Jonathan Grant’s Divine Sexis a compelling approach to the relationship between the Christian faith and human sexuality. Grant joins many other pastors and church leaders who have sought to forge a pathway forward for the church through this most complex issue that has both gripped and divided the Church around the globe for nearly half a century. There is a cadre of work on this subject, and the shelves that contain these books on the Christian view of sexuality mirror the theological diversity and political polarization of the church. Some books are clear and present efforts to evangelize a more inclusive way for the church. Other books describe this effort as a clear and present danger, holding tightly to the traditional view and application for all. Then there is a smaller group of authors like Jonathan Grant, who offers a more nuanced, centrist approach to this subject. These books are not conviction-less compromises. They are attempts to unstick the church from a gridlocked situation, often by looking to larger movements within the culture that shape how we view subjects like human sexuality.
Grant does fine work in his research in the first part of the book to try and understand the formation of the western imagination that has led us to where we are today. According to one reviewer, “Grant’s accessible and sound appropriation of the work of Charles Taylor to sexual themes in Western culture is especially interesting. In particular, Grant makes much of Taylor’s notions of ‘social imaginaries’ and his discussions of the ‘age of authenticity’ to analyze sexual beliefs and behavior in Western culture.”
The second part of Grant’s book, much less highly praised than the first half, includes his practical ideas for how congregations can be formed according to a Christian sexual imagination (he uses the word ‘imaginary’). He writes:
“Although we should affirm the wonder and mystery of sexual intimacy and romantic attraction as God’s good creations, we need to set these aesthetic enjoyments within the context of the Christian virtues of fidelity, self-sacrifice, and patience in suffering. Bringing this together, our pastoral approach should be double-edged, seeking to challenge our culture’s worship of sexual desire and personal fulfillment while offering a different vision of human flourishing. Christian formation involves both resistance and redirection. But it is the redirection of our desires that enables our resistance of cultural idolatries. Failure to attend to the dynamics of our desires leads to inevitable self-deception regarding the ‘freedom’ of our actions. Especially within our sexual lives, our hearts must be truly captivated by the goodness of the Christian vision of life, so that our whole self is drawn toward it, or our commitment to live in tune with it will be brittle.”
With more thorough historical and cultural research, Jonathan Grant does in his book what Deborah Hirsch does in her book, Redeeming Sex. They both seek to reclaim a Christian imagination of human sexuality that is based in the goodness of creation, is mindful of the complexities of scientific discoveries of our time, is opposed to either the moralistic reductionism on the right or the self-deception on the left, and is committed to an understanding of human sexuality that is pervasive to the human experience and not simply limited to romantic physicality.
As a PCUSA pastor, I confess to having grown weary of this subject and have largely settled into a sort of “wait and see” attitude when it comes to my view of gay marriage. The book was so much bigger than LGBTQI issues, but the LGBTQI question cannot be ignored because it is the tip of the ice berg in terms of how far we’ve come on the journey of individualism and acceptance. The church in Seattle that I pastored for five years cannot get over the fighting on this issue. I exerted more energy on keeping the church together and seeking to be faithful in that time that it nearly killed me, and perhaps was the main cause of my eventual departure. It simply wore me down.
In my current work, I will be dealing more with the consequences of an oversexualized society, the consequences of every concern raised by Grant in the first part of the book. Unfortunately, I will not have the ability to form the people I’m serving in the same way a congregation can form its people, but I what I can do is to imagine a world and seek to live in it. This is why I think Grant’s conviction of the eschaton as the vision of our sexual world made whole again is so critical. In this world, this vision, I can work to bring recovery to girls who have been sex trafficked. I can work with the teenagers in our program to see them with a kind of dignity that is not readily acknowledged. I can encourage a kind of relationally joyful culture that reveals a different kind of intimacy—an intimacy rooted in sacrificial love and not in self-satisfaction.
Dustin Resch, “Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age,” Anglican Theological Review 92, no. 2 (September 2016): 405-8, https://search-proquest-com.georgefox.idm.oclc.org/docview/1787797699?rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo.
Jonathan Grant, Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2015), 186-7.