Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Keep Pluckin' that String: A Piper Book Review (part 2)

Today I'll tackle part two of my review of Sex And The Supremacy Of Christ, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor. Read part one here. In part one I tried to explain that SSC is far more than a book about overcoming sexual sin. It's about recognizing and responding to the lordship of Christ, which inevitably results in progressive sanctification of the whole person, even the most powerful domains of the flesh. In part two, I'll try to summarize the themes of SSC and analyze the strengths. There will be a part three, but it will focus on one chapter of this book and transition into some other discussions about related issues that have been discussed outside SSC.

In the interests of full disclosure, I'm getting the book for free in exchange for blogging a review (no stipulations on content, of course). If you needed another reason to blog for yourself, the growing trend of getting free books in exchange for reviews is a pretty good one.

SSC ranges from perceptively philosophical to incisively devotional to carefully theological to intensely practical. It will challenge your lifestyle, but you expected that. Its greater value is that it challenges how the Church thinks about sexuality. For example, SSC refines the common teaching about sexual purity that focuses almost exclusively on the wedding day. So much of our "church talk" about purity is "Wait until you're married," almost as if virginity is the one and only arbiter of purity. But what about mental purity before and after? If we can believe statistics, we're losing that battle, and I believe it has a lot to do with the fact that we try to control behavior without making the case for the joy in Christ that is far superior to the pleasure of indulging our lusts. Teaching that "misuses of our sexuality distort the true knowledge of Christ" gives us the fuel to overcome desires by reminding us that indulging lust is not just a sin. It is an exchange of the greatest pleasure for a lesser one. Strategies to modify behavior aren't enough. Accountability only treats the symptoms, and it is motivation by shame, not grace. "The Bible is always about behavior, but it is never only about behavior," David Powlison writes. "God's indictment of human nature always gets below the surface, into the 'heart.' "

The central theme is that "all misuses of our sexuality derive from not having the true knowledge of Christ, but the true knowledge of Christ serves to prevent sexual corruption." Neither here nor elsewhere in the book do the authors refer to 2 Corinthians 5:14, but that passage describing the power of Christ's love leapt immediately to my mind. The lesson is that we need to recognize that the highest satisfaction available to us is found by seeking our sole satisfaction in the righteousness Christ provides. As Piper writes, "Little souls make little lusts have great power. The soul, as it were, expands to encompass the magnitude of its pleasure."

Even Mohler's chapter on homosexual marriage speaks to the Church in far broader ways than merely how to respond to this narrow issue. He challenges the Church to take more seriously its responsibility to the authority of Scripture, the solemnity of marriage, theological clarity, and unconditional love. His argument is that before we have any moral ground to address homosexual marriage, we must rebuild our foundations in these matter. Reading between the lines, I was struck by the implications for the SBC and other conservative denominations or fellowships. Homosexual marriage has been the straw on the camel's back that has stirred many a congregation and denomination to life, and that is unfortunate. The "yuck factor" has aroused our righteous passions more than zeal for God and His Word has in a long, long time.

Powlison's chapter on restoration is an unadulterated theology of progressive sanctification. He says, "This chapter is about making new, about the long restoring of joys to the broken and dirtied. In other words, it's about the process of change. It's about moving along a trajectory away from the dark and toward the light. It's about knowing where you're heading while you're still somewhere in the middle." He cites Luther, who wrote:
This life, therefore,
is not righteousness but growth in righteousness,
not health but healing,
not being but becoming,
not rest but exercise.
We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it.
The process is not yet finished, but it is going on.
This is not the end but it is the road.
All does not yet gleam in glory but all is being purified.
The battle is in the mind. "Remembering is the first change," Powlison says.

The next four chapters apply these principles of progressive sanctification to specific groups—single men, married men, single women, and married women. The authors of these chapters address the common battlefields of lust for these groups and the sinful patterns of thinking at the root of the problems. Part three of my review will delve into one of these chapters in detail and into another for comparison.

The final two chapters on Luther and the Puritans' views of sex are perhaps the most interesting chapters for their historical color. Although my initial impression was that these chapters were less directly connected to my sanctification, the understanding of their perspectives will help those like me who are rooted in a modern American mindset to be less myopic about our experience. Plus, these two chapters are chock full of earthy Luther, pithy Edwards, and incisive Baxter, and what Puritan-at-heart (as I sense I may be becoming) can't appreciate a healthy dose of that?

If you want some homework to prepare for part three, listen to this Leadership Interview conducted by Mark Dever with Al Mohler, Scott Croft, and Josh Harris. All but Harris are co-authors of SSC. Harris is pretty well-known for some book about kissing.

1 comment:

Chick Daniels said...

When I read the Powlison quote, "The Bible is always about behavior, but it is never only about behavior," I immediately thought of David vs. Saul. From a shallow behavioral perspective, you look at Saul, and see a man that disobeyed by just saving some sheep and spoils of war. On the other hand, David committed adultery, deception and murder. God removed Saul, and promised David an everlasting kingdom. What was the difference? Saul just wanted to do a sacrifice and expected things would be fine, while David was genuinely broken and knew that more was at stake than just his behavior.