Ed Shaw begins his book before he even begins it with an acknowledgement: ‘To all those who have talked about sexuality with me. Thank you’. Having worked on the marketing of this book (it’s one of IVP’s rather brilliant January 2021 releases) writing a review is in some ways easy and in other ways difficult. So I’ll say three things: this book is conversational, practical, and biblical.
Purposeful Sexuality is a short (~70 pages), thoughtful (like it’s author) and clear little book on a big topic. It will infuriate some people – those who disgaree with the historic Christian position, and those who disagree with Ed’s personal view onsome things – but for those who read it charitably, I think it could be a really good book to have some conversations around. Ed writes in the introduction: “It will help you to know that I write as a Christian man who is same-sex attracted, or gay. But this is not primarily a book about my sexuality in a personal sense (I’ve written that already). It is instead a short introduction to sexuality in as universal a sense as is humanly possible. Because this is such a brief attempt, we will inevitably skate over much, but I’m hoping that my introductory big-picture thinking will provoke deeper (and better) thinking and discussion in other places. At the end of the book there are questions for reflection that might help kick-start this“. This is a pastorally sensitive book – Ed’s heart for people comes across throughout, and this is also a pastorally directed book – Ed’s heart for God’s truth, and an intelligent grasp of it, are always in view. John Wimber is alleged to have said ‘come as you are, don’t stay as you are’, as a summary of discipleship – in my reading, Ed’s little book can meet people wherever they are at, and start a conversation.
Ed offers some practical advice: “We are all uniquely wired sexually, and all of us will have a unique range of sexual experiences throughout our lives that will shape us in different ways. All of this makes it a challenge whenever we try to sit down and talk about sexuality with anyone. We can think we’re talking about the same thing but we’re not. We think that other people have shared all our experiences but they haven’t. As a result, we need to be clearer in our communication and to take more care to listen than in almost any other context today“. This is all in the context of human sin – Ed notes that we all have uniquely damaged sexualities, uniquely damaging sexualities, and thus we all need help. The last few years have shown that every part of the church has to confront the reality of sexuality: “In the world around us, people who were until recently held
up as models of sexual liberation to learn from have now been exposed as sexual predators to avoid. The same has been true of some who have preached sexual morality within our churches: they were privately doing themselves what they publicly condemned in others.” This little book isn’t about sexual abuse – but it is encouraging and important that this is recognised early on, in the framing of the conversation.
This is a short book that seeks to concisely show the good and beautiful truth of the Bible’s teaching about sexuality. As Ed writes, “Sex and marriage in creation are just a trailer for the new creation“, not to diminish the importance of these things, but to place the importance of our sexuality in the light of the wider meaning and end of reality. Indeed, I loved Ed’s anecdote: “When I’m invited to preach at a wedding, I secretly long to be asked to speak on Revelation 19 (or 21) so that I can make this point. I love telling the assembled congregation that they are taking part in what is a dress rehearsal (to change the analogy for a moment) for the real thing“. Amen! This isn’t however, just beautifuly theology in the abstract – Ed spends two chapters showing how this can be seen to apply to us as followers of Jesus, married or not. This divorce from the abstract finds good expression in Ed’s observation that “bodies matter far more in Christian theology than we’ve often thought, because they represent future realities“. Again, Amen! Midway between the creation account and the promise of the new creation there is a lot of biblical material – some of which Ed engages with. I particularly liked his engagement with 1 Corinthians, from which he notes “Sex itself is not something to be afraid of, but the damage that the wrong use of it does to us means that we should run away from sexual sin“. Ed also helpfully shows us that Jesus too has a sexuality.
In many ways this book does nothing new – and that is a good thing. What it does do, though, is put the purpose of sexuality clearly in a warm and winsome way, in a short and very readable book. I hope that this book will have a wide readership – it deserves it – and that it will lead many into a divine romance with Jesus, with Purposeful Sexuality acting as a doorway into the rich and mulitfaceted life of discipleship.
I’ve written about this topic a lot, and read quite a few books! Some particular highlights are found below:
- Todd Wilson’s Mere Sexuality – a great book for understanding what Christians believe!
- Kate Wharton’s Single Minded – an excellent book about being single as a Christian.
- Sam Allberry’s Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With? – a very good short book answering this question clearly.