Review: A Better Story

A sense of defeat in certain areas of the church has been smoldering. With the rapid change in public opinion on a host of moral issues these past ten years, not least 2015’s Obergefell’s decision, hand-wringing and pearl-clutching can come as quickly for the faithful as prayer and offering.

But what if our cultural moment isn’t a death knell, but a trumpet call to something new? What if what faces the church is only the loss of the deadweight of Christendom, while what the Spirit wants to give birth to is a fresh wave of winsome witness?

Some within the church are beginning to believe and sketch out what joyful Christianity can look like in our day, even and especially in the field of sexuality. One of these is Glynn Harrison, who this year published A Better Story: God, Sex & Human Flourishing.

This volume is a worthy entry to the field. Harrison devotes Part One to a thorough explanation of how we got here, but more importantly, provides tools to understand that our current culture is not a-moral, but rather differently moral. Incorporating the work of men like Jonathan Haidt, Charles Taylor, and Jamie Smith, he walks readers through what matters to the modern individualist, specifically the power of story and the reason why many who hold traditional beliefs have chosen silence—namely, shame. This opening section alone is worth the price of the book for distilling for the non-specialist an accurate picture of the sea we’re swimming in.

If the reader left this first section in despair, Part Two is where Harrison begins to open us up to hope. Like Tim Keller and Preston Sprinkle, he calls the church to boldly declare that we have much to repent of in how we have spoken about and handled human sexuality, and like in all repentance, there is opportunity for new life. He then turns to the promises of the sexual revolution and shows how it not only has not kept them, but cannot keep them. Those promises revealed true human desires, but by being broken, left a generation open to disappointment, disillusionment, and pain.

The third part of the book is then dedicated to Harrison’s proposal for how we might get it right. He captures various possibilities for how sexual desire can help us understand God’s love for us, capitalizing on the point that there is not no marriage in heaven but one marriage in heaven—Christ and his bride. He invites us to see how sexual desire pictures God’s intense passion, his faithful character, and the fruitfulness of union with him.

Crucial to his theme as he moves down into the earthly community is beginning to build a case that sex is never solely personal, but indeed a community act. That is, it always impacts the wider community, and is never isolated from it. Most importantly, he pleads with the church to take singleness seriously, to honor it. He writes, “Single people should not be tagged on to families, but should seek to become more integral to them, providing wisdom and skills, helping buffer against inward-looking selfishness” (171).

Harrison has done a great service to the church in explaining why we need to take emotion and aesthetic seriously in our presentation of God’s goodness, and in his call to seize this opportunity that the sexual revolution’s wake has provided to form our churches into the communities of faithfulness and thriving they were meant to be.

However, Harrison was clear that he hoped his work would “spur on others to produce something better,” (xi) and the weaknesses of the book reveal this need. For example, while he demonstrates the power of emotional engagement, his presentation of the better story can feel flat at times.  But perhaps even more crucially, he does not achieve--so pressing in our moment--an explanation of why sexual difference in marriage is a necessary and positive good, nor does he give voice to how an individual can in fact find her best calling in serving the community.

We love to be swept up into grand visions and holy schemes, and if we are able to move beyond fear of this moment, we will see its prospects. What Glynn Harrison has produced is a good beginning. It will serve the church best if it raises up our best storytellers, our best artists, and our sharpest minds, to cast for the next generation the light drenched glory of God in his good design for our joy in the midst of our sexuality.