In this last installment of my review for T.C. Ryan’s book Ashamed No More I want to touch on the final chapters of Ryan’s journey (Part 1 and Part 2). The book, for those who have not kept up to steam with the review, is one of the best approaches towards the topic of sex addiction and pornography I have seen, and the significance for Christians come from the reality that Ryan writes both as a Christian and a former pastor. The extent to which clergy and other ministers struggle with things like pornography is enough to make this book a major and important contribution. We are all human. Ministers are human. Christians are human. And we all struggle with the same temptations. The honesty and compassion of this book, then, seeks to propel the discussion of these struggles within the Christian world past shame and guilt to victory and freedom. Read this book.
In chapters eight and nine Ryan discusses the importance of realizing that God is with us in our darkness. Too often we are told “God will punish you” or “God is far from you when you sin” or “God is angry at you.” Ryan takes a different approach:
“the struggle is where God is.”
The idea that we are alone, that we should be shamed because of our sin is completely contrary to the gospel message of freedom. Freedom, indeed, includes not only freedom from sin but freedom from the guilt and shame that comes along with it. We often encounter these feelings when confronted by others whether it be friends of ours, family, a spouse, a pastor, an elder, a co-worker, etc. And, as Ryan showed earlier on, these feelings only serve to instil the sin back into the sinner. The habits never leave. But if there is one relational distinction about God’s nature that we should know it’s this: he’s not us. (Tweet This Quote). As Ryan knows, talking to God is “talking to the One who can help us most with the life we’ve been called to live” (154). By doing so, we open ourselves up to embodying this way of approaching those who struggle. We help them because Christ would. We empathize and mourn with them because Christ would. And together we accept that hardship is usually the best way to find genuine peace.
In Chapter 11 Ryan turns to the question of biblical ethics and sexual behavior and notes, quite rightly, that the problem of porn or sex addiction is a problem amongst many problems. That is, as a Church we tend to draw out sexual sins as somehow the ones which are the real sins while ignoring all the many other ones which we disregard or make little issue of. Doing so contributes deeply to the same viewpoint much of society has concerning sex. It’s seen as the core of our identity.
But for the Christian sexual identity is only one facet of our existence amongst others. Ryan quotes the authors of Modern Psychopathologies and writes, “In contrast to messages from contemporary culture, in the biblical view sexuality is not the most important dimension of personhood.” By over-emphasizing sexual ethics, Christians often play into the hand of secular (and Freudian) culture.
Further, Ryan notes that often by stigmatizing premarital sex and porn as “the worst sins”, Christians often forget that there are equally immoral ways of sexual expression within the bonds of marriage! This realization, then, means that we are all capable of sexual sin. It is not a “get married and you’re good” but a lifelong pursuit of expressing sexual intimacy within the frames of the image of God. We are all on the same playing field and we all are called to play ball by the nature of the game.
Chapter 12 is full of some major practical advice for how spiritual leaders are called, in a large sense, to express their own brokenness. Especially amongst the younger postmodern evangelicals, Ryan’s words are important: “I think the quality of leadership most necessary in the church is spiritual integrity that comes from an honest self-appraisal, a willingness to be appropriately transparent, a sincere desire to put Christ and his desires before everything else, and a gentle approach to helping others follow Christ.”
In my opinion, this sort of leadership is not exemplified enough and it is one of the leading reasons why sexual struggle and brokenness are so secretive, shameful, and private struggles. If anything, Ryan wants to point out from the position of one who internalized his struggle for far too long that being Christian means being honest, it means being transparent, it means being incarnational, and it means being broken in the midst of community. As one who has struggled with pornography in the past, Ryan’s book is a breath of fresh air (hence, the lengthened review) and a resource that has long been needed.
- God, give us grace to accept with serenity
- The things which cannot be changed
- Courage to change the things
- Which can be changed
- and the Wisdom to distinguish
- The one from the Other
- Living one day at a time,
- Enjoying one moment at a time,
- Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
- Taking, as Jesus did,
- This sinful world as it is,
- Not as I would have it,
- Trusting that You will make all things right,
- If I surrender to Your will,
- So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
- And supremely happy with You forever in the next.