The Great Sex Rescue by Sheila Wray Gregoire, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, and Joanna Sawatsky
Not long ago, the thought of publicly reviewing a book titled, The Great Sex Rescue, would not have been on my radar. Especially since I am a pastor and this review is aimed at a conservative evangelical audience. Even the title is off-putting for many of us. In corresponding with a friend, I referred to the publication as, “The Gregoire book, ” avoiding the s-word. Even if we see ourselves as detached and academically-minded, we often cannot escape cultural taboos inculcated in us over time.
However, I see such value in this book that I’m willing to put aside any feelings of discomfort to raise awareness of what I see to be a very good and needed resource for married Christian couples in our time. Sexuality is a part of us. It is the way God created us and, as in all things of His creation, it is “very good.” (Gen. 1:31)
Sadly, in conservative Christian churches, we have often avoided the topic of sex altogether or, at the very least, given it short shrift. I think the reasons for this are varied but basically it comes down to the fact that most of us have been raised to see sex as a very private matter and there is great resistance to speaking publicly about it. I think there is also the subconscious feeling that public emphasis upon sex in the church could open a veritable “Pandora’s box” and cause more problems that it would solve.
Certainly there are valid concerns but the problem with that line of thinking is that we live in a world where matters of sex are constantly and explicitly on display. Whether it is through movies or television, literature or art, or through online activity, sexual matters are constantly dealt with and rarely, if ever, from a biblical perspective. In such a cultural environment, the attitude of many in the church in preferring silence on matters of sex amounts to that of the proverbial ostrich sticking its head in the sand.
Not only is the world talking about sex, our people within the church are regularly dealing with sex in their own personal lives. For married couples, sex is a significant part of that relationship. We need good biblical teaching on this issue just as assuredly as we need sound teaching on raising our children and managing our money.
Good resources are vital in helping Christians wisely deal with the practical matters of our own sexuality and to help us to not only avoid sexual problems within marriage but also to maintain a committed and chaste sexual life in the midst of a sex-crazed culture.
This is where The Great Sex Rescue provides great value. I can give this book an almost unqualified endorsement. The authors had, first of all, a proper biblical focus and applied it throughout to the issue of married human sexuality.
The authors are unapologetically evangelical and Scripture-focused. They display a heartfelt desire that sex should be done rightly as the Bible teaches it. They also hold a mirror up to things that have been erroneously taught about sex in evangelical Christianity in well-known books and other documented teaching.
Personally, I was appalled at how bad was some advice in some of the most popular evangelical books about sex. The only book that I had read on their list was The Act of Marriage and that was over 40 years ago (1981). Many of the books were known to me by title but I had never read them.
Part of the reason is that I have not been a part of the evangelical purity culture so I did not know about many of the things that had been taught in that movement. What struck me was how one-sided the books were on some subjects and frankly the disrespect they showed to both women and men. The authors only used selected quotes from the popular books and acknowledged that most had helpful things in them. However, on the matters discussed in their book, the teaching they cited was very bad and, in my opinion, quite unredeemable. The authors were courageous taking on some powerful interests and well-recommended books and they acknowledged that they had suffered for it.
I think it is fair to say that The Great Sex Rescue is very woman-focused but, in view of some of the one-sided advice in the other books, that is perhaps unavoidable. I had no problem with that as it was an eye-opener to me in a lot of ways. It even caused me to do some self-examination in my own life.
The authors relate how The Great Sex Rescue came about as the result of a massive survey they conducted on sex in Christian marriages. The survey results are reported throughout the book. The personal testimonies they provide from survey participants also give the book tremendous supporting documentation and buttress the critiques they offer.
The value of The Great Sex Rescue is not only the criticism it offers of bad teaching and practice in very popular books; it also has positive instruction and seeks to offer a way forward for married couples. There are questions throughout the book that lead the reader think about his or her marriage. Each chapter closes with exercises to help married couples navigate the waters of their own sexual relationship.
There is another thing about The Great Sex Rescue and this might throw some people off. The authors do not avoid explicit language. I do not mean that the book contains foul language but it deals with sexual matters very frankly. We seem to often want to avoid direct talk about sex in our Christian circles, and understandably so. We often use euphemisms and circumlocutions to talk about sexual matters. In fact, as the authors point out, some of the highly-recommended books that they critique go to comical lengths sometimes to have substitute names for body parts and such. To resort to such indirect ways of speaking in a sexually-explicit culture such as ours is not merely quaint; it is naïve and even tone-deaf.
The authors of this book do not shy away from bluntness. Sometimes the language intentionally borders on crass. I actually think this works well for the book. Their use of indelicate language cuts though the clutter and gets the reader’s attention. For example, you do not expect to see the word “nookie” in a Christian book but I think it provides a small amount of shock value to drive their point home.
