Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Book Review- Think Before You Look 

This is another Mind and Media review. This time, the book is Think Before You Look by Daniel Henderson. The book is intended to help those struggling with pornography addiction specifically, though it generally addresses the issue of lust.

I have reviewed a few other books on this topic, False Intimacy and Not Even a Hint. This book is more similar to Not Even a Hint than it is to False Intimacy, because it's aimed more at people trying to overcome the sin themselves and less as an indepth study of sexual addiction from a counselor's perspective. Think Before You Look is a book I'd be quicker to recommend for counselees, while False Intimacy is a great book for counselors.

TBYL is laid out in 40 short chapters, and each chapter is meant to be a stand-alone reading. I can't help but think that this layout is cribbed to some degree from The Purpose Driven Life. Each chapter gives us a different positive reason to avoid pornography. The aim of the book very much feels to encourage and empower people to avoid pornography, rather than just lay on a lot of guilt about how wrong it is. It certainly does talk about how wrong it is, but I liked this approach. It felt a lot like the Biblical model of putting off / putting on. That is, the Biblical model is never just to stop sinning, but to replace sinful behavior and attitudes with God-glorifying, righteous behaviors and attitudes. So Paul says, "Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need." The attitude and behavior of a parasite on society is replaced with the attitude and behavior of one who supports and gives back to society.

And so in TBYL, we are encouraged to think about everything we have to gain by avoiding pornography. A fuller experience of the grace of God, a guilt-free life, a healthy and tender conscience and better relationships, to name a few, are the kinds of things that are held out to the reader as benefits to encourage the reader to avoid the sin of pornography.

Henderson is a perceptive writer. He has a way of using images and comparisons to drive his point home effectively. One of the comparisons he returns to several times is to describe pornography as social and moral terrorism, and I found this to be an extremely apt way of describing it. The purpose of terrorism is to either provoke a nation into counterproductive behaviors, or to raise the cost of acting in productive ways so high that the nation forgoes its otherwise legitimate interests. And so, the terrorists in Iraq attempt to either provoke us into unrestrained acts of violence in order to turn the civilian population against us, or to weary us into abandoning the effort.

I believe pornography has the same effect on our nation, multiplied a million times over. I believe that Christian men in this society are very often afraid to take on their obligation to Christian leadership, because they are afraid of what secrets might come out. And there's no doubt that pornography has driven many to greater acts of criminality and violence. Henderson claims that virtually all serial killers began with pornography. And he quotes Ted Bundy, the serial killer, as saying that virtually everyone he met in prison with a penchant for violence was also involved in pornography. I did not research these claims of Hendersons' myself, but I believe them to be true.

This is not a deeply theological book, but it's a Biblically sound book. He focuses frequently on the truth of sex as a gift from God, and on the fact that man and woman were created the way they were not as accidents but as a major part of God's plan for humanity. He shows how lust and pornography sabotage and undermine the true purpose of our sexuality.

One story he tells is of a poor young European man who is making the long journey to America on a ship. He has little money, and little food, and carefully hoards his food to himself, rationing it out so that it will last, and never eating in the dining hall since he is sure he can't afford it and wants to save his money. At the end of the trip, after nearly starving, he finds out that the food in the dining hall does not cost anything extra, but is included in the fare. Henderson applies this by saying that sex is part of God's plan for us, and its benefits are free, when we use them the way God intended. But the user of pornography is like that poor young man, eking out his miserable pleasures alone because he thinks he can't afford the larger blessings.

Another point he makes is to remind us how quickly many years of effort can be undone. He uses the example of the Titanic, or the Twin Towers, to show how years of effort and labor can be undone in just minutes. Years of labor in the ministry, years of work on a marriage, years of raising children, can all be undone in the blink of an eye, if we do not put the time in early to cultivate a disciplined life.

I thought this book was excellent, and would recommend it to anyone struggling with the problem or dealing with those who are. One minor gripe I have is the 40 chapters- it seems kind of an artificial way to capitalize on the popularity of the Purpose Driven Life frankly. And it results in some forcing of the topics- there are many chapters that seemed artificially broken out into separate chapters, just to get the total of forty. But this is really a minor gripe.

Another complaint I have is the use of Scripture, which is pretty typical of Christian books today. He uses a lot of different translations, whichever seems to suit his purpose best in any given place. I find this annoying, and it's a pretty poor doctrine of Scripture, I think. It views the Scripture as a way to support the points we want to make. It would be one thing if the use of different translations was driven by the belief that one translation in one plase was more accurate than another which might be better in other places. But when many of the translations are paraphrases, accuracy seems unlikely to be the motivating factor and it's obviously just about which translation suits the author's purpose better in any given place. But I did not find this tendency to be nearly as egregious as it was in Purpose Driven Life, and does not detract from the content.

The book doesn't do as good a job of going into the root natures of the problem as False Intimacy does, but this is not the purpose of the book. I thought it was a better book for dealing with the problem on a personal, day-to-day basis than Not Even a Hint was. Henderson seems to bring a level of insight and experience which Harris lacks, but then Henderson is a much older man than Josh Harris, so that makes sense.

Good job, Rev. Henderson. And thanks, Mind and Media, for the opportunity to review this book.

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