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Posts Tagged ‘Dan Allender’


Pornography is a big problem made bigger by easier access to pornography and our culture’s drift from a biblical morality. When I I was a kid pornography was often difficult to find, unless someone in your family (or friend’s family) had some. There was typically a level of shame associated with looking at pornography. It was still the early days of the sexual revolution.

As time would go by it became easier to access pornography, and a greater variety of it due to the internet. Increasingly women began to look at pornography too. People began to have porn parties as well.

Before I look at some resources, here are some stats from Fight the New Drug (9/30/19):

1. 64% of young people, ages 13–24, actively seek out pornography weekly or more often. [1]

2. Teenage girls are significantly more likely to actively seek out porn than women 25 years old and above. [2]

3. A study of 14- to 19-year-olds found that females who consumed pornographic videos were at a significantly greater likelihood of being victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault. [3]

4. A Swedish study of 18-year-old males found that frequent consumers of pornography were significantly more likely to have sold and bought sex than other boys of the same age. [4]

5. A 2015 meta-analysis of 22 studies from seven countries found that internationally the consumption of pornography was significantly associated with increases in verbal and physical aggression, among males and females alike. [5]

6. A recent UK survey found that 44% of males aged 11–16 who consumed pornography reported that online pornography gave them ideas about the type of sex they wanted to try. [6]

7. Porn sites receive more regular traffic than Netflix, Amazon, & Twitter combined each month. (HuffPost)

8. 35% of all internet downloads are porn-related. (WebRoot)

9. 34% of internet users have been exposed to unwanted porn via ads, pop-ups, etc. (WebRoot)

10. The “teen” porn category has topped porn site searches for the last six years (Pornhub Analytics).

11. At least 30% of all data transferred across the internet is porn-related. (HuffPost)

12. The most common female role stated in porn titles is that of women in their 20’s portraying teenagers. (Jon Millward.) (In 2013, Millward conducted the largest personal research study on the Porn Industry in the U.S. He interviewed 10,000 porn performers about various aspects of the business.)

13. Recorded child sexual exploitation (known as “child porn”) is one of the fastest-growing online businesses. (IWF)

14. 624,000+ child porn traders have been discovered online in the U.S. [7]

15. Between 2005 and 2009, child porn was hosted on servers located in all 50 states. (Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection)

16. Porn is a global, estimated $97 billion industry, with about $12 billion of that coming from the U.S. (NBC News)  

17. In 2018 alone, more than 5,517,000,000 hours of porn were consumed on the world’s largest porn site. (Ponhub Analytics)

18. Eleven pornography sites are among the world’s top 300 most popular Internet sites. The most popular such site, at number 18, outranks the likes of eBay, MSN, and Netflix. (SimilarWeb)

19. “Lesbian” was the most-searched-for porn term on the world’s largest free porn site in 2018. (Pornhub Analytics)

20. The world’s largest free porn site also received over 33,500,000,000 site visits during 2018 alone. (Pornhub Analytics)

Not a pretty picture. There are plenty of other disturbing stats. Here are some found on Enough is Enough.

Resources vary in quality and perspective. Some use the disease model of sexual addiction. On the other end of the spectrum is the sin or idolatry model. How you view porn addiction determines how you will begin to address the porn addiction.

God has made us body and soul. Porn use and addiction affect us both body and soul, not only in body (disease model) or soul (sin model).

Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our ChildrenTo understand the role of biochemistry you should read Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children by Joe McIlhaney, Jr., and Freda McKissic Bush MD. While focused on sex itself, these chemicals are at play in sexual addiction including using pornography. The science on this is slightly dated (published in 2008) but depends on brain scans. Porn usage has a biochemical effect on people which means that our bodies are affected while we sin. We experience the effects of a disease that progresses as we give ourselves over to a sin. This is not a large book, but you will get a good picture of how God intended sex to bond us to another person, and how we mess it up with promiscuity and pornography.

A book I haven’t read but that applies this subject to men and pornography is Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain by William Struthers. Surely it hijacks female brains too. It is important to reckon with the physiological realities as well as the spiritual realities. It is not either/or but both/and.

