the second sexual revolution that John Paul longed for and sought to prepare the way for," Carter said.
West frequently tells his audiences that it's his personal mission with his passionate promotion of the Theology of the Body to "set the clock for the theological time bomb" to go off in order to launch such a "second sexual revolution."
"If marriage is the original icon for Christ's love and the Church then marriage is going to go the same way that Christ went. Marriage is going to be mocked, it's going to be spat upon, it's going to be scourged, it's going to be crucified, and it's going to die," West said.
He believes we are living through the crucifixion of marriage today.
"But here's the good news," he said.
"Give it three days and see what happens."