Book Review: A Better Story: God, Sex and Human Flourishing, by Glynn Harrison
Glynn Harrison is a retired professor of psychiatry at the University of Bristol, where he was also a practicing consultant psychiatrist. He’s a well-respected evangelical speaker on issues of faith and psychology in the UK. Several years ago I asked to him to speak for me at Highfields Church on the issue of pornography because I’d heard him a couple of times previously address the topic excellently.
Glynn declined—at least to speak on that topic. His reason: in his mind, too many Christians only think about—and church leaders often only speak into—issues of sexuality by focusing exclusively on the negatives. “No to homosexuality; no to transgender ideology; no to premarital sexual intimacy; no to pornography.” While agreeing theologically with those concerns, Glynn told me that he has become increasingly burdened by the need to give evangelical Christians the appropriate biblical vocabulary to say what they’re for as much as what they’re against. In the biblical worldview, what is sex is for? What is marriage for? What are families for?
Cue his latest book, A Better Story: God, Sex, and Human Flourishing. Rather than diving straight into critique mode, Glynn seeks to understand how and why the sexual revolution has taken place. How has the ground shifted so much in such a short space of time? What’s the ideology that lies behind? Who are its key storytellers?
Building on the work of Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, Glynn reflects on how the sexual revolution has been propagated through emotional rather than rational arguments. He uses the example of a video called “Homecoming” (freely available on YouTube), which was produced as part of the same-sex marriage campaign in the UK. Glynn suggests that the power of a visual narrative—a soldier returning home to his loved ones, only in this case, his loved one is a man—changed hearts by entertaining them. So he provocatively asks:
What chance does an awkwardly structured thirty-minute sermon delivered once a week by an averagely gifted preacher have against such cultural power? Or a fumbling talk about sex given by a red-faced father to a squirming eleven-year-old, set against the images and stories that have been rumbling across his screens for years? … What [hope is there] that a young woman will unearth the courage to stand against the flow when she can already smell her pastor’s silent fear? (56–57).
It’s a bruising read, but read it we must, if we’re to see what we’re up against in our brave new world.
Having painted the picture as darkly as he can (though no darker than reality), Glynn turns to proposing a better story. He writes, “In the Christian worldview, flourishing is about realizing our potential as human beings made in the image of God. It’s about becoming fruitful, creative and relational human beings, alongside the development of Christlike character” (174).
In summary, A Better Story is a thoughtful, faithful and persuasive proposal for how to respond—or at least begin to respond—to the sexual revolution. We hugely profited from the book on our staff team earlier this year, and I highly recommend it.