Image result for breaking free by russell willinghamBreaking Free: Understanding Sexual Addiction & the Healing Power of Jesus by Russell Willingham leans toward the disease model and yet also speaks much of spiritual and emotional deficits at work in sexual addiction. He comes very close to saying it is a disease and sin but doesn’t explicitly say it. Here is his understanding of sexual addiction:

Sexual addiction is an obsessive-compulsive relationship with a person, object or experience for the purpose of sexual gratification. Whatever the type or amount of the behavior, it is damaging spiritually, physically or both. The addict has repeatedly tried to stop the behavior but at the same time is terrified of stopping. What drives the addiction is inadequate spirituality and deep unmet childhood needs that are valid but are mistakenly thought to be sexual needs. The behavior usually starts in pre-adolescence and tends to shape the orientation and personality of the individual. Genuine recovery is possible only with outside intervention and divine help.

There are unmet needs that are sexualized. He spends time addressing those unmet needs or lack of nurture as a child. A large part of his therapy is seeking to have those needs met in one’s relationship with Christ. He doesn’t say “union with Christ” but it comes across that way. While the therapist will re-parent ultimately the person is pointed to Jesus to nurture them so they grow and no longer try to meet these needs with pornography. His approach ends up being relational in nature.

The focus on unmet needs doesn’t mean he falls into a victim-mentality. There is plenty of focus on taking responsibility for yourself, your actions and your sinfulness.

There is an appendix entitled “What is a Wife to Do?” They will also struggle with a lack of nurture because immature men can’t husband very well. Wives of sexual addicts need help too. Increasingly we will find husbands of porn addicts in need of help as well.

Harry Schaumburg has two excellent books. The first is False Intimacy: Understanding the Struggle of Sexual Addiction. He has since published Undefiled: Redemption from Sexual Sin, Restoration for Broken Relationships.

Image result for john mayerHis thesis is revealed in the title of the first book. It is an attempt to experience sexual satisfaction without risking disappointment, rejection and the pain of a real relationship. Musician John Mayer has said he prefers pornography because it is easier than a real relationship. Sex addicts think and plan their lives around sex, even if they aren’t actually engaged in sexual activity. Everything spins around sex. He has a chapter on other addictive behaviors in addition to pornography.

While discussing the medical or disease model, Schaumburg advocates for a biblical model of addiction (a bit more all-encompassing than the simple sin model). He sees it as a result of the Fall of Adam. There is an accompanying relational emptiness that drives this particular addiction. He points out some secondary factors like lack of nurture and early sexualization.

Most of the help he offers in False Intimacy is about faith and repentance. He wants people to begin to seek real relationships, honest relationships and take risks as well as receive help from others. He doesn’t get to any biochemical aspects to sexual addiction.

He has a chapter on Responding to Your Sexual Addicted Spouse, another on the Recovering Marriage and Preventing Sexual Addiction in Your Kids. There is also a chapter on Women and False Intimacy focusing on the different dynamics at work in women. There is helpful material in this book, but he does cover a wide range of topics making this a good introductory volume. I’ve recommended this book to quite a few married men who struggle with pornography.

Undefiled is broader in scope than sexual addiction. It is more about our fallen sexuality and the way it expresses itself. Broken and sinful, we can begin to wonder if there is any way back. He believes there is, and this is the focus on the book. He draws on Scripture and his counseling practice. He has chapters for men and women.

Harvest USA has put out two devotional resources; Sexual Sanity for Men:Recreating Your Mind in a Crazy Culutre by David White and Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual & Relational Brokenness by Ellen Dykas. I have only read the former. They share a similar format.

The book for men has 4 sections: Life in Exile, The Conquering King, A New Brotherhood, and A Transformed Life. It is in a devotional format with 4 or 3 weeks of devotions for each section. Each day has a few pages of material to read and some questions to process and apply it to your life. It can be uncomfortable, as you might imagine. But we see life with out Christ and with addiction, material about Jesus, new relationships in Christ and then sanctification.

It doesn’t pull any punches. For instance:

“What you do with your penis matters- it is a demonstration of your spiritual allegiance.”

Like Schaumburg it leans toward the sin model of addiction and redemption. The material is helpful, but there is a gap in dealing with the biochemical realities that accompany our spiritual problems.

Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave: Finding Hope in the Power of the GospelAnother book I’ve recommended to people is Addictions: A Banquet in the Grace by Edward Welch. The second subtitle is Finding Hope in the Power of the Gospel. He embraces the sin & idolatry model. He has a workbook entitled Crossroads that I’ve gone through with some men.

We do need to engage our theology of sin, but also our anthropology. Recognizing disease is a part of our understanding of the fallen person as a part of a fallen creation. The curse, and our fallen nature, affects all of us. That’s all I’m saying. Our bodies like our addictions and are instruments of satisfying it. We should know the full damage, and take that into consideration when we engage in the battle against our sins.

