Book review: A Better Story (Harrison, IVP, 2017)

(Normal readers of Al-jabr, please excuse a final detour into book reviews, as the site I will now normally post them on struggled to get this one up in time.  Not that this book will be entirely unrelated to the travel-bug that has struck our individualistic world)

Ireland.  The Magdalene Laundries.

It’s here that Glynn Harrison (former professor of psychology in Bristol University, now retired) starts us thinking about the sexual revolution that has happened since the 60s.  Is another book about sex and Christianity really needed?  Well after reading this one, I would say that not only was it needed, but it’ll be one I recommend to all students to read this year (and I don’t say that about many).

The book is split into three parts that could as easily be entitled:

  1. where we’ve come from (“a better understanding”),
  2. the present condition of our own hearts (“a better critique”), and
  3. a way forward (“a better story”).

In describing where we’ve come from, Glynn recognises that we must examine the whole culture of the air we breathe each day.  Porn is not the problem (primarily).  Sleeping around is not the problem.   And activists for other worldviews are not the problem.  They are simply products of the world that we live in.  And so to help ourselves and the world, we must know where we are and why we are there.  But don’t worry, in case that sounds scary and philosophical.  Glynn will make you think, but is easy to relate to, does it in bitesize chunks and convinced me he feels what I feel.

In part two of the book the author then persuades me that I am not removed from this culture.  That I have major areas of struggle and sin in my own life, impacted by living in this time of revolution.  The problem is primarily not “out there” with those people ruining our society.  Nor can anything be reversed.  We are so far away from where we came from in the sexual revolution, and the old way of doing life had so many problems too.

The sexual revolution isn’t primarily about the ‘hot-button’ issues being fiercely contested in the so-called culture wars. It is about a much wider, deeper unravelling. And where the revolution forces us to sit up and think, we should be grateful. There can be no ‘going-backery’. No hankering after some bucolic paradise of the 1950s that never actually existed. Where the revolution has forced us to face our shame and hypocrisy, we should say ‘thank you’ – and mean it. Only then will we be ready to put the claims and promises of the sexual revolution under a critical spotlight.” (p. 89)

Finally in part three Harrison beautifully turns and paints a true vision of flourishing sexuality.  He shows that the secular worldview that craved individual freedom and better sex has left itself wanting, with people having sex less often and fewer being satisfied when they do.  Instead they’ve ended up more lonely and isolated than ever, having less social interaction.  Instead, we are to satisfy ourselves to live as God created sex to be.  And in case this starts to sound old and boring, Glynn’s view of sex is a far way removed from what you may have heard in an average church each week (or not heard, as the case more likely is).  He tells a story of even someone like myself, a single twenty-something-year-old who has never had sex, being a flourishing, sexual being, giving people a glimpse of a better earthy reality, and a faithful God who waits for His marriage day to an unfaithful people.a-better-story

Glynn’s stories has been crafted from raw experiences from his life as a researcher and professor.  They’ve been trialled and tested in lectures, seminars, talks and interactive workshops across the UK and Ireland, and having been one of many who’s been stimulated and challenged by him in that context, I’m delighted he’s put some of his material into book form.

But it’s not primarily his academic research that creates such a good book.  It’s his humanity.  His authenticity.  His ability to sit with us in our struggles, and not just rant about how far society has degraded.  With balanced lenses he puts his arm round us and tells us of a better story.  And in doing that in this book, takes us by the hand and starts to walk us towards that goal.

It’s too early to say whether this will be one of my 2017 top ten, but I just have an inkling it might!  Order your copy in NI from here or in Ireland from me.

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Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book by IVP to review, but this in no way affected my review of it, nor was I entitled to give a positive review.

Book review: Satisfaction Guaranteed (IVP)

Disclaimer: I was kindly given a copy of this book by IVP to review, but this in no way altered my review and my freedom to express what I want to about it.  All books I review can be got from your local Christian bookshop, in Cork (Unbound) or in Belfast (Evangelical Bookshop).

Satisfaction Guaranteed

It’s a bold title “satisfaction guaranteed” that grabbed me from the outset and made me think it may not just be another book of many on this kind of topic.  Whereas in other works (see footnote), the authors try to persuade people from further back (persuading them that unbiblical sexuality is wrong), Berry and Wood have a lesser target but still a bold one – that we as Christians can be completely satisfied in Christ.  The book is not a long one, and passes quite quickly over other material to really home in on this aim.

Easily read, they spend the first half of their case building a biblical worldview of sexuality and then in the second half, hit home marvellously helpful points about how we can still find life to the full, even within that biblical worldview.

Somewhat the uniqueness of this book is the two who are writing it.  Berry in his forties, and Wood in his twenties both have been in same-sex relationships and know what it is to be in that position from a Christian background.  Their stories (not lurid and just the right amount of detail to be helpful), are what really grabbed me and made the rest of the book have a weight greater than the size of book would otherwise have managed.  Through their work, they’ve met hundreds of same-sex attracted Christians and have given guidance and help to many.

As they rightly note, it’d be easy for those well versed in the big Bible picture to drift through or entirely skip the opening half of the book, but it’s a helpful read, if not even just for their stories interspersed throughout.  As they lay the groundwork for what is to come later, it really goes without saying that the first half is worth the read.

But for me it’s the second-half which so helpfully counters prevailing belief even in Christian circles.  Dealing with our weakness and struggles and verses like “it is not good for man to be alone” and the “gift” of singleness and marriage, they correct many false understandings and deal with many struggles for the single Christian, whilst not allowing us to dwell in being victims of society but to be empowered to love God and love others.

Jonathan and Rob write with such warmth and understanding that the fact they call Christians to the “narrow road” in Christ doesn’t seem so bad anymore, as they point to a flourishing of humankind that opens into an infinite enjoyment of the One who gave us sexuality in the first place.  They join me (see: here)  in quoting Lewis!

Altogether, a worthwhile addition to the books on this topic, that is worth picking up, though don’t expect to be blown out of the water with new thinking.  It’s a long, hard road, the Christian life.  But we’d do well to walk in their footsteps.


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