The following is an excerpt from James K. A. Smith’s Foreword to Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age by Jonathan Grant (releasing summer 2015).
Grant sympathetically recognizes the ways in which Christians are embedded in cultural patterns that shape us without our realizing it. We have to appreciate, he rightly points out, “the extent to which the modern self, with its focus on being free in the negative sense of being free from other people, has seeped into the Christian imagination and distorted our vision of sexuality and relationships.” Or as he puts it a little later, “The red thread running throughout this book is the conviction that we are, more than we realize, made by our context.”
This is why the ﬁrst half of Divine Sex is focused on a diagnosis of the cultural milieu that forms and shapes our imagination—including how we imagine sex in ways we might never articulate. And Grant’s analysis is stellar: it is pointed and honest without being alarmist and despairing.
Drawing on (and lucidly translating) the important work of scholars and social scientists like Charles Taylor, Christian Smith, and Mark Regnerus, as well as engaging some of my own work, Grant helps us understand how and why the world that forms us has changed—and hence what effective Christian counterformation would look like.
The diagnosis of our cultural condition is not then taken as license for revision of biblical norms; instead, it provides the impetus for a fresh articulation of why those norms could be received as liberating us from the enslavement that parades itself as sexual “freedom” today.
The result is pastoral theology as ethnography, written from the front lines of our secular age and growing out of ministry in London and elsewhere. Grant isn’t writing from some protected enclave where traditional plausibility structures are alive and well. No, this book is written from the trenches of ministry in some of our most pluralistic—and hedonistic—global cities. Its voice is at once theological and pastoral: a brilliant work of cultural analysis that seems to always keep embodied names and faces in view.
(I also have to admit that I am jealous of Grant’s uncanny facility with metaphor, simile, and the word pictures that paint his argument. As my Pentecostal sisters and brothers like to say, “This stuff will preach!”)
This is a book that needed to be written. I pray that it will make its way into the hands of not only pastors and parents but also the wide array of those leaders who care for the body of Christ in the twenty-ﬁrst century.
It speaks both to those who are single and to those who are married. And it is a must-read for anyone working with young people today; it should be read by youth pastors and university chaplains as well as by student-life divisions at Christian colleges and universities.
Absorbing Grant’s insight, analysis, and constructive argument should not only deepen how we are talking about sex and discipleship; it should also give us new intentionality about the church as a formative community, enabling us to live into a different script that is good news: our sexual lives are hidden with Christ in God.