Next year will see Protestants around the world celebrating 500 years since Martin Luther famously nailed his 95 Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg. The action of this one man famously led to the Reformation and a rejection of the authority of the papacy that Protestants maintain to this day.
But the ministry of one Roman Catholic man from the United States is bringing the work of one Pope to the attention of many Protestants. Christopher West has dedicated his life to popularising Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body – a series of 129 lectures the late Pope gave between 1979 and 1984.
The lectures themselves can seem impenetrable but West has made the thinking they contain accessible. His lively presentations slip from direct quotes of John Paul II to impressively good renditions of U2 songs as he seeks to make points like this:
"...the purpose of sexual difference and the call to union is not only to reproduce the human species, although that an essential part of it."
"It's not only for the sake of human companionship, although that, too, is an essential part of it."
"The ultimate purpose of sexual difference and the call to union is signify the difference and call to union of the Creator and the creature, of Christ and his Church."
West’s bold claim is that John Paul II has provided the most helpful critique of the sexual revolution and so those of us struggling with its after-effects need to turn to his thinking for help. And West has been incredibly successful in helping many Protestants do exactly that. His books Theology of the Body for Beginners and, most of all, Fill These Hearts have attracted many to John Paul II’s way of thinking on this issue. Here in the UK, Anglican megachurch Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) has done much to introduce West to Protestant circles – he spoke at their 2013 Leadership Conference garnering rave reviews.
John Paul II has provided the most helpful critique of the sexual revolution
This autumn we at Living Out – a group of evangelicals who experience same-sex attraction – have invited Christopher West to do an event in London titled "God, Sex and the Meaning of Life: What if our desires are more important than you thought?"
West will explore the biblical significance of the deepest desires of our bodies and souls, including our sexual desires, and how they can point us towards God.
The event will deal with desire, as we discover why as human beings we feel this universal “ache” for something more. We'll look at design, as we learn what the very design of our bodies as male and female tells us about God. Finally, we'll consider destiny as we find out how we are created for bliss and why our hearts know this.
As a Protestant man who experiences same-sex attraction I’ve found West’s writings and presentations to be some of the most persuasive in encouraging me to stay celibate and yet celebrate my God-given sexuality at the same time.
Anyone who shares my struggles or who is seeking to make sense of their own different sexual desires would benefit from coming along. The evening would also be good for those who simply want to hear a positive and confident articulation of Christian sexual ethics that actually explains why God has made sex and marriage in the first place.
Ed Shaw is the Pastor of Emmanuel City Centre in Bristol and part of the editorial team at livingout.org. His book, The Plausibility Problem: The church and same-sex attraction (IVP) is out now