Good Christian Sex

Posted by Jared Byas on September 27, 2016 in book notes and reviews Jared Byas 13 Comments

by Jared Byas

My wife was very curious when she glanced over at my nightstand a few weeks ago to see Good Christian Sex across the spine of a book I’d recently been sent to review. That was some interesting conversation for sure. But as someone who used to teach Ethics at a Christian university, I too was curious when we were first approached about being part of a blog tour for the book. I was especially intrigued by the subtitle:

coverGOOD CHRISTIAN SEX
Why Chastity Isn’t the Only Option — And Other Things the Bible Says About Sex
by Bromliegh McCleneghan

I was hopeful that the book would take a fresh and popular look at sexual ethics from a Christian point of view and it does. It’s a whimsical and largely anecdotal look at sexual ethics from a mainline Protestant point of view. As such, it was a fun read and an interesting perspective that I appreciated learning about.

Her ability to normalize everyday experiences of Christian teenagers and twentysomethings is commendable. I also deeply appreciated hearing from female theologians and McCleneghan’s awareness (and often de-centering herself) as someone who is cis-gendered and heterosexual. For all these reasons, I hope many read the book.

My challenge for the book comes in that “Other things the Bible says about sex” part.

I am well aware that I am likely not the primary audience for this book. That’s an important thing to remember. But for me, I was hoping for a creative look at the biblical text based on the subtitle. If the book was setup as a “theological look” or a “personal look” at Christian sexual ethics, it’s a homerun. But as I reflect now, I learned a lot more about what Gudorf and Farley say about sex than I did about what the Bible says about sex.

Don’t get me wrong, the Bible is brought in quite a bit. It’s just that when it’s mentioned, it’s largely verses about larger ethical themes like love and justice that seem to be there to prop-up the already in progress argument and less about “things the Bible says about sex.” There was no hermeneutical bridge to help people who interpret the Bible more “literally” understand where she was coming from with how she treated the text. And because of that, most of her “arguments” fell a little flat. But again, maybe trying to convince people that the Bible says something other than what they were assuming it says, wasn’t the point. But then, why the subtitle? Am I being too analytical? Probably.

For example, on page 144, she says, “I’ve always wondered what to do with the apostle Paul’s condemnation of “fornication” in that letter to the church at Corinth (6:18 in particular) . . . Fornication is traditionally seen as extramarital sex. But that seems both overly broad and overly narrow . . . “Sexual immorality” is similary all-inclusive, and unhelpfully vague. What makes something immoral?”

Great setup. But at no point in the rest of the chapter is the Bible quoted and only once (8 pages later) is it even mentioned. Trying to bring the Bible into it feels forced and awkward.

All that to say, if we are looking at the primarily arguments of the book, my mainline Protestant brothers and sisters will hopefully find it a fun and interesting book that will likely give voice to many of the things they were already feeling about sex and the Bible. And my Evangelical brothers and sisters will find it largely unconvincing. But here’s to more conversations about Christianity and sex. And here’s to McCleneghan for having the courage to be part of that conversation and open up about her own journey to do it.

13 Comments

  • Why has it taken DECADES since the sexual revolution for the mainline church to summon a way to write about sex while engaging scripture? Either we produce Mary Daly -speak, “When the hetero-normative justice-other paradigm breaks, we find less of what Foucault calls. . . ” which you can’t hand to anyone actually wondering about the topic in their own lives, or we say nothing at all. I guess we’re still waiting. . .

  • Interesting post Pete. I think there is a lot that could be said for sexuality in our modern age. People now are marrying in their mid-to-late 20’s or later. And it doesn’t exactly seem advisable to roll it back earlier. When young adults are still figuring out who they are and how they intend to live their lives.

    So the standard “Christian” guidance to stay in a celibate holding pattern until such time collides with a healthy sexual physiology that never expected such an extended wait post puberty. It seems our norms are being shaped such that waiting until one is in a committed relationship open to marriage is a healthy and safe place to express one’s romantic love with another sexually. I agree I don’t think you’ll find much in the way of biblical support for it. But I also think it’s a hell of a lot healthier and far less repressive and needlessly shame inducing than the guidance coming from the traditionalist expressions of Christian faith so far. That frankly many pretend to follow but in their private lives really don’t anyway.

    • What I want to understand is why people are marrying later. Is it because parents aren’t preparing their children for adulthood? Teaching them practical skills like managing money and taking care of a home? I don’t think it’s necessarily reflective of a more responsible way of thinking that everyone waits so long. Seems like immaturity to me.

  • I read the 1 star amazon reviews. I guess what she believes is opposite of the bible. I am all about saved by grace, but to approve of sex outside of marriage seems like it could verge on heresy and potentially ruin lives and jeopardize salvation.

    • Strange that no one seems to say the same for people who downplay charitable obligations and justify personal pursuit of a life of wealth and luxury.

    • “I read the 1 star amazon reviews. I guess what she believes is opposite of the bible.”

      Do you judge all books by reading the 1 star reviews on Amazon?

  • It sounds like a book that raises more questions than answers. I wonder if any other books that really engage with interpreting the Bible also take this line? With some evangelicals rethinking so many issues today sex is proving to be one of the most controversial ones at least when it comes to gay issues. But what about sex in general? Is anyone else tackling what the Bible really says about this in a way that will challenge evangelical thinking?

    Are their any books that in a nutshell for ordinary people tell us what Bible scholars think? It’s always struck me that “sexual immorality” is a vague term. We need someone to investigate the word a bit more. What’s the place of the Old Testament Law written to a primitive patriarchal nation? Just what Biblical principles apply and how do we interpret them today? This all needs some good old hermeneutics and exegesis! Any recommendations?

  • I’m glad this conversation is happening. In the church I grew up in, I think what was taught about sex was incredibly overly rigid. I’ll be interested to see how this conversation ebbs and flows over the next 20 years (basically as my children grow to adulthood).

  • Well said here: “And here’s to McCleneghan for having the courage to be part of that conversation and open up about her own journey to do it.” Nothing polarizing or excessively critical and yet a critique is offered.

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