Christian Reflections on Lust, Modesty, and Beauty (Part 1)

ModestyLust is an absolute monster. Getting a handle on this particular sin can feel sometimes near impossible. It’s especially difficult in a culture that finds a way to sexualize everything. We sexualize everything from Halloween to shampoo to yogurt. It’s also difficult when Evangelicals consistently talk about the subject, and other related ones, in simplistic ways. We tend to be shallow in our approach towards beauty, lust, and modesty.  This adds to our difficulty in fighting lust, and lends itself well towards forms of legalism. There is a great deal more to these subjects that evangelicals need to begin thinking through with more care.

There have been countless books, booklets, blogs and articles written on lust and modesty. A great many of them, however, never develop their arguments within an overall theology of beauty. In many of these works all appreciation of beauty becomes, ostensibly, lust. There’s no distinction between admiration, attraction, arousal, and lust. Rather it is all covered in the big blanket known simply as sin. But a theology of beauty helps us to think more carefully, draw better lines for ourselves, help others acknowledge what is and isn’t sin, and helps us to fight what is really going on in our hearts.

In addition, the common reductionist approaches to these subjects tend to misunderstand lust itself. Evangelicals often apply the term more broadly than the Bible does, and apply it in ways that neither make sense nor help Christians to fight actual temptation. There are also significant issues with regard to responsibility. Evangelicals often blame women for men’s lust (though we often still blame women for their own lust), and thus the burden of a man’s lust falls on the shoulders of his female friends, and church members. Teachers, parents, and pastors often place a greater emphasis on training women to wear “modest” clothing, instead of training men to have self-control and fight lustful thinking. Of course both are necessary and important, but we tend to focus on the one over the other. There are some necessary correctives needed in how we think about and discuss the subject of lust within Evangelical culture.

A final point of focus worthy of more consideration is the whole category of “modesty.” Often we use the word but rarely do we define it and explain its application carefully. We use the word as if it there is some broadly agreed upon standard, something all people inherently know when they hear the word. But there is no explicit understanding of the term; nor does the Bible spell out expressly what “modesty” looks like in terms of men’s and women’s bathing suits, or women’s skirt lengths, or spaghetti straps, etc. (notice too the greater emphasis placed upon women when we speak of modesty). In fact we sometimes use this word, as well, in ways that the Bible does not. The ill-defined term becomes a real impediment to our application of it and our fight against actual lust. In other words, more careful consideration is needed of this terminology and of its application.

Contemporary pop-Evangelicalism is not adept at deep thought and reflection. We are much better at simple lists of “dos” and “don’ts”. We are much better at shallow, simplistic, explanations that ignore the nuance, cultural context, and individuals involved. This is not a denial of the clear Biblical principles regarding modesty and lust. Lust is a real thing to be fought. Modesty too is a real expectation from the Lord. No amount of relativism or cultural context can make those hard lines disappear. Yet, we must recognize that the application of these clear principles is not always easy, nor always one-sized. There may be a variety of ways to faithfully apply the principle. A healthy church community can help us think carefully, Biblically, and lovingly about these things. That’s what I want to try to do in this series.

Over the next several weeks I will be exploring this topic in more detail. I have invited a number of different conversation partners to help me wrestle with these topics. They each come from different perspectives and backgrounds, many of them have differing opinions on these subjects, but their diversity, sensitivity to Scripture, and friendship make them good conversation partners. I am especially indebted to the friend who initially brought this subject back to the forefront of my mind a few weeks ago. His helpful pushback sparked my desire to think more carefully and thoroughly about the subject. The goal of this series is not necessarily to iron out all the details and the specific implications of these subjects. Rather it is to frame the conversation in a way that is both genuinely Biblical and yet reflects the contexts in which we live. So, I hope you’ll join me as we dive into this difficult, and presumably tense subject. As we do so I will no doubt write things that you disagree with, give me a chance to present the full arguments before you react. That is to say, I will write several posts on modesty, several posts on lust, etc. in each case I will surely say things that you disagree with (maybe even strongly), give me a chance, however, to write all the posts on that particular topic and to clarify all that I am saying. Then you can respond to the full picture and not simply a part of it. I firmly believe that more careful conversation on these topics will benefit the church in the long run. I hope to play some small part in that conversation.

Comments

  1. Denise Hardy says:

    2 thumbs up!! Can’t wait to read your development of this!! Thanks for tackling it! – Denise

  2. jason hoover says:

    Perfect timing. Working through my first “bikini” season with my teenage daughters. That it thjs is the first summer they have wanted to wear more revealing swim suits. Their is some naivety on the part of younger believers on the broad affects of immodesty, and how lust is played out in the world.
    thanks Dave

  3. Stephanie says:

    I am thoroughly looking forward to this series. Thank you!

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