It is similar to Paul’s use of “dung” in the book of Philippians. (Phil. 3:8) The word gets softened to “rubbish” in a lot of our modern translations. The closest English translation of the Greek word that Paul used (skubalon) is “crap.” Paul was writing to get the attention of the Philippians and used an indelicate word to do it. Paul did the same thing in the book of Galatians in wishing that the Judaizer heretics would castrate themselves (Gal. 5:12)
The authors of The Great Sex Rescue do a similar thing but, in my opinion, never cross the line into the coarse or vulgar. It was obvious (to me at least) that they were using hyperbolic language to get everyone’s attention. Still, if someone is offended by an explicit discussion of matters of sex, they might have a problem with this book.
I read a lot of books and do not say this very often, but this book blew me away. I believe it should be read by conservative Christians as it is absolutely biblical and does not shy away from important issues with which each married couple must deal.
I do have a few qualms and qualifications that I would offer with my endorsement of this book. I consider these quite slight and none of them a deal-breaker. In fact, most readers would not even notice the questions I raise. (Maybe not even some pastors) Most people will be more upset at the frank language used in the book and its critique of popular books than the problems that I saw.
My concerns are:
(1) The authors are definitely egalitarian in their approach. For those not familiar with that term, let me explain. “Egalitarianism” is the belief that God created men and women not only equal in standing before Him but also equal in all functions. The opposing view, “complementarianism,” states that God created men and women in equal standing before Him but created them to serve different functions. Thus, the man and the woman are to complement one another.
As I stated, the authors of this book are clearly egalitarian and I certainly disagree with that. This is not a major emphasis in the book. They make some statements regarding egalitarianism but then move on. I felt that they dealt with the complementarian view in a straw-man fashion.
Clearly, some people have distorted complementarianism and it has been used in some circles as a cloak for domination and abuse. By the same reasoning, egalitarianism has been an excuse for rebellion and as cover for male unwillingness to lead. In short, sin and fallenness lead us to abuse anything. I wish the authors had emphasized that more rather than dealing with complementarianism loosely and inaccurately. Despite that, egalitarianism was not a major emphasis in this book so it does not cause me to hesitate in recommending it.
(2) There were some cringe-worthy moments in the book for me. I am a somewhat of a biblical and theological stickler. Sometimes the authors stretched the meaning of Scripture in their use (especially in chapter headings). I do not think this is a major problem because they did not distort the overall message of the passages. In fact, they always kept to the spirit of the passage being used even if they departed from precise exegesis. This is not a major problem because I actually found the book to be wonderfully biblical.
(3) In their chapter on “duty sex,” the authors referenced the movie Bruce Almighty in a way that really gave me pause. Admittedly, most people would have passed it by without notice but it could not escape my theological lens. I have never seen Bruce Almighty but I have real problems with movies, or any other form of art, that flippantly depict God. God takes the Third Commandment quite seriously.
Additionally, in making an excellent point about duty sex, they depicted God has having the challenge of getting us to love Him of our own free will. This was kind of an epic theological fail for me because it spoke nothing of human fallenness nor of our enmity against God as shown in the Scriptures. I do realize that the authors are not theologians and this was such a small part of the book (one paragraph or two) that it does not affect my recommendation at all.
(4) The thing that frustrated me the most was when they spoke of Abraham sexually assaulting Hagar. This was the only place in the book where they really distorted Scripture. There is nothing in the Bible that even implies that Abraham was sexually abusive to Hagar. Scripture is plain that Hagar was given to Abraham as his wife. (Gen. 16:3) Most likely she was a concubine but Hagar would have seen it as a promotion from being Sarah’s slave.
I am not defending the ancient system but the authors problematically interpreted an ancient phenomenon through 21st century Western eyes. In doing so, they come to a conclusion not at all supported by Scripture. We are seeing the same thing today in some discussions of David and Bathsheba where David, in modern Western reasoning, was a man with power over Bathsheba and therefore guilty of sexual abuse. The Bible certainly shows David as guilty of sin but this modern conclusion is not at all supported by the Scriptural text.
To be fair to the authors of The Great Sex Rescue, this was also a small matter of discussion in the book and would probably not even be noticed by most people.
All of these qualifications come from my own view of things. None of these change my opinion that the book is of immense value and should be read by Christians.
In summary, the authors of The Great Sex Rescue have given us a great resource for dealing with sexual problems in marriage from a very biblical perspective and in a manner that does not trivialize the matter nor avoids direct speech. In a time where most public conversation about sex is from a secular and ungodly perspective, this book with its strong biblical focus is very needed.
The Great Sex Rescue has my highest recommendation.
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