Review: Good Christian Sex by Bromleigh McCleneghan
Whenever I ask teens what they want to talk about in my youth ministry, they respond with enthusiasm, “SEX!”
As a youth pastor, I've lost track of how many times I've taught on sex or done a Valentine's Day sex series in my high school youth ministry. Because of the frequency with which this subject comes up in my ministry, I'm constantly looking for resources that will shed new light on this topic. Good Christian Sex by Bromleigh McCleneghan is one such book.
Part memoir, part a theological exploration of sex, Good Christian Sex is written with a rare vulnerability that makes it highly engaging and extremely readable. Bromleigh tackles this subject with an openness rarely found in Christian treatises on the subject, humbly sharing some of her own experiences as well as what she's learned from them. As she does, she explores what Scripture says, as well as what other Christian scholars have concluded. In Good Christian Sex, Bromleigh examines everything from how pleasure is a good gift from God to the ethics of good sex to singleness and a theology of fidelity. The result is a book that is much richer and more complex than those that advocate an abstinence-only approach (which is exactly why many evangelicals will find this book problematic.)
One of the strongest chapters in Good Christian Sex is Singleness, Sex, and Waiting: Theology for the Search. There are few Christian books on sex that address singleness in a way that humanizes and affirms those who are, in fact, single. There are fewer still that address singleness and sex. Bromleigh does so in a way that is both God-honoring and dignifying. According to her, “American Christians sometimes conflate celibacy and chastity, too, which is a problem. Chastity is a virtue, related to temperance – it's about moderating our indulgences and exercising restraint. We're all called to exercise chastity in a variety of ways.”
Another one of my favorite chapters in Good Christian Sex is Playing Fair: The Ethics of Good Sex. I love Bromleigh's approach to sexual sin in this chapter. “Sexual sin is less about particular acts or the way they're carried out than the way partners treat each other; sexual sin is about a lack of mutuality, reciprocity, and love.” According to her, “the same rules apply in the bedroom as anywhere else: love God, love your neighbor as yourself.” This chapter, combined with the one on singleness, will make this book an excellent one to discuss with college students or recent college graduates as they seek to define their own sexual ethic, especially as many do so while remaining single.
Even though Bromleigh has a high view of Scripture, Good Christian Sex is not a book that clearly delineates sexual boundaries. Instead, it's a book that will leave you thinking deeply about what it means to honor God with your body, sexuality, and life. For this reason, it's perfect for small group discussions. Those who are young, single, and frustrated (or scarred) by church's that teach “Just say no!” to sex before marriage will find this book particularly helpful and healing. In Bromleigh's words, “It's not sex outside of marriage that threatens us; it's our fear of living and growing in intimacy with others. It's our unwillingness to open ourselves up to the abundance of life's created goodness – to wonder and mystery and pleasure and relationship – that often leaves us feeling empty. The call of the gospel is not to protect ourselves at all costs, but to risk ourselves in love.”