Surveying the landscape of the Bible, there are plenty of books that make sense within the canon of Scripture. The Gospels. The historical books. The books of the law. The epistles. There’s not a lot of wondering when it comes to figuring out why and where those books fit into the greater narrative of Scripture.
At the same time, there are some books that might leave people scratching their heads. Jonah, while it speaks of God’s mercy and grace, ends on an abrupt note without the reader knowing Jonah’s final decision. The book of Ruth gives us a picture of the kinsman redeemer, pointing towards the One who would eventually come to bring restoration to the relationship between God and humanity. Esther tells the story of God’s provision and protection for his people.
No book has caused more head scratching (in my opinion) than the book of Song of Solomon or Song of Songs. It’s a compilation of love poems between a husband and wife. Over the years, there have been multiple approaches towards its interpretation, the greatest two being that it is to be taken as an allegory, a picture of God’s relationship with us, his bride, and that it is to be taken as it is written, a collection of erotic, passionate, and explicit love poems that give us a picture of how God sees the marriage relationship and what he thinks about sex. Into that second interpretation, Dan Allender and Tremper Longman enter their analysis in their book, “God Loves Sex.”
Right off the bat, you have to know what you’re getting into when you read this book. Any familiarity with Dan Allender will let a person know that this won’t be your mama’s (or grandmama’s) interpretation of Song of Solomon. Sure, there is a provocative nature to the title of the book, but that’s not where the provocation ends, it continues inside. The combination of the Longman the theologian and Allender the counselor make this book a book that should not be entered into lightly and certainly not to be entered into by the squeamish and prudish.
Allender and Longman pull no punches in addressing sex, our sexual identities, the formation of those identities, and what hand God has in all of it. The book is put together in both a narrative approach, following the fictitious journal entries of a new believer who attends a Bible study on Song of Solomon, as well as a descriptive approach, with the authors expositing the various poems found within the context of Song of Songs. The authors address the fact that sex was among the whole of creation that was impacted by the Fall. God loves sex and his enemy hates it and wants to do everything possible to distort it and use it for something other than for what it was created to be: pleasurable within the confines of marriage.
While the book is not very long (unlike the Bible book it analyzes), there is plenty of not only provocative, but beneficial material here as well. As the authors state, their primary goal and conviction with this book is to explore the fact that, “sex is a window into the heart of God, pure and simple, even though our experience of sexuality is usually complex and tinged with the debris of the fall.” The avoidance of conversations and discussions on the topic of sex within the church have actually been detrimental to the sexual formation of its members. Allender and Longman seek to take a deeper look into God’s thoughts about sex based upon what we read in the book of Song of Solomon.
Like I said, this book is not for the squeamish or prudish. If you have a hard time talking about the male and female genitals by name rather than coming up with slang or childish terms, this book will easily make you uncomfortable. While Allender and Longman don’t address everything sexual in this book (how could they when it’s only 155 pages long?), they do a good job evoking thoughts and potentially sparking discussion on issues that have remained in dark closets for too long.
The authors tackle questions that many Christians have probably struggled with: how far is too far when you aren’t married, what about masturbation, what about a sexual past that has been distorted. These questions and more are addressed either directly by the authors or through the narrative story that they create within the book to introduce characters who have every day and real struggles.
If you have struggled with sexual identity or sexual desires, this book is a worthwhile read. If you have been curious about the place that Song of Solomon has within the overall canon of Scripture, this book is a worthwhile read. If you have been raised to think that sex, pleasure, and desire are bad or evil, this book is a worthwhile read. If you have wondered what God thinks about sex, this book is a worthwhile read. The book is best read with an open mind and a willingness to glean something new and different. Reading this book with a specific expectation of interpretation of Song of Solomon is a mistake.
Married, single, divorced, remarried, celibate, promiscuous, wherever you find yourself, this book is a worthy read. The narratives within the book are written from the point of view of someone whose sexual experience has been far from what evangelicals would call “God honoring,” but that’s what makes it so relevant. It’s an opportunity to put judgment and preconceived notions aside and simply look at a book that has caused heads to be scratched throughout the centuries. Don’t be afraid to pick it up and give it a try.
(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)