A version of this review will be published in the Journal Churchman
It is heartening to see that, as the debate on sexuality within and without the church comes to a head, an increasing number of books are being published that both winsomely and faithfully articulate a Christian understanding of sexuality. Joining Glynn Harrison’s A Better Story, Rosaria Butterfields The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert and Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting, this book joins this reviewers list of vital books on this contentious topic. Wilson is inspired by Hill’s witness – and this is in part a theological reflection on the tradition and biblical theme of sexuality that he sees in the work and life of his friend.
Deliberately taking a cue from Lewis’s Mere Christianity (as, unashamedly, Alister McGrath has done with Mere Theology and Mere Apologetics), Wilson has written a redable, deep and important book. Drawing on the best of the Christian tradition, taking seriously the Doctrine of the Image of God, and engaging fairly but firmly with revisionist perspectives, this is a book for this time. This book casts a positive vision for human sexuality and relationships – rooted in the biblical theme of one-flesh marriage and the eschatological shape of creation. Wilson is careful to both do the theological work and be mindful of the pastoral situations that disciples are called to speak into.
One chapter that is nearly excellent is ‘The Sexuality of Jesus’ – I was surprised that it did not reference Andy Angel’s recent book on this topic (especially given that Wilson observes the lack of reflection on this question!). This is also the chapter most likely to raise eyebrows, as Angel’s book did, by pondering how Jesus comfortably and compassionately experienced the sexual aspect of being human. It would have been fascinating to see Wilson engage with Angel’s careful biblical reflection. The two standout chapters for me ‘Male, Female, and the Imago Dei’, building on Barth’s relational view of the Image of God, and ‘Homeward Bound’, which brings an eschatological shape to Wilson’s argument. Here, the watchword is ‘patience’, which echoes the pastoral roots of this book. Apparently, Mere Sexuality began as a sermon series – including a powerful message reproduced here by Joel Willitts as an appendix, ‘Bent Sexuality’. This book is not detached from the reality of human lives – and is a precious and careful example of truly pastoral theology.
Whilst some at the more militant end of the orthodox spectrum may fault Wilson for some of his approaches to language, particularly around pronouns for Trans* individuals and the ever-divisive gay identity/SSA question, I hope that this book will receive a wide reading. The first appendix, ‘Four Core Scriptural Convictions’, is a brilliant framing of this approach in the words of Scripture, where Wilson offers a careful theological reading of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, which should offer a robust framework for churches to think seriously and teach boldly this vision of Mere Sexuality. His notes and references also make a helpful resource for thinking carefully about these issues.
Overall, then, this is a welcome addition to the growing body of work on sexuality and the Christian faith. By focusing on who Jesus is, and who we are in him, Wilson sidesteps the intermentble debates over precise terminology, and instead points us to a biblically rich, traditionally rooted and pastoral sensitive vision. As Vanhoozer says in his endorsement, Wilson “Brings Christian clarity and charity to the confusion, reminding the church of what it has known for nearly two thousand years but recently forgotten”. With this in mind, I think this book offers a unique contribution – not as another salvo in a culture war, but a memo for faithful pastors concerned with both truth and grace.