"Beauty, Order, and Mystery" ed. by Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson. A Review
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The book quickly catches your attention! Early on the editors claim that the profound mystery of human sexuality “has been exchanged for a constructivist and reductionist vision of sexuality, where these gloriously sexed bodies are viewed as little more than cultural products or biological necessities” (3). That’s how “Beauty, Order, and Mystery: A Christian Vision of Human Sexuality” begins, and then it masterfully moves outward, onward and upward. This recently published 229 page softback compiles papers from fourteen different authors that were presented at the 2016 annual conference of the Center for Pastoral Theologians (CPT). It is edited by Gerald L. Hiestand and Todd Wilson, both pastors at Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois, as well as cofounders of the CPT. The writers collectively seek to display a Christian portrayal of human sexuality that revels in the beauty, order and mystery of human sexuality as God designed it.
The first part of the book successfully draws out the contours of a theological picture for sexuality. Todd Wilson, after recounting several significant reasons why evangelicals have “kept pace with the sea change of opinion” on same-sex practice (9), then works out his view of “mere sexuality” where “being male or female, is both theologically and morally significant – it matters to God and it ought to matter to us” (15). Next, Beth Felker Jones expresses the awareness that maleness and femaleness are created goods, and that “part of who we are is written on our materially different bodies” (26). Jones’s does an exceptional job in worked out the rightness and goodness of female sexuality. Wesley Hill goes further and kindly shows how the biblical arguments to affirm same-sex unions by Eugene Rogers and Robert Song “pull apart rather than hold together the doctrines of creation and redemption.” Instead, says Hill, bodies, “and the sexed difference of those bodies, matter. And what matters to God will not be cast aside in the kingdom of God” (42). Jeremy Treat explains the role of hyperindividualism, and how the narrative of “the sovereign self” means that now I decide who I am, and that the one undisputable law of the new morality is that we cannot, and ought not, deny ourselves. But he also counters by explaining how the church can be a more authentic community with a more profound ethic. In the final chapter Richard Mouw posits the importance of catechesis on sexuality that will help to cultivate a practical wisdom and faithful improvisation.
The second portion of “Beauty, Order, and Mystery” sketches out ways that our present sexuality is simultaneously beautiful and broken. Daniel Brendsel playfully, but pointedly, couples our obsession with “selfies,” manufactured selves, and hypersexuality, and concludes that we “may need, with wisdom, to limit or adapt or even strategically abstain from cultural and technological practices and postures that are in keeping with the anthropology and ontology of modernity” (86). Next comes the transgender test, as Denny Burk discusses gender dysphoria (the conflict between perceived gender identity and biological sex) while critiquing Mark Yarhouse, and brings us to see that there is a challenge lying before us: “So this is the test: Are we going to balance the authority of Scripture against these other concerns? Or are we going to insist that the Scripture stands over (and sometimes against) these other concerns? That is our test. And we have to stay true even if the whole world goes the other way” (94). Then comes a seminal chapter on the inequality of male and female power that Gerald Hiestand sensitively and sagely works the reader through, emphasizing that any “model of Christian gender relations that fails to meaningfully incorporate Christ’s sharing power with his bride misses the mark, and does not do justice to God’s ideal” (116). Joel Willitts asserts the pervasiveness of sexual trauma, how it is often mishandled, and the importance of fostering the “Kindness Culture”. Finally, we are happily and hopefully shocked by Matthew Mason, as he proclaims the outworking of Christ’s resurrection and declares that my “body’s biological sex at birth is also the biological sex of the body in which I shall be raised,” and shows how this gives substantive hope to those who have undergone gender reassignment (144).
The last segment of “Beauty, Order, and Mystery” looks more fully into Holy Writ and history. Amy Peeler attempts to unpack 1 Corinthians 11.2-16, and in the end reminds us that bodies “matter in worship” (163). Then the reader is schooled in Thomas Aquinas by Matthew Levering, specifically on how divine revelation, human reason and the structure of the human body guide us in discerning God’s wise order for the flourishing of his royal image-bearers. Next we meet with the story and icon of Sergius and Bacchus, where Matthew Milliner brings some needed correction to John Boswell’s misguided presentations of these two believers. Lastly, Matt O’Reilly delves deeply into the connections between Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22, especially the nuptial imagery. As O’Reilly works out these biblical passages and their applications, he asks a most penetrating question: “To what sort of god does our sexuality point” (208)? This final chapter was an elegant ending to the book.
There are several themes I found that consistently ran through these pages, and gave impetus for robust reflection. First is the reiterated premise of the goodness of male bodies and female bodies. Also that God made us male and female and therefore at Christ’s return he will raise us as male and female. And then again, we must take our bodies seriously since grace does not destroy nature but restores it and transforms it. There were other refrains that the keen reader will catch, and will find themselves enraptured in moments of thankfulness and praise!
On the whole “Beauty, Order, and Mystery” was worth my time reading, and has given me several ideas to thoughtfully dwell on. This volume ought to be in the hands of every Christian pastor and church leader, especially in North America and the West. I encourage you to hit the bookstores, search the websites, order a copy, and as soon as it arrives, put all of your other reading material aside and pour over this book immediately!
Thanks to IVP Academic for providing, upon my request, the free copy of the book used for this review. The assessments are mine given without restrictions or requirements (as per Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255).
A copy of the book can be purchased here: "Beauty, Order, and Mystery"
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