The Problem of Porn

by
April 6, 2015

[Note: In light of the subject matter of this post, I feel obligated to warn that the content and language is intended for a mature audience. My goal is not to offend, but only to edify, encourage, and proclaim the sometimes-all-too-frank biblical truth. Though I acknowledge the ever-growing porn addiction among women, I will be speaking as a man to other men simply because the problem of porn runs all the more rampant among men.]

This post is by no means the first of its kind, nor will it be the last. The problem of porn has been crippling churches for years now. I’m not here to pick up my stones and throw them. In the vein of what Jesus said to the Pharisees, I couldn’t even lob the first stone toward an adulterer. I’m writing this for myself. I’m writing this for my best friends, the pastors in my life, my mentors and blog-readers.

I’m not here to use scare tactics. We’re all familiar with statistics and numbers, pointing fingers and accountability groups. We’re familiar with Bible verses like Job 31:1 or Matthew 5:28 used as Scriptural guilt-trips. I’m not saying that any of these techniques are bad. We should be holding each other accountable for our sin as part of regular discipleship and community. Yet, I think we are quick to speak and, as a result, slow to extend grace.

Regardless of how much grace we have, and no matter how familiar we may be with Scripture, what we’re seeing in the porn industry is unprecedented. So, it is with this knowledge that I write so that the Spirit might prick the heart of a calloused generation and extend grace to the wounded and weary sinner. I write so that broken men might see the reasons why their habits will break others. I write so that a generation might rise to the occasion of doing away with foolish, childish passions and eliminating the problem of porn both inside and outside the Church—the problem that has led so many men astray from the assurance of God’s love.

According to a fairly recent study from Proven Men Ministries , approximately 64% of men in the United States view pornography at least monthly. Even scarier, 79% of men between the ages of 18–30 view pornography at least monthly. In the same age range, 34% of men admit that they view porn “several times a week” and 33% either admit their addiction to pornography or are unsure if they are addicted to pornography. The most frightening of all? Compared to those 33% of men, 21% of self-proclaimed Christian men admit their addiction to pornography or are unsure if they are addicted to pornography.

There’s no sugar-coating it—these numbers are daunting. What we are facing is no longer a simple struggle with holiness; we are in the midst of a cultural crisis. We are caught in the middle of an age where secularism and Church culture are no longer distinguishable. Sin is seeping into our congregations almost unnoticeably — and it poses a future-shattering question that we need to address before it’s too late.

“What does an entire generation of fathers and pastors raised on porn look like?”

As she tries to combat the problem of porn, the Church needs to remember that this problem is quite new. We don’t get to say that often, so it sounds a little off when we read it. Humankind has hurdled the sins of adultery and lust ever since the Fall, so sexual sins are nothing new. But Solomon wasn’t exactly the same as Hugh Hefner (despite what a poor reading about his life might lead you to believe), and Paul wasn’t urging Timothy to stay off of PornHub. We haven’t had this kind of accessibility before. We are entering into a new era, and the effects have not been tested yet.

In biblical times, maybe only the king could indulge in deep, vain sexuality, and men domineered over women. The culture was sexualized to some extent, but these men couldn’t do something as easy as pick up a tablet and filter through sexual criteria, accessing terabytes of video, and simply closing out of their open tabs when they got bored. There were only so many women to be had in the kingdom at any given point in time, but now a limitless number of willing girls live at men’s fingertips, hidden in touchscreen devices or the TV remote on their business trips. Because this is such a new problem, we cannot ignore the long-term effects. I want to share three with you.

1. The Sterilization of the Faculties of Love and Imagination

“For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides.

And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself. . . . And it is not only the faculty of love which is thus sterilized, forced back on itself, but also the faculty of imagination.”

C.S. Lewis (1956)

Lewis lived thirty-three years before the World Wide Web, and he still foresaw the effects of the porn culture. Lewis’ “harem of imaginary brides” has become a little less shadowy, threatening our capacity to love even more than it did then. The man who habitually looks to porn for his affirmation, satisfaction or fulfillment commits severe offenses against God, namely profaning the institutions of love and the mind and violating the imago Dei, or man’s creation in the image of God.

Love: In his pleasure-seeking, man takes his portion of love and wastes it on his own selfishness. According to James 4:4, taking heed to the passions that are at war within us turns us into an “adulterous people.” Adultery was punishable by death under Old Testament law. We’re talking serious stuff. Pornography ruins a man’s ability to love well.

Mind: Romans 1:28–31 talks about this man who sees his vain self-pleasure as preferable to God. Paul says that these people have a “debased mind” as they are filled with “unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice” and “envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness.” He calls us “gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” We ruin the mind. We take one of God’s creations and sinfully abuse it.

Imago Dei: As human beings, created in the image of God, we are a finite, imperfect picture of His infinite perfections. The imago Dei is a fundamental doctrine for fighting the problem of porn. As is the case with our minds, we take one of God’s creations and sinfully abuse it. Matt Chandler  reminds us of this:

“Pornography is the degradation of the performers as not having souls, as not having any real value, and it is consuming their emptiness and despair for our own pleasure. It is deplorable and wicked. No little girl dreams of that growing up. If we had any idea of the horrific backgrounds we were dealing with, there’s no way we would watch and be aroused. We would be heartbroken. We’d be devastated at the molestation, at the rape, at the horrific abuse so many have endured. This is an imago Dei issue.

