Freedom From Pornography: a book review

Heath Lambert says he did not write Finally Free to address the dangers of pornography–how it poisons relationships, isolates individuals and victimizes those in the industry. There are other books on the market which discuss this at length. Many people who struggle with pornography know the problems associated with it but still live in bondage. Leath wrote Finally Free to proclaim that real freedom is possible through grace through Jesus Christ.

Leath is the executive director of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselor (NANC). Nouthetic counseling uses biblical principles as its fundamental basis for its apprach.  Leath applies the Bible to the problem of porn first by sharing the way grace enables us to live free from this sin and secondly, he presents eight  measures to ensure that we live out that freedom. These include:

  • Using the sorrow for our sins (not just regret at getting caught!).
  • Accountability.
  • Radical measures (i.e. getting rid of TV, credit cards, internet, etc).
  • Confession.
  • utilizing your relationship with your spouse (or singleness) to fight porn.
  • Growing in humility.
  • Cultivating a dynamic relationship with Jesus

Grace is foundational to this list and Lambert points us continually to the cross.  Jesus died for you because of this (and other sins). Jesus came to set you free. In Christ, we who were dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) have been set free!

I think that Lambert has many great, practical things to say. Real freedom from pornography is possible in Christ! I  appreciate that he doesn’t assume every struggler with pornography is male. In his opening chapter on grace he writes, “I know dozens of people (men and women) who struggle with pornography. Each was introduced to pornography in a different way. (17)”  One problem I have with a lot of Christian books dealing with pornography, is that they assume it is an exclusively male sin.  This compounds the isolation and shame of female strugglers.  I loved that Lambert was conscious enough of this to offer his pastoral counsel to both men and women. Unfortunately after the first page, all the examples focus on male struggle (these are mostly anecdotes drawn from Lambert’s own counseling ministry), but the intention is there.

I also think that the advice in this book is sound and applicable not only to the sin of pornography, but other vices as well. Gamblers, drug addicts and perfectionists can apply the principles in this book to their own problems. The specific topic of this book is pornography, but because Lambert roots his approach to counseling in biblical counsel, he is necessarily applying biblical principles to a specific twenty-first century context.  These principles can just as easily can be applied to other sins, and help Christians strive towards greater freedom and holiness. 

I commend this book. I think it is one of the better books on helping Christians gain freedom from pornography. There are places I want to nuance what Lambert says. For example, he tends to talk about pornography in terms of lust and adultery (which it is), but he says little about the desire for relationship and connection which both drives strugglers to pornography and causes them to feel profound shame and isolation.  I also do not share his general suspicion of psychology which drives the Nouthetic Counseling approach. I  do agree that much of the psychological literature is written from a secular and materialist bias, and that the fundamental problem humans face is Sin.  So my view is probably closer to Lambert’s than most psychology. Yet I also appreciate some psychological insights and think that it would complement this book well.

I give this book four stars and recommend it for those who are struggling with pornography, those who are ministering to others,  and other strugglers. I believe if you put these principles into practice, taking care that you are rooted in an experience of God’s grace, you will experience freedom in Christ.

Thank you to Zondervan and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.



Surfing for Porn . . .er. . .I mean God: a book review

Cusick book cover Pornography is a real problem. Consider these statistics:

  • 25% of search engine requests are for pornography – 68 million per day.
  • 70% of the hits on Internet sex sites occur between 9-5 on business computers.
  • Over 50 percent of evangelical pastors report they viewed pornography last year.
  • Over 70% of Christian men report viewing pornography in the last year.

And I would say, that as a whole Christians have responded rather poorly to what amounts to a sin epidemic in our culture.  So I am happy to recommend a book which gets at the heart of some of the issues which are tangled up with pornography.  Michael John Cusick is an ordained minister, licensed professional counselor and spiritual director. He is also is a recovering sex addict (living in freedom) who had an addiction to pornography, strip clubs, masturbation and prostitution. He sees the bankruptcy of a life in bondage, but he also knows that men act out in sexual sins because they are broken and wounded.

But before I tell you about this book, let me briefly tell you where I think other Christian approaches get this wrong. One popular Christian book seems to say:

  • Objectifying other women is wrong, just objectify your wife. She is there primarily for your sexual pleasure(based on a reading of Job’s famous ‘covenant with his eyes in Job 31).
  • Women who are not your spouse are sources of temptation and should be avoided at all costs.
  • You should also avoid places like parks, the beach, roads that women jog on, supermarkets, hair salons and shopping malls.