Welch does a good job of helping people out of the grave by God’s grace. He brings us to the gospel in far more than a superficial way. There is hope because Christ has died for us, bearing the curse, and conquering our enemies as well. We need to explore the Cross and our union & identity to Christ.

Image result for addiction and graceA change of pace is Addiction & Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions by Gerald May. He utilizes an attachment model and talks much about the wilderness (or was that his book on the Dark Night of the Soul. Probably both). He has a mystical bent, which will appeal to some people. He addresses mind, body and soul so in this respect he is more thorough than some other books. He is far more integrationist and this will rub some people the wrong way.

Image result for faithful and true mark laaserOne of the more popular books in the 90’s on the subject was Faithful & True: Sexual Integrity in a Fallen World by Mark Laaser. There is a workbook available as well. In his first chapter he says sexual addiction is a sin, and a disease. He has a chapter on different forms of sexual addiction (it often looks different in women, and is often more acceptable- particularly how we consider exhibitionism). There is a chapter on sexually addicted pastors. The second section deals with the roots of sexual addiction including lack of nurture and abuse of various kinds.

Since he speaks of addiction as sin and disease, it is a bit surprising to find the third section called Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction. He takes a 12-step approach to therapy. He does address shame, despair, rituals and how people act out. There is far too little on addressing the abuse. He does have a chapter on recovery for couples. There is also one for congregations who have a pastor who was sexually addicted.

The issue of abuse does loom large in sexual addiction. If there has been abuse it should be addressed as one of the areas of neglect or lack of nurture. Unaddressed abuse like behind a variety of sexual dysfunctions and depressions.

Healing the Wounded Heart: The Heartache of Sexual Abuse and the Hope of Transformation Allender, Dan B. cover imageIn the Wounded Heart: Healing for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse and the Wounded Heart workbook author and therapist Dan Allender addresses pornography.   While an integrationist, Allender has a solid anthropology and doctrine of sin. This is one of the standard volumes on the subject.He explores the dynamics of abuse, the damage of abuse and the prerequisites for growth. It is no wonder that people reach out for pornography in the face of their shame, helplessness, betrayal and ambivilence.

His follow up Healing the Wounded Heart: The Heartache of Sexual Abuse and Hope for Transformation focuses more on the path of transformation. One of the strengths of this volume is the chapter pertaining to men.

There are a few as of yet unread volumes in my queue.

When Your Husband Is Addicted to Pornography: Healing Your Wounded HeartOne of particular relevance is When Your Husband is Addicted to Pornography: Healing Your Wounded Heart by Vicki Tiede. As you can tell, this is a book to address the difficulty a woman experiences when her husband is addicted. It is meant to be read over the course of 6 weeks, with reading for 5 days each week. The weeks cover hope, surrender, trust, identity, brokenness and forgiveness. This would be a much expanded version of her booklet on the subject.

I thought I picked up Passions of the Heart: Biblical Counsel for Stubborn Sexual Sins by John Street at the General Assembly bookstore, but alas I can’t find it. This is surely a stubborn sexual sin. This would likely be well worth reading.

This list is by no means exhaustive. It is the stuff that I’ve got on my shelf and has been helpful to me and my ministry to others. Perhaps some of this will be helpful for you and your ministry.

 

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Making All Things New by David Powlison is largely a view of sexual brokenness and renewal from 20,000 feet.

The book is unusual in that it addresses both groups of the sexual broken, those who sin and those who’ve been sinned against. And the truth of the matter is that those groups have a large overlap. The addicted and the abused not only share a soiled view of sexuality, but the abused can often become addicted in response to their abuse. The time, unfortunately, is not evenly divided. More focus is given to the addicted when he does pull in for a closer look at the problems.

“Our sexuality was designed to be a willing servant of love. It becomes distorted by our willfulness or our fear. It is being remade into a willing servant of love.”

My use of “the addicted and the abused” points to vast amount of similar alliteration in the early chapters. He uses a few literary devices like that to help people get the point. Perhaps adapted from lectures, this stands out early on.

“There is one gospel of Jesus Christ, who came to make saints of all kinds of sinner-sufferers and sufferer-sinners, whatever our particular configuration of defections and distresses.”

Powlison does focus on the big picture of God’s work of renewing our sexuality. This doesn’t mean there isn’t practical advice. There is plenty of that as he swoops down for closer looks.

Some of the most helpful material is in chapter 4 which is appropriate entitled Renewal is Lifelong. There is often pressure, internal, relational and ecclesiastical, to be renewed in short order. While abuse may have taken place in an instant (in some circumstances), the patterns we developed as a result have been developing for years. Patterns of sexual license have developed and been in place for years. These things don’t change overnight.

