A review by Richard Wilson
If any of us pick up a new book to read, it’s usually with an element of expectation. After all, we’re surely only likely to buy it if we think we’ll enjoy it, maybe agree with its message, feel challenged by its message or simply enhance our knowledge. So in this instance, one might think that a Christian book with “sex” in the title is going to remind us of God’s plan for how we’re to conduct our human relationships, and maybe tell us how those who deviate from this plan are all lost souls. Perhaps it’ll carry a reaffirming message that simply reminds us that we’re right, and those who disagree with us are wrong? Maybe it’ll make us feel really good about ourselves because we know God will be pleased with the way we’re going about marriage, sex and relationships?
But what would a book like that achieve? Very little is the likely answer! And so Glynn Harrison takes an academic and challenging approach to the subject in this book, by exploring the driving forces behind both sides of the debate – a debate that Christians have been steadily losing for the last 50 years, in spite of the inerrant truths that run throughout the Bible. So why is this? What happened during the days of The Beatles, flower power and the beginning of mass television ownership that shifted society’s attitudes to sex and relationships? What are the driving forces that continue to shape those attitudes today? Do we need to reverse the trends we’ve been seeing, particularly in the Western world, since the 1960s? And if so, just how might we go about doing this?
This book examines how sociological arguments are being won and lost. Being right about something does not necessarily win the debate. Being persuasive enough to win over the undecided helps you gain the traction needed to shift attitudes, and Harrison identifies in this book how this has happened since the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Looking at the bigger picture, against a decline in church attendance over the last 50 years, you might conclude that this book is setting out the battleground with the very real emerging threat of atheistic humanism, a movement that embraces individualism and totally rejects any notion of God. These ideas have gained ground since the 1960s, fuelled by media and more recently social media, as people have rejected God’s moral authority and presented themselves as victims whose individual rights have become suppressed.
Harrison opens by identifying how the sexual revolution has turned western attitudes on their head over just a few decades. A society that once scorned single mums, divorce and pornography is now adopting an “anything goes” ideology in which long-established social and moral attitudes to sex and marriage are being rapidly jettisoned in favour of a radical individualism that trumps all other sources of authority.
When ideas appeal to human emotions (and this can happen rapidly in the digital age), they can quickly snowball as more and more people wish to be seen to be onside. Social experiments have frequently demonstrated how people like to go along with popular opinion, even if they don’t necessarily have a strong view, rather than stand out as a dissenter, and Harrison outlines how those driving the revolution have cleverly used this human trait to further the changes we continue to see today.
At this point, you may wonder just what the point is of this book. Why should we care? Surely other people’s relationships are none of our business? After all, this book just takes us on a journey through modern social and sexual history, and as society seems to be embracing these changes, that must mean we have a happy society? Well, no, actually the author demonstrates how this rapid rise in individualism, often coupled with the popularisation of atheism has led to a more disconnected and disenfranchised society. People are throwing off the shackles of Christian morality, only to discover that their sought after happiness was merely a brief interlude.
Given that Christians are called to show love and compassion towards all people, we suddenly see a purpose for this book’s message after all, and yet we’re frequently portrayed as lacking these essential qualities. But this is actually the message that permeates this book. As the title suggests, there is a better story, but the church has collectively failed to tell this, having been caught off-guard as the sexual revolution smashed its way into our society and appealed to so many who’d simply become disengaged from the Christian message.
So why is this happening? And can the tide be turned? Harrison believes we need to become far more savvy, and basically adopt some of the tactics used by those who drove the revolution. We need to win hearts as well as minds by telling a better story about sex and relationships based on the relevant biblical truths. But to do this, we need to understand those whose opinions are currently holding sway, and then take a varied approach that combines retreating from the current cultural paradigm in order to preserve the Christian community’s beliefs (a battening down of the hatches), with a more expansive way that fights injustice and bears witness to the cross.
Society is changing rapidly and the family unit is under ever more threat. It’s a tough battle that now threatens to engulf the church as we’ve basically sleepwalked into the current situation over the last five decades. As Christians we have a duty to stand up for what is right by God, and in so doing, offer a more meaningful and ultimately more fulfilling alternative.
“A Better Story. God, Sex and Human Flourishing” is the ringing alarm clock that calls us to wake up and take on the challenge.
If you are interested in picking up a copy you can buy it here:
But if you don’t think you have time to read the whole thing (it is actually quite small and very easy to read) you can find a really helpful overview of the whole book here: