What is the Meaning of Sex? by Denny Burk (Crossway, 2013, 272 pages)

What is the Meaning of Sex? does many things well, but most especially is the way it assesses each ‘sub-topic' in light of the ultimate meaning of sex, namely, the glory of God.

Hence, the symmetry of the eight chapter titles: Glorify God with Your _______ 1) …Body, 2), …Hermeneutic, 3) …Marriage, 4) …Conjugal Union, 5) …Family Planning, 6), …Gender, 7) …Sexuality, and 8) …Singleness.

Throughout, I found Burk a reliable guide.

Here are 7 significant takeaways (for me):

  1. The distinction between subordinate purposes and ultimate. Burk notes that some who discuss the purposes of sex (i.e., procreation, pleasure, etc.) stop short of identifying its ultimate purpose—like someone who states that a car is for ‘sitting in’ without drawing attention to its ultimate purpose, namely, transportation (Burk’s metaphor, 23-24).
  2. Jesus and Paul are NOT in a hermeneutical ‘cage match’—the Bible’s “red letters” vs. “black letters.” You’ll have to read the chapter; it’s good stuff.
  3. The book is not only a polemic against homosexual practice. This is in there, but the treatment doesn’t overwhelm the whole. (If there was a minor place for improvement, because Chapter 7 is so focused on homosexuality, I might encourage a title more specific than “Glorify God with your Sexuality.” The content is great, but perhaps it needs a narrower heading.)
  4. The discussion of the Pill and its potentially abortifacient qualities (148-151). This conversation is a staple of my pre-marital counseling. I appreciated the refresher.
  5. Each chapter has a great summary at the end—thoroughly useful for teaching and discussion purposes.
  6. Detailed scholarship without missing the forest.
  7. The whole of the book, in all its varied discussions, coheres.

A Key Passage

When it comes to ultimate meaning, we do not find answers in causes but in purposes. If you want to understand a hammer, it is not enough to know its cause (i.e., where the hammer came from, the factory in which it was manufactured, who designed it, etc.). To understand a hammer, I have to know for what purpose it was created. A hammer’s created purpose is to drive nails… It is the hammer’s purpose that determines the ultimate meaning, not the cause. Similarly, I might know everything there is to know about theories of human origins, about human reproduction, and about the biological genetic factors that determine human sexuality. But if I do not understand the purpose for which human sexuality was made, then I do not understand it. Nor am I prepared to give a proper ethical evaluation of its use. (Burk, What is the Meaning of Sex?, 22-23; emphasis original)