Me Too God, Me Too: a book review

Is it evidence of my image-bearing that I like the things God likes? Kidding aside, sex and sexuality is God’s idea, a gift from God meant to be enjoyed (within the bounds of marriage and monogamy).  It enables  us to express our love, and relationality. Yet I don’t typically like Christian books on sex. Too many of them focus on mechanics–how to do it and how often. Some offer troubling advice on how to achieve sexual fulfillment (often for just the male partner) without giving enough space to explore mutuality in relationships or holiness.  Other books fail to account for the various ways we are all sexually broken.  Rare is a book dealing with sex that combines psychologically insight with theological depth in a sensitive and engaging way.

God Loves Sex is one such book. Co-authors Dan Allender and Tremper Longman have teamed up to explore God’s purposes for sex and healthy sexuality. Allender teaches counseling at the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology [curiously the back of the book says he teaches at Mars Hill Graduate School but it was renamed the Seattle School three years ago].  Longman is professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College. The two have collaborated on several books and a number of Bible Studies in the past. In God Loves Sex they explore the issues of sex, desire and holiness through the lens of the Song of Songs.

Longman and Allender approach the Song of Songs, not as an allegory about God’s love but as a loose collection of poems exploring sexual love.  They do not read an overarching narrative into the songs, though they explore the narrative elements in various poems and find an internal coherence in the collection. Their examination of the poems explores sexuality, desire, beauty, sexual play, intimacy, and the glory that sex was created for.  These six themes are the substance of the book, each explored in their own chapter (intimacy gets two chapters). The remaining ten chapters tie these chapters together through a fictional story:

Malcom, a new Christian gets roped into attending a small group Bible study on sex by his boss and wife. He goes reluctantly, nervous because of his own sexual past and shame. He is also unsure that the Bible has much interesting to say about human sexuality. Along the way he confronts his own sexual woundedness, his dissatisfying sexual history, the past influence of pornography on him and abuse he suffered. However, he discovers in this small group a safe place to explore these issues with others, all of whom are dealing with their own areas of brokenness. Also in the group are a husband and wife who married to each other after the husband had cheated with her on his previous spouse,  a recent divorcee who escaped an abusive situation, a single woman who is a virgin but has her own struggles with sexuality as she tries to navigate the ‘Christian dating scene.’

This fictional small group allows Allender and Longman to explore the many sides of sexual brokenness, which highlights relevant material as they explore the Song of Songs. It also makes for a riveting presentation and create space for us as readers to probe our own marred sexuality and God’s plan for it.

The commentary is incisive, demonstrating Longman’s literary sensitivity to the biblical text and Allender’s psychological insights. Readers of this book will see evidence in the Song of Songs that God gave us sex (and sexuality) as a gift to be enjoyed; yet they will also will be drawn into introspection  at the places we need a little ‘sexual healing’ (not in a Marvin Gaye way). I give this book five stars and recommend it for individuals, couples or small groups. ★★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

You Must Choose Wisely: a book review

We  all face difficult decisions. We  also carry regrets from bad choices (i.e. buyer’s regret, relationships gone sour, a poor business decision or watching the Spice Girls movie). Most of these poor choices could have been avoided if we asked ourselves the right question.

The Best Question Ever: A Revolutionary Approach to Decision Making by Andy Stanley

When facing important decisions, Andy Stanley, author and pastor of the second biggest church in America (when you’re second you try harder), contends that he has the best question ever for you to ask yourself. Taking Paul’s warning in Ephesians 5:15-17 to not be foolish, Stanley posits that when we are faced with difficult circumstances, we should ask ourselves, “What is the wise thing to do?” This is the Best. Question. Ever.

Sounds simple right? And yet, how many times have you failed to choose wisely?  Often we orient our decision-making around whether or not a particular action would be right or wrong. The problem, something doesn’t have to be ‘wrong’ to be unwise. Choosing a wise path will lead us away from the boundary edge of right and wrong and give us a sure footing.

Stanley unpacks this ‘best question ever.’  We need to ask if a particular choice is wise for us personally, in light of our  past history, current circumstances and our future hopes and dreams. He also  looks at the areas of time, money and sex (three things we all want more of). He advises us to invest our time in things that matter (and not foolishly waste it), to set proper priorities with our money and to guard our moral conduct (especially in the realm of sex/relationships). In the last section, he talks about the necessity of seeking wise counsel (letting others speak into your life).

This is the third book by Stanley I’ve read, and I  think The Best Question Ever is good.  His books have lots of practical advice–sort of biblical self help and personal development. This book is about making wise decisions and would be good for youth, and young adults. Others could also read it profitably. It is less helpful for picking up the pieces after having made poor decisions than it is for getting people to orient themselves wisely from the start (not really a criticism, just delimiting what the book is about). There is sage advice for everyone. But before you go out and buy it, ask yourself, “Is it the wise thing to do?”

Thank you to WaterBrook Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Question: Where have you chosen wisely?

How to Get(Stay) Married Forever: a book review

Are you married? Would you like to be married? Still looking for ‘the One’?

In Love, Sex, and Happily Ever After: Preparing for a Marriage that goes the Distance (previously titled Going All the Way), Craig Groeschel discusses how you can you can make love last forever . Groeschel’s first point is that ‘the One’ you are looking for is not a romantic interest but Jesus (see what he did there?). Your spouse would be your ‘number two’ He then goes on to discuss the dynamics and the personal commitments which will nurture a good marriage.

This is the third book by Craig Groeschel I’ve read (I’ve also read Weird and Chazown). In the previous two books, I liked a lot of what he had to say but found his hook a little gimmicky. In this book, Groeschel is much more straightforward in his presentation and says some great things; however I seem to be a little out of Craig Groeschel’s target audience. This is a book for those preparing for marriage. Actually, a good chunk of the book is for people who are still in the dating scene but maybe  thinking about marriage at some point. As someone who is happily married for 10 years, I found this book offered less constructive material for my own relationship (only the last few chapters).

