Single but not Alone: Soul Virgin

Rosenau_review_20200703b

Doug Rosenau and Michael Todd Wilson. 2006. Soul Virgins: Redefining Single Sexuality. Atlanta: Sexual Wholeness Resources.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

I feel out of place in church–a single friend at seminary shared with me about a year back [1].  Married couples, especially older people, are uncomfortable having me around because I am 20-something and not married.  It’s like I have some kind of disease.  If that were not bad enough, he continued, I am not sure how to relate with the single women that I meet.

Introduction

I remember experiencing those same feelings when I was single. So when my friend recommended Doug Rosenau and Michael Todd Wilson’s book: I was curious and looked up a copy.

Not surprisingly, the book starts by defining terms.  For example, a soul virgin is: one who continuously seeks to value, celebrate, and protect God’s design for sexuality—body, soul, and spirit—in oneself and others (7).  Clearly, the book assumes that you want to live within the will of God in singleness and that marriage is a goal.  Furthermore, the authors seek to:  help Christian single adults sort through and find better answers about their sexuality—to not just repress or tolerate their sexuality but to redefine and celebrate it (15).  In other words, because God created us as sexual beings, our sexuality has a purpose that extends beyond physically obvious reasons.

Organization

Soul Virgins is thorough book with lots of details about how to deal with sticky situations and topics that one probably has not discussed with one’s parents.  The book divides into 3 parts:

  1. Intimacy with God (6 chapters),
  2. Intimacy with God’s people (5 chapters), and
  3. Intimacy with God’s possible soul mate (4 chapters).

These 3 parts are further divided into 15 chapters.  Before these parts are definitions, acknowledgments, and an introduction.  After these parts are an appendix, notes, and brief statements of where to go for more information.

Word Pictures

The word-pictures provided are worth the ticket of admission.

For example, the authors picture balanced intimacy and sexual wholeness as a wheel with 5 spokes representing the 5 aspects of our intimacy:

  1. Spiritual intimacy
  2. Emotional intimacy
  3. Mental intimacy
  4. Social intimacy and
  5. Physical intimacy (188).

Healthy relationships have boundaries on each aspect of intimacy that, if offended, result in future problems.  For example, I can remember in high school sharing my dreams about having a family someday with a friend on a date—this would be an example of mental intimacy (190-191).  What would have happened if stead of sharing our dreams we had escalated right into physical intimacy and eventually married but disagreed on the question of having a family?  Clearly, the authors’ thoroughness in going through 5 spokes is very helpful in facilitating productive dialog.

Relationship Continuum Bridge

The authors describe another helpful picture as the relationship continuum bridge.  This bridge breaks relationships into three stages:

  1. connecting (friendship and early considering),
  2. coupling (late considering, confirming, and committing), and
  3. covenanting (marriage).

These stages can be pictured as a suspension bridge with two spans (8, 32).  The authors reserve true sex (anything involving body parts hidden by a bikini) for marriage.  Intimacy during the other two stages (connecting and coupling) necessarily involves establishing and respecting boundaries for the 5 spokes of intimacy.  For example, the authors cite a case of a client who wanted to bring his girl-friend to a counseling session after they went out for only 3 weeks—an event too intimate for their relationship at this point (social intimacy spoke).  This invitation was compared to inviting his friend to meet his parents after going out only three weeks (191).

The Authors

The authors know their subject matter.  Doug Rosenau (www.SexualWholenss.com) is a licensed psychologist and Christian sex therapist.  Michael Todd Wilson (www.MichaelToddWilson.com) is a licensed professional counselor and life coach who had never married at the time this book was written.  Both hail from Suwanee, GA.  The primary authors are assisted with particular chapters by Vickie George (marriage and sex counselor) and three never-married singles:  Erica Tan, Anna Maya, and David Hall.

Assessment

Soul Virgins is a helpful book.  I wish that this book had been available when I was single and when I led high school/college groups in graduate school.  Rosenau and Wilson not only discuss the touchy subjects that young people want to know about, they review the Biblical basis for their views. Soul Virgins focuses on providing guidance on relationships.  Singles, parents, and leaders can all benefit from this book.  I know that I did.

Footnotes

[1] I am paraphrasing his comments.

Single but not Alone: Soul Virgin

Also see:

Nouwen: Make Space for Self, Others, and God 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Norm2020

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Fortson and Grams: Bible Limits Sex to Christian Marriage, Part 1

Fortson and Grams, Unchanging Witness S. Donald Fortson and Rollin G. Grams. 2016. Unchanging Witness: Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition. Nashville: B&H Academic. (Goto Part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In 2010 as a seminary student, a pastor formerly associated with my home church wrote a book on his personal ministry to people trapped in a homosexual lifestyle and wanting out. He is a longtime friend and, because his publisher wanted reviewers, I volunteered to write a review. When I later inquired as to whether to publish this review in our presbytery newsletter, I got an icy response. Now eight years later, my friend’s church has long since left the denomination and my home church is in the final stages of leaving. The church’s attitude about homosexuality remains the most important theological question facing our generation and, yet, most Christians, myself included, flinch at bringing up the topic.[1]

In their book, Unchanging Witness, Donald Fortson and Rollin Grams write:

“…our chief concern is with those who identify themselves as Christians. Many contemporary discussions of homosexuality are based on broad assertion lacking substantial grounding in the texts of the Christian tradition. Our book is intended as a resource for those who hold the historical Christian position on homosexuality. What we offer is the combined perspective of a New Testament scholar and a church historian…”(xi).

