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.