Gospel Hope for Lasting Change
Pornography is a cultural epidemic. No one who is in ministry will be able to avoid counseling people who struggle with pornography. Sexual sin is an awkward subject that is frequently avoided because of the shame and discomfort associated with it. There is a desperate need for resources that speak to this subject in a way that draws from the shame-breaking hope of the gospel and points people into biblical community for lasting change. It is for these reasons that I am grateful for Tim Chester’s book Closing the Window.
Early in the book, Chester draws upon this quote from Martin Luther to alert the reader to how vital it is for the church to speak to subjects like pornography.
“If you preach the gospel in all aspects with the exception of the issues that deal specifically with your time, you are not preaching the gospel at all (p. 10).”
Strengths of the Book
There is great deal to like about Closing the Window, so for space considerations I will highlight those in a bulleted format which blends my thoughts with excerpts from the book.
Avoids Stereotypes: I was grateful to see that Chester did not offer a “system of redemption” that would only serve a particular type of person or origin of struggle. While he writes primarily for a male audience, he acknowledges the significant rise in pornography usage among females (p. 9). It is a relief not to have to consider whether the personality of a counselee will match with the envisioned audience of the book.
“In our culture sex is everything and sex is nothing” (p. 120). “One of the things that porn does is to make us think marriage is for sex. But it’s the other way round: sex is for marriage” (p. 125). “So what is sex for? It is, first and foremost, an act of unification, uniting two people into one flesh” (p. 122). “That’s why porn—along with all sex outside of marriage—is a sham, a fiction, a lie. You can no more ‘try out’ sex than you can ‘try out’ birth. The very act produces a new reality that cannot be undone” (p. 123).
Biblical Narrative: What may stand out most to the reader is how seamlessly Chester ties his book with the themes of the gospel. While avoiding the temptation to become too academic or theological, the reader is constantly drawn to understand his/her life as part of God’s great story of redemption. Too often when books are divided into “theological” and “practical” suggestions, an implicit message is sent that “the Bible needs our help to be relevant.” Chester does an excellent job of revealing the Bible to be a powerfully practical mirror.
“Porn is easy. It’s trouble-free and its pleasures are instant. Marriage is hard work. It involves two sinners being thrown together in close proximity!” (p. 127). “Marriage is a gift for service, and sex is gloriously given to cement that partnership. But don’t let sex become the goal of your marriage—otherwise porn may seem like a good supplement” (p. 129).
Undressing Pornography: In chapter one Chester gives twelve points about the effects of pornography that do an excellent job of removing its deceptive appeal. Without diminishing the fact that pornography is wrong, Chester vividly portrays how pornography is dangerous and disgusting. I found his ability to make pornography, which thrives on being appealing, look revolting to be very effective.
“It is not difficult to see how porn feeds off these cultural expectations. It creates a fantasy that perfectly matches each of these fears. If you fear failure, then porn promises success—you always get the woman. If you fear rejection, then porn promises approval—a woman worships you. If you fear powerlessness, then porn promises potency—women are under your power” (p. 50).
Positive: It is easy to hammer a subject like pornography. But I do not believe any reader of Closing the Window will feel beat up as he/she goes through the pages. Chester only highlights the sinfulness of sin to point to necessity and grandeur of Christ. As I read, I was constantly left with the thought, “God is so much better than porn and offers everything porn’s empty promises use to entice.”
“Here are three common reasons why people want to kick their porn habit: (1) to prove ourselves to God – so he will bless us or save us; (2) to prove ourselves to other people – so people like us or approve of us; (3) to prove ourselves to ourselves – so we feel good about ourselves… None of these reasons work, because they put ‘me’ at the center of my change project. And putting myself at the center is pretty much the definition of sin!” (p. 68). “For some people, porn offers redemption, in terms of acceptance and affirmation, an alternative forgiveness. ‘I just want to feel that I’m OK. I turn to porn instead of God because the gospel doesn’t tell me that I’m OK. It tells me I’m a wicked sinner and Jesus died in my place. The gospel demands that I change. Porn says, ‘You’re OK just as you are’” (p. 57).
- Idol-Killing: Chester’s vision for change is not satisfied with habit-breaking. He gives a clear and convincing call to identify and kill (mortify) the idols that motivate the pursuit of pornography. Yet even in this call for deep and decisive change, Chester is honest about the common (universal) human struggle with idolatry, so that the person who comes to Christ in repentance for pornography realizes they come to the same cross as every other recipient of God’s grace.
“But I’ve found that many men can stop habitual masturbation more readily than they imagine. Once they’re persuaded that life without masturbation is better than life with masturbation” (p. 93). “Every time we worship God we’re reminding ourselves that he is bigger and better than anything porn can offer” (p. 99).
Weaknesses of the Book
The primary weakness that I found with Closing the Window is that its section on “how to avoid temptation” comprises a relatively small portion of the book; particularly when compared to other books on the subject. The advice that is given is straight-forward and sound. But it is not as well developed and illustrated as other sections of the book.
Some counselors may wish that Chester had taken time to describe the neurological changes that occur during pornographic stimulation and the addictive quality that these changes can bring. But from what I can tell from reading the book, Chester believed it was sufficient to state that masturbation results in a net gain of sexual appetite rather than providing the release of sexual tension that is commonly pursued. The reader can decide if that is a strength or weakness in Chester’s book.
After reading Closing the Window it has become my new “go to resource” for insight regarding pornography and lust. While there are several other excellent works available – Joshua Harris’ Sex Is Not the Problem Lust Is (which I still prefer for youth) and Tim Challies Sexual Detox to name the next two on my list – I found Chester’s book to show an extensive knowledge of the subject matter (while remaining PG) and knitting the entire conversation into the fabric of the gospel in a way that is superb. I find that the primary weakness can be overcome with the kind of practical conversations people want from counseling and that if people are faithful to read his book, they are ripe for instruction when their appointment comes.