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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Sex, God & the Conservative Church: A Review

Tina Schirmer Sellers is a fascinating person within the context of American Christianity, and if her book is any indication, she probably wishes that she weren't. I just finished Sex, God & the Conservative Church: Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy and I have to say that I am really excited that this book is going out into the world—it is very much needed. We certainly need more people joining her efforts and this book intends to help with that project.

Sellers is a Christian therapist and researcher who holds a PhD in Clinical Sexology, teaches at a Christian University (Seattle Pacific University), and has been looking into the impact that the "Purity Movement" had on conservative Christians since somewhere around 2000 (she gives a good account of what that process has looked like HERE). And that isn't the sort of thing we generally expect to find among Christian (and particularly Evangelical Christian) counselors these days. In an environment where sexuality is sill perceived as threatening and awkward, Tina Schirmer Sellers is a sunlight and a stiff breeze. I want all of the Christian counselors out there to read her book. And I want her to turn this book into at least three other books.

The book itself has two distinct audiences. First, she is writing to therapists and counselors (Christian or otherwise) who will be, and already are, working with people who were raised in conservative Christianity. Second, she is writing to Christians who want to get a better understanding of "how we got here" and how to think positively about sexuality from a Christian perspective. Because I am the latter, I will not be reviewing the book for it's quality as a manual for therapists beyond recognizing that from my layman's perspective it seems to be very well researched. 

As a Christian who grew up in the thick of the "Purity Movement" within Evangelical Christianity, the real meat of the book for me was in the first five (out of eight) chapters. Sellers starts with an overview of the last 30-ish years of conservative Christian thinking and teaching on the subject of sex and sexuality, then provides an solid survey of the Western Church's teaching and evolution on the subject. That is followed by an exploration of the current Western (American) environment and messaging on sexuality, before two chapters exploring her own research and thoughts into a healthy, joyful, and sex-positive understanding of sexuality, based in Hebrew tradition together with New-Testament Christian theology. The book ends with her advice to therapists and counselors about how they can best help their clients heal from the damage which the purity movement and western culture have brought about. In other words, she describes the problem, identifies its causes, offers corrective thinking, and ends with specific solutions—the book is excellently organized, and (as a bonus) winsomely written with helpful anecdotes, case studies, and illustrations throughout.

My only complaint about the book is that it is too short. I regularly found myself at the end of a given chapter wishing that she had written a full book on that particular subject (and I am still eager to dive into the many books, blogs, journal articles, and researchers she cites throughout the book). After a little reflection, I can only hope that Sellers will follow this book up with first, a more exhaustive book (maybe as a collaboration with some theologians and Christian Historians) on the history of Jewish and Christian teaching on sexuality generally, and the shape of the last 40 years or so particularly; second, a rigorous theological exploration of God and eros (though she does reference some books which I have not yet read and which may do this quite well); and third, a more comprehensive survey of the messages which Christians have grown up with over the last 30-40 years in Western and Christian culture—I would love to read her thoughts on the impact that the LGBT "debate" has had on the sexual health of LGBTQ+ and cis, straight Christians. But I do not mean that to be a real critique, I suspect that Sex, God & the Conservative Church already does as much as can be done in a single volume and Sellers certainly avoids any sense of leaving an argument or explanation incomplete. As most good books do, it left me eager to learn and understand more.

I have already recommended this book to my pastor and am planning to recommend it to my Christian counselor and therapist friends, as well as to anyone who is working to understand the sexual shame and dysfunction plaguing Christian Gen-Xers and Millennials. This book is sorely needed and I really hope that it will become an active part of the conversation going forward.

Sex, God & the Conservative Church: Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy is available for pre-order now on Amazon and will be released on April 27, 2017

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

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