Book Review: Sex God By Rob Bell (Sep-Dec 2007)

By Matt Dabbs

Exploring the endless connections
between sexuality and spirituality

by Scott Simpson
March – April, 2007

Title: Sex God: Exploring the endless connections between sexuality and spirituality
Author: Rob Bell
Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (March 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310263468
ISBN-13: 9780310263463

In his new book, Sex God, Rob Bell suggests that, perhaps, God has tried to say something more to all of us with the gift of sex than simply, don’t do it till you tie the knot. I recognize that long gone are the days when we refused to talk about sex with our children or in our families – that’s a good thing, but I also know that we still have trouble talking about it in helpful ways. Both of my teenage daughters have brought me concerns over the cyclical themes of youth group curriculums and activities. They usually begin with the phrase… “If we have to hear one more sex-talk….” Maybe on the whole, we’ve fallen into the idea that sex is really a teen issue. We pound it hard until they’ve safely married and then rest assured that we’ve learned all God has to teach us with that particular topic. Sometimes, maybe we think that if we could just eradicate the sex-drive in our young people until they reach 27 or 28 we’d be better off.

But what if God actually wants to use sex to teach us something? ALL of us?

When I was a kid, “sex” and “God” didn’t appear in the same sentence unless the word “abomination” appeared somewhere between them! Thus saith my alter ego, Compartmental Scotty, who occasionally sees God at work outside of the church walls… but rarely. This is the problem: has a secular dualism so influenced us that we can’t even hear the spiritual resonance of God’s creation around us? Sure, a gift like sex can be abused, but missing its spiritual significance is abuse of another sort. It’s a practiced deafness that limits lessons on God to things that translate neatly into flannel-graph.

Bell decides to mine deeper than that. He suggests that God may have a number of things to teach us about His nature through the items he’s created among us: “sometimes this is really about that.” He then defines “sex” in a broader way than most of us are accustomed to. The reason for this redefinition is centered in the understanding that we are created in the image of a God who is fundamentally about relationship. If “sex” is really about connection, then maybe being truly “sexy” is more about being fully connected in healthy ways with God and with others who are also made in God’s image. But we are often lost in a frenzy of desperate attempts at cheap, uncommitted connections that lead ultimately to more disconnection. Our understanding of “relationship,” even as Christians, often has more to do with various forms of transaction than with true, agape love.

Bell reclaims sex, as did the Song of Songs long before him, for God. Sex is not fundamentally about pleasure or procreation – though it does embrace both of these – it is about being fully and relationally human. And that’s human in the truest sense – human in the “God’s image” sense. When we realize this, suddenly even pleasure and procreation take on a deeper significance. Pleasure sounds a lot like that “abundant life” that Jesus talked about, and procreation goes beyond mere reproduction toward discipleship.

This is really about that.

As we often do with many subjects, we have set up for ourselves an unhealthy dichotomy. Bell points out that we tend either toward being animals (this is my biology . . . I’m just doing what I do) which is a denial of our spiritual nature, or toward being angels (Christ calls me to rise above my base nature) which is a denial of our physical selves. We are human – combination of dirt and spirit that is uniquely formed to be the reflection and stamp of the creator. “You can’t talk about sexuality without talking about how we were made,” states Bell, and we were made spiritual and physical – and made to be incomplete when estranged from our environment, from each other and from God.

True to form, Bell draws deeply on Jewish perspectives and traditions in explaining the sacredness of marriage – he has a beautiful chapter on what goes on “under the Chuppah.” At the same time, he affirms that lifestyle that some embrace by choosing celibate singleness as a life-long calling. Because he has redefined sexuality as our capacity to connect meaningfully and powerfully with God, others and the rest of creation, he’s able to claim boldly that “some of the most sexual people I know are celibate. They sleep alone.” Of course, some of the most “unsexual” places exist where people are “having sex” all the time: biology without spiritual connectedness.

Rob BellIf you’re familiar with Bell from his first book, Velvet Elvis, or from his NOOMA video series, then you already know him to be a deep-thinking, plain-speaking storyteller. Sex God is a straight forward, engaging read (I finished it easily in one day). You’ll find yourself wanting to share snippets of it with everyone you know. Bell sounds more like a good friend than a theologian, but don’t let that fool you. He has done his homework. Part biblical exegesis, part pastoral practice, part personal examination, Sex God takes us into the heart of what God wants: a faithful union with each one of us and with ALL of us – together.

Sure, you might be embarrassed when Sister Smith spies Bell’s book tucked under your Bible on the pew next to you and asks, “Oh, a new book? What is that you’re reading?” But once you get past the provocative title, you’ll find a very sexy book – in the BEST sense of the word, of course!New Wineskins

Scott SimpsonScott Simpson has been a teacher at the high school and university levels for twenty years, holding faculty positions at York College, ACU and Black Hills State University. Scott also served as Executive Director of Camp Blue Haven in Las Vegas, NM for two years. He is currently helping the Northern Hills Church of Christ to establish a college ministry center in Spearfish, SD. Scott is a writer, poet and songwriter and enjoys making and recording music with his wife Sheryl and their two daughters, Maegan and Laurel.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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