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January Book Review

Peter Grier, 18/01/17

Peter Grier reviews “A Better Story” by Glynn Harrison, a forthcoming publication from IVP.

January Book Review

Ireland.  The Magdalene Laundries.

It’s here that Glynn Harrison (former professor of psychology in Bristol University, now retired) starts us thinking about the sexual revolution that has happened since the 60s. Is another book about sex and Christianity really needed? Well after reading this one, I would say that not only was it needed, but it’ll be one I recommend to all students to read this year (and I don’t say that about many). 

The book is split into three parts that could as easily be entitled:

1. where we’ve come from (“a better understanding”)

2. the present condition of our own hearts (“a better critique”), and

3. a way forward (“a better story”).

In part one Glynn recognises that we must examine the whole culture of the air we breathe each day. Porn is not the problem (primarily). Sleeping around is not the problem. And activists for other worldviews are not the problem. They are simply products of the world that we live in. And so to help ourselves and the world, we must know where we are and how we have come to be here. But don’t worry, in case that sounds scary and philosophical. Glynn will make you think, but is easy to relate to, does it in bite–sized chunks, and convinced me he feels what I feel.

In part two of the book the author then persuades me that I am not removed from this culture: that I have major areas of struggle and sin in my own life, impacted by living in this time of revolution. The problem is not “out there” with those people ruining our society. Nor can anything be reversed. We are so far away from where we came from in the sexual revolution, and the old way of doing life had so many problems too.

The sexual revolution isn’t primarily about the ‘hot–button’ issues being fiercely contested in the so–called culture wars. It is about a much wider, deeper unravelling. And where the revolution forces us to sit up and think, we should be grateful. There can be no ‘going–backery’. No hankering after some bucolic paradise of the 1950s that never actually existed. Where the revolution has forced us to face our shame and hypocrisy, we should say ‘thank you’ – and mean it. Only then will we be ready to put the claims and promises of the sexual revolution under a critical spotlight.” (p. 89)

Finally in part three Harrison beautifully turns and paints a true vision of flourishing sexuality. He shows that the secular worldview that craved individual freedom and better sex has left itself wanting, with people having sex less often and fewer being satisfied when they do. Instead they’ve ended up more lonely and isolated than ever, having less social interaction. Instead, we are to satisfy ourselves to live as God created sex to be. And in case this starts to sound old and boring, Glynn’s view of sex is a far way removed from what you may have heard in church each week (or not heard, as the case more likely is). He tells a story of how, even someone like me, a single twenty–something–year–old who has never had sex, can be a flourishing, sexual being, and he gives people a glimpse of a better earthy reality, and a faithful God who waits for His marriage day to an unfaithful people.

Glynn’s stories have been crafted from raw experiences in his life as a researcher and professor. They’ve been trialled and tested in lectures, seminars, talks and interactive workshops across the UK and Ireland, and having been one of many who’s been stimulated and challenged by him in that context, I’m delighted he’s put some of his material into book form. 

But it’s not primarily his academic research that creates such a good book. It’s his humanity. His authenticity. His ability to sit with us in our struggles, and not just rant about how far society has become degraded. With balanced lenses he puts his arm round us and tells us of a better story. And in doing that in this book, takes us by the hand and starts to walk us towards that goal.

It’s too early to say whether this will be one of my 2017 top ten, but I just have an inkling it might!