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.

Black and White Morality in a Gray Culture (Ephesians 5.15–21)


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SCRIPTURE READING

Ephesians 5.15–21

DEVOTIONAL THOUGHT

The Bible portrays morality in black and white, but our culture sees morality in shades of gray.

Take sex, for example. In the Bible, sex outside of marriage is immoral (Hebrews 13.4). But in our culture, it is routine, even among Christians. We know what the Bible teaches, but we prefer to ignore its teaching and/or generate rationalizations for our disobedience. (Someone has said that to rationalize means to offer “rational lies.” How true!)

Or take anger. Jesus clearly teaches that anger is a form of murder deserving judgment and that it should be replaced by reconciliation (Matthew 5.21–26). But how many of us offer rationalizations for our anger, insults, and mean-spirited actions? Too many, I fear.

Or finally, take alcohol. Paul writes: “do not get drunk with wine” (Ephesians 5.18). And yet, how many of us turn to drink at the end of a long, hard day at the office? (Or to drugs, legal or illegal, or to some other substance or activity?) We offer reasons: “I need to steady my nerves,” “I need to forget my troubles,” “I need a little pick-me-up.” But those reasons quickly become rationalizations for excess and addiction.

We human beings are excuse-making factories, you see. Rational lies pour out of our brains like water rushing through a broken levee. To plug the hole, we need to constantly remind ourselves of the Bible’s simple (though never simplistic) moral teaching. Consider Ephesians 5.15–21:

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Paul teaches us three things in this passage:

  1. The Christian life requires a choice between black and white. Notice the polarity in his words. He starkly contrasts being “wise” and “unwise” (or “foolish”). He offers a clear alternative between being “drunk with wine” or “filled with the Spirit.”
  2. The Christian life replaces bad with good. Following Christ entails being against certain actions, behaviors, and forms of speech. But Christians are also in favor of other actions, behaviors, and forms of speech. It is not enough to stand against sin, in other words. We must walk in Christ’s stead.
  3. The Christian life results in positive regard for God and others. What does it mean to be “filled with the Spirit”? Paul answers with four verbs: addressing, singing, giving thanks, and submitting. Through our words, attitudes, and actions, we are supposed to love God wholeheartedly and our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22.37–40).

How much better would our lives be if we lived according to these simple principles?