Rollin is a personal friend and former New Testament (NT) professor of mine who remains on the faculty of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC with a lifelong commitment to reading ancient texts carefully.[2]Dr. Fortson is a professor of church history at the Reformed Theological Seminary, also in Charlotte.[3]

The task of reading church texts carefully is probably easier today than at any point in the past two thousand years. Ancient texts from libraries and churches around the world are now available online to virtually anyone who looks. However, in spite of technological advances and the scholarly horsepower to understand them, ironically biblical illiteracy plagues the church and careful scholarship does not always inform church preaching, teaching, and decisions.

Crisis of Authority

The real crisis, Fortson and Grams argue, is whether the church continues to view the Bible as authoritative. (168, 366) Why? They write:

“Our overview of texts has revealed that the Fathers, Reformers, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox church are unanimous in their condemnation of homoerotic behavior among those who profess Christ as Lord.”(376)

And each of these church groups base their position of homosexuality on the authority of scripture. In particular, their sexual ethic, drawn from both Old and New Testament texts, is summed up succinctly: “The place for sex was understood to be within marriage between a man and a woman.”(189) No other sexual activity, including heterosexual and homosexual sex, was permitted for the Christian, in spite of alternative cultural contexts, desires, and motives. The detailed documentation of this unusual unity of opinion among Jews and Christians in Fortson and Grams book is lengthy (385 pages) and repetitious because little disagreement existed (or exists) among orthodox believers.

In the Reformation, Protestant groups broke away from the Catholic Church over the authority of scripture arguing that the Bible was the sole of authority over matters of faith and salvation. In arguing from cultural experience and mores, liberal Protestant groups have ironically separated themselves from their own reformed tradition and reopened behaviors in the church that first led to the reformation. As Fortson and Grams observe, immoral behavior among clergy, including homosexuality, and the influence of humanism figured prominently in the decision of the Protestant churches to break away. (77-86)

Did God Really Say…

A key argument among homosexual advocates is that biblical authors and early church writers were unaware of consensual homosexual relationships as we see today and, as a consequence, biblical prohibitions against homosexuality were limited in scope to particular concerns, like pederastry (sex between an older man and a boy). Thus, consensual homosexual relationships were not in view, hence not proscribed. For example, Fortson and Grams (18) cite John McNeill (1993, xx) who writes:

“…You [traditional Catholic writers] continue to claim that a loving homosexual act is condemned in Scripture, when competent scholars are nearly unanimous in admitting that nowhere in Scripture is there a clear condemnation of sexual acts between two gay men or lesbians who love each other.” 

Implicit in these arguments is that the Bible did not limit sex to one man and one woman in the context of marriage, which would render such arguments moot by forbidding all other sexual relations. Homosexual advocates therefore start by denying the existence of a Christian sexual ethic and then move on to limit the scope of biblical passages mentioning homosexuality, recognizing that most pastors and Christians will not be able to follow the historical arguments or exegete the Greek and Hebrew on their own. This is the context—reviewing original historical documents and scripture—where Fortson and Grams’ analysis proves most beneficial.

Importance of the Debate

The silence of most Christians on the question of homosexuality comes at a cost. Since ancient times, a homosexual lifestyle has been known to shorten the lifespan of those who practice it. The CDC reports that AIDS has claimed over half a million lives in recent years[4]and AIDS is only one of the diseases (think hepatitis, social diseases …) transmitted by homosexual sex.[5]Homosexuality also raises the probability of suicide dramatically.

This problem has touched me personally. The pastor who recruited me in graduate school into youth ministry later contracted AIDS and died. If he had kept his marriage vows, he would probably still be with us. The idea that someone in the church recruited him into this lifestyle or inferred that yielding to his desires was okay robbed us of a much-loved pastor.

Assessment

Part one of this review gives an overview of Donald Fortson and Rollin Grams’ Unchanging Witness. Part two will examine their arguments in more depth.

Fortson and Grams provide an important resource to the church and academy on the history of the church’s teaching on homosexuality. This book is of special interest to those new to the debate about the role of homosexuality in the church and those who take scripture as the sole authority for answering questions of faith and Christian living. Fortson and Grams focus on truth-telling. In this context love means accepting people as they are, but caring enough to help them to move beyond their fallen state (John 8).[6]

References

Campbell, W. P. 2010. Turning Controversy into Church Ministry: A Christlike Response to Homosexuality. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. (Review)

Gagnon, Robert A. J.  2001.  The Bible and Homosexual Practice:  Texts and Hermeneutics. Nashville: Abingdon Press. (Review, part 1)

McNeill, John. 1993. The Church and the Homosexual, 4th ed. Boston: Beacon.

