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September 04, 2009
The summer is drawing to a close. Though I love summer and will be sad to see the days grow shorter and the skies grow colder, fall does bring with it some great benefits, not the least of which is a long list of new books. For that reason I anticipate squeezing in a few more book reviews than usual over the next few weeks. I hope you don’t mind!
Very often when I do radio interviews to support my book The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment the host will ask me, “Is this a particular low point for discernment in the history of the church?” And usually I answer, “I would tend to think so, and yet I think Christians from any period of history would answer the same way. Things always look darkest to our own eyes.” This is as true of sex as it is of discernment, I am sure. We look at this sexualized culture with its mainstream acceptance of pornography, we look at a culture that more than ever seems surrendered to sex, and we despair. Yet we need only pick up the Bible to read of other cultures in other times where ritual prostitution was normal and where even churches accepted outrageous sexual sin to realize that this has always been a problem and will, in all likelihood, always be a problem. But it is in our particular cultural context that Dr. Harry Schaumburg brings his new book Undefiled. For decades Dr. Schaumburg has been counseling Christian couples and much of what he has learned in all those years is distilled into the pages of this book.
The subtitle of Undefiled is Redemption from Sexual Sin, Restoration for Broken Relationships. I think the word “redemption” is particularly instructive and particularly important. Today the vast majority of people enter marriage with a complex and often extensive sexual history, whether that involves only one partner or hundreds, whether it involves abuse or pornography or anything else. It is the rare couple, even the rare Christian couple, who can attest on their wedding night that this sexual experience is their first. This means that almost every sexual relationship is in need of redemption, in need of God’s grace to heal it, to renew it, to strengthen it. Thankfully we know that God is able and willing and eager to do this, to redeem sexuality that has strayed far from his purposes for it. But it is not only fresh, new marriages that suffer; many long-term marriages are rocked by confessions of adultery or pornography addiction. These marriages are in need of both redemption and restoration. And that is exactly the purpose of this book, to give the reader the tools to begin to rebuild what has been broken, to restore what has been lost.
One of the great strengths of this book is that Schaumburg never allows sexual sin to become a kind of psychological disorder. He does not shy away from calling a spade a spade, or calling a sin a sin. He avoids the all-too-popular therapeutic “disease” approach and focuses instead on the sinful human heart and its evil desires. And having laid bear the heart he is ready to shine upon it the light of the gospel. This he does with precision and with grace, with a gentle forcefulness strengthened by the truths of Scripture.
Woven throughout the book is the story of a couple named Jim and Carrie whose story is all-too-typical with one spouse betraying the other. From chapter-to-chapter Schaumburg tells of how he counseled them, how he brought the gospel to bear on their awful situation. And he tells of the redemption of their relationship. This story provides a framework of sorts, to give examples of what he teaches. Of course the book contains many other stories and anecdotes, collected during many years of dealing with couples as they face their deepest troubles. And yet so often we see how God can and does restore those relationships by extending grace to the hurting.
The book includes a list of helpful appendices that deal with topics such as masturbation, how to react to marital unfaithfulness, sexual dysfunction, divorce, modesty and the like. I just noticed as well that at restoringsexualpurity.org Schaumburg now offers a study guide called Sexual Redemption. It is “a fifteen week program for individuals, couples and groups. It guides the reader through each chapter of Undefiled providing Bible study, questions for personal reflection, resources for further study, a section for women, and a section for men.” I am sure this will prove useful as supplementary material.
In the opening pages of Undefiled Schaumburg says, “To be spiritually mature, you must be sexually mature; to be sexually mature, you must be spiritually mature.” This book seeks to achieve both of those goals, to help Christians grow up both in spiritual maturity and in their understanding of God’s great gift of sex. This is a book that, when read by those in the midst of dark days, will bring comfort and reassurance that God can make all things new. It is a book that will also be of benefit to those who have never faced such dark days. Not only will it equip them to bring comfort to the hurting but it will also arm them with Scriptural truths about God’s plan for sex. It is a book for anyone who wants to know redemption from sexual sin.