“Sexual sanity.” Isn’t that exactly what we need?
No one should need convincing that, here in North America, we live in a culture that has gone insane over sex. Our day is characterized by so much confusion, so much heart-ache, so much access and addiction to unholy and unhealthy choices—Internet pornography, fornication, same-sex attraction, adultery, sexual fantasy, masturbation.
Men are in the thick of this battle, and often losing. Men are isolated, pinned down under heavy crossfire, and do not know where to turn.
David White of Harvest USA has done something about this problem by writing Sexual Sanity for Men: Re-creating Your Mind in a Crazy Culture. This book is imaginatively designed as a men’s small group resource with (amazingly!) seventy chapters. Fourteen weeks of five-day chapters are divided up into four major sections. For each day there is a substantial reading and three to four applications questions to generate discussion.
The topic is sexual brokenness, the goal is holy sexuality, and the author offers gospel-centered hope.
Difficult But Do-Able
White has no illusions about how easy it is to win against sexual temptation. The first three weeks (fifteen chapters) focus on how difficult, dominating, barren, and shame-filled life can be in “the wasteland” of sexual sin. And he warns men to not fool themselves into thinking that they can hide their struggles forever:
So many men who come to see me describe themselves as good Christian husbands, fathers, and leaders in the church, with just this “one little problem” back in the dark corner of their soul. According to Jesus, the dark, little secret says more about who we truly are than any other aspect of our lives. This passage [Mattthew 6:1-18] should sober any of us who think that our outward ministry is more important than our inner thoughts and secret behavior. Jesus makes it clear that our private behaviors reveal who we truly are, and that God will reward us accordingly. Further, our commitment to hide that truth behind the fig leaf of Christian service stands as an additional indictment against us (p. 166).
For those Christ-followers, however, who come into the light and who begin to fight, there is victory to experience. Helpfully, White presents himself, not just as a guide but, as a fellow-traveler on this road. He shares glimpses of his own story as both a sinner and a sufferer which lends credibility and encouragement to his message.
The chief strength of Sexual Sanity for Men is how the author applies high-octane, gospel-centered theology to the tortuous problem of sexual temptation. He correlates sexual sin with the biblical theme of idolatry:
We lust because we catch a glimpse of God’s beauty in his creation, and then settle for worshipping that dim reflection instead of the real thing (p. 128).
Our sexual sin reveals our yearning to be God, to create a world in which we are at the center and everything revolves around our satisfaction, our glory. In stark contrast, Jesus is God! He is the only human who could ever truly make that claim, although every other person in the history of the world has lived as if it were true of him or her (p. 76).
If idolatry is our problem, then the gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer. But the gospel that White unpacks over four weeks (20 chapters) is not a truncated gospel that has been reduced to ethereal “how to get to heaven” spiritual truths. Instead, White explores theological themes that we aren’t used to hearing about in connection with this problem including exile, inaugurated eschatology, and lordship.
White’s gospel presentation centers on the kingship of Jesus Christ. Jesus is not just an otherworldly savior but a king who is our deliverer. His kingship is powerful and what can truly save us from our sins. “He did not go to the cross only to deliver us from the literal hell awaiting the enemies of God; he also saves us from the hell we create for ourselves and those we love through our sinful behavior” (p. 87).
White is careful, as he emphasizes the majestic lordship of Christ over a weak, namby-pamby version of Jesus, to not fall into the ditch on the other side by portraying Jesus as a testosterone-pumped caricature of a “manly man.” And in this carefulness, he paints a picture of true godly masculinity for all of us:
Jesus doesn’t call men to become a bunch of sissies, but to a strength that’s radically different than they had before conversion. This strength doesn’t win barroom brawls, but it faces and conquers the evil and injustice in the world often through crushing self-sacrifice. This is real strength. This is what it means to be a godly, mighty man (p. 84).
A New Brotherhood
White also makes much of the theological theme of redemptive community. He doesn’t just tip the nod to the need for accountability; he lays out a theology of true brotherhood over three weeks (15 chapters). He uses pungent metaphors to show us our need for each other:
It’s like we all have spiritual bad breath. There are things about us that reek, but unless someone else addresses the situation, we live in ignorance. We need brothers and sisters in our lives who will give us the spiritual equivalent of a breath mint and let us know when things are so bad that we need to go to the dentist (p. 156).
You are completely blind to areas of sin in your life that they see plainly. Don’t be deceived that because you’re successfully hiding certain behaviors, therefore you’re so much smarter than everyone else and have them fooled. Others see sin that you can’t see, and although they may not be aware of all your behaviors, they know something’s very wrong (p. 156).
You can’t walk away from this book believing that community is optional for Christian men.
As the title indicates, this is truly a book for men. White pulls no punches and speaks directly to men in a style that is designed to get and keep their attention. At times, this means that White will employ what I might call “salty language.” He is never crude, but he isn’t worried about saying things with gentility, either. I wouldn’t advise my wife to read it. Sexual Sanity for Men is not a book for ladies. This is actually a strength of the book for modern male readers who are used to sexual frankness, but it’s helpful to know what to expect up front.
While high-octane theology is the core strength of this book, it also might be its chief weakness. I think Sexual Sanity for Men could have been improved by including more practicality. The author anticipates this concern:
Are you becoming frustrated with all the focus on theology here? You want practical answers—the how-to’s that will enable you to have victory over sexual sin. But our theology matters, because what we believe dramatically impacts how we live. Although developing new habits and holy responses to life in a fallen world are vitally important, ultimately our victory is not found in handy strategies. What we believe, and knowing how to apply our beliefs, determines whether we’ll overcome our struggle with sin (p. 96).
I fully agree with that approach (amen to good theology!), but I would have liked to see more practical steps, as well, fleshing out what this theology actually looks like at a street level.
Along with that, there are surprisingly few illustrative stories. The author is a master at crafting analogies that connect things we know about to things we need to know about. But he doesn’t tell as many stories of men that illustrate the principles of which he is teaching, leaving some of the chapters feeling somewhat “faceless.”
Our King Will Deliver Us
I’m glad that I read Sexual Sanity for Men and hope to use it with small groups of men in our church. Men need high-octane theology, and they need hope that King Jesus will help His men deal with their problem:
Does it feel like your struggle with sexual sin is bigger than you can possibly handle on your own? Good—then maybe you’re finally desperate enough to lay hold of Jesus as you never have before! (p. 110).
We are not left to accomplish this on our own. Jesus pours out his Spirit on us, enabling us to obey. The same Spirit that empowered Samson to slay a thousand men with a donkey’s jawbone gives us spiritual power over sin. Actually, in Jesus we have even greater power than Samson, who remained a slave to his sexual desires. Because the Spirit has been poured out, we have the hope of walking in obedience. God brings about in us, through his Spirit, what is impossible on our own. He knows the desperate straits we are in and promises to give us what we need (p. 93-94).
Sexual Sanity for Men is a useful tool for helping men to grow in sexual sanctification. Highly recommended.