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God, Desire, and a Theology of Human Sexuality Paperback – March 29, 2013
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About the Author
David H. Jensen is Professor in the Clarence N. and Betty B. Frierson Chair of Reformed Theology at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He is editor of The Lord and Giver of Life: Perspectives on Constructive Pneumatology and author of Responsive Labor: A Theology of Work and Living Hope: The Future and Christian Faith, all published by Westminster John Knox Press.
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Judging by other reviews on this site, many of Jensen’s readers are coming at his book with a set of preconceived notions about what Scripture does or doesn’t “say” about sexual behavior – precisely the set of arguments that Jensen observes in his book that 1) aren’t accurate to an authentic, wide-ranging reading of the Bible and 2) are not working in fostering discussion in a deeply divided church. Jensen instead turns to a reading of the biblical story and the history of Christian writing as one of God’s desire for us and our desire for God. He rejects Anders Nygren’s distinction between eros and agape, insisting that they are one and the same – including God’s desire for us as particular individuals. Sex for Christians is neither taboo nor particularly holy in and of itself, but part of the woven tapestry of life in which all things are connected to God. He rejects stable notions of sexuality and being, instead observing that our selves and our sexuality are complex, created, constantly evolving things – whether we are called to marriage, celibacy, or a complex singleness.
Jensen’s work is overall sensitive, well-written, and carefully addresses the multiple possibilities of the issues at hand. He stumbles a bit when discussing his concept of the “rhythms” of marriage – an argument that isn’t quite clear, but seems to want to make the case that we don’t have to have sexual desire for the other person all the time every day (a welcome counter to contemporary pressure for “more, better, faster”). Readers of all persuasions and hermeneutics will find something to be challenged by here, whether steadfast defenders of celibacy outside of marriage or radical reinterpreters of a total free-love model. But those with the patience and the courage to read outside their preconceived boxes will find a lovely and useful new theological framework on which to hang their ideas about our sensual, embodied love for God, for the world, and for each other.
There is also a chapter on sexual ethics, to move from acts to contexts. He starts with Thomas Aquinas's position where everything has a purpose and through reasoning, its use can be discerned. According to Aquinas, sex has three purposes: for procreation, for marital, and for pleasure. Sex belongs under the umbrella of marriage. There is no need to be paranoid over "premarital sex," and expands the use of sex that needs to fit five criteria:
He concludes with the conviction that "our sexual lives reflect God's desire for us and how they fall short of that desire."
This is a mindboggling book at first read. While at some point, the author accuses the world for sexualizing everything, the book appears guilty of the same accusation too. From vocation to ethics, theology and Christian living, Church and the Lord's Supper, it leaves one wondering what else is there that sex has not covered. Upon reading the chapters, I begin to understand the point that Jansen is making all along. Sex is bigger, much bigger than the sex act. It is also much bigger than any straight or gay interpretation of it. It is about God's desire for us, and for us to reflect back that desire toward God. All of our relationships will need to function with this fundamental truth of life, of love, and of longing.For David Jansen, sex is not simply about the act of copulation, or the private intimate moments with another person. It runs much deeper than that. It has to do with faith, true desire, and what human beings need and what they are made of. Human sexuality is expressed through the following:
"The commitments that we stake our lives on bear fruit in our most intimate, fleshiest expressions of life.....A theology of sexuality speaks first of the importance of desire for faith and how desire might flourish in relationship to God and our beloved." (x)
What prompted the author to write this book stems from his frustrations about how people in churches have failed to engage appropriately in conversations about sexual matters, conflicting messages of sex, confusing teachings about sexuality, and the lack of awareness how our cultures, our contexts, and our genders shape our understanding of sexuality. It takes a while to appreciate where the author is coming from, especially if readers have been indoctrinated by any one position, whether conservative or liberal, and are expecting Jansen to offer a third equivalent. Jansen has not really formalized any one static view. In fact, his views is a dynamic one, that believes that the fuller picture will come not now, but at the coming of Christ. In the meantime, what is more important is for us not to overestimate or underestimate the importance of sex. See sex within the framework of a "narrative of desire," of God longing for us to be intimate with him, and for us to appreciate sex beyond simply the sex act. Sex is a big thing, but I think it needs to be given its rightful place, to be protected, and to be free. Protected in terms of it coming under the security of a covenant relationship. Free in the sense that one is not bounded to any one strict form of interpretation.
This book is one of the clearest and broadest work on God and human sexuality. It's theology is Christ-centered, hope centered, and is filled with many practical applications. Though it does not particularly give a convincing "third way" between conservative and liberal interpretations of sexuality, it helps to keep one open to learning more from God about matters of faith, hope, love, and relationships between God and the human race, and humans with one another. Conservatives will find this book hard to accept, as it supports gay marriage. Liberals may think Jansen has not gone far enough. I prefer to withhold judgment from any of such views, as I believe Jansen is not directly supporting or denying any of these two positions. He is espousing an openness that is way beyond these interpretations, and we ought to render him proper understanding and refrain from being too quick to label him. To do so would have done Jansen an injustice on this very provocative and thoughtful book.
Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.
This book is provided to me free by Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.
In reality Jensen attempts to lay out a theological and Biblical basis for sexual libertinism. He fails, not because he lacks the academic skill of intelligence but because the plain language of Scripture, no matter how many theological and interpretive hoops you try to make it jump through, does not support his view. Jensen attempts to lay out an understanding of Scripture that supports sex outside of marriage. He argues against monogamy and in favor of homosexuality. In fact, at no point does the author support any, not one, traditional understanding of human sexuality.
Jensen draws heavily from various text and books on human sexuality. He quotes numerous experts and studies. However, what Jensen does not do is use the clear and obvious meaning of the many biblical text that address his subject and therefore he fails in his stated purpose.
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I was very excited while reading through the introduction to this book.Read more