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A balanced and sensitive Christian consideration of human sexuality. (Featured Reviews).

Balswick, J. K., & Balswick, J. O. (1999).

Authentic human sexuality: An integrated Christian approach. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. Hard cover or paperback. (e.g., vi + 223 pp.). $ Price of book. ISBN 0-8308-1595-3.

Judith K Balswick is director of clinical training and assistant professor of marital and family therapy at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Jack O. Balswick is professor of sociology and family development at Fuller Theological Seminary.

As the Balswicks state in their introduction, "Few contemporary issues can generate as much heat and conflict as those having to do with human sexuality" (p. 9), and as I state in my own introduction to my human sexuality class syllabus, "Human sexuality is simultaneously one of the most talked about, on the one hand, and one of the most private and misunderstood issues, particularly within the Christian community, on the other." What the Balswicks have sought to do in this work is to set forth their conception of what they have chosen to call authentic human sexuality.

In reading their work, I have been consistently impressed with their level of scholarly consideration of each of the issues they address and with their obvious attempt to deal with challenging topics in a sensitive, balanced, and uncompromising manner where the biblical data and historic, classic Christian positions (e.g., C. S. Lewis) are concerned. Since they are writing for the Christian community in general, their text is not intended to be a deep, scholarly treatise. However, they do incorporate data from the most recent research available. Where biblical material is concerned, they give adequate consideration to alternate interpretations of significant passages, presenting both sides fairly (e.g., regarding the issue of homosexuality), and go on to emphasize what they believe to be critical to committed Christian living. As such, they avoid condemning language regarding views that are incongruent with Christian orthodoxy, thereby reducing the likelihood of defensive reactions and/or the enhancement of guilt feelings. Nevertheless, they respectfully encourage the reader to carefully consider what it means to live authentically as a committed Christian. (For a deeper consideration of the biblical texts, see Balch, 2000; Gagnon, 2001; and the Christian Scholar's Review, 26, 1997.)

The Balswicks have not attempted to provide a comprehensive consideration of human sexuality from a Christian perspective such as that provided by Zimbleman's only edition (1985) of Human Sexuality and the Evangelical Christian (lamentably out of print). Although the Balswicks's work does not provide an adequate Christian text for the typical undergraduate human sexuality course, it does provide some very helpful supplementary reading of which I am making use in my own class. What the authors have done is address the foundations of sexuality, present their conception of "authentic sexuality," examine several forms of "inauthentic sexuality," and conclude with their model for a "sexually authentic society."

In Part I, "The Origin and Formation of Sexuality," the Balswicks first lay a foundation of the "biological and sociocultural contributors," thereto identifying the four dimensions of sexuality as being natal sex, sexual identity, gender role, and sexual orientation. In this first chapter, much of the material is that which is covered in the typical human sexuality class. Their model of the "explanations of human sexuality" is a helpful integrative and thoughtful consideration of the danger of considering only one set of explanations, which can so easily lead to a naive, "deterministic" perspective. This is followed in Chapter 2 with their presentation of "Principles of Authentic Sexuality," which includes the issues of sex differences, sexuality as a good gift from God, the capacity for sexual pleasure and the best context for the expression thereof, the link between sexuality and spirituality, the distortions resulting from the Fall, and Christ's offer of restoration.

In Chapter 3, a theology of authentic sexual relationships is presented that includes the elements of covenantal commitment, grace (offering forgiveness), empowerment to serve and be served, and intimacy, identified as "sequential but nonlinear principles" (p. 65) critical to the deepening of sexual relationships. Chapters 4 and 5 address the challenging issue of homosexuality by first noting the complexity that surrounds the issue of explanation. They follow with "A Christian Response" in which the challenge is primarily to authenticity within what the individual believes to be God's will regarding sex and sexual orientation. Many conservative readers may find the Balswicks's stance too soft a position, but the strength of the presentation is that it challenges rather than condemns, leaving to the Holy Spirit the role of "convicting the world of sin" (John 16:8).

In Part II, "Authentic Sexuality" is addressed within the contexts of sexuality and singleness (Chapter 6), premarital cohabitation (Chapter 7), marital sexuality (Chapter 8), and extramarital sex (Chapter 9). In each case, the Balswicks again do not take on the role of prophets preaching against sin, but challenge the reader to carefully examine the cautions, concerns, causes, and consequences of living contrary to the biblical norm for the expression of physical intimacy within marriage. They observe that it is within marriage that maximal sexual fulfillment is to be enjoyed. In Chapter 6, seven guiding principles are offered regarding the expression of physical affection as a single person. Chapter 7 discusses "Cautions and Concerns" regarding premarital cohabitation and includes a very helpful set of guidelines "about how the Christian community might best respond to [cohabiting] situations" (p. 144). In Chapter 8, the Balswicks apply their set of theological principles to marriage, observing that "Monog amous, lifelong marriage has always been the ideal context for authentic sexuality" (p. 161). Chapter 9 addresses the "Causes and Consequences" of extramarital affairs and includes helpful suggestions for healing as well as for affair-proofing one's marriage.

Part III consists of an examination of the nature of "Inauthentic Sexuality." Chapter 10 addresses the uninvited eroticizing of a relationship that defines sexual harassment. Helpful models for defining sexual harassment and for distinguishing between harassment and affirmation are presented along with a biblically-based model for handling unwanted sexual advances. Sexual abuse is addressed in Chapter 11 and is identified by the chapter's title, "A Violation Deep Within the Soul." The nature, prevalence, and context in which abuse takes place are explored, followed by a clear and potent statement regarding the profound damage that results from abuse. Helpful comments regarding and elements of the healing process are compassionately laid out thereafter. Chapter 12 explores the impact of destructive sexualized power manifested in rape and sexual violence. The types of rape are defined, followed by a discussion of the characteristics of the perpetrators. Means of rape prevention and ministering to rape victims complete the balance of the chapter.

In Chapters 13, the Balswicks offer a useful model for distinguishing between erotica and pornography based on the type of sex depicted, ranging from totally degrading to totally committed. The effects of viewing pornography are outlined, and the issue of the possible harm in viewing erotica is also explored. The chapter concludes with a balanced consideration of the role of masturbation in the life of both singles and marrieds. Chapter 14 completes Part III, offering a brief discussion of sexual addiction in the context of an addictive society.

The Balswicks conclude their very thoughtful examination of authentic human sexuality by offering a conceptualization of the sexually authentic society in which there are three "levels of social structure and biblically prescribed ideals." The first level is the family in which covenant is the ideal. The family is viewed as functioning best within the context of the Church, which is characterized as manifesting the ideals of Koinonia and neighborliness. The church, of course, exists and functions within the context of the society, which is ideally characterized by Shalom or peace.

I strongly recommend for serious consideration this volume with its balanced and distinctly Christian view of and approach to human sexuality. It provides very thoughtful material for the consideration of students, church members, and all concerned Christians. This is not to suggest that all will totally agree with the Balswicks, but all will be challenged to think carefully about the many issues considered.


Balch, D. L., Ed. (2000). Homosexuality, science, and the "plain sense" of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Christian Scholar's Review, 26, (1997).

Gagnon, R. A. J. (2001). The Bible and homosexual practice: Texts and hermeneutics. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Zimmerman, E. (1985). Human sexuality and Evangelical Christians.

STRAUSS, GARY H., EdD, is Associate Professor of Psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University. His interests are in human sexuality and the integration of psychology and theology. He is Guest Editor of this Special Issue of JPT.
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Title Annotation:Authentic Human Sexuality: An Integrated Christian Approach
Author:Strauss, Gary H.
Publication:Journal of Psychology and Theology
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2002
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