All the Good Things & the Bad Things that May Be: a book review

When Christians talk about sex, beware. Popular Christian communicators tend to either fixate on abhorrent sexual practices in our culture or sing horndog-songs-of-praise about the gift of sex. The former use sex as exhibit A in their fear-mongering case about national moral decay. The latter write Christian bestsellers about the joys of marital sex with their ‘smoking-hot-wives.’  There is a dearth of Christian literature  which speaks honestly about the gap between our church’s and culture’s visions of sex. That is part of what makes Redeeming Sex so refreshing.

Debra Hirsch is the wife of ,and co-conspirator with, missional guru Alan Hirsch (they co-wrote Untamed, which may be my favorite Hirsch book). She serves on the leadership team of the Forge Mission Training Network and is on the board of Missio Alliance. She brings to the topic of sexuality twenty-five years of ministry experience to and with the LGBT community. The church that She and Alan planted and led in South Melbourne had about 40% of its members come from the LGBTQ community. When Debra came to faith in Christ, she was living and identifying as a lesbian. This book offers her wisdom and insights (and part of her story) about how to approach the issues around human sexuality with grace.

The first thing to observe is that Redeeming Sex is not about ‘sex.’ That is, if you reduce sex to mechanics, genital stimulation and technique you won’t find what you are looking for here. This is a book about sexuality. It tackles Christian attitudes toward sex, sexism, gender, our approach the LGBTQ community.

Hirsch’s book divides into three parts. Part one, “Where Did All the Sexy Christians Go?” tackles our attitudes towards sex and sexuality. Here Hirsch steers us past prudish repression, fear-based responses and our tendency to elevate sexual sin above other sins. She points to how the life of Jesus, his relationships with men and woman, affirms the goodness of sexuality.

Part two, “Bits, Bobs and Tricky Business” looks deeper at Christian views, especially our approach to gender and same-sex attraction. Hirsch describes eight fumdamentals of sex: (1) the term sexuality names the impulse to genital sexuality and social sexuality, (2) sexuality involves the whole self, (3) sexuality is embodied, (4) sexuality celebrates difference, (5) sexuality is fractured, (6)sexuality is deceptive, (7) sexuality needs a chaperone, (8) sexuality is ageless.  These ‘fundamentals’ describe both the gifts and dangers of sexuality. In the following chapters, Hirsch discusses gender and homosexuality,  Hirsch pleads for dialogue and mutual self understanding of the various positions  on the options available for gay Christians (i.e. healing leading to heterosexual marriage, celibacy and affirmation of gay lifestye). She doesn’t commend a one-size-fits-all approach to ‘healing homosexuals.’ At one point, she observes that heterosexuals are also in dire need of healing in their sexuality because all of us are sexually broken (120).

Part three, “The Mission of Christian Sexuality,” draws these threads together. Hirsch offers a vision of participating in Christian mission in ways that  are cognizant and honor people’s sexuality. Hirsch urges us towards ministry that emphasizes grace, ministry that gets beyond our stereotypes to engagement with real people, affirms the way we all are God’s image bearers,  and ministry that is ‘centered-set’ versus ‘bound-set’ (not seeking to mark who is in or out, but helping people to take steps to follow Jesus in healthy sexuality where they are).

Despite Hirsch’s interest in ministry to the LGBT community and her personal history with it, I am not totally sure of her ‘theological position.’ I know that her church at one point of time worked with Exodus International but became increasingly uncomfortable with their position (Exodus International itself became uncomfortable with Exodus International’s position). She quotes affirming authors and promotes dialogue between conservatives and gay Christians, but this isn’t a book that tells you what your theology should be. This is a book that urges us to greater love and understanding as we reach out in the love of Christ. This is a message both conservatives and progressives need to hear.

I enjoyed reading this book. Hirsch is funny, irreverent and insightful. She doesn’t mince words about where we’ve mussed up a biblical vision of human sexuality AND the gospel of grace. Too often evangelicals are defined in our culture by their views on sexuality (i.e. homosexuality and abortion). Hirsch points us towards deeper love and mission to all who are sexually broken. This doesn’t mean that we necessarily abandon our theological commitments; however it means seeking how to love well. I give this book four stars.

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

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.