But no matter, it was a fun read and Groeschel has good things to say. I am occasionally asked by single friends if I could recommend a good book on dating  and I think this could be a helpful book for college age singles.  There is a lot of practical advice here about making sure you keep Jesus central, developing a solid friendship as the foundation for marriage,  keeping sexually pure, why cohabitation is a bad idea, how to break up with the wrong person, how in Christ starting over and being healed from past mistakes is possible, keeping your relationship with Jesus and keeping your (future) spouse a priority. Groeschel is a good communicator and he does a great job of encouraging singles to live lives  that are holy, healthy and pleasing to God.

When he does get down to discussing married life, he offers what I would call a soft complementarianism. He believes that husbands were created to be the leader of the home (he bases this on the created order. Men were created first because they are hardwired to be the initiator of things. Just so you know, this is bad exegesis). While he overstates his case for male leadership a little, he is careful to put this in the context of mutual submission (Eph. 5:21) and certainly men need to be encouraged to take responsibility for their relationships rather than passively stand by.  Likewise he has some good advice to wives (or would be wives) to deal with insecurities in their hearts, but much of his discussion of wives is how to submit to their husbands leadership. As an egalitarian, I disagree with how Groeschel is parsing biblical data here, but he makes some constructive points.

One of the best chapters of the book is called Habits of the Heart where Craig discusses the sort of godly habits which will nurture a godly marriage. These include:

  • dealing with your past
  • growing with good people (accountability and mentoring and severing of unhealthy friendships)
  • learning to listen well
  • guarding your own heart
  • facing and resolving conflict well
  • being financially responsible
  • investing in your relationship with God

I think that each of these habits are important for maintaining vitality and health in my marriage (though I need to grow in a few of these).  But what makes this book an enjoyable read is not Groeschel’s good advice, but his humility and good humor. Groeschel is funny and is vulnerable enough to share about past mistakes he’s made. So even though I am the wrong person to read this book, I still liked it.

Thank you to Waterbrook Multnomah for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

 

What if the Evangelical Obsession With Sex Keeps us From Admitting Our Sins?

In an election year, like every year, you will here a lot of Evangelicals talking about sex. Recently prominent Evangelicals threw their support behind Rick Santorum. This is probably because of Santorum’s strong opposition to gay marriage, abortion and his integrity in sexual relationships (unlike Newt Gingrich who is on his third marriage). But of course Evangelical obsession with sex goes far beyond the realm of politics. Practically everything Mark Driscoll says about sex goes on the internet and goes viral and books, software and conferences directed at helping Christians have sexual integrity is a huge industry. I bet you are reading this because I’m talking about sex. We like sex, we love to talk about it, we want to have more satisfying sex and we want to be free from sexual sin. And yes, some of this is quite appropriate, though not all.

The Temptation of St. Hilarion
But what if our obsession with sex keeps us from examining other areas of our heart and life where sin has been crouching at the door?

My thoughts on this come to me as I am preparing a Bible Study on Galatians for my church small group. I have been reading through No Other Gospel: 31 Reasons From Galatians Why Justification By Faith Alone is the Only Gospel by Josh Moody. Josh Moody is the pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois. Whenever I prep something I check more technical commentaries (for Galatians I always look at Richard Longnecker’s Word Commentary and
Jimmy Dunn’s Black’s New Testament Commentary) but I also want to know how it preaches. This is what Josh Moody provides. For the most part he has solid exegesis (with a Reformed Evangelical bias) which attends to the text, but as a preacher he proclaims and draws out the implications for life. In his exposition of Galatians 1:11-12 (verses that are not about sex) he says this:

The gospel of sexual liberation is a gospel of man that hasn’t worked. Why are our inner cities facing great difficulties? Why do our men cave in to the addiction of lust? Why is there rising risk of abuse? The gospel of sexual liberation is running its course. We are told that the Victorians were too strict and prim with their sexual repression, but now we have the fire of sexuality let out of the fireplace and running rampant through the house and setting ablaze and burning out and destroying people in our society.

This is a fairly typical conservative Evangelical interpretation of where society has run amiss. Sexual freedom leads to the breakdown of marriage which in turn causes all hell to break loose. But really? Sexual liberation is why the inner city faces such difficulties?
Or is it that we as a church have failed to take care of the most vulnerable members of our society?

    Could it be that we talk about sex so that we don’t have to take an honest look at where we as individuals and as a church have been complicit in injustice?

    Have we done our part to care for widows and orphans (James 1:27)?

    Have we cared for the resident aliens (Exodus 22:21) in our land or have we ghettoized them?

    Are we guilty of racism? Are there those in our suburban congregations (like, lets say in Wheaton, Illinois) who engaged in ‘white flight’ leaving the inner-city when minorities moved in? Did we as a church combat housing policies which discriminated against African-Americans and other minorities (essentially creating the ghettos we have today)?

    Are we doing all we can to combat injustice in our neighborhoods and society or are we turning a blind eye?

Does society’s libertine attitudes towards sex contribute to problems in society? Yes. But my problem with naming this as the sole cause of problems in the inner-city is that it doesn’t name our sin. It talks about the sins of those sex-crazed poor folk and not about the sins of an educated, mostly white evangelicalism which has failed to care for the poor.If our obsession with sex causes us to look in judgement on others, maybe we need to also look inward at the ways where our actions (and inaction) have contributed to societies ills.

I am absolutely in favor of sexual purity and fidelity to one’s spouse. Let’s just not end our discussion of sin there.