Review of Jonathan Grant’s ‘Divine Sex’

My review of Jonathan Grant’s new book, Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age, has just been posted over on The Gospel Coalition website.

Divine Sex divides into two halves: the first mapping the “modern sexual imaginary,” the second articulating a new vision for Christian formation. The modern sexual self, Grant argues, exists in a culture of authenticity and expressive individualism, with intimate personal relationship being “the place where we can most fully express and actualize ourselves” (30–31). When the culture has been shorn of transcendence, meaning and personal identity are sought in romantic fulfillment and the “authentic” expression of our sexual selves.

Grant insists that “attending to people’s sexual and relational lives is a critical part of [the] journey of discipleship because we are connectional beings” (25). Our relationships and sexual identities color much of our experience and understanding of faith, as we wrestle with God through singleness, marriage, childlessness, or against the backdrop of our sexuality. Our selves are powerfully implicated in our sexuality, and churches that fail to address people at this point fail properly to disciple them.

The modern sexual self is trapped in a series of dilemmas, caught between the desire for authentic intimacy and radical individualism’s quest for autonomy, between the fantasy of romance and the fatalism of realism. Our autonomous individualism denies we have “moral claims on each other’s lives, especially our sexual lives” (54), treating them as a purely private matter. We vacillate between contrasting individualistic visions of freedom represented by utilitarianism’s rational control, expressivism’s following of its heart, and postmodernism’s listless liberty. We value open options, but lack the capacity of wholehearted commitment, succumbing to “the easy rush of pornography, consumerism, uncommitted relationships, the next big experience, and so on” (59). Our false vision of freedom poorly equips us for the challenge of marriage, on account of our resistance to binding ties: we want the gift of marriage, but won’t accept its crisis.

Read the whole review here. I also highly recommend that you buy the book.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Christian Experience, Controversies, Culture, Ethics, Guest Post, My Reading, Reviews, Sex and Sexuality, Society, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Review of Jonathan Grant’s ‘Divine Sex’

  1. Cal says:

    You are absolutely right that the practical implementation, or examples, are so sparse. It caused me to groan. If you’ve read Jamie Smith or Charles Taylor, and have a general sense of the problems in Western sexuality, the book isn’t worth buying (much to my disappointment!). However, this is a great window into seeing teaching and thinking through the lens of the “social imaginary”. What better way than sex, no? Johnnie Grant is a stellar writer.

    I guess there will be another 3-5 years of books on the “social imagination” and recapitulations of the general theoretics and framework. The real work to do will be in thinking through what this actually means. I think William Cavanaugh is the only one, so far, who has begun to do this, and only because he is a serious Catholic (Taylor doesn’t count). I wonder what this framework will do in terms of low liturgical traditions. Can Dutch-American Reformed really survive this kind of approach? Maybe it’s for the best that they die and experience a kind of resurrection in a “charismatic” insider like Jamie Smith.

    It may be no wonder why the two rapidly expanding groups in the Global South are both high-liturgy (Roman Catholics, Anglicans) and charismatics. These are not exclusive of each-other. It will be interesting how this approach might connect to the East. I’m curious to see future work by Simon Chan.

    cal

  2. evan773 says:

    Would you mind saying a bit more concerning the book’s thesis. It seems like he’s long on criticism of “secular” approaches to sexuality, but doesn’t appear to give too many specifics about what a Christian sexual ethic would look like.

    I’m generally persuaded by the work of Steven Holmes. His recent ETS paper, published on his blog, hits the nail on the head, as does his older “Queer Hippo” piece. Given how messed up evangelical thinking about sex and marriage is, I’m a bit skeptical of a book that doesn’t begin its judgment with the household of God. Critiquing the evangelicals’ Freudian fetish could fill up a book in itself.

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