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Book Review – What Is the Meaning of Sex (Denny Burk)


I sometimes hear Christians say that our world is really no worse from biblical times in terms of [sexual] immorality. There is some truth to this assessment, for there is nothing new under the sun (Eccl. 1:9) and sexual perversions like homosexuality have existed since the time of Genesis. However, in another sense, I think we are in a much darker day. In large part aided by technology, sexual immorality has diversified and proliferated. If we look at pornography as an example, it did not exist for most of human history. And when it first came into existence, once had to go into a physical store in order to obtain it. Ubiquity of consumption was reigned in by the hassle and embarrassment. Now, anyone can access it without another’s knowledge with the click of a mouse. Temptation is all around, and secular/revisionist voices boom telling us not only that any kind of sexual activity is okay, but that even gender itself is a social construct. In this generation more than ever before, Christians need to be solidly grounded in a biblical sexual ethic – to understand what the Bible teaches about gender and sexuality and how it applies to the ethical challenges we face today.

In this new book, Denny Burk (associate professor at Boyce college, associate pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church, and editor of The Journal for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood) shows us from the Bible “what the meaning of sex is and thereby how we ought to order our sexual lives under God” (12). Though this book treats a range of topics related to the Bible and sexual ethics,  from beginning to end the constant refrain is that sex (and consequently gender, marriage, singleness, manhood, womanhood) exists for the glory of God, and we must therefore evaluate all issues concerning sexual morality by its ability to achieve that primary, ultimate end.

In the introduction, Burk summarizes the four main approaches to ethics: teleological, consequentialist, deontological, and character/virtue. Then he states that his approach in this book is a blended one that gives privilege to teleology within the framework of divine revelation. Burk also mentions that the approach he argues for here is very similar to John Frame’s triperspectivalism. In the final part of the introduction, Burk mentions again that the ultimate purpose of sex is the glory of God. However, he acknowledges the importance of subordinate purposes as well – consummation of marriage, procreation, expression of love, and pleasure. These four subordinate purposes comprise the means by which we achieve the ultimate purpose of glorifying God with our sexuality.

The rest of the book fleshes out the thesis that the ultimate purpose of human sexuality is the glory of God and that the ultimate ethic is to glorify God with our sexuality. Chapter 1, “Glorify God with Your Body,” consists of an exposition of 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 in which the author shows us that Paul used a teleological model of ethics that is rooted in the Old Testament to confront an aberration in Corinth and exhort his readers to use their bodies sexually for the glory of God. Chapter 2, “Glorify God with Your Hermeneutic,” looks at a challenge to the authority of Scripture that appears quite frequently in connection with Christian sexual ethics – the hermeneutic that pits Paul against Jesus.

In Chapter 3, “Glorify God with Your Marriage,” Burk establishes a definition of marriage that is rooted is Scripture because the Bible presents marriage as the only permissible context for the expression of human sexuality. Jesus and Paul both looked back to the pre-fall monogomous union of Adam and Eve as the norm for human sexuality and marriage. God created marriage to be convenantal, sexual, procreative, heterosexual, monogamous, noninsestuous, and, ultimately symbolic of the gospel. Human marriages exist not to tell their own story, but the story of the ultimate and only eternal marriage: that of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:22-33). Chapter 4, “Glorify God with Your Conjugal Union,” uses 1 Corinthians 7:1-6 to expound upon the necessity of conjugal union for the health and chastity of each spouse as well as the spiritual and emotional health of the marriage. He then devotes some time to boundaries of conjugal union – the question of whether there are limits on what kinds of activities married couples may engage in. Here again, Burk exhorts readers to consider the question from the angle of how the act in question relates to the overall purpose of marriage and to the ultimate end of glorifying God. Finally, the issue of divorce is addressed.

Chapter 5 examines the moral and spiritual issues at stake with modern birth control methods, with special attention paid to the Pill. Chapter 6 expounds upon a biblical view of manhood and womanhood in light of modern challenges to it such as “intersex” (when biological gender is not clear at birth). Chapter 7 addresses homosexuality; it takes us through the key New Testament passages that address this topic, explains how revisionists have twisted interpretations to try to justify homosexuality, as well as corrects the interpretational errors. The author exhorts Christians to simultaneously hold unswervingly to biblical conviction while growing in love, compassion and ministry effectiveness toward homosexuals. He highlights John Piper’s framework for this, and includes his 2003 statement, “Beliefs About Homosexual Behavior and Ministering to Homosexual Persons.” The last chapter addresses singleness. Here, while acknowledging that the phenomenon of prolonged adolescence makes purity more difficult for older Christian singles, Burk argues that it is possible and Christian singles must pursue it.

This book is a fantastic introduction and primer for a biblical sexual ethic. It is saturated with Scripture and bound together with a call to pursue that which will glorify God. It addresses the core issues of gender, sexuality, singleness, and marriage. It also engages with contemporary issues such as birth control methods and intersex disorders. The author engages with contemporary events and scholarship, as well as with the decades of feminist and revisionist literature. The footnotes provide much helpful guidance for further reading. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a primer on biblical sexual ethic. Actually, I recommend this book to any and every Christian, even if you’re not particularly interested in the topic. Sooner or later you will be confronted with all the issues addressed in this book, if you haven’t been already.

Westminster Books currently offers this book at the lowest price of $9.00, but I don’t know how long this deal will last. It is currently available from Amazon for $13.31.

*I received a free electronic copy of this book for review from Crossway Books through NetGalley. I was not obligated to provide a favorable review, and the opinions expressed here are solely mine.

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  1. Book Log: October 2013 |

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