Sexual Morality in a Christless World
SEXUAL MORALITY IN A CHRISTLESS WORLD. By Matthew Rueger. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2016. 178 pages. $14.99.
In the culture wars, one of the most heated and confusing battlefields is the one regarding all matters of sexual morality and sexual ethics. The culture is saying many things, the courts are saying many others, and those who call themselves Christians are literally fighting on every side and often times against one another. No matter who you are or where you currently stand on the issue of sexual morality and ethics, Sexual Morality in a Christless World is a fantastic resource to help navigate the ever-changing and ever-burgeoning battlefield.
This book is borne out of an invitation given to the author—Rev. Dr. Matthew Rueger—to speak at an Iowa State University ethics class on the topic of homosexuality and same-sex marriage from a “Christian perspective” (6). While this book runs the gamut on all matters pertaining to sexual morality and immorality from a Scriptural perspective, it admittedly shifts its focus “more toward the homosexual debate” (96). This book is written from the position that homosexuality is contrary to the Word of God and seeks to address the many challenges that are leveled against those who hold to such a position, while also proclaiming the gospel of Christ.
The book begins by looking at the sexual practices and mores of the Roman context in which the New Testament was written. Rueger’s scholarship in this chapter is particularly helpful. He cites a great number of primary sources in showing the sexual proclivities and licentiousness that existed in the Greco-Roman world at that time. He also draws on the scholarship of many others and is quick with the footnotes to show all his work. All this scholarship serves to drive home the point that Christianity’s stance on sexual morality was, from the very beginning, counter-cultural. In a culture where pederasty, homosexuality, prostitution, fornication, adultery, concubines, pre-pubescent intercourse, and rampant sexual abuse was the norm, Christianity was proclaiming that the only sexual activity acceptable before God was one man and one woman in the committed bonds of marriage.
The second chapter continues with a look at the Jewish historical context, which was still a far cry from Christ’s standards for appropriate sexual behavior. The third chapter looks at specific verses from the New Testament that address homosexuality explicitly. Rueger successfully unpacks their literary and theological context. Together, these first three chapters form the first half of the book.
The second half of the book deals specifically with our contemporary context and the Church’s role in addressing matters of sexual morality, especially those matters pertaining to homosexuality. The fifth chapter is a helpful survey of the many objections that are offered to those who hold to traditional Christian sexual ethics, including the oft repeated accusation that anyone who eats shellfish but opposes homosexuality is a hypocrite who inconsistently applies the law. It also gives a closer look at some of the scientific studies that have supposedly supported a genetic link that is determinative of sexual orientation. Chapter six provides a rationale for maintaining a heterosexual limit on marriage on the basis of reason alone apart from multiple citations from God’s Word. Though helpful, I thought this was the weakest chapter of the book and would recommend substituting its reading for the far more excellent treatment provided by Anthony Esolen in his book Defending Marriage: 12 Arguments for Sanity.
Of the many commendable aspects of this book, the greatest is its evangelical, gentle-yet-firm, and winsome character. This book is really concerned for burdened consciences and the salvation of all people. It repeatedly drives home the point that Christian sexual ethics is not an exercise in prudishness, elitism, or even an end unto itself but has a “higher purpose . . . to proclaim a Savior whose single-minded love for His fallen people led Him to a life of devotion and self-sacrifice.”
I also appreciate the honesty of this book, especially when it addresses what many people—Christian or non-Christian—see as an inconsistent application of sexual morality in the Christian church. Though this book focuses on the topic of homosexuality, it is quick to remind the reader that heterosexual immorality is just a damning before God as homosexual immorality. Rueger aptly writes, “There is a kind of heterosexual double-standard that shows revulsion at the very mention of homosexual attraction but then thinks nothing of its own lust for the opposite sex” (176).
If you are not a Christian but genuinely desire to understand where Christians are coming from in taking the stance of opposing homosexuality, this is the book for you. As a Christian, I affirm that this book is accurate in its portrayal of the Christian position. It will cordially walk you through the logic of our stance without being arrogant or condescending in its approach.
If you are a Christian but don’t exactly know all the details of why we believe what we believe regarding sexual morality, this book will help put everything into place for you. It’s approachable without sacrificing scholarly integrity.
If you are a Lutheran pastor, you should own this book if for no other reason than to loan it out to your parishioners when they are looking for an accessible book on the topic of why we stand where we stand on the issue of homosexuality.
If your church has a library this book needs to be on the shelf.
Given the incredible scope of what this book needed to do, I am amazed at Matthew Rueger’s ability to do it well and under 200 pages no less. He has written a very valuable resource for the Church, and we are all in his debt.
Rev. Timothy A. Koch, Pastor of Concordia/Immanuel in Cresbard/Wecota.