Mere Sexuality | Book Review


How should Christians think about human sexuality? That is the question Todd Wilson asks in his new book, Mere Sexuality: Rediscovering the Christian Vision of Sexuality. Wilson (Ph.D., Cambridge University) is senior pastor of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois, and cofounder and chairman of The Center for Pastor Theologians. His is a timely book, given the sea change of opinion and practice that has washed over Western culture since the middle of the 20th century.

“Did you know,” Wilson asks, “despite a genuine diversity of views expressed along the way, the church has held to a coherent view of human sexuality for centuries?” With a nod to C. S. Lewis, he calls this view “mere sexuality,” that is, “what most Christians at most times in most places have believed about human sexuality.”

The book touches on “a whole range of biblical, theological, cultural, and practical questions.” These include biblical and theological reflections on biological sex, gender identity, marriage, sexual intercourse, celibacy and homosexuality.

For example, Chapter 2, “The Sexuality of Jesus,” looks at what the Incarnation says about sexuality. Many who write on this topic look at Jesus’ words and actions for guidance. What did He teach about sexual immorality? How did He interact with sexual sinners?

This is appropriate, of course, but Wilson thinks we ought to look deeper at what Jesus’ person teaches us about human sexuality. He writes:

The Son of God, though biologically sexed, lived a sex-free, fully contented life. Not an easy, pain-free existence, but a whole and deeply and richly human life. This is a remarkable fact — one that confronts all of us, whether we’re same-sex-attracted or straight, married or single. It also confronts our secular culture and the evangelical church culture as well — I suspect in some uncomfortable ways. I find it’s easy to forget (and tempting to resist the idea) that I don’t need sex to be satisfied. Jesus didn’t, and yet he was supremely satisfied in God…

One of the main claims of mere sexuality, as it has been articulated and practiced throughout the church’s history, is that while sexuality (our being biologically sexed as male and female) is central to what it means to be human, sexual activity is not. If we want to be fully human, we have to embrace our sexed bodies. But we don’t have to engage in sexual activity to be fully human. The life of the Son of God makes that perfectly clear.

The Incarnation itself, in other words, challenges the “pervasive and powerful cultural myth” of “our hypersexualized contemporary culture,” namely, that “sexual activity is essential to human fulfillment — that you can’t be human without it.”

I quote this particular passage not because it is the end of Wilson’s discussion — the book goes on for five more chapters — but because it is a badly needed example of how doctrine can inform practice. We cannot present a Christian view of human sexuality unless we have examined it through a theological lens. What we believe about Creation, the Fall, Christ, the Resurrection, and eschatology shapes — at least, it should shape — how we think about and practice sexuality.

Mere Sexuality is written for a broad audience, so it can be read profitably by pastors and laity alike. It would make a good text for discussion in book clubs and small groups. I highly recommend it.

 

Book Reviewed
Todd Wilson, Mere Sexuality: Rediscovering the Christian Vision of Sexuality (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017).

P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

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Dr. Todd Wilson | Influence Podcast


In this episode, I talk to Dr. Todd Wilson about the Christian church’s historic consensus about human sexuality, bringing Christian theology to bear on a controversial topic.

Wilson is senior pastor of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois, as well as cofounder and chair of The Center for Pastor Theologians. His newest book is Mere Sexuality: Rediscovering the Christian Vision of Sexuality, which will be published on October 9th by Zondervan

To learn more about Mere Sexuality, visit MereSexuality.com. The website of The Center for Pastor Theologians is PastorTheologians.com.

Friday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Chris Railey writes about two key components of strong ministry marriages: “Setting goals together and making decisions together are two powerful components of any strong marriage. And they will help you become a better leader, too. But all of this presupposes that you are praying for and with your spouse. No amount of counseling, reading, self-help or peer advice can match the power of a praying spouse. Praying together makes setting goals and making decisions together that much easier. But it also sets your hearts on what is most important: your relationship with the Father above.”
  • Phil Steiger reviews The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher: “I believe there is a lot of value for a pastor in The Benedict Option. Dreher forces us to pay attention to some of the significant and seismic changes in culture, but more than that, he produces some tangible suggestions. And I agree with him that we can’t just do business as usual and expect better results.”
  • George O. Wood–aka, “Dad”–talks about one of his favorite pastoral prayers: “Lord, help them to lay foundations that are strong enough to bear the weight You will later place on them.”

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

Review of ‘Faith in the Voting Booth’ by Leith Anderson and Galen Carey


Voting_Booth_350Leith Anderson and Galen Carey, Faith in the Voting Booth: Practical Wisdom for Voting Well (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016).

Today (March 15), voters from Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio cast ballots in the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries. Since I am a Missourian, I performed my civic duty and cast a ballot along with them. Voting is so routine in American life that we Americans often take it for granted. We shouldn’t, however. It is a great privilege and an awesome responsibility.

It also can be hard work. Choosing a candidate or supporting a referendum requires informed decision-making. What principles should guide us? What should our priorities be? Thoughtful citizens try to answer these questions as they enter the voting booth.

