When I got an email asking me to read and review Bromleigh McCleneghan’s Good Christian Sex, I was skeptical. As long-time readers of this blog know, I have read a lot of Christian books about sex.
I have not, however, read a lot of good Christian books about sex.
Even books herald as alternatives to Joshua Harris and the like–books described as “not like that“–I have found lacking. Progressive evangelicals in the blogging world are often quick to say that they do not believe in purity culture, but come to many of the same conclusion: Sex can only be holy in the context of a monogamous marriage.
I was expecting Good Christian Sex to be more of the same.
It was fun to read this book and find that I was very wrong.
In addition to my experience in the Progressive Christian blogging world, I’ve also encountered various sexual ethics in liberal mainline churches, and in seminary readings. As McCleneghan points out in her book, many mainline churches take a “none of my business” approach. What happens in others’ bedrooms stays in their bedrooms. In a liberal seminary, one might encounter queer or feminist theology that affirms all sorts of sexual expression . . . in a book that costs $150 and assumes all of its readers are PhD students.
There are a variety of Christian opinions about sex. But we either aren’t talking about it, or we aren’t talking about it in a way that’s accessible to most people. So many assume that there is one “right” way, assume that sex outside of marriage is always ultimately sinful and harmful (even if it’s not the damaging, devastating event “purity culture” makes it out to be).
Rather than simply being an apologist, McCleneghan is a theologian. Not only does she challenge abstinence-only assumptions, but she ties them deeply to her faith using theology from Augustine to John Wesley to Dale Martin (author of Sex and the Single Savior). She interprets complex theological ideas in ways that are accessible and fresh. I even found myself finally understanding some of the confusing material I’ve read in seminary as I read this little book about sex (which helped me justify the fact that I put off a lot of seminary homework to read this!) .
She draws theology away from the ivory tower of academia, and weaves it into our everyday sexual lives, arguing that everything from marriage, to self-stimulation, to high school make-out sessions, to one-night stands has the potential to holy and filled with grace.
In short, I loved this book. I’m slightly embarrassed that I made so many negative assumptions, and I am excited about how wrong I was. This is a book I’ve been looking for and waiting for–affirming, accessible, intellectually stimulating. Even as someone who’s been doing similar work for years, I gained some new perspectives. I plan on using this book in my own ministry, and would recommend it to anyone interested in understanding more deeply the way our faith intersects with our sex lives.