Pastor who compared sex to Christ and the Church apologizes, says short excerpt was 'unwise'

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(CP) An Arizona pastor who faced a firestorm of controversy last month after an excerpt from a book he wrote about sex and marriage was published by The Gospel Coalition is standing by his work but conceded that it was "unwise" to use the particular passage in a short excerpt.

Josh Butler, who pastors Redemption Temple, made the comments during an appearance Monday on the "Theology in the Raw" podcast hosted by Preston Sprinkle, in which he said that the controversial passage from his book, Beautiful Union, which declared "Christ penetrates his church with the generative seed of his Word and the life-giving presence of his Spirit" should have been accompanied by more context.

"I was unwise to allow that excerpt to be used in a short article," said Butler, adding that his "heart has been extremely heavy the last few weeks" since TGC posted — and then subsequently took down — the article on March 2.

In the excerpt, Butler, after confessing that he used to "look to sex for salvation" before realizing that "idolizing sex results in slavery," recounted a series of failed romantic adventures and stated that, in fact, "sex is an icon of Christ and the church."

He also used the sexual act to describe what it means to be in Christ: "Generosity and hospitality are both embodied in the sexual act. Think about it. Generosity involves giving extravagantly to someone. You give the best you've got to give, lavishly pouring out your time, energy or money." 

Butler later said the "loaded language" in the excerpt makes more sense within the context of his book, a purpose of which is to show that "God has designed bodily union, sexual union of a husband and wife ... to point to and bear witness to the Gospel."

Another mistake, said Butler, came after what he called "a hundred emails" were exchanged about the excerpt, which he said lost some "pastoral nuance" in some places of the text following revisions.

In the excerpt, which includes a citation of portions of Ephesians 5, Butler wrote that "two becoming one flesh" in Genesis is "consummation language that refers to the union of husband and wife. Paul says both are about Christ and the Church.

"This should be shocking! It's not only the giving of your vows at the altar but what happens in the honeymoon suite afterward that speaks to the life you were made for with God."

On Monday's podcast, Butler tried to further elaborate on his analogy.

"The argument of the section in question is basically saying it's not just the emotions of marriage or the actions of marriage but ... even the bodily union of marriage is designed to point to the Gospel," he said.

Still, Butler didn't shy away from asking for grace from his readers and said he's working with his publisher for "clarifications" for the book's next printing.

"My response from my heart has been extremely heavy the last few weeks, particularly where my lack of nuance evoked pain in some people's stories," he said. "If that's you, I can only ask for your understanding and grace."

Another guest on the podcast, Sandy Richter, author and chair of biblical studies at Westmont College, criticized what she called Butler's attempt to "sacramentalize the sex act."

"For Protestants to be attempting to turn the marriage sex act into a sacrament, that's part of what the Reformation was about," Richter commented. "And our response to the Catholic Church involved issues that included the fact that not all humanity will have the opportunity to be a part of the sex act, and a sacrament should be available to every believer."

Conceding that Protestantism still lacks a "healthy theology of sex," Richter said she believes Genesis 2 is in fact not referring to the sex act, but rather the theological notion of "fictive kinship" and ultimately, the Incarnation of Christ.

"It's not,' she added, "talking about a penis and a vagina."

Since taking down the original article, TGC posted a statement last month from TGC President Julius Kim announcing Butler's resignation as a fellow with The Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics and any other role with the center's events.

The statement read in part: "Josh remains a beloved brother and friend whom we respect and care deeply about. To our fellows and our readers, please forgive us."

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