The problem with this advice is that it basically gets guys to modify their behavior, but does not touch the wounding and longing that led them to a pornography addiction in the first place (although to be fair, this approach takes serious the idea of sexual sin and the need for accountability). It is also unrealistic. Only stay-at-home dads can avoid women, who are increasingly colleagues and men’s bosses in all walks of life.

Cusicks approach is much more holistic. He sees pornography and other sexual sins as symptomatic of the deep longing for connection and reality (and yes, ultimately God). By sharing the story of his own struggle (and victory), he  addresses the root issues of pornography, the empty promises and real idolatry, personal brokenness and the cycle of shame, but also the real freedom that is ours in Christ and transformation that is possible and the disciplines which care for your soul. He is also attentive to a very real, spiritual dimension to this struggle and the dynamics of temptation (and its relationship to idolatry). As a counselor he is aware of the ways in which pornography (and other online habits) affect the brain, but also draws hope from the brain’s plasticity. His advice for those lost in sexual temptation online is to unplug, pay attention to your desires and cravings to find out what is happening in your heart, and to practice solitude and centering prayer. Ultimately he wants people to journey from their self medicating numbness, to a relationship with God where desires are rightly ordered and they are attentive to their own soul care (in community, of course).

Nevertheless I think this book has two limitations which I think are significant:

  1. It treats sexual sin and pornography as a personal, individual sin. This needs to be addressed but he never addresses the other side of the equation. Men who go to prostitutes victimize women; men who view pornography, go to strip clubs and seek out adult entertainment,  have participated in an unjust system which truncates the humanity of women (and men) and causes tremendous psychological, physical and sociological damage. I applaud Cusick’s efforts to address the ways sin and acting out come from personal brokenness. I just want him also to address the significant justice issue that is wrapped up with this.
  2. This book is also limited in terms of audience. This is a book written by a man for men, and speaks most meaningfully to men who are married.  Single guys can read this profitably while making adjustments in a couple of places; however, I have friends who are women who also struggle with an addiction to pornography. While much of this advice is applicable to them (solitude and centering prayer, the need to pray through and address woundedness and idolatry), they will find themselves unaddressed by Cusick. When you consider the real shame that comes with sexual sin and that pornography is considered by many Christians a ‘man’s sin, the cycle of shame is compounded for women who are stuck in addiction to porn and sex. This book could have easily been inclusive of both genders in addressing a real struggle which affects both sexes.

But for the particular niche of  ‘men who struggle’ working through their own personal issues, I think this book is one of the best.  This is a book I would use pastorally and found a lot of it personally helpful. So it gets a solid recommendation from me.

Thank you to Thomas Nelson for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

Lust but not Least (an examination of a deadly sin)

Lust is defined as a disordered sexual desire. Certainly desire and attraction, properly ordered is not sin but our culture has gotten this out of whack. You might say Lust is sexual desire, for its own sake, divorced from relationship, a love of sex because of how it makes you feel.

And Lust is certainly everywhere in our culture. We use it to sell cars, web domains, beer and margarine. It is celebrated in movies, television and song. Little boys look at lingerie catalogues and National Geographic (Jane Goodall=Hot). Sex shops and strip clubs spring up in sleepy little communities and there is an ever-growing list of celebrities whose marriages end in some kind of sexual scandal.

It is certainly as prevalent as any of the other sins, but those caught in the clutches of Lust feel particularly isolated. It is easier to admit to gluttony, greed or envy than it is to admit that you are a Lust-monger. Personally I could abstractly tell you that I struggle with Lust (and the rest of the deadly sins) but I am reluctant to share the exact shape this struggle takes in my own life (I do have people I do talk to about this, just not the entire world wide web). What is it about this sin that isolates us in a sense of shame?

The strange flip-side is that we tell ourselves that our Lust doesn’t hurt anyone else. We say, “I’m only looking, I haven’t done anything.” But as we have seen with the other sins, internal thoughts and habits of mind will manifest themselves in our everyday lives. When we entertain private lustful thoughts, we withdraw from the hard word of relationship; when we objectify others this manifests itself in injustice towards them. One of the places where the damage of Lust is most evident is pornography, so I want to take a moment to explore that. Of course this isn’t the only place that Lust is damaging our society, but it’s worth looking at. The problem that is, not pornography. Pornography is just bad, don’t look at it.