This is not to be soft on sin, but realistic about sanctification. As a conservative Presbyterian, I’m often discouraged by how often our confessional views are ignored in this area. While God may grant great change at conversion, or thru sanctification, we never arrive to where we should be until glorification. It isn’t just our sexual renewal that will take the rest of our lives but our renewal, period. Therefore, it is more helpful to think of sanctification as a direction. As we think of ourselves, or talk with a congregant, we should focus on direction. Are they wandering or continuing to fight the good fight? Setbacks happen and treating them like the end of the world is one of Satan’s devices to discourage toward depression and despair.

He also is particularly helpful in the next chapter, Renewal is a Wider Battle. We are prone to focus on the sex, the visible sin. His metaphor of a movie theater is helpful. There are other things going on in our lives that, unknown to us, are resulting in sexual temptation or sin. Often sex isn’t just about sex. For instance, we can be disappointed or angry with God and act out sexually. Tracking patterns is one of the useful things he discusses in that chapter and the one that follows, Renewal is a Deeper Battle.

The tendency of individuals and churches, is to focus so much on the sexual aspect that the larger issues in the person’s life go unaddressed. Sex is only the tip of the ice burg. Beneath the surface lie bitterness, envy, anger, betrayal and more.

One thing that isn’t here (it is a short book!) is how early sexualization thru either abuse or chosen experiences inhibit emotional growth. The person suffers relationally as a result. They will often struggle with anger, boundaries etc. Until these areas are addressed they can come across as the children they may be emotionally.

This is a great little book to prompt discussion and help in some big picture items. If you want to get into the trenches resources like The Wounded Heart (and workbook), False Intimacy or Breaking Free are a good place to turn.

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Sometimes you come across a book that looks like it will address the big questions you’ve been churning over in your mind for years. When you read it you are disappointed because it barely addresses those questions. This can happen more frequently in the age of internet shopping. But it is quite frustrating as you invest time in a book that doesn’t scratch the itch you have.

Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds is one of those books for me. Based on the subtitle I thought it would focus on the profound ways we have been sinned against. Indeed, Chris Brauns does include a number of stories about such profound sins. But I found a disconnect between those stories and the content he presented. So while there was some good material here, it didn’t really help me in the issues I was looking for help personally and professionally.

In his introduction he claims to address “where I’m coming from”. This is not so much about his presuppositions (more in a moment) but the questions he will address, such as: should we forgive God, does God forgive everyone, and should we forgive everyone?

He does lay out one presupposition: “only God’s Word can unpack forgiveness”, a proper commitment to sola Scriptura. He then says “unpacking forgiveness is like relocating a family.” Unpacking takes a lot longer than the actual event of moving. He mentions that 2 years after a move, his family was still unpacking. This is what I was hoping he’d address but really didn’t as I’d hoped. And some of what he said hindered this process, at least as I understand it.

I was struck at the two main presuppositions he didn’t address which shape so much about forgiveness. He never defined his understanding of sin. He assumes we all know. He doesn’t use this term often, preferring the terms derived from the verb “to offend”. While sin rightfully offends, we often use that term (which he doesn’t define either) in many ways no connected to sin. It often has psychological (for lack of a better term) uses, and he generally distances himself from other psychological concepts. This focus on “offense” is a more subjective understanding of sin, not an largely objective one. For instance he says “we have all offended his standard” (pp. 45) with regard to Romans 3:23 (I assume since he doesn’t note it). This is a great time to clarify that “sin is any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God.” Look, was that difficult? No. But he assumes the reader has a definition of sin, and that it is the same as his unexpressed one.

The other big presupposition was the nature and extent of the atonement. He quotes a few Calvinistic and Reformed guys (he mentions Piper frequently), but how he speaks about forgiveness points to a general atonement in which salvation is possible but not actually procured. I could be wrong about what he actually believes, which is the point: he doesn’t actually express it. (To be fair, he defines ‘propitiation’ on pp. 46.)

Granted, you can’t say everything about everything when you write a book, but these seem to be significant issues that affect much of what you say on this topic. I’m not “heresy hunting” but noticing large gaps in his reasoning.

At times his vagueness affects how he interacts with Scripture. I have notes written in the margins in numerous places questioning how he understands particular texts.

He interacts with Lewis Smedes on the topic of “mandatory forgiveness”, representing a less than biblical view of forgiveness. But he doesn’t interact with anyone else on significant issues. I would have liked him to interact with Dan Allender’s material in Bold Love, as an example. His work regarding forgiveness is different than Brauns’ (and Smedes’). Such interaction would have helped clarify a few things in his book that I still have questions about regarding his perspective.

