Book Review: The Game Plan, Joe Dallas

Review
10.30.2018

When a member of your church confesses habitual sexual sin, do you have a process of discipleship in place? Throughout my pastoral ministry, I’ve not found the magic program that works for everyone. However, I have found a few tools that provide a pathway out of habitual sexual sin. One of those tools is the book The Game Plan by Joe Dallas.

WHO SHOULD USE IT

The Game Plan is geared toward Christian men who have a genuine desire to live in repentance and are ready to fight for integrity.

After reading this book, my first thought was, “I wish I read this 15 years ago.” My teens and early 20s were marked by habitual sexual sin. Even after I became a follower of Christ, my pornography use didn’t immediately go away. My faith and knowledge of God was growing, and I was astonished at the amazing grace of the gospel. And yet, I’d find myself going to an all-too-familiar place for sexual gratification. Afterwards, I felt horribly guilty, confessed my sin, and recommitted myself to trying harder and never doing that again. But in moments of weakness and isolation, I’d give into temptation. While there were month-long periods of purity, inevitably I’d slip back again into old habits.

By God’s grace, he has since given me victory, but it came through many defeats. The process I followed for sexual purity came from a mentor who helped me overcome this stronghold of sin.

This is where a resource like The Game Plan can be very effective. Joe Dallas walks step-by-step through a plan from brokenness to sustained sexual integrity. I found his book to be strong in practical theology and highly accessibly for men at any level of spiritual maturity. Furthermore, the prescribed process to sexual integrity follows the redemptive narrative of Scripture and captures the essence of gospel restoration.

Throughout the book, Dallas describes the nature of true repentance, and wisely balances dependence on the Holy Spirit and grace-driven effort. In particular, the section on restitution is one of the highlights of this book. I’ve found few resources that teach why and how to make restitution a part of repentance. This is the hardest part for many because it requires rigorous honesty, humility, and the loss of trust. But the fruit of restitution is well worth it.

THE AUTHOR’S CREDIBILITY

One of the greatest strengths of the book is the author’s credibility. Dallas speaks as an authority on the subject both from his personal story and his work among the sexually broken. Throughout the book, he shares his own experience with sexual brokenness that began with pornography exposure at the age of eight followed by many years of sexual abuse. This trauma led to a variety of sexually deviant behaviors throughout his teens and 20s.

He shares honestly about his successes and failures. Dallas is highly relatable for those who are familiar with sexual struggles of all kinds, especially those who feel they’re alone. While reading his story you’ll inevitably say, “If there’s hope for him, then there’s hope for me.”

HOW THE BOOK IS ORGANIZED

The Game Plan is meant to be studied more like a playbook than a textbook, hence the title. Each chapter gives the reader a basic understanding of the step-by-step process of repentance and restoration followed by specific action items. I particularly love the prayers at the end of every chapter.

After 30 days, the reader will have biblically understood sin, repentance, and sanctification—and Lord willing, they’ll have caught a vision of integrity and created attainable, healthy, and lifelong habits. While it certainly requires consistent discipline and effort, it doesn’t set the reader up for failure by setting the bar too high. Such a turnkey approach may seem too cookie-cutter for some, but I’ve found it to be a helpful baseline for a number of people struggling with sexual sin.

HOW TO USE IT

Use this book as a tool in your discipleship process, particularly in one-on-one or one-on-few settings. I’ve used this book as the next step for those who have recently confessed sexual sin, but only if I discern genuine sorrow and a willingness to follow in obedience. This isn’t a book for those who are hard-hearted toward their sin, or just sorry they were caught.

Although it’s designed for 30 days, I’ve found it wise to double or even triple the time it takes to go through the material and put each chapter into practice. The book can be highly tailored to meeting frequency. I’ve seen men do a daily check-in for accountability, and I’ve seen them meet weekly.

While frequency might not be important, I do believe it’s necessary to go through the whole study. In my experience, those who have followed the plan in its entirety more likely experience continued success.

Depending on the depth and complexity of someone’s sexual brokenness, your discipleship plan may need to include specific counseling or other supplemental resources. For example, I wouldn’t recommend exclusively using The Game Plan for someone struggling with gender dysphoria, sexual abuse, child pornography, or homosexual identity. But for those like me who had a fairly normal childhood, didn’t experience abuse, and struggled with heterosexual pornography, this book is very helpful.

SHORTCOMINGS

The Game Plan is useful, but it’s not exhaustive. Its eminent practicality will likely appeal to men who are doers and like to achieve goals. This should come with a warning. If someone is simply looking to check boxes and avoid heart change, then this book could be co-opted for that purpose. At the same time, it’s full of excellent questions that, if truly contemplated, would require much more than a breezy read-through. The reality is that for many, 30 days is just the tip of the iceberg. Some men will need to slow down to wade through hurts, trauma, and restitution. This is why this book should be read in one-on-one or one-on-few discipling relationships. The accountability partner or leader must be able to discern when to stop and focus on a key issue.

Additionally, The Game Plan lacks a deeper theological treatment of sexual sin that one gets in a book like John Piper’s Sex and the Supremacy of Christ. But again, I don’t think this is necessarily a negative if we understand the intent of the book.

That said, I do have a critique of the book. Dallas distinguishes between sexual sobriety and sexual purity. According to Dallas, violating sexual sobriety requires “acting out” (e.g., watching porn, visiting a strip club, or committing adultery). Therefore, even if it’s not sexually pure, you can remain “sexually sober” while carrying out sins of the mind and heart (e.g. lusting, fantasizing).

On one level, I understand why Dallas is making this distinction. But I found it both unhelpful and potentially even disastrous. Jesus says that if my eye causes me to stumble I should pluck it out (Mark 9:47). I know my own nature, and if I make provision for my flesh by saying I’m still “sexually sober” even if I’m lusting, I will inevitably get as close to the line as I can, promising myself I’ll never go over. This is indeed sin. It’s destructive, and it grieves the heart of God.

Overall, I would strongly recommend The Game Plan as a tool for discipling men through habitual sexual sin, especially pornography.