How Does Sanctification Work? by David Powlison, Free for CAPC Members
David Powlison dispels the myth that there is a “key to sanctification” and then lays the biblical groundwork for spiritual growth.
Mathew Wilson’s new film, The Virgins, begins with two Christian boys talking about sex. They’re not just contemplating any kind of sex though. They’re discussing wedding night sex. For young men practicing abstinence, this is the night of all nights. The moment when years of waiting finally comes to fruition.
As often as the topic of intercourse is discussed or referred to, The Virgins is not so much about sex as it is about what sex represents.From this introductory scene, The Virgins lets us in on a secret. Even though it’s a film made by a Christian about Christians, it’s positioning itself to sweep over our prior expectations. While the idea of breaking through the traditional “faith-based” movie mold is usually reduced to adult language and a neatly placed innuendo, The Virgins is organically distinctive. It moves past Christians clichés by building them into something new. Something, well, charming.
The story picks up about a decade or so after the aforementioned scene. One of the boys, Nick (Blake Webb), is about to exchange vows with his fiancé, Mary (which also happens to be a great name for a virgin), played by Sonya Davis. Mary is a graceful Christian girl with an overprotective father. Because the couple waited to have sex, they’re planning a wedding night for the ages. The stakes get even higher when the audience finds out that Nick is being shipped off to Afghanistan the following morning. After an ill-timed prank by Nick’s brother Toad (Conner Marx) creates a domino effect that leaves the couple running around town looking for a place to consummate their marriage, it seems like the universe (and maybe even God) just might be against them having sex. Nick’s perfect night, the night he dreamed about his entire life, is on the verge of unraveling right before his eyes.
All of these points converge to make The Virgins a very funny film. Though, given the religious nature of the story, it’s probably not the type of funny you’d expect. And that’s okay. The characters talk about sex. A lot. There are jokes about foreplay and intercourse—especially from Nick’s crass but deftly amusing grandpa. But the humor never comes across in a way that degrades or cheapens the meaning of intimacy. In turn, it actually serves to nudge at our ideas and sensibilities. This makes The Virgins very different from most traditionally defined faith-based films—though their characters never seem to be having sex, either.
Yet, as often as the topic of intercourse is discussed or referred to, The Virgins is not so much about sex as it is about what sex represents. While simplistic romantic comedies often portray love as a mixture of hot sex and stomach-churning butterflies, The Virgins follows a different path in that it presents a deeper look at romance. Sometimes marriage and sex (or the lack thereof) isn’t so hot. Sometimes the butterflies revert back to caterpillars.
On the Christian side of the spectrum, the “prosperity sex” message can be just as harmful. Evangelicals are often guilty of communicating the idea that if you practice abstinence, you’ll enter a sort of never-ending ecstatic bliss in marriage. As much as we would like to believe this, life—and even one’s wedding night (as the film highlights)—isn’t always a fairy tale. Rather, The Virgins metaphorically creates a subtext grounded in something truer, something more beautiful. Though the gospel is never presented in the film, The Virgins makes me wonder if Nick and Mary’s story isn’t the blossoming of the Apostle Paul’s teaching of marriage as a reflection of Christ’s love for the church (Ephesians 5:21-33).
Wilson says The Virgins is about “chasing a dream that dangles in front of you but is always just out of reach. Because that experience is real. What is it like when God doesn’t give you what you want, even when you are trying to honor Him?” Will we stay committed even when marriage isn’t as easy or fulfilling as we thought it would be? Will we feel cheated for practicing patience and purity?
The Virgins portrays sex not as the end all of marriage and relationships, but the symbol of two lives being forged together. Love isn’t intercourse; it’s protection, trust, and sacrifice. As the night drags on in the film, Nick and Mary begin to realize the importance of these qualities. They begin fathoming the work that comes with melding together two individuals, not just physically, but spiritually and practically. Nick must learn the importance of protecting his wife and their marriage. Mary must learn to trust her husband, even if it means offending her father. This is a richer picture than the “butterfly effect” we often view in some Hollywood and faith circles.
I must point out, as much as I appreciated these themes, The Virgins isn’t always a polished film. The movie was shot and produced with what looks to be a minimal budget and a skeleton crew. A few of the subplots are weak and the acting is choppy in sections. Virgins is Matthew Wilson’s directorial debut (he wrote, directed, and edited the film) and there are definitely some growing pains onscreen. Despite some flaws, however, it’s apparent Wilson has a great deal of talent. His ability to craft a film about sex, faith, and marriage that’s honest, while still managing to be optimistic, is refreshing.
Though The Virgins isn’t a masterpiece by any means, it does gets the ball rolling in the right direction. It’s a film even non-Christians can enjoy. It doesn’t beat the issue of abstinence into its audience (as I was worried it would), but it certainly gets the audience thinking. And that’s exactly what I believe this type of movie should do.
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