The main premise of the book is that “we forgive as God forgave us.” He doesn’t simply take this as forgive because we’ve been forgiven, or even in a similar way, but rather “in the same way.” He rightfully notes the graciousness of God’s forgiveness, and the costliness to God in the atonement of Christ. He properly notes the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us in justification. He notes the connection of forgiveness with reconciliation (they are not identical). He also notes that forgiveness does not remove all earthly consequences which in Christ have been transformed from punishment to training in righteousness. But I struggle with his definition of forgiveness.

“God’s forgiveness: a commitment by the one true God to pardon graciously those who repent and believe so that they are reconciled to him, although this commitment does not eliminate all consequences.”

So, for you to forgive is an identical commitment to those who repent.

Take a moment though to insert that definition into a passage in the place of forgiveness. Passages like these:

76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,Luke 1

30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. Acts 5

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, …. Ephesians 1 cf. Colossians 1:14

In this way, he goes beyond the simple meaning or use of the term forgiveness (which he mentions) as release from a debt to this more complex idea. We therefore offer people forgiveness, but they must repent in order for us to actually forgive them. We have an “attitude” of forgiveness toward them.

So, while he therefore says we don’t need to “forgive” everyone he never gets to what I think is a core issue based on the doctrine of sin. I don’t forgive people unless they sin, thereby incurring a debt, against me. I can’t forgive Timothy McVeigh, whom he mentions repeatedly in this context, for instance because he didn’t sin against me except in the most vague way since I’m an American. I can feel outrage, but that is the problem: I’m carrying an indirect burden since he didn’t take anything away from me. His treatment of this issue, in my opinion, is quite superficial and unhelpful.

Let’s apply this to an unknown rapist whose repentance a victim may never know about. She has an attitude of forgiveness, and a “gift” she doesn’t know where to send. This is where it breaks down for me. Theology is all about distinctions, and there are a number of big ones he doesn’t make. The “gift” makes sense in understanding my personal relationships. But not with regard to profound sins in which there is no personal relationship (for instance with an uncle who physically abuses the victim).

Another important distinction that is never spelled out (or I missed it if he did) was that just because I forgive someone doesn’t mean God does. He seems to imply at points in his argument against automatic or mandatory forgiveness that God does because I do. Not only may there be state sanctions (though he has conflicting statements on this too), there may be divine sanctions that remain.

Let me illustrate: there is a family member who sinned against me profoundly (it was not a crime so there would be no legal sanctions), in a way that still haunts me to this day. That person can’t really face it, or understand it. For an extended period of time I was very angry with them. Despite their lack of repentance I forgave them. I didn’t just have an attitude of forgiveness, but forgave their debt to me. I am reconciled with them despite this sin and their lack of repentance. This doesn’t mean God forgave them or is reconciled with them (by all appearances He has not). I chose to no longer hold this debt against them, and even restore relationship with them despite this profound debt.

He missed another important distinction in his chapter about when you can’t stop thinking about it. Why are you thinking about it? Is the source Satan to continually put up walls between you, to get you to be bitter or feel false condemnation, shame etc.? Or is the source God to help you deepen your forgiveness of the other person? This, in my opinion, matters. But he never mentions the latter possibility.

What I mean is this (which I hoped the book would be about or address): at times we come to a deeper understanding of the debt incurred. Something we thought was a $50 debt is really a $1,000 debt. For instance, I minimized that debt a family member incurred. I needed to face what I really needed to forgive. Ultimately God intended that process for good, even as Satan intended it for evil (to trap me in bitterness). THIS is real pastoral theology, not the superficial approach he presented that we shouldn’t think about it if we’ve forgiven. But what have we forgiven? Have we forgiven the debt as much as we can understand it?

A question he doesn’t really answer is that though forgiveness is often the basis of reconciliation, must I reconcile with someone because I have forgiven them? A rape or abuse victim should forgive the person who sinned against them. Perhaps the person has even repented. Must you be reconciled to them? Have them over for dinner? Leave your kids with them? No!! Forgiveness does not mean that the person is suddenly trustworthy, or that you trust them with your life. It just means you no longer want your pound of flesh, for the debt to be repaid. It doesn’t mean you have to loan out more money.