These girls are often slaves by vocation, underpaid and forced into their circumstances. The effects the industry has on women after their work reaches as far as PTSD. For the honor of our great God’s creation, for the celebration of the justice that our God so ferociously seeks, and for the rescue of the sojourner, we should be fighting against the problem of porn.

2. The Capitulation to Sinfulness

The crisis that remains is that today’s culture overlooks masturbatory habits as being “okay.” University of Texas professor Mark Regnerus analyzed the results of the Relationships in America survey in this article titled, “Tracking Christian Sexual Morality in a Same-Sex Future.”  From this single survey, we can track a trajectory for the Church as it decides how to handle the problem of porn, and it doesn’t look pretty.

The survey compares trends in sexuality, comparing varying views on same-sex marriage (SSM). The survey breaks down five different types of people: churchgoers who oppose SSM, churchgoers who support SSM, the population average, gay and lesbian Christians, and gay and lesbian non-Christians. Here’s a table mapping out the results:

Now, there are some alarming numbers on this chart concerning issues other than pornography, but I believe these issues are linked together, at least in effect.

Note the steep change between Christians who oppose SSM and Christians who support SSM — a whopping 28.8% change in support of pornography. An increase in affirmation of porn correlates with a decrease in faithful marriage. According to the numbers, churchgoing Christians who oppose SSM are 2.3 times more likely to stay together when married with kids than gay and lesbian Christians, and they are almost 11 times less likely to take part in what the survey calls “marital infidelity”. Note that I used the word correlation instead of cause. The cause is a loose holding to a biblical worldview; still, if you’re willing to renege on the viewing of porn, you’re more likely to renege on larger moral issues.

3. The Cheapening of Grace

More so than anything else, the problem of porn is that it cheapens the grace of God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls cheap grace the “justification of sin without the justification of the sinner.” By the biblical definition, this “cheap grace” cannot exist. If the grace you received for your salvation is cheap, then it isn’t truly God’s grace. God’s grace is costly. It required the death of a perfect man, a man whose submission to the will of his Father was greater than the sorrows of his human nature, a man who didn’t deserve anything but the greatest glorification for his perfect righteousness. God’s grace is expensive, and using it to pay for the sins you commit while surfing porn websites doesn’t cut it.

When we abuse the grace of God, we not only attempt to rob Jesus of his payment on the cross, but we stop our practice of spiritual disciplines. If I have a misconstrued view of grace, I can’t show grace to others — and that’s something all of us are bad enough at as it is. If I misunderstand what God’s grace does in my life, I ruin the purpose of the Church. I ruin the purpose of baptism, and I ruin the purpose of communion. I ruin anything ordained by God because, without His grace, I can’t understand it.

It’s impossible for us to have a grasp on what God wants from us if we do not know what Christ did for us. If we don’t understand how Christ’s death on the cross was so that you wouldn’t have wake up, hormones flowing, tempted to sin “just one more time,” if we don’t understand how Jesus’ blood washed away our sins so that we no longer have to wear the uniform of sin, mortifying once and for all its reign over us, then we will never overcome the problem of porn.

If we are truly Christians, we can’t cheapen the grace of God. It is contrary to both the character of His disciples and the purpose for which grace was given to us. Grace was not granted as a means of saving us from Hell; grace is a means of God’s everlasting arms reaching out to embrace us, rescuing us from our imprisonment as slaves to sin and reminding us to find our identity in Him. Grace was given to us so we would not have to find ourselves falling short yet again. Grace was given to the porn addict. Grace was given to sinful man. Grace and grace alone can save us, and it absolutely is costly.

“In order to protect human flourishing, we must combat the problem of porn until its spark can no longer light the kindle of our sinful hearts.”

The three outcomes which I have discussed, that is, the sterilization of the faculties of love and imagination, our capitulation to sinfulness, and the cheapening of God’s grace, are practically unavoidable if the porn industry continues to grow at the rate it has. If you want to know what church culture will look like if we allow the parasite of pornography to latch onto our thoughts and refuse to shake it loose, you can bet on these three things.

The Redeeming Hope of the Cross

God didn’t leave us to fight this battle on our own. He sent His Son for our sake. Think about this — the Creator of the Universe cares about the problem of porn. What a tiny, finite problem for the One who chooses to sustain the burning of gaseous beings in space and gravity’s effect on the tides! This is not to say that sin is some small, overlook-able act. Sinning against God — whether contemplating murder or lustfully clicking your way out of a porn site — is an act of what R.C. Sproul calls “cosmic treason”. We act against the will of the only One who deserves to exist. And still, He gives us grace for even the most shameful, despicable worries.

America’s addiction will never be satisfied. The problem of porn will not go away on its own. We have to fight it. We have to put on the whole armor of God. We have to mortify our sin. John Owen wrote, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you,” and he couldn’t be more right. If we aren’t killing the problem of porn, we will ruin our future hope of human flourishing and pillage the wondrous riches of God’s great grace, launching assault on the Lord’s precious gift to sinners.


Cody Barnhart