David Powlison’s Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken is graciously available free to Christ and Pop Culture members until February 8, 2018, through our partnership with Crossway.
Few of us would readily claim (or proclaim) the label sexually broken. But, if we take the holistic effects of the fall and pervasiveness of our sin nature seriously, the label would stick to us all.
In that sense, David Powlison’s latest book, Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken, might be the most widely applicable book he’s ever written. Because it’s not focused on a particular aspect of sexual brokenness, it applies to a wide variety of sexual struggles—well, all of them actually.Powlison is realistic about the fact that sexual brokenness is often wider and deeper than we initially surmise.
At the same time, the book offers no silver bullets. There is no “do these five steps and you’ll be whole again.” Powlison is realistic about the fact that sexual brokenness is often wider and deeper than we initially surmise. And yet there is hope. In conversational writing and pastoral tone, he invites readers into the hope that the gospel offers.
An important component of the book is its application of the “double helix of darkness that twists its way through all human experience.” As Powlison explains,
Most books about sexual sanctification address the problem of sin, with little more than a nod to external forces that allure or afflict. And most books about sexual victimization are not about sanctification, giving little more than a nod to our instinctive unbelief and our impulse to react wrongly when we experience grave wrongs. But sanctification is about both transgressions and afflictions, and about the continual interplay between them. This is crucial, because it is true of both Scripture and life. (21)
Transgressions and afflictions affect us all. Powlison helps us identify how both work against us. Additionally, the book bypasses the unhelpful dichotomy that sexual immorality is a male problem and sexual victimization is a female problem:
But it is also true that sin and suffering, like faith and love, are not rigidly sex-typed. Men are not immune to molestation or rape; women are not immune to becoming sexual predators or using pornography. (23)
I have enjoyed most everything I’ve read by David Powlison. In terms of practical, pastoral theology, he is one of the best writers out there. In this book in particular, I found his categorizations of sins in chapter 7 (93–99) particularly helpful:
- High-effort, high-cost sins (think adultery)
- Lower-effort, low-cost sins (think looking at porn)
- No-effort sins (replaying memories of past indiscretions)
- Sins that come looking for you (that mildly pornographic commercial selling cheap beer)
- Sins so atmospheric that they seem like who you are (sizing up people you meet on the basis of sexual attraction)
The reason I find this helpful is that most people don’t think they’re ever going to fall for the first category. They might give lip service to the second category, but then it drops off after that, leaving us all with a false sense of security. We can erroneously assume that if nothing is overtly happening on the first two fronts, then everything is good.
I remember when I discovered this was not a measure of sexual health. It was after I had gotten married that I realized my automatic tendency to do that fifth category, the sizing-up-people thing. I met a woman—a fellow seminary classmate, no less—and became quite aware that I was assessing her attractiveness. Immediately convicted, my thoughts raced: Wait, why do I care whether she’s sexually attractive or not? I’m married and not looking any more. And then I realized that looking itself was problematic and an ingrained habit to break. While I had read other books by David Powlison at this time, I wish I had had this latest one to consult.
Making All Things New feels very much like a nice pastoral “front door” to exploring how sexual brokenness affects us all. It is not the definitive last word, but doesn’t posture itself as such. If you’ve never read on this topic, Powlison’s book is a great place to start.
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