Book Club Channel
Discovering Sexual Wholeness: An Interview with T.C. Ryan
Editor's Note: This month at the Patheos Book Club, we're featuring the new book Ashamed No More: A Pastor's Journey Through Sexual Addiction, by T.C. Ryan. We invited Tim Keel, a senior pastor at Jacob's Well, to interview Ryan—pastor to pastor—about his book and the larger issue of sexuality and the Gospel.
We live in a sexually-saturated culture, Tom. What does that say about us as human beings? What are some of the implications of that for people who want to live lives of sexual integrity?
I think the level of sex-saturation we are experiencing in our culture today indicates a couple of things. Certainly it speaks to the power of human sexuality as a dynamic of imagination and appetite. Sex can deliver great emotional and physical feelings and we are master consumers of gratification. But it also speaks to interest and intrigue and connection. At heart we are relational beings. Even when we isolate from others as a primary coping strategy or isolate because we are hurt and dislocated from healthy connection we still live in reaction to those experiences. At heart, we know we want or need to connect with others, and sexuality is integral to connection.
So anyone wanting to live a life of healthy self-integration where their sexuality is concerned will have to cultivate a healthy understanding of how they see themselves as a sexual person, what responsible expression of their sexuality looks like for them, and how to navigate cultural prods that are at least distracting and possibly capable of compelling them to explore thoughts and behaviors which may be counter to their own best self-interests.
It seems so easy to focus on sexual behavior, especially when it goes wrong and gets misused. How do you understand the spiritual aspects of our sexuality? How does our sexuality intersect with our humanity?
Well, I think you're exactly right that it's easy to focus on sexuality in the context of exploitation or brokenness. When we do that we run the risk of altogether missing the main points of healthy human living. At the heart of it, the struggle of compulsive sexual behavior is an intimacy disorder, a disorder of thought. Our sexual behavior is rooted in how we think, what we think, how we see ourselves and how we perceive the world around us.
The nature of being spiritual people is that we're wired to connect: with our Creator, with ourselves, with those around us, with the world in which we live. And in that connecting we normally and naturally attach. Healthy attachments allow us to give and to receive in self-respectful and other-respectful ways. Unhealthy attachments rob us of healthy give-and-take, and we are left with imbalanced exchanges. Unhealthy attachments are what lead to problematic sexual behaviors. So the development or recovery of healthy, appropriate sexual behavior requires a rigorous examination and reset of deeply held core beliefs, perceptions, and assumptions. That is what it means to be a healthy human being and it is intensely spiritual.
What is your vision for sexual wholeness? In what ways does or can our sexual identity reflect the Gospel?
Tim Keel is the Senior Pastor and primary teaching pastor at Jacob's Well and a member of its leadership team. After spending eleven years as the founding pastor of Jacob's Well, Tim and his family moved to Auckland, New Zealand, where he was the Senior Fellow for Congregational Studies at Laidlaw College. He has recently returned to Jacob's Well and is excited to once more be a part of the Jacob's Well community.
Keel is the author of Intuitive Leadership: Embracing a Paradigm of Metaphor, Narrative, and Chaos (Baker, 2007) and a forthcoming volume on Ecclesiastes in the Resonate Bible Commentary series from Intervarsity Press.