Faith in the Voting Booth is a primer on biblical principles and priorities for the thoughtful evangelical voter. Leith Anderson and Galen Carey are, respectively, president and vice president of governmental relations for the National Association of Evangelicals. The NAE is the largest organization of evangelicals in America, whose mission is “to honor God by connecting and representing evangelical Christians.”

Evangelical is “often portrayed as a political identity by the national press,” which Anderson and Carey note is fundamentally wrong. Evangelicalism is first and foremost a spiritual identity. The authors cite with approval historian David Bebbington’s list of “four convictions that identify evangelicals”: (1) conversion—having a “born again experience, (2) action—consisting of evangelism and social action, (3) Bible—Scripture is the top authority, and (4) cross—Jesus died to save people from sin. These four convictions unite evangelicals spiritually across partisan political lines.

Of course, it would be next to impossible for a person’s spiritual identity not to affect their political identity in some way. “The ultimate political statement is ‘Jesus is Lord,” Anderson and Carey point out. But American evangelicals do not always let their core convictions shape their political principles and priorities. For example, Lifeway Research conducted a survey of evangelical opinions on immigration. That study found, in part, that evangelicals were as likely to be influenced on that issue by “The media” as by “The Bible” and “Your local church” combined (slide 16). For people whose core convictions include the Bible’s supreme authority, that’s an alarming statistic.

The core of Faith in the Voting Booth is an examination of hot button issues from a biblically informed perspective. Anderson and Carey cite four broad areas “where most evangelicals agree most of the time.” These are biblical authority, life, religious freedom, and marriage. They then examine eight issues in more depth: poverty, racial and ethnic minorities, marriage and family, immigration, taxes, justice and jails, foreign policy, and environmentalism. The goal is to bring biblical principles and priorities to bear on public policies.

Faith in the Voting Booth is difficult to peg, ideologically. For those looking for a lawyer’s brief for their side of the political aisle, this is not your book. But it’s important to remember that the Bible is not captive to modern ideologies or political parties. It stands outside of them, critiquing them for what they get wrong and affirming what they get right. If we follow the Bible, then, our political principles and priorities won’t be easy to peg as merely partisan ideology. Personally, I found the book refreshing. In a few places, it caused me to reexamine whether my political convictions are as biblically rooted as I think they are. In a few places, I disagreed with it. That kind of critical self-examination is a good habit to develop, it seems to me.

Anderson and Carey close the book by making a case for civility in the public square. Given the taunting, name-calling, and isolated acts of violence that have marred this election cycle, the authors’ plea for civility is especially appropriate. I’ll close with this quotation from the book:

The practice of Christian civility brings the fruit of the Spirit into the public square: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23). We please God, display the love of Jesus, and bless our nation all at the same time.

Amen to that!

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P.S. This review first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com.

P.P.S. Check out my Influence Podcast with Leith Anderson about the book.

P.P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Review of ‘From This Day Forward’ by Craig and Amy Groeschel


From-This-Day-Forward Craig and Amy Groeschel, From This Day Forward: Five Commitments to Fail-Proof Your Marriage (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014). Paperback / Kindle

Marriage is delightful. It is also difficult, however. While the divorce rate may not be the oft-quoted 50 percent, it is still significant.[1] The relevant question, then, for Christians getting married or already wed is this: What can a couple do to make sure their marriage thrives?

Craig and Amy Groeschel offer an answer to this question in their new book, From This Day Forward. Craig is the founding senior pastor of LifeChurch.tv, an innovative multisite church best known for its Bible app, YouVersion. Amy leads LifeChurch.tv’s women’s ministry and homeschools the Groeschel children. Craig wrote most of the book, but Amy adds her unique “angle” at the end of each chapter.

Drawing on the Bible and their own twenty-plus years of marriage, the Groeschels identify five practices that contribute to marital wellbeing:

  1. Seek God.
  2. Fight fair.
  3. Have fun.
  4. Stay pure.
  5. Never give up.

Can marital wellbeing really be that simple? Based on my nearly 10 years of marriage, I would say both yes and no. Or better, I would say that marital wellbeing is easy to analyze but difficult to practice. A couple which strove to put these five practices to work in their marriage would significantly improve both the quality and durability of their union.

From This Day Forward is written in an easy, conversational tone that makes for a quick read. It doesn’t—thankfully!—get bogged down in exegetically driven discussions of gender roles (i.e., male headship, female submission), though it occasionally it reflects gender stereotypes (e.g., men prefer physical intimacy, women prefer emotional intimacy). I would have liked to see more discussion of topics such as finance, childrearing, and traumatic stressors (e.g., illness or death in the family), though the Groeschel’s five practices probably cover those concerns, at least in principle.

Who, then, should read this book? Those about to get married, for sure, and those already married (especially if they’re in their early years together). Zondervan has produced a DVD-based small group curriculum based on the book, making the book and/or the curriculum ideal for use in a church’s engaged couples seminar, small groups, or Sunday school classes.

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

[1] Unfortunately, the Groeschels cite the 50 percent figure throughout the book. For a thorough debunking of and other marriage myths, see Shuanti Feldhahn and Tally Whitehead, The Good News About Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and Divorce (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2014).

