Sean McDowell, Chasing Love: Love, Sex and Relationships in a Confused Culture (B&H Publishing, 2020)
‘Will we choose a pleasure-centred life focused on self-fulfilment, or will we give our lives away for a greater cause?’
Sean McDowell is convinced that this is the key question facing young people when it comes to living wisely in the area of sex and relationships. Twenty-first century culture is confused and confusing when the question of how to love is considered. This leads to our young people being convinced to live for self rather than being selfless. In contrast, Jesus’ way is ‘radical’ and ‘upside down’. This book is McDowell’s attempt at making a persuasive case for teenagers and young adults to accept Jesus’ will for their lives and to live in a counter-cultural and Christlike way.
The unrelenting logic of an experienced apologist and the personal care of a father speaking to his children.
The author is a professor of apologetics at Biola University. In 30 short, punchy chapters, he makes a reasoned defence of the historic Christian position on marriage and singleness for today’s teenager. Each chapter has the unrelenting logic of an experienced apologist and the personal care of a father speaking to his children. This means that McDowell does not shy away from some of the more difficult questions but confronts them head-on. It also becomes clear from his personal stories that this book has been sharpened by many conversations with students in seminars and classrooms across America. These are arguments that have been tested on Gen Z and found to be substantial.
The book is in three parts: the first covers some of the foundational issues around creation, Jesus’ view of marriage, sin, and the grace of forgiveness and restoration. Part two explains the purpose of sex, singleness, and marriage, whilst undermining three myths associated with each. Part three then considers eight specific contemporary themes including pornography, cohabitation, divorce, and same-sex marriage. Each chapter ends with a shorter and more specific question such as ‘What about oral sex?’ or ‘What should I do if someone is pressuring me for nude pictures of myself?’
I asked some teenagers to read the book and share their thoughts. My teenagers are not known for being readers, but the fact that it was a book on sex probably encouraged them to agree to it. In general, they found it helpful and positive.
They appreciated that McDowell backed up his opinions with Scripture, statistics, and personal stories. I read it with a 12-year-old, although it was probably aimed more at mid to late teens as there were a lot of concepts that were new in the book and needed explaining. However, each teenager was struck with the compassionate approach that encourages genuine friendship with those who identify as gay or trans and positively loving those we might disagree with. Some chapters stimulated more discussion than others when reading together. The question box, ‘Is sex with a robot wrong?’ after some nervous joking, led to an interesting discussion around the nature of being human.
Each of the teenagers who read the book for me was male and came from a Christian family. I do wonder how a non-Christian might react to some of the language and arguments in the book. The chapter on transgender, in particular, felt a little blunt, perhaps too much so for someone personally struggling with gender dysphoria. Whilst the brevity of the chapters is essential for teenagers to actually read the book, it does mean that some of the more controversial topics were lacking nuance. Perhaps it would also appeal more to those who are logical thinkers rather than those who tend towards being convinced by narrative and emotion. There was also some language and anecdotes which were a little alien to British readers but that is to be expected.
In summary, I would recommend this to older teenagers and would encourage leaders to buy in bulk for their youth group. I am grateful to Dr McDowell for writing his book as it does a good job of setting out a holistic argument for traditional Christian sexual ethics in a way that is engaging and convincing for many Christian teenagers.