So I recently finished reading Rob Bell's new book Sex God
and I have mixed feelings about it. I'm not a fan of his "write-like-I-talk" style (although I love his preaching, he is in fact the only person I can stand to listen to recorded), but that's a hurdle I dealt with with Velvet Elvis
. I'm not going to give a complete summary or review of the book here, I'll join everyone and direct you to Ben Witherington
for that. I liked this book, but at the same time it disappointed me. For all of its expanding the boxes of how evangelical Christians usually approach the sex topic, it still avoided the complexities of the big picture.
I began reading this book full of uncertainty and caution. Why? Because most Christian books on sex leave me nauseated. They dwell in the realm of stereotypes and promote repression for the sake of repression. They hold the complexities of sex hostage to the anti-homosexual agenda - leaving us with a seriously problematic "sex is only for procreation" answer. They talk as if physicality is a taboo thing to be ashamed of and that it must be translated into spiritual terms in order to be baptized as appropriate for Christians to discuss or engage in. So I must say that compared to most of those sort of books, Sex God
is a refreshing alternative.
I liked how the book addresses the heresy of dualism. We are not separate in body and soul, but integrated in all ways. As Rob puts it, we are neither animals or angels. Too often the message gets sent in Christian circles that to avoid all of the horrible evils of physicality one must deny that one is a sexual being and pretend to be an angel. Much has been written on how badly this messes up people's (mainly women's) experience and conception of sex down the road, but it's still the message that gets taught (especially to youth groups). So the affirmation of body and soul needs to be made - a lot. We need to affirm that sex is good but that we aren't slaves to our physicality. We also need to affirm that sex is about deeper intimacy and connection. What I didn't like about his treatment of this typical dichotomy is his assumption that people who have sex outside of the intimacy of marriage do so because they are just animals. Yes, some sex is just sex for the sheer physical pleasure of sex, but its a tad naive to label it all that way. Just because people may not have gone through a ceremony does not mean that their lives, relationships, and sex are devoid of intimacy and connection. Bell's quick division of good vs. bad sex (in the moral sense, of course) is too simplistic for me.
I liked the discussions of unconditional love and how love is the giving up of control and the need to manipulate the other. This was a great introduction to that concept, although I preferred Peter Rollins treatment of the same in How (not) to Speak of God
. Those concepts go beyond marriage relationships to all relationships involving love. I am reminded of the themes proposed by unconditional parenting advocates that encourage parents to stop manipulating their children (through rewards, punishment, praise and disappointment) to get them to do what the parents want or as conditions for the parents showing love to them. I also liked Bell's discussion on sacrifice and submission. I think that particular discussion is bigger than he made it out to be, but he gave some much needed correction to traditional pop interpretations of those ideas.
What I didn't like the most was the limiting of sex to one purpose. I have always been disappointed with theories that limit sex to being just for procreation or just for pleasure. According to Sex God
, sex is just for connecting. Connecting intimately with one's spouse and connecting with God (and of course there will be no sex in the world to come because we will all already by intimately connected). This imho, fails back into the trap of dichotomizing body and soul. All it really does is disparage the body as being less important that the soul - because connection happens on the spiritual level. And it ignores other purposes for sex - like procreation and pleasure. I know Bell is trying to make a much needed point about connection, but he does so at the expense of the big picture.
On the whole, Sex God
is a good read. It includes many great stories to illustrate the concepts of intimacy and connection (and no, not those
sort of stories...). I appreciated the exploration of what goes into a healthy relationship. It is a simple, straightforward book that addresses the issue in refreshing ways. I just wished it had admitted the complexities and the nuances of sexuality and been willing to expand its scope.
Labels: Book Reviews, Theology