Karl Olsson Refresher

by Karl Olsson

Many consider Dr. Karl Olsson (1913-1996) the finest Covenant writer ever. Covenant Chris Craft University and Pietisten will present selections from KO's writings in coming issues. The passages below are from Seven Sins and Seven Virtues published in 1959. —Provost, Chesterton Chair of Literature, CCCU

I have been given courage to write on saintliness. It is a vexed subject. The pruning and spraying of the life tree of Mr. Christian is not so majestic a theme as its planting. But now and then it is well to remind ourselves that sanctity is good and should be given attention. (Introduction, p. 9)

For Paul the redemptive work of Christ had created a new kind of marriage. It was not new in the sense that it was disembodied; there is no "spiritual" Christianity which floats above the created world. Marriage is the union of bodies ("these two shall be one flesh"), and Paul nowhere suggests that marriage can subsist without sexuality. Nor was Paul's view of marriage new in the sense that he upset the established order and introduced the doctrine of sexual equality. The relationship between the sexes was in essence the same as that of Roman and Jewish society. The man was the dominant, the woman the subordinate, party.

Paul's view of marriage is nevertheless new. Wives are now to be subject to their husbands as "to the Lord." They are not to confuse Christ with their husbands (God forbid!), but they are to see their subjection to their husbands as part of the new creation—the creation of grace. The bitterness, the shame, the ire of subjection have been washed away. A woman in Christ is no longer an enslaved but a free spirit who accepts the necessities of existence with grace, and by a curious paradox the subjection thus accepted ceases to be just subjection and becomes an opportunity for free and loving service.

Similarly, husbands, empowered by the relation of Christ to the church, will nourish and cherish their wives as their own flesh. This bold analogy, which would require volumes to exhaust, says in essence that just as subjection is transformed by grace, so is dominance. The aim of the husband is no longer to exploit his natural domination of his wife but to see her as an opportunity for nourishing and cherishing. Gone is the voluptuous, red-faced, and guilt-ridden lordship of marriage. Something new has come into being: protectiveness, gentleness, understanding, and compassion. (Chapter 7, pp. 60-61)