Pornography: A Case Study of the Damage of Lust in Our Culture

According to, every second $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography, 28,258 internet users are viewing pornographic material and 372 internet users are typing adult search terms into internet search engines. Seventy percent of American men age 18-34 view pornography once a month. The internet provides few limits to accessing sexually explicit material and little accountability. 25% of all internet searches are related to pornography. In early 2008, Dennis Lohrmann observed that internet searches for “college girl,” “women” or “mature” returned over a billion results on Google. Whereas previous generations have had pornography, its access was limited and society shunned it. With the internet, television and movies, sexually explicit images are universally available. While it is clear that men use pornography much more than women, the use of porn by women has been steadily growing (28% of all people who admit to a ‘sexual addiction’ are women).

The ubiquity of pornography extends into the church. According to one estimate, “sixty-four percent of Christian men struggle with sexual addition or sexual compulsion including, but not limited to, the use of pornography, compulsive masturbation, or other secret sexual activity.” 1 out of 6 Christian married men, use pornography to masturbate and in the year 2000, 33% of clergy have visited a sexually explicit website (I have also read statistics which suggest that use of pornography is greater among Christian’s who subscribe to traditional complementarian beliefs). This is a major problem, particularly when you consider how pornography rewires brains, creates unrealistic expectations and isolates pornography users from relationships and community. There is an interesting blog post exploring this dynamic over at the Good Man Project.

And that is just what porn does to ‘the user.’ The real problem is what porn does to ‘the used.’ Pornography is not victimless. Many of the women of porn have been forced against their will to have sex on film. Even those in porn who say they are not victims bear the scars of the repeated psychological impact of being wanted only for their body and not for their person-hood. When women (and men) are objectified in this way, and a major segment of society habitually takes pleasure in their abuse, we have a cycle of oppression. And ‘the users’ do not restrict their ‘using’ to pornography but it shifts in their attitudes to women (and men) poison all their relationships.

Other Ways Lust is a Problem

Lust drives the sex industry. Why do men pick up prostitutes (and this is overwhelmingly men)? I once heard Michelle Miller of REED (Resist Exploitation Embrace Dignity),s a non-profit working with sex-trade workers, once say to a congregation gathered for Sunday worship, “The men who are picking up prostitutes on the downtown Eastside [Vancouver] have baby seats in their backseat and Jesus fish on their bumper.” Evangelicals wax eloquent about family values but Lust has born its strange fruit in our midst (for the record, my only bumper sticker says “Reading is Sexy”). Certainly someone doesn’t just walk out of a Bible study one day and decide to go buy some sex; rather this stems from long cultivated habits of mind.

Freedom from Lust

The good news is that freedom from Lust’s control on your life is possible. This is not freedom from desire, desire is good when properly ordered. We can be free from the wrong expression of desire. There are thousands of ministries, counselors, books, internet filters available for sex addicts to get the help they need. If this is an area of major struggle, reach out for help. If the statistics above tell you anything, they tell you that you are not alone in this struggle. There is a ton of resources out there and I commend them to you.

But I want to commend something more fundamental to the struggle over lust: Relationship.

I once heard someone say, “Relational problems are best worked out in relationship.” Lust is preeminently a relational problem. And so if you want to experience victory and freedom then you need to cultivate good friendships. You need a network of support and care with people who know you and love you, and who you know and love. You need to have a relationship with your spouse or significant other where you are expressing love for them and not just using them. You need to cultivate a friendship with God, where you lay your soul bare before him and share your life with him. We need to move beyond our propensity to ‘use’ and learn how to appropriately give and receive love.

Of course relationships are not easy and to say the answer lies in cultivating healthy, satisfying relationships is not a quick fix. But you only conquer Lust when you get beyond the quick fixes. What is required is commitment, intentionality and vulnerability.
In the end, this is what it means to put on the virtue of Chastity. Rebecca DeYoung says:

Chastity is a positive project, a project of becoming a person with an outlook that allows one to selflessly appreciate good and attractive things–most especially bodies and the pleasures they afford–by keeping those goods ordered to the good of the whole person and his or her vocation to love. Chastity’s fundamental question is not, “How far should I go on a date without crossing some invisible line of ‘sin’?” but rather, “How can my life–my thoughts, my choices, my emotional responses, my conversation, and my behavior–make me a person who is best prepared to give and receive love in relationship with others?” Chastity preserves and protects and paves the way for wholeness in all our relationships, all of the time. To channel and control our sexual desires is to empower ourselves to love. (Glittering Vices, 178)

So what are the things that keep you from real relationship? What are some ways you can reign in the Lust of your flesh and pursue Love more?

May the Lord Jesus free us from the clutches of Lust and set us free to Love him and others