A short and very helpful book
A review of 'Martin Davie's, 'A Christian Primer on Sex, Marriage and Family Life' by Revd Carl Chambers
A “Primer” is a defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as 'a small book containing basic facts about a subject, used especially when you are