Tony Jones

December 13, 2016

No, it’s Not Time for Christians to Celebrate Pre-Marital Sex

We don’t hear much from emergent church blogger Tony Jones these days. In fact, he has stopped blogging on a regular basis, according to a September 2016 post on his website. “If you care to read my old posts, you can poke around in the archive,” Jones writes. “Some posts I’m proud of, others I’m not. Sometimes I was posting from my heart, other times I was chasing clicks.”

On Friday, one of my Institute on Religion & Democracy colleagues was poking around Jones’ archive and came across a post titled, “Is It Time for Christians to Celebrate Pre-Marital Sex?” The post is from February 2013, but the argument raised is quite relevant.

A defense of changing cultural norms, Jones calls on Christians to adopt a new sexual ethic. One that gives a pass to premarital sex because, as Jones puts it, “Human beings are sexual beings. There’s no way around it.”

Jones explains:

To pretend that those are two virgins walking down the aisle, approaching the coital bed for the first time is uncommonly naive. And it seems to me that Jesus was lots of things, but he wasn’t naive to the world in which he lived. He did, however, both preach and live prophetically within that culture. He didn’t take it as it was, without pushing back against it. In his day, it was that tax collectors were ostracized and that men shouldn’t pluck heads of grain on the Sabbath. Today, sex is everywhere. It’s unavoidable.

I’m unsure if Jones is proud of this particular post or not, but I do know it’s reflective of a growing attitude among many Christians (especially the younger generation): The Church should stay out of my sex life and at the same time must celebrate my sexual behavior as my unique identity.

Everywhere one turns we see a sex-saturated culture. Pornography, hook-up apps, adultery websites. Lust is a very present battle men and women need help and support to overcome. So many of us find that help from the Church, whether found in pastoral ministry, Christian counselors, or mature Christian mentors who hold us accountable.

Yes, our past decisions and mistakes are redeemed by Christ when we repent of them. But to replace conviction with celebration, as Jones suggests, is something else entirely. It does the very thing Jones wants the Church to avoid: reduce individuals to the sum of their sexual activity.

The Church’s traditional sexual ethic tells an individual they are much more than the number of their past sexual partners. It says them they are each an image-bearer of Jesus Christ. And God as Creator determined that sex is a deeply spiritual union between husband and wife reflective of the extraordinary covenant between Jesus Christ and His Church.”

Or as Pastor John Piper puts it:

Marriage is a picture of the covenant between Christ and his Church. And sex in that picture is the most exquisite pointer in the covenant relationship to the indescribable pleasures that await our full fellowship with Christ in the aid to come in covenant with Jesus. Sex outside of marriage is a lie about Jesus and his relationship to the Church. It’s a lie about where ultimate joy is to be found.

Christians cannot accept sex outside of marriage as a holy union. The consequence of premarital sex is damage to the soul (not to mention the accompanying insecurities and emotional scars). Then why celebrate premarital sex when the consequence is damage to the soul?

I agree with Jones wholeheartedly that Jesus wasn’t naïve to the world in which he lived. In fact, Jesus acknowledged the presence of sexual sin in His Sermon on the Mount, saying, “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:30, ESV)

Jesus’s remarks are not indifferent or accepting of sexual sin. They surely aren’t celebratory of sin. If Christians’ sexual ethic isn’t filled with the same urgency and honesty as Jesus, then we’re doing something wrong.


  • Dan

    In the “actions have consequences” category, I offer the following article as a reason why God chose for us to use our sexuality in accord with his intentions – http://www.nbcnews.com/health/sexual-health/3-common-stds-becoming-untreatable-what-happens-now-n642161

  • Nutstuyu

    Yes, the #LGBTQRSXYZ agitators are strangely silent on whether we should also celebrate pastors “coming out” as pre- or extra-marital sexual beings. Don’t they always say all love is love?

  • Byrom

    My late wife and I were both virgins when we married at ages 21 (her) and 22 (me). That was by God’s amazing grace, because the temptation to go all the way was very strong. We are so glad we waited, because our wedding night was very special.
    However, I’m now faced with other challenges, now that I have gotten back into the dating scene after several years after my wife’s death. I and the women I’m dating are obviously no longer virgins. So far, none of the women I’ve dated are looking for premarital sex. But, what happens if a new relationship gets to the point where she and I are contemplating marriage – or a “domestic partnership?” My only response is that she and I will both be followers of Jesus Christ, and will make responsible decisions with God’s guidance. I don’t see a lot of specific guidance in Scripture for these situations.