Book Review: Purposeful Sexuality: A Short Christian Introduction, Ed Shaw (IVP 2021).

If you have ever questioned your own sexuality, had or dreamt of a relationship, or frankly found yourself attracted to another human being, then this book is for you. Ed Shaw’s short new book is a fantastic introduction to the Christian hope to be found in the heart of something that is deeply and intrinsically human: our sexuality. And it is such a helpful introduction to a minefield of a subject. With a winsome pastoral approach, and an at-times brutally honest candidness, Shaw unpacks the truth of human sexuality.

An Honest Opening

We all have a sexuality, so why is talking about it so hard? Shaw picks out three perceptive answers. Our sexualities are unique. (2) “We all have unique experiences, [so] that no-one’s experience of sexuality is ever the same as anyone else’s.” Our sexualities are uniquely damaged. (4) “We carry around emotional scars, perhaps even huge gaping wounds, from what was done to us in the past.” And our sexualities are uniquely damaging. (6) “When it comes to sexuality, almost every adult on this planet is both a victim and a victimizer to a greater or lesser extent.”

To be human is to have a sexuality, and to be human is to be unique, and our sexualities reflect that. But in a fallen world, they also reflect the sin and shame of a broken humanity. So where does this leave us? Can we ever talk about sexuality in a meaningful way? We need help. We need the help of one who can reach down to our brokenness and lift us up. One who can understand our sexuality, and speak into it a better story. But as Shaw unpacks in this book, wonderfully (8) “we haven’t been left alone to sort out the mess of our sexualities – in him [Christ] (and him alone) we have all the help we need.”

So how does Christ speak into this mess?

The heart of Shaw’s book tackles two big questions. What is sexuality for? (Chapter 2-3.) and how does this help us? (Chapters 4-6.) Debunking myths that the true goodness of sexuality is found in marriage, or that all expressions of our sexuality are naturally sinful, Shaw points his reader to Christ.

I have read many books on this topic in the past few years, and like many readers, I have also faced the increased discussion of sexuality and expressions of sexuality in the secular media. I will include a few recommendations of other helpful reads at the end of this review, but Purposeful Sexuality is so helpful for facing up to reality. Christians rightly teach a biblical view of sex and marriage, but how we frame that, how we communicate that, can so often be very unhelpful. Writing from his experience as a celibate same-sex attracted man, Shaw confronts our ineptitude, and points us instead to Scripture.

Because in God’s Word we don’t find an oppression of human sexuality, we find a fulfilment of it.

Through a thoughtful and careful examination of Scripture, Shaw walks the reader through the story of salvation, and shows us how human sexuality, however that might look for each of us, points towards a greater beauty.

Shaw’s book is full of hope for the one who bears (or who has inflicted) the scars of a broken sexuality.

(21) “It turns out the thing God has most used to help me appreciate his love for me is sexuality… If I were not a sexual being, if I didn’t feel sexual passion and pain, I wouldn’t be able to feel the full intensity of his passionate and painful love for me.”

Through Hosea, Song of Songs and a wonderful discussion on John 4, Shaw takes the reader to the wonderful conclusion that (24) “sex and marriage in creation are just a trailer for a new creation.”

After showing us what sexuality is for in the Bible story, Shaw shows how this frees us. It frees those who feel their sexuality is broken, wrong or unfulfilled. It frees us from the narrative that sexual pleasure is the greatest good. As Shaw’s personal testimony shows, even not ‘joining in’ with sex is an expression of sexuality and in itself a wonderful picture of future hope. The Gospel is good news for a sexual humanity; it is good news for all of us.

Conclusion

The key downside to this book is the price point, as you’ll see if you click through the link below, it’s really quite pricey at £7.99. For a 60 odd page book that does feel quite excessive, and I can imagine it would understandably put a few readers off. (And in fact – at the time of writing it is more expensive than Harrison’s A Better Story, which offers a much lengthier treatment of a similar topic.)

But this book is really good. It is honest and raw and straight talking. It is biblical, pastoral and genuine. And it points us to Jesus. The Jesus who was God made man. This Jesus who (46) “is on the inside when it comes to sexuality – because he has one.” The Jesus whose salvation work frees us from the guilt and shame of a broken sexuality. The Jesus whose incredible beauty fulfils even the most unfulfilled sexuality. And the Jesus who now lives in all believers, making us more and more like our Saviour as we eagerly await the day of His return.

I definitely commend this book. At only 57 pages it is a very short read (and it could have been longer), but it really helpfully exposes the lies our world tells us, and offers instead the hope and truth of a God who created humanity as sexual beings. Not to torment us, but to point us once more to Himself.

Purposeful Sexuality is available here.

Another great read in the sphere of human sexual flourishing is Glynn Harrison’s A Better Story.

Also worth a read is Jason Roach’s book, Swipe Up.

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