About This Blog

Monday, June 3, 2013

"God, Desire, and a Theology of Human Sexuality" (David H. Jansen)

TITLE: God, Desire, and a Theology of Human Sexuality
AUTHOR: David H. Jansen
PUBLISHER: Lousville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013, (144 pages).

"Sex is an expression of Christian faith," so begins the author of this provocative work on human sexuality, desire, and a theology. It is also an expression of what it means to be human and to be Christian. In an age where there are so many controversies and lines drawn in the various wars on gender, sexual orientation, discrimination, and many others, we need to get back to understanding what it all means from a biblical perspective, instead of depending on heated emotions based on some kind of human principle. In this very thoughtful book, David Jansen helps to do some deconstruction on some dominant positions on sexuality, and reconstruct them in the light of tradition and redemption. Having been frustrated by the impasse generated by conversations that do not seem to make good headway, Jansen points us toward a way that puts sexuality matters in the arms of faith, within the bosom of God's desire, and anchored on a relationship with God and the people we are called to love. Each of the seven chapters focuses on a particular theological theme. Chapter One covers "Scripture and Sex" that essentially probes the question of what the Bible talks about sex. It surveys the three basic approaches: The "rule-based" approach; the "outmoded" approach; and one as a particular "narrative of desire" at a particular time and place, especially God's desire for us. The first two approach are essentially the common ones that many parties are quick to argue for one against the other. The third approach is a beautiful rendition of how God has manifested desire in the lives of various biblical characters. Jansen argues for a relationship that promotes "lingering" and "longing" instead of one that is lusting and consuming.

Chapter Two continues the process from rule-based, to a more relationship-based understanding of the narrative of desire. In "God and sex," readers learn about the longing and yearning aspect of God's relationship with people. Essentially, holy desire is the pull from God to men, and from men to God. The problem with rule-based approaches when reading the Bible text for proof verses, is that they easily lead to condemnation and sometimes made to apply to the wrong contexts in the wrong time. Jansen covers many other areas like gender discrimination as well as the danger of using Scripture to suppress people based on gender. When read as a "narrative of desire," one advantage is that even the sections of Scripture without explicit reference to sex, can breathe new insights on sexuality and desire, like the goodness that God exhibits at the creation of the world.  This produces a more holistic reading on sexuality and desire, instead of a constricted act based merely on the human genitals.

Chapter Three talks about "Christ and sex" where readers are reminded life is more than the mere sex act or some acts of desire. Referring back to Jesus' teaching on the bigger picture of heaven and the resurrection, where marriages and earthly relationships we know of now, are small parts of an even bigger picture. The Resurrection comes amid some violence inflicted on Christ. While the world teaches some kind of strange philosophies that breaks life up into physical and spiritual, in Christ, we see redemption in the resurrection, that a world ravaged by sex and violence, gets redeemed in the last day. Sex can be perverted and destroyed. Christ redeems. More importantly, Jansen reminds us to avoid the worldly way of "finding sex everywhere" which tend towards sexual acts, copulation, in a highly-sexed culture, toward a more holistic way of creating a new family, renewed and free. A redeemed human sexuality brings healing to the human community.

Chapter Four expands on the eschatology on how our identities are made whole and new. Before that, he navigates carefully the landmines of controversies like same-sex attraction, on how both conservatives and liberals view the whole matter. What he does is to tread lightly between the two positions. The conservatives tend toward seeing homosexuality as sin, and condemns all homosexual acts. The liberals on the other hand prefer to see ANY sexual orientation as something "created," even a gift from God, and thus people must live as "faithful" as they can to that "calling." Both sides re-interpreted the biblical texts from the perspectives of their pre-held views and to use the label "biblical" on their interpretation. The problem with both cases is that they tend to be overly "fixed" and unable to be flexible enough to ride the "narrative of desire." Key to the way Jansen reconciles both view,s is that the Christian life is not strictly about "stable series of markers of personhood, but the instability of all categories in the light of grace."  Whether it means a journey of understanding, or a process of transformation, sex is more about a longing, rather than a fixed set of behaviours. The point is, don't make such a big division or deal over the way we call "straight" or "gay," or whatever sexual orientation. He points to some way of "beyond sex" through glimpses of the resurrection and eschatology. Whether for pleasure or for physical attraction, we are reminded that "sex is not the pinnacle" but a brief "moments of intensity" and "longing" that reflects a desire for union.

Chapter Five uses the Lord's Supper to show how the Christian faith is a "sensual" event too. Jansen uses the "gestures" in the meal to point some insights to sex and holy desire, of taste, of sight, of smell, of touch, and the exercise of our human senses, in eucharistic intimacy.

Chapter Six highlights "vocation and sex" which is essentially about the choices or the callings to be married or single, celibate, or otherwise. Jansen brings some suggestions of what is a Christian vision of "good sex." Prayer promotes healing amid the fragmentation of life. Sex conditions our prayer stance, orients our desire to God that we love, and how sex and prayer can also be infused.

Chapter Seven is about 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:
  1. Consent;
  2. Mutuality;
  3. Covenant;
  4. Community;
  5. Joy.
He concludes with the conviction that "our sexual lives reflect God's desire for us and how they fall short of that desire."

My Thoughts

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 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.

No comments:

Post a Comment