There was also somewhat of an internal conflict in the book. He thinks we should only forgive if the other person repents. That was not the intention of Jesus’ answer to the question. It was not what must they do for me to forgive them, but if they repent must I forgive them. Very different question, and to distort that distorts the answer. As long as someone repents, I must forgive them. But it doesn’t mean I must wait until they repent to forgive, which is what Brauns says at points.

Later in the book he notes we can overlook an offense. But they didn’t repent. Unlike Ken Sande, whom he references at times, there is no real process for sorting out when I should just overlook an offense or sin. Sometimes even Braun, despite his previous statements, means they don’t have to repent for you to forgive them.

This book does present some good material that may be helpful to a number of people. He is closer to the biblical understanding of forgiveness than Smedes. But there are some holes in the foundation, gaps he didn’t address or distinctions he failed to make that prove unhelpful for others. For instance, my sister-in-law found the book helpful. Okay. I don’t think she’s deceived or stupid. It helped her and that is GOOD. I didn’t find it as helpful. That could be a function of my understanding of theological complexities which differs from hers necessarily as a pastor, and/or the ways I have been sinned against that she has not. I still find Allender’s work more helpful for me. If you are more like my sister-in-law you may legitimately find this book helpful. If you are more like me, you may not find this book helpful for equally legitimate reasons.

 

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It has been 25 years since Dan Allender wrote The Wounded Heart. It has become a staple among Christian counselors, and for good reason. While getting my Master’s degree I compared and contrasted it to another book on recovering from sexual abuse. It was, in my opinion, far superior. I have used the workbook in working with victims of sexual abuse.

After all these years he has written Healing the Wounded Heart. It is not an updated and revised edition. It does not replace it. It really supplements and compliments his earlier work.

He utilizes 25 more years of personal experience in working with clients as well as research to better understand the damage done by sexual abuse, and the general path of recovery for its victims.

“Chopin stirs up the dust.” Special Agent Frank Lundy

Allender’s book is like Chopin, stirring up the dust among the debris produced by sexual abuse in its various forms. Things that didn’t make sense begin to fall into place.

That is one of the things about sexual abuse: there is no one symptom. Most victims live in denial or minimization. They don’t see that the patterns and incomprehensible things are pointers to the can of worms they REALLY don’t want to open.

“But sex is more than sex, and sexual harm is more than a mere violation. It reverberates to the deepest parts of our humanity and returns with an echo that doesn’t stop even decades later.”

He begins by discussing how the “face of sexual abuse.” Technology has advanced greatly, and we have utilized that technology for nefarious purposes. Societal changes have had unintended consequences, resulting in increases in date rape, hook ups etc.., taking advantage of the unconscious etc.

Allender then talks about the role of Evil (a.k.a. the Enemy). His war against God means he wants to destroy those made in His image. One really good way is to mar sexuality and marriage which point us to the great mystery of the gospel. This theme is found in some of his other books. He draws some from his friend and former associate John Eldredge (who in my estimation has gone to some unhealthy extremes). Allender is tentative in talking about this. But he affirms some biblical truths including the reality of the Enemy, the finitude of the Enemy and that he loves to work in darkness and secrecy. Sexual abuse and it consequences are marked by darkness and secrecy.

“Evil doesn’t primarily want to kill us; instead, it wants us to spend our lives in worry or regret. Its design is to take life from life, or in other words, to kill hope.”

In this context he discusses dissociation, a survival mechanism God has given to protect us. Evil twists it by convincing us we can never deal with what happened. A main part of God’s work in us is to face our shame so we can be free of contempt and begin to hope again.

He then delves into the research about the damage done to our bodies. He wrote this chapter with Dr. Heather Mirous who teaches cognitive psychology at Northwestern. Our bodies have a natural response to stress involving our brains, chemical responses and more. Sexual abuse distorts these responses. The more traumatic the abuse, the more damage done to our stress response system. The system is overwhelm (like in combat), and discussing those events trigger similar physical responses. One result is overactivating our immune system leading to autoimmune diseases in some victims.

“The body remembers. It is chronically calling out to us that our allostatic load is too heavy. Often, rather than listening to our body, we sabotage or mute is through activities such as excessive drinking or eating (or not eating enough), exercise, busyness or shopping.”

We then can curse the body that, we think, betrayed us. It betrayed us by being alluring (as if it was our fault, not theirs). It betrayed us by being aroused or feeling pleasure. This adds confusion and shame twisting our sexual desires and responses in unwanted ways. To cover our shame, many victims resort to contempt. They can hate others, or themselves, but they pour out contempt rather than face the overwhelming shame they can experience. The contempt is an attempt to avoid the gaze of others. The contempt leads us to make vows (I’ll never be trust again) which curse us (our hearts are hard to real love).