Review of ‘The Good News about Marriage’ by Shaunti Feldhahn with Tally Whitehead


The-Good-News-about-Marriage Shaunti Feldhahn with Tally Whitehead, The Good News about Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and Divorce (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2014). Hardcover / Kindle

Marriage survives by hope. If a husband and wife believe that their relationship can get better, chances are that it will. They may have to tread a difficult path for a time, but eventually, the road becomes smoother and they arrive at their destination: a fulfilling life together.

Unfortunately, many of the statistics about marriage and divorce that are prevalent in our culture destroy hope. Fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce, we’re told. For second and third marriages, the divorce rate is even higher: 60 and 73 percent, respectively. Few couples are satisfied with their marriages. Though Christians talk a good game about marriage and family, the reality of divorce and dissatisfaction is the same for them as for everyone else. Finally, making a marriage work requires bigger changes than most couples are willing to make.

The funny thing about these hope-destroying statistics is that they’re wrong, misleading, or both. Instead, as Shaunti Feldhahn and Tally Whitehead argue in their new book, there’s plenty of good news about marriage. Indeed, they identify five specific pieces of good news:

  1. The vast majority of marriages last a lifetime; the current divorce rate has never been close to 50 percent—it is closer to 20 to 25 percent for first-time marriages and 31 percent for all marriages—and has been declining for years (p. 39).
  2. The vast majority of marriages are happy (around 80 percent)! Most people are glad they married their spouse and, given the chance, would do it all over again (p. 61).
  3. The rate of divorce in the church is 25 to 50 percent lower than among those who don’t attend worship services, and those who prioritize their faith and/or pray together are dramatically happier and more connected (p. 86).
  4. The large majority of remarriages last. Among women in second marriages, 65 percent are still married to their spouse, and of those who aren’t, many are widowed rather than divorced (p. 101).
  5. In most cases, having a good marriage or improving a struggling one doesn’t have to be ultra complicated or solve deep, systemic issues; small changes can and do often make a big difference (p. 117).

The authors recognize that getting good statistics about marriage and divorce is not an easy undertaking. Different studies ask different questions. The sample is occasionally not representative. The data sometimes point in different directions. And not all family scholars agree on conclusions.

Nevertheless, Feldhahn and Whitehead make a reasonable case for their conclusions, drawing on the best experts in the field and the best studies. Those wishing to investigate for themselves can read the authorities cited in the footnotes for themselves and draw their own conclusions. My guess is that they’ll come away convinced that Feldhahn and Whitehead are substantially correct.

Who, then, should read this book? Although drawing on social science research, this is not a social science book. Instead, it uses good research to help couples, marriage counselors, and Christian leaders better prepare themselves and others for lasting, fulfilling marriages. This hope-filled approach is helpful, for as the authors say, “‘You can believe in marriage’ can become the new normal” (p. 124).

Let’s hope so!

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

P.P.S. For more good news about marriage, as well as practical advice for making your marriage good, visit http://www.shaunti.com.

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Wednesday, June 15, 2011


This summer, the General Council of the Assemblies of God will vote on a proposal to consolidate the three nationally owned schools in Springfield, Missouri: AG Theological Seminary, Central Bible College, and Evangel University. Dr. George O. Wood, who serves as AG general superintendent (and is my dad) outlines the proposal in the video below:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Consolidation Proposal for Springfield Resident…, posted with vodpod

More information on the proposed consolidation is available here.

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In “Anthony Weiner and the National Adultery Ritual,” Kay Hymowitz writes: “Far from a vestige of American prudery, then, the National Adultery Ritual is best understood as a modern protest in behalf of women against the persistence of male infidelity in an age of equality.” Read the whole thing.

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“Nigeria’s violence political, not religious, says Muslim leader.” If you’re on the wrong end of the stick, does it matter what the stick-wielder’s motivation is?

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Make sure to read Scott Yenor on “The Family’s End” and “The Family: What Is To Be Done?” in which he battles against the notion that marriage is merely a contract between two individuals.

Marriage has contractual moments, but it ultimately, as Hegel writes, supersedes the point of view of contract as the individuals lose their identity by becoming members of the family. A healthy culture recognizes this and laws create a fertile space for such mutual self-giving. It is difficult to see how a healthy marriage culture can exist until we recover the language of self-giving to reflect its continuing reality in our lives. The language of contract is not sufficient to that experience.

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“Demonize the opposition, chapter 666”: about how the media portrays opponents of same-sex marriage, of course.

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“Can Government Get Out of the Marriage Business?” Contra Ron Paul, evidently not.

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“I Am Second.” Inspiring videos from people who have decided to live for God and others rather than for themselves.

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“The Perennial Brain-Mind Gap.” In which Raymond Tallis argues that “neuroscience cannot–not just has not yet, but cannot–explain consciousness itself.”

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“Jesus for Jews”: on the resurgence of Jewish interest in Jesus.

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“Too Late for Apologies: Three Steps the U.S. Bishops Should Take to Prevent Another Sexual Abuse Scandal.” Good advice!

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Don Carson, Tim Keller, and John Piper on pastoral succession plans.

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