Friday, December 31, 2010

Hiestand, Raising Purity: A Book Review

My thanks to the author Gerald Hiestand for a review copy of his book.  The book's website is here and you are able to download the first two chapters as well as listen to some of the related seminar material. Gerald is also a contributor to the SAET blog.

Well, the book has a smart cover, is well presented and has a nice modern crisp feel to it.  This is going to be a mixed review and I am never sure with such things whether to give the good news or the bad news first, so I am going to be nice, then nasty, then nice again, just to warn you. 

A nice bit
The first thing to say is that I liked the author, he has clearly given the issue at hand plenty of thought, has a pastoral heart and is concerned to give practical real life help to parents.  His analysis of contemporary trends in romantic relationships in chs. 3 & 4 is excellent, insightful and helpful.  It is clear that when he is talking about the sturggles different people face in these areas he knows what he is talking about and wants to empower people to a better way of doing things.  In fact whenever Hiestand is talking about practical pastoral issues I find myself either in agreement or at least sympathy (not everything will translate culturally from USA to NZ/UK). 

The nasty bit
I do how ever have a number of reservations regarding this book and the first and most serious perhaps stems inevitably from the subtitle, "Helping Parents Understand The Bible's Perpsective On Sex, Dating, And Relationships."  The book turns to the Bible to find a "perspective" on North American relationship culture and inexorably, because the Bible contains no such thing, there are a number of points where the exegesis/interpretation of the texts that are brought into action acheives the status of Biblical Theology Train Wreck.  This is a shame because I think his practical conclusions are essentially sound, it is merely a case of "why do it that way?"  For example with both Ephesians 5:24-32 (p17-20) and Song of Songs 2:7 (p77-79) Hiestand takes a debatable interpretation of a single verse and then proceeds to build unwieldy theological edifices on top of them which then are constantly referred back to in order to support his arguments.  In ch. 8  Hiestand does demonstrate that he is capable of doing more than prooftext by bringing a useful discussion of legalism in Galatians to bear, but unfortunately this is not the primary M.O. of the book.  The extent to which some of the more peculiar theological equations are woven through the book also means that Hiestand produces a text that is rather strained and at times not appropriately "readable" for the intended audience, e.g. "when a man looks with desire upon the nakedness of his wife, he images forth accurately the desire that Christ has for his bride" (p125).  A book aimed at regular folks should aim to be more conversational and clear, I feel a bit churlish pointing this out, but it is a significant enough problem that I feel in honesty I must.

Another nice bit
However, as I have already said, despite a methodology and writing style in need of a thorough tune up, Hiestands advice makes good common sense.  He doesn't just critique, but in ch.7 lays out a constructive and helpful solution to the issue at hand.  Hiestand is also to be commended for the way he exhorts parents not to give into fear or a fortress mentality but to teach young people discernment and enable them to function in a world which has very different standards of sexual purity (p118ff).  This is a call which needs to be heard loud and clear and is applicable to many other areas of cultural engagement.

A Fourth Edition
As this book is already in its 3rd edition I see no harm in a 4th, and I would like to suggest a couple of ways in which it could be positively expanded. 

1. I think Hiestrand is aware, as the book progresses, that sexuality is really a subset of discipleship to Christ, or holiness, and that the best way to help young people live to a biblical standard of sexual purity is to first teach them to live wholly for Christ.  Sexual purity is not, therefore, an end in itself.  I think the book would be stronger if this point was made sooner and clearer, that unless your kids are following Christ the whole thing is just going to be an exercise in trying to force your own sexual hangups on your kids.  Although this does come through the book, I'd like to see the dog wagging the tail more than the other way round.

2. While parents do have a role to play, the book is in danger of suggesting it is all about them. I'd like to see some account taken of the role of the church and the child's peers in the process of character formation, especially the church.  Relatedly there should be some acknowledgment in the book of issues for single parents and for those in religiously divided marriages, as it is the book runs the danger of addressing an idealised family world that doesn't exist.

There is more I could say, both positive and negative, but I think I have said enough.  If you want to do some serious thinking about this subject than Hiestand's book is not a bad place to go for the practical side of things, but for the biblical and theological I would look elsewhere, at least until the next edition.  As a critique of current practice chapters 3&4 are well worth a read by any concerned pastor.  Hiestand is to be commended for an ambitious attempt to bring a much needed theological and pastoral treatement to an issue about which there is so much confusion.

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