So our sexuality series has been something of a victim of my busy fall travel schedule this year, but we pick things up again today with a roundtable discussion meant to help you explore the topic further on your own time. I asked some of my favorite people—from a wide range of perspectives and areas of interest— about their go-to books on gender and sexuality, and here’s how they responded:
I wish everyone would read Singled Out: Why Celibacy Must Be Reinvented in Today's Church (Christine A. Colon & Bonnie E. Field) regardless of marital status and sexual history. We often fail to recognize that sexuality is about more than the physical act of sex. We are all sexual beings. The authors shift the discussion from "how do we remain pure until marriage?" to "what does it mean to be a single Christian apart from the possibility of marriage?".
Celibacy is not simply the absence of sex but a spiritual discipline, by which we learn to place God, sex, and Christian community in the right perspective and understand the value of controlling sexual desires. By properly defining celibacy and chastity, the authors present a healthy and freeing framework for the Christian single and married alike. I'm grateful for their solidarity and insights.
Sexuality and Holy Longing: Embracing Intimacy in a Broken World by Lisa Graham McMinn: There aren’t a lot of good books out there that address the totality of sexuality—what it means to be a sexual person, married or single and how our sexuality affects our relationships with each other and God. One of the things that I love about McMinn’s book is that it takes on everything from menstruation to masturbation while holding a non-judgmental, open space about how God speaks through every part of our sexuality.
Christianity and Eros by Philip Sherrard: This is a slim book of theologically dense essays by an Orthodox theologian. It’s not for someone looking for a casual read, but I’ve found it to be one of the most enlightening and convincing takes on how marriage becomes sacramental through the expression of erotic love over time. You also don’t have to be Orthodox to appreciate and learn from his scholarship.
Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality by Rob Bell: People have strong opinions about Rob Bell, and I get it. His writing style isn’t for everyone, and for some people his theological trajectory isn’t worth following. I get it. That said, don’t let those things keep you from reading Sex God. It’s an accessible look at how our sexuality is a powerful force in our spirituality—every. single. day.
This is Matthew's first "visit" to the blog, and I do hope to have him back! Matthew is the founder and president of The Reformation Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to changing church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity. In March 2012, Matthew delivered a speech at a church in his Kansas hometown, calling for acceptance of gay Christians and their marriage relationships. Since then, the video of the speech has been seen more than 500,000 times on YouTube and has been featured in The New York Times. His book on the topic will be published by Random House. (@vinesmatthew)
1. Bible, Gender, Sexuality by Jim Brownson. Brownson is a New Testament professor at Western Theological Seminary (affiliated with the Reformed Church in America), and he makes the strongest biblical case in favor of same-sex relationships I have yet encountered. He gently but forcefully rebuts the arguments of Robert Gagnon, whose book The Bible and Homosexual Practice is regarded by many non-affirming Christians as the gold standard on this issue. Brownson's conservative approach to Scripture will win over many skeptical readers, and his book should be required reading for anyone who wants to make an informed judgment about the Bible and homosexuality.
2. Roman Homosexuality by Craig Williams. This book does not address Scripture, but it sheds important light on the cultural norms and practices that would have shaped early Christians' understandings of same-sex sexuality. Williams convincingly argues that the modern concept of sexual orientation did not exist for the Romans. Given that the most important passage in Scripture concerning same-sex behavior appears in Romans 1:26-27, this historical study will help readers develop a clearer picture of the world in which Paul wrote his letters.
3. Homoeroticism in the Biblical World by Martti Nissinen. Nissinen's study of ancient Near Eastern attitudes toward same-sex relations offers a necessary backdrop for understanding the Old Testament's references to same-sex behavior. He argues that same-sex relations were condemned primarily because they undermined patriarchal gender roles, meaning that Christians should acknowledge a significant cultural component to biblical passages about same-sex behavior.
1. The Wounded Heart book & workbook (Dan Allendar) - this one has more of a focus on being an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse, so it's specific but very helpful if in it's specificity.
2. Breaking Free: Understanding Sexual Addiction & the Healing Power of Jesus by Russell Willingham (again, it's specific about particular sexual addictions but it's good, solid theology & a very good read).
3. Real Sex by Lauren Winner. I'm guessing you all ready know about this because it's so good. She's just incredible. It's such an interesting take on chastity, purity & all that jazz.
Matthew Lee Anderson
Matthew is the author of The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith and Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith. He blogs at Mere Orthodoxy. (@mattleeanderson)
What two books do I find myself returning to and learning from? On the contentious question of what good news the church has for gay Christians, few books are more sober, plodding, or poignant than Oliver O'Donovan's Church in Crisis. He manages somehow to disappoint nearly every camp, yet proceeds with a patience that is rare. Few works I have read have more clearly stated what's at stake in the debate.
The other that I continue to return to is Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body. Yes, I'm a happy evangelical and so find myself occasionally disagreeing with the author. But those disagreements are always fertile, and I walk away understanding more than I did in advance. It's a big book, yes, but when read slowly it has an astonishing formative effect: it shapes how I see the world without me always realizing how (which is why you should skip the various popularizations of it and just dive in).
Hmmmm, I don't know if I could choose a favorite...but some that are helping me (as I'm reading my way through) are:
What You Really Really Want: the Smart Girl's Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety by Jaclyn Friedman. I believe knowing yourself is the most important part of making sexual decisions, and Friedman offers a rubric/approach that is useful and helpful for beginning that journey, especially if you come from a culture where you've received negative messages about sex.
All About Love, by bell hooks. I'm offering this with a precaution that I've only read a couple chapters, but what I've read, I like. hooks examines and discusses the social mores and conditioning around the concept of love in a way that inspires people to be better within the basic concept of being human.
Now it's time for you to join in. What are your favorite books on gender and sexuality…and why? Which have made the biggest impact on you personally?
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