How do you write a review of books dealing with pornography without highlighting the toll that pornography has taken on modern society? One recent perusal of The Drudge Report caught two headlines dealing with porn—one on French attempts to ban certain websites and another on how porn diminishes sexual performance. Protestations of pornography are no longer the province of the prude—they are the growing cry of societies that are experiencing the subsequent decay.
Porn is an enticement for the curious and excitement for the lustful. It is a flicker-flame fellowship for the lonely and a habitation for the hopeless. In other words, it is where much of our society lives in the present day. It is not only ubiquitous across the culture, but throughout the Christian church. And it is not simply a struggle for men. Women and children are falling prey to this deadly addiction in ever-increasing numbers.
Enter Deepak Reju and Jonathan Holmes—two Christian pastor-counselors who offer two helpful books for those held captive and broken by the ravages of this particular sin: Rescue Skills and Rescue Plan. One thing that readers will appreciate from the first about each of these books is that they don’t make shame their object. These little volumes are Gospel-rich, and thus, are deadly serious about porn yet leave the sinner room to confess rather than stay obscured and unloved under the veil of shame. Confession of this sin is often hindered in churches whose only engagement with it are to stigmatize it as “gross,” a matter of deeply perverted choice. Reju and Holmes have written in a way that avoids this hindrance, not by taking the sin less seriously, but precisely by engaging it more deeply.
It would be wrong to categorize one of these books as more theoretical and the other as more practical. Rather, Rescue Plan tends to be bigger picture and Rescue Skills tends to get a bit more into the knitty-gritty.
Here’s what I mean: Rescue Plan isn’t merely a biblical or systematic theology on love, faithfulness, or adultery. With the sure hand of two men experienced in spiritual heart surgery, biblical truth is constantly leveled at the human heart. Instead of dealing with abstractions, like “lust,” the authors talk about the prison of addictions and strategies to address masturbation. Can this level of forthrightness be uncomfortable? Sure, but our comfort should be in the cross and not in closeted conversations.
There are many mnemonics that skilled counselors provide for dealing with pornographic addictions. One author speaks of desire, means, and opportunity. I prefer the more legal and novelesque: motive, means, and opportunity. Reju and Holmes add an extra layer: “access, anonymity, appetite, and atheism” (47). Notice what they do here. They add an explicitly theological layer under the desire/appetite portion. It is not merely a struggle of the heart before God, but a struggle with God. Porn leads Christians to dismiss God from the internal conversations; Reju and Holmes welcome Him back.
While Rescue Plan is immensely practical in its own right, the authors make sure to leave no valuable insights on the cutting room floor. Instead, they produced Rescue Skills, a book of practical and pastoral wisdom. Within this book, they collect their wisdom in two broad categories: “Helper Skills” and “Struggler Skills.” Again, a mark of quality communication is the ability to be concise. And these authors make sure their words are targeted for maximum effect.
I also find particular delight in the second volume because it addresses both helpers and strugglers within the same cover—because they belong together. Pornography is not a problem for those people over there. Lust, in whatever form it takes, is an omnipresent reality for every Christian, requiring both an omnipresent defense, and ultimately, an omnipresent God. If a Christian cannot consider himself to be a struggler, than he can neither consider himself to be a helper. Nouwen’s phrase “wounded healer” proves prescient once more.
There are no real critiques of these two books, but I would offer a suggestion for a third: How do we engage as the church? When many (most?) of our people in the pews are struggling with this entangling sin, how can we better address is both public and private forums? How can we conduct adult education on this topic that is both richly theological and immensely practical? How do we collapse the dividing line between sins we talk about and sins we believe are beyond the bounds of God’s grace?
For Christians looking for help, these might be the best books on the market. They have a chapter in Rescue Plan on dating, one on marriage, and one on parenting. But again, not abstractions: “When a boyfriend or girlfriend confesses,” and “One spouse messes up and the other feels betrayed,” and one more: “When kids get caught and parents panic.” There’s literally something in here for everybody.
More important, Rescue Skills gives half the book to those who are struggling with this asphyxiating sin. Satan invites you into a conversation—just you, him, and your sin and shame. The authors invite you into the banquet room with the God who wrote the final word over you sin and shame in His own blood. In other words, these are books for the hopeless, where they can be reconnected to the God of hope.
I would highly recommend these books for Christians as a whole and for small group studies in particular. They are worth the read because God’s grace in these matters is worth the additional glimpse. At the same time, I would humbly suggest that church more openly engage these matters—not merely as a matter of discipline, but in the regular course of preaching, teaching, and shepherding. Pornography addiction may feel like a pandemic within the church and society at large, but we have a God whose love has never failed. He will prevail.