Witherington Review of "Sex God"

I wanted to highlight some thoughts from Ben Witherington’s descriptive review of Rob Bell’s latest book entitled “Sex God.” Ben’s review of chapters 5 and 6 especially caught my attention because they cover ideas that I care about.

As I have said before, I believe that our understanding about power is integral to our understanding of the issues of submission and authority, both in the church and in marriages.

Chapter Five is perhaps the best chapter yet…One of the more helpful and profound insights in this chapter is on p. 98— love is a giving away of power, a becoming vulnerable. Is that true of God as well? Rob says yes—look at Jesus.

Here is an excellent para.— “Love is giving up control. It’s surrendering the desire to control the other person. The two—love and controlling power over the other person—are mutually exclusive. If we are serious about loving someone, we have to surrender all the desires within us to manipulate the relationship.”

There are two very striking implications to this:
1) if it is true, then love is never a power move, never irresistible, even when we are talking about God…Love does not demand its own way says Paul (1 Cor. 13), and Jesus shows us that is the way God loves us;
2) this definition of love also means that we are to sacrifice and put the other person first in our marriages.

…But this definition of love rules out the same old patriarchal stuff. When Christian love appears on the scene its all about mutual submission as Eph.5:21 says, mutual sacrifice and so one. We need to keep in mind that Paul in the household code is trying to push an existing patriarchal situation in a more Christian direction.

We get glimmerings of where it’s all going in places like Eph.5:21 where we see the highest and best way the relationship can work. But what Paul believes is the leaven of the Gospel is being put into the Christian community and its relationships so that things will move away from the fallen patriarchal world order to a more egalitarian one.

Chapter Six, “Worth Dying For” may be the best chapter in either of Rob’s two books. He understands very well the difficulties in discussing the submission passages, but he handles it like a pro.

He rightly stresses that mutual submission is what Eph.5:21 is calling all Christians to in relationship to each other, and a particular illustration of that is found in the relationship of Christian wife and husband. The husband indeed is called the head, but the job descriptor for headship is to take the lead in serving, sacrificing, loving just as Christ did.

If this is not a form of self-emptying and submitting I don’t know what it is. Rob says on p. 117 “The husband’s waiting for his wife to submit is actually a failure to lead….If he really thinks he is the head, then he would surrender his desires and wants and plans. He would die to his need to be in control and do whatever it takes to serve her….He would die to himself so that she could live.” Exactly so—you nailed this one Rob.

Enough with the non-Christian nonsense about unilateral submission of women to men in the church, in marriage, in ministry, in general. Rob then adds “In marriage, you’re talking about power and control only when something central to the whole relationship has fallen apart.” (p. 119)

Yes, that’s right, or at least the two persons have never come to fully give themselves, fully trust each other, and so they are still negotiating the landscape and boundaries of the relationship. And one or the other or both of them is insecure, and afraid the relationship is getting out of their control—hence the power move.

(Edited here for brevity, paragraphs, and emphasis.)

Good stuff! Although this isn’t the flavor of the entire book, I would recommend you read the full review. Other chapters include provocative titles such as, “God Wears Lipstick,” “Leather, Whips, and Fruit,” and “Whoopee Forever.”

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4 thoughts on “Witherington Review of "Sex God"

  1. I’m not finished with “Velvet Elvis”, but I watched an interview with Rob on a British show and was seriously re-impressed. I agree to think differently about some stuff Rob believes but his enthusiasm for God & church & this Christian life is infectious. In the interview he introduced “Sex God” and it sounded interesting… with this partial review I must say it’s now a must read.
    I like how Rob is willing to raise issues as a community and wrestle with them. I have never seen this practiced in any church setting but it is what I yearn for.

  2. So, I’m minding my own business, reading you in Bloglines, and BAM! I lost it on your last paragraph. OBVIOUSLY, it’s the “least” of what you had to say, but here I was all contemplative and introspective about all things marriage and you end with “God Wears Lipstick” and “Leather, Whips, and Fruit”. If Bell had a chapter title with the words “toys” or “whipped cream” in it, well…maybe I won’t say what my response would’ve been ;).

    You’re always…always pushing me to think in corners I wouldn’t visit otherwise, Grace. I like that :).

  3. ksg,
    I have read mostly positive things about Rob Bell and the Mars Hill community.

    molly,
    So many books! I’m sure that I would enjoy both this and velvet elvis. Maybe I’ll see if I run across it at the library.
    I just can’t buy ’em all. :(

    Robin,
    Well, that would be an interesting conversation too. :) Hopefully this post title doesn’t attract the riff-raff.

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