Book Review September 1994

Sexual Character – Beyond Technique to Intimacy by Marva J. Dawn. Wm B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1993, 172 pages. Reviewed by Thomas Vanden Heuvel.

There is a desperate need for a dear Biblical witness to healthy Christian sexuality both within marriage and outside of it. In this book, Marva J. Dawn gives us this. She is married to a wonderful husband, Myron. She is severely handicapped and lives in a wheel chair. She is a theologian, author and teacher working with Christians Equipped for Ministry based in Vancouver, Washington. She is a scholar with a Ph.D. in ethics and the Scriptures from the University of Notre Dame.

Richard B. Hays of Duke Divinity School says of her book: “Marva Dawn issues a clear and winsome call for the church to resist the tragic confusion of secular culture by nuturing fidelity and intimacy within marriage. Her teaching is rooted deeply in Scripture and articulated with pastoral wisdom. Her emphasis on the church as a character-forming community is an especially important message for our time.”

The purpose of her book is stated in this way: “I am most interested in building the church to be the church, to pass on the narratives of the faith so that its members can learn God’s design for their sexuality, and to foster the development of the necessary virtues so that this design can be chosen and enjoyed in deep friendships, strong marriages, and chaste sexuality” (p. 112).

There is a profound difference between the secular, worldly view of sexual union and the Biblical Christian view. The world says that as long as no one gets hurt it doesn’t matter what one does. We as Christians must see that sexual union only within the convenantial bond of marriage is a sign of God’s faithfulness; and we must cherish it as such a sign.

This sign is a wonderful reality in itself, but its ultimate meaning lies beyond its immediate pleasure. It is a sign, a gift to be enjoyed and one for which to thank the Lord; but it is not the be-all and end-all of marriage.

The author makes a very helpful distinction between social and genital sexuality. The Bible introduces these two kinds of sexuality in Genesis 1 and 2. In Genesis 2, God underscores His design for genital sexuality, saying, a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife and they shall be one flesh. In Genesis 1:26 and 27 we read of God’s creation of human beings as the “culmination of God’s sovereign, harmonious ordering of the world” (p. 10). It is very important to see the beauty of social sexuality as the fellowship of human beings created in God’s image as males and females. Our culture suffers from great confusion over what constitutes masculinity and femininity. Jesus gives us the perfect model for social sexuality and it is not the blasphemy of “The Last Temptation of Christ.” What our society needs is a healthy social sexuality in the interaction between the sexes in the church, workplace, government, military and athletics.

This involves more than rules for behavior, though rules are necessary; it mandates a positive experience of God’s grace and obedience to His Word. Our behavior arises out of the kind of persons we are, that is our character. Therefore the title: SEXUAL CHARACTER. But behavior also builds character. The author says that each time a person chooses sexual faithfulness, that choice reinforces that kind of character. Each time someone allows himself to view pornographic material, traits of exploitation are fostered. Whenever an individual uses sexually explicit language, he/she promotes vices of immodesty and hardens oneself against the mystery and beauty of God’s precious design for sexuality (p.35).

Co-habitating before marriage not only is contrary to God’s design for marriage, but dramatically raises the probability of divorce. Studies show that divorce rates among those who have previously lived together are 50 to 100 percent higher (p.6).

The Christian community is to be a nurturer of character. The more we see Jesus, the more we will be like Him, as the Holy Spirit transforms us into His likeness.

The Word of God forms us. It gives us courage to deal with the sexual problems in our society because it announces to us the defeat of the principalities and powers. These forces which contribute to the sexual pollution of our world have been defeated already by Christ. (Col. 2:14, 15). We have been given the weapons of the Spirit to stand against all the methods of the demonic world. (Eph. 6:10–20). The author makes a wonderful contribution to our Biblical understanding of sexuality, marriage, friendship, homosexuality, divorce, nurturing of children, abortion and teenage dating and sex.

The author’s climax is the call for “sexual shalom.” Shalom is the Hebrew word for peace and begins with reconciliation with God. It encompasses peace with others, with ourselves, and widens out to connote such things as health, contentment, fulfillment, satisfaction and wholeness.

She summarizes her book in this way: “I want to offer a vision which will guide us in positive creation of sexual shalom and give us strength and resources to fight various sexual idolatries in our society. A sense of sexual wholeness in the church will prevent its members from taking sexual union out of context” (p.167).

I want to recommend this book for all young couples who are planning marriage. It will also be a great encouragement to us who are married. What a blessed plan God designed! We will follow it for our profit and blessing.