Nature and Grace – A response to Richard Beck

Rachel Held Evans is hosting a discussion of human sexuality on her blog, and has invited Richard Beck to lead the conversation. Yesterday he posted his second reflection on the subject, addressing the question of a gracious sexual intimacy, and the relationship of such intimacy to marriage. His post can be found here.

Following Rowan Williams and Eugene Rogers, Beck argues for an account of sexuality that is modelled on the self-offering love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit within the divine life. In this framework, sexual intimacy and marriage are seen as a risk-filled venture and occasion for mutual joy and discovery. He argues, further, that marriage should be defined in terms of grace (love and commitment) rather than nature (child-bearing) and that the defining feature of marriage is election: “I choose you.” This is consistent, he argues, with the fact that our relationship to God is rooted in grace rather than biological lineage.

At some level I am deeply appreciative of Beck’s initial reflections on sexuality. In many ways I think that his words (owing much to Williams, obviously) are right on the mark. I can only agree when he writes: “The reason sex can be so painful and tragic is that we expose ourselves to the perceptions of another. And this exposure carries great risk, psychically and spiritually.” Extending the thought of Rowan Williams, he also argues: “Sex is to enter into a communal space where there is giving and receiving, a mutuality, a sharing of selves and perceptions. This is why sex matters. It is a location where we discover our humanity through our being with others.” Continue reading