Footnotes

[1]I bought my copy of Unchanging Witnessin 2016 when it was published. It is timely to review it now two years later because of the travails of my home church with this issue and my research needs in writing.

[2]http://www.GordonConwell.edu/online/Faculty.cfm. https://BibleAndMission.blogspot.com.

[3]https://www.rts.edu/seminary/faculty/bio.aspx?id=91. @sdfortson

[4]http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/statistics/basics/ataglance.html.

[5]Gagnon (2001, 473) provides a long list of serious health problems associated with homosexual practice.

[6] Campbell (2010) sees Jesus’ attitude towards the woman caught in adultery as our template for ministry (John 8).

Fortson and Grams: Bible Limits Sex to Christian Marriage, Part 1

Also see:

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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Stanley: Sex is Easy—Not Easy are Relationships; Be the Right Person

Stanley_LSD_03032015Andy Stanley. 2014. The New Rules for Love, Sex, and Dating.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Life has become increasingly complicated in the new millennium, in part, because American culture has thrown out “the rule book”. Some blame the pill; some blame the feminists; some blame the media.  Whoever you blame, the irony is that the emotional and financial costs of broken relationships have never been higher.

In his new book, The New Rules for Love, Sex, and Dating, Andy Stanley writes:

“I’m not all that interested in why things are the way they are.  I’m more interested in helping you navigate the way things are. My purpose in writing is to increase your relational satisfaction” (14).

Fair enough. But then Stanley then offers a rather rare insight:

“I’ve met with many struggling married couples who would describe themselves as having ‘marriage problems.’ But in all my years I’ve never talked to a married couple that actually had a marriage problem. What I have discovered is that people with problems get married and their problems collide. What was manageable as a single person eventually becomes unmanageable within the context of marriage” (20).

Wow.  Instead of looking for that perfect person to solve all your problems, Stanley says—hey, look in the mirror![1]

Andy Stanley is a pastor who does not sound or write like a pastor. He describes himself as a communicator, author, and pastor and founder of North Point Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia. His book is written in 10 chapters, including:

  1. The Right Person Myth;
  2. Commitment is Overrated;
  3. Becoming the Right Person;
  4. So Becoming;
  5. Love Is;
  6. Gentleman’s Club;
  7. The Way Forward;
  8. The Talk;
  9. Designer Sex; and
  10. If I were You (7-8).

These chapters are preceded by acknowledgments and an introduction.  They are followed by conclusions, notes, and a small group discussion guide.  A DVD video study is also available.

This is a book filled with a lot of wisdom.  For example, Stanley’s discussion of 1 Corinthians 13 in chapter 5 is priceless—he describes it as your list of suggestions on becoming the person that you would want to meet (76).  One item on this list is patience:  Love is patient (1 Cor 13:4). Stanley notes that impatience is an emotion, not a decision, and patience does not come naturally.  We all have a natural pace and get angry when others don’t go along.  Stanley explains that love means deferring to someone else’s pace—in time, space, and margin—just as much as they need (79).

Summarizing all the wisdom would be hard. The cliff notes version of Stanley’s advice is found in chapter 10 which he describes as the “hard sell”.

Stanley knows his audience.  He starts this chapter by repeating a challenge that he made earlier: “Beginning today, take a year off from all romantic and sexual pursuits” (170). This is the hard sell part. Bad habits take two weeks to break;  psychiatrists tell us that addictions are forever—abstinence is the only prescription that truly works.  Bad sexual habits fall somewhere in-between a bad habit and an addiction.  While this might sound like a high price to pay for moral clarity, but the life you save may be your own[2].

Stanley suggests that you spend this year off doing some important things…working to become yourself the kind of person that you would want to meet.  He suggests 5 things:

  1. Address your past—face up to your issues;
  2. Break some bad habits (substance abuse, bad attitudes, poor fashion choices…);
  3. Set some standards—how far is too far?
  4. Get out of Debt—don’t expect to dump debt on a potential spouse; and
  5. Go (back) to church—hang out in the right place (172).

Remember the mirror mentioned earlier?  You cannot change someone else but you can change yourself and become someone that your Mr/Ms perfect might actually want to meet.

This is not a preachy book, but it is an in-your-face book.  Although my wife, Maryam, and I have been married for 30 years, I was already 30 when I got married.  In other words, I was single for a long time—it seemed like forever at the time.  Reading Stanley’s book back then would have saved me a lot of pain.  In today’s social context where learning how to engage in healthy relationships can no longer be learned by osmosis and errors are costly, how does one intentionally learn the lessons needed?

Buy and read this book. Single or not, you will be glad you did.

 

[1] Stanley writes:  “ever purchase something from a big box retailer and open the box to find a card that reads something along these lines?  If this product is defective or a piece is missing, do not return to the place of purchase.  Instead, contact us at 1-800-ITS-YOUR-FAULT.” (59)

[2] The leading cause of suicide among young people is a broken relationship.

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