The chapter on covert abuse is very important. He addresses issues like emotional incest (adulterization of a child, making them your confidant), subtle abuse (those moments that felt weird), and pornography (when you discover it, or are shown it by someone in authority or an older peer as a “rite of passage”.

He then moves to the rare and important chapter on men. The dynamics can often be different in men. I think this is the first chapter I’ve read addressing that. The relational consequences are quite frustrating, for the man and those who relate to him. Power struggles are nearly always present, for to not be in power is to risk violation. Male victims often struggle with rage and a sense of inadequacy.

Allender then moves into the drama of reenactment, the ways in which a victim can relive the event in the course of ordinary life: triggers, addictions, hopelessness, etc. These are some of the ways in which we see the iceberg sticking above the surface. These can be the reasons they seek counseling though they don’t connect them to past abuse.

The Healing Path is the title of the final section of the book. It is “therapy proper” so to speak. He handles the main themes of therapy rather than the nuts and bolts, precisely because each client and their story is different. They need kindness so they can begin to learn to trust. This isn’t to be confused with wimpiness. We delight in them so they can learn to delight in themselves (and God). As we offer, and cultivate, kindness and joy we enter their story. The difficulty is we enter that story many times discovering more each time. This is not an easy process, and recovery is not quick. You don’t address the damage of rape or grooming and molestation in 6 sessions.

“The truth is sexual abuse, like all trauma, must be engaged again and again as the heart matures and has new awareness, insight, and freedom.”

He describes the process of entering and caring for the other person’s story as similar hiking to a remote river to fish, and out again. There is an unknown time element, unexpected danger, and potentially great reward. We help them to connect ( or re-connect) their story with God’s Story. Along the way we will meet barriers as they protect their abusers, hide in shame and contempt and generally try to push you away using every strategy they have developed to protect themselves. You will discover the vows, and bring all these things into the light so God can deal with them. We point them out, but our job isn’t to carpet bomb them (though we will be sorely tempted to do so). Another landmine is arousal. These are sexual stories, and it is normal for the client to also experience arousal along with the shame and contempt. It is their original arousal that drives the shame. The counselor must remember that he/she may also experience this response, but is not to respond. Helping the abused is good, necessary and dangerous business.

“… spouses choose each other to some degree because their way of being in the world complements their spouse’s. … We find a partner who doesn’t threaten or disrupt the attachment history we have learned to unconsciously manage. This is what must change for both spouses.”

Allender is honest about the difficulty in this process for all involved (including spouses). There is a chapter on the latter subject as well. While past abuse will hinder the relationship, there is a reason they have chosen one another, and addressing the abuse destabilizes the relationship. When one spouse embraces greater health, there is no guarantee the other will.

Allender includes an appendix written by Linda Royster called The Implications for African-American Women. Like the chapters on men and marriage, this is one aspect missed by many authors. A helpful addition.

“Ignoring our stories of sexual abuse will not undo the harm we have suffered. The debris of our abuse will surface eventually. It affects our memories, aspirations, and relationships.” Linda Royster

This book itself is a helpful addition to The Wounded Heart. They work well together. Each has important information not found in the other. This is a great addition to the toolbox of those who help people who have been sexually abused, and for the people themselves and the ones they love. It can help them better understand what they experience. And the road forward.

[I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.]

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God Loves Sex, now that is a book title! Sadly that is a concept that is foreign to so many Christians. It is easy to get that idea if you do a selective reading of the Bible. It is easy to find all the “do not’s” and get the idea that God doesn’t really like sex and views it only as a means to a procreative end. This kind of view has led many to take an allegorical approach to The Song of Songs, a book in the Bible which I believe exalts the beauty (and frustration) of a redeemed marital sexuality.

It has been a number of years since Dan Allender and Tremper Longman III have collaborated on a book together. It has been a very beneficial collaboration, in my mind. This particular collaboration is highly dependent on Longman’s commentary on The Song. I recently read that commentary to prepare for a Sunday School series on the Song. I’m grateful that this book was released in time for me to read it as well.

This is not an academic look at The Song. While it is dependent on Longman’s commentary it is not a commentary. Allender’s contribution is seen in the subtitle: An Honest Conversation About Sexual Desire and Holiness. It is written to the heart too, inviting us to ponder our sexuality and its expression in our lives.

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How’s that for a title guaranteed to draw some interest? I’m working on a sermon about putting sexual sin to death. So, I’m going back through that portion of my library that deals with sex and sexual sin. Not all books about these issues are good books. I’ve read some bad ones, and I’ve read some helpful ones. I haven’t read every book available, but here are the ones I would recommend.

Undefiled: Redemption from Sexual Sin, Restoration for Broken Relationships by Harry Schaumburg. He does some very important things. He connects our sexual maturity to our spiritual maturity. They interact. We aren’t mature in one area without being mature in the other. The cross is central to forgiving those who have wronged us sexually, and even more important for dealing with our own violation of sexual boundaries. Jesus wants to change our hearts. Schaumburg also focuses on the context of relationship- how sexual sin destroys relationships and how relationships are important to our redemption from sexual sin.

“Lust always leaves victims because in sexual sin everyone gets hurt.” Harry Schaumburg

Sex and the Supremacy of Christ by John Piper and Justin Taylor. This is the book taken from the Desiring God conference on this subject. It covers a number of different topics about sex and views them under God’s sovereignty. There are some excellent chapters in this book.

“Jesus said, if you don’t fight lust, you won’t go to heaven. Not that saints always succeed. The issue is that we resolve to fight, not that we succeed flawlessly.” John Piper in Future Grace

The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller w/Kathy Keller. There is a great chapter about sex and its role in commitment making. He builds a positive view of sex, in marriage which reveals the grave danger of sex outside marriage.

“In short, according to Paul, sex with a prostitute is wrong because every sex act is supposed to be a uniting act.” Tim Keller

A Celebration of Sex: A Guide to Enjoying God’s Gift of Sexual Intimacy by Doug Rosenau. He taught our class on sex and sexual dysfunction in counseling. So it holds a special place in my heart.

Sexual Addiction (aka Idolatry)

False Intimacy: Understanding the Struggle of Sexual Addiction by Harry Schaumburg. If you have any struggle with sexual addiction, or someone you love does, find a copy of this book. It is the best book I’ve read on the subject. He really gets to the heart of the problems. There is a great how spouses should deal with a sexually addicted spouse.

“Sadly, pursuing sexual behaviors as ends in themselves, as the source of deep fulfillment, ends only in nakedness and shame- before others and before God.” Harry Schaumburg

Addictions- A Banquet in the Grave: Finding Hope in the Power of the Gospel by Edward Welch. While more general, it says much about sexual addiction. His focus is on the hope we have in the gospel and how it begins to change us in the present.

“With each indulgence, we paradoxically feel less and less satisfied, yet we are persuaded that the object of our desire is the only thing that can fill us.” Ed Welch

Breaking Free: Understanding Sexual Addiction & the Healing Power of Jesus by Russell Willingham. He takes a Christ-centered approach that also addresses the emotional needs that arise from sexual abuse. He also has a helpful appendix for the spouses of those who are sexually broken.

“The fear and spiritual pride of addicted people are awesome. They desperately want to believe they are in control, and they try to convince others that they are.” Russ Willingham

Dealing w/Sexual Abuse

The Wounded Heart by Dan Allender. This is one of the best books on the subject. I compared and contrasted with the another book that shall remain nameless, and it was far superior in its gospel orientation. It does offer help for people to move on and beyond the sins committed against them, and how they have sinfully responded.

That is my short list. All of us have an agenda for our sexuality. It is God’s too? These books help people understand God’s agenda and begin the process of sexual sanctification by grace in Christ.

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She was a heartbreaker- maybe it was the tight clothing.

I was heading to the Men’s Study this morning when I had to stop the seek feature for some Pat Benatar. The lyrics remind me of our plight as fallen people.

Your love has set my soul on fire, burnin’ out of control
You taught me the ways of desire, now it’s takin’ its toll
You’re the right kind of sinner, to release my inner fantasy

That sets us up for what I hope is the final post on sexual chaos, working thru a redeemed sexuality in the midst of sexual chaos. Since my last post I remembered another story of how not to do this. I was working at Ligonier when I had a call. I’m not sure what prompted the call, I can’t see R.C. Sproul having mentioned this, but this older woman told me that oral sex was wrong “because that’s what homosexuals do.” I responded with “they also kiss, hug and hold hands; does that mean we can’t do any of them either?” With that, let’s try to sort all of this out.

1. Consensual- redeemed sex is consensual. It is wrong to force your spouse into any sexual activity whether proper or improper. Consent is necessary, but insufficient for determining the appropriateness of a practice for a Christian. As I mentioned before, this seems to be the only criteria you find in many of the Christian sex blogs. It is a starting point, but not the whole canoli.

18 Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, 19  a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love. Proverbs 5

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