by Brandon Showalter
No cultural division today is fraught with more confusion, bitterness, and deep pain than the current divide over the nature of marriage and human sexuality. As Rod Dreher noted two years ago in his prophetic essay “Sex After Christianity,” when sex is the subject at hand, the tack that Christians have employed in the public square has been primarily a moralistic one—an approach that has proven to be completely ineffective—and given the rapid increase of the legal enshrinement of the sexual revolution and the proliferating epidemic of heartache, relational dysfunction, and rampant divorce we see everywhere, even in some of our churches, he urges orthodox believers of all Christian traditions to rediscover sexuality in its proper cosmological context. Dreher further contends that we have fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the fight and, to borrow a line from author Phillip Rieff, argues that Christian institutions have “fail[ed] to communicate ideals in ways that remain inwardly compelling” and so much of culture has been lost, especially when it pertains to sex.
Such a moralistic bent has certainly yielded disastrous results, and in light of our Western philosophical reservations about the supernatural and the spiritual realm, phenomena impossible to measure with empirical, scientific experimentalism nor do they fit neatly into the categories in which we typically think, the spirituality of sex has all but evaporated from our understanding and the rebellion against the harsh laundry list of moral do’s and don’ts our parents and churches gave us continues to skyrocket unfettered by even the mildest form of self-restraint. Booty calls are now the norm on college campuses. Hook-ups happen without so much as a thought. Desperately lonely people post on Craigslist their wishes to fool around even with total strangers. Fueled by our penchant for instant gratification and the notion that we human beings have sexual “needs” that must be met no matter what, the consequences have proven severe.
We need to seek greater understanding and revisit the larger Story.
Enter bestselling author Gordon Dalbey (Healing the Masculine Soul) with his latest book, a real game-changer called Pure Sex: The Spirituality of Desire. Written with Solomonic wisdom and a tender heart, Dalbey eloquently grounds sexual desire in its rightful place in the cosmos: the spiritual realm. Although he acknowledges and promotes the historic, moral dimensions orthodox Christianity has held since its earliest days regarding marriage and sexual ethics, he does not hesitate to chide Christians for their religious behavior modification strategies (that never work, by the way) and their “Just Say No” to sexual sin admonitions—which he himself used to espouse at conferences. Nor is Dalbey impressed by the licentious universalism and shameless ‘tolerance’ of modern liberals. Both the theological liberals and religious conservatives have missed it. So what, then, is the Christian view of sex? It is a gift to be received by faith from a loving heavenly Father, and in order to receive this gift we must get to know Him.
Freud got it wrong. Men do not want to crawl back inside their mothers. It is much more profound than that. Dalbey argues that they desire to return to Eden; they have a “holy nostalgia” for Paradise. Sexual intercourse, the union of a man and woman becoming one flesh, is not merely the collision of their bodies brought together by hormones and animalistic impulses, but because of its “spiritual impetus it might well be called the most ‘awe-filled’ experience afforded to human beings.” Like nothing else can, sex points us to the Divine.
In contradistinction to the ancient Near Eastern context in which the biblical writers thought and lived their lives, so much of modern Western thinking takes place in what Dalbey calls a “secular stupor” and the author is quick to remind us that “time in the spirit realm is not subject to our natural limitations.” Therefore, when sexual relationships happen outside of the marriage covenant, the spiritual attachments that form between the two individuals are not dissolved and replaced upon the arrival of a new sexual partner even if separated by many years. Unless those bonds are deliberately cut in the spirit through sincere repentance and deliverance, the past sexual encounters will to one degree or the other govern the current relationship and will do so to its detriment. After all, when one is thinking about past boyfriends or girlfriends while having sex, where is the intimacy? More importantly, for all the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, more nefarious are the spiritually transmitted pathologies exchanged between the hearts of the two people in a sexual union outside of covenant. Whether we are aware of it or not, spirituality is always flowing, and we have not sufficiently realized the enormity of this power.
Yet perhaps most brave is Dalbey’s careful and wise treatment of sexual aberrations and the spiritual forces behind them. With regard to pedophilia, for instance, Dalbey masterfully addresses a touchy subject with great care, speaking thoughtfully to those who have experienced sexual abuse while also examining the gnarly roots of this evil. Pedophilia is a hunger for innocence gone terribly, terribly wrong. And though most people have only blind rage toward pedophiles, the answer is ministering to them not with contempt but with the tenderness required to uncover the “deep childhood wounding and a child-like trust in Jesus to restore innocence by overcoming the effects of sin.”
Unafraid of controversy and punctuated with raw honesty, Gordon Dalbey successfully navigates the complexities of sexual desire with a perfect blend of biblical insight and personal stories. Every man and woman who has been wounded by the destructive ideas the sexual revolution promulgated and now needs wholeness and healing in their relationships and sexuality should buy this book immediately. So should every millennial and youth today who I am sure will find it prescient and helpful insofar as we have never known a culture in which we have not been endlessly bombarded and titillated with sexually charged messages and imagery through our computer screens and digital devices. As one such millennial Christian man who has been grappling with these issues for years and is also very familiar with the battle for sexual purity, I am deeply grateful for Gordon’s work. For anyone else craving a truly fresh, revelatory take on sexual intimacy and desire, Pure Sex is a must-read.
Brandon Showalter is a graduate of Bethel School of Ministry in Redding, California and his favorite thing to do in life is to sing, particularly in old cathedrals. His first album is entitled Song of Psalms EP and includes five original adaptations of selected Psalms was released in 2014. Passionate about discipleship, dynamic intercessory prayer, and raising up people to live in the fullness of their identity in Christ, in recent years Brandon has traversed several continents to minister in a variety of contexts, both inside and outside the local church. He received his BA in International Studies and Spanish in 2007 from Bridgewater College of Virginia and is a fellow of the John Jay Institute for Faith, Society and Law.