Review of “The Meaning of Sex” by Dennis Hollinger (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009)

I am taking a course with the President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in the spring entitled Issues in Sexual Ethics and Bioethics. One of the required texts for the course was the President’s, Dennis Hollinger, book The Meaning of Sex. This book’s expressed purpose is to develop a Christian definition of what sex is for, and then answer the various ethical questions surrounding sex within that framework.

This book definitely delivered and I think it is a must read for any Christian who is a sexual being… BTW, that’s all of us.

Warning: Because of the content of the book and the nature of the material, this post may contain some references that are inappropriate for younger readers. If you are under the age of 18, please have your parents read this post before you do and be obedient to them if they ask you not to read it.

Dr. Hollinger begins this book by explaining that we live in a sexually confused world that has a paradoxical tension between an “anything goes” attitude and a somewhat “puritanical” attitude in other areas. In a culture where a man who hooks up with lots of women is lauded while a woman who hooks up with lots of men is condemned, this book speaks volumes.

He continues to explain several ethical theories and worldviews and how those interact with sex. He then masterfully, through theological and biblical reflection, shows how each of those perspectives is incorrect. He then proceeds to build an affirmative case for what sex is for.

In part two he moves on to apply the purposes defined in part one to the various ethical questions presented to Christians: Sex Before Marriage (Chapter 5), Sex in Marriage (Chapter 6), The Challenge of Homosexuality (Chapter 7), and Reproductive Technologies and Sexual Ethics (Chapter 8). He closes with reflections about what this means for the Christian.

This book was extremely helpful for me, as I am currently engaged. I was at the butt end of several jokes as my future Brothers- and Sisters- in-law noticed that I was reading a book with sex in the title. However, reading through this helped me to frame my mindset for my upcoming wedding, wedding night, and a life time of sexual intimacy with my wife. This book is a must read for any Christian couple, and I would highly recommend that pastors assign part one and chapters five, six, and eight as part of their pre-marital courses.

Also, the text does a great job of addressing other issues, particularly Homosexuality, with both sensitivity and integrity. Although I found it cumbersome at first, the extensive use of secular studies, as well as Christian studies, was helpful as it rooted the arguments not only in the Bible, but also in scientific and psychological research.

I was however, a little dissatisfied with some of the sections regarding sexual issues before marriage as many of them boiled down to a complicated “don’t do it” statement. It would have been helpful to explain more fully why the activities in question (primarily Oral Sex and Masturbation) outside of the context of marriage are contrary to God’s intended purposes for sexuality. Although the reader who already thinks these things are inappropriate would agree, the book would do little to convince someone who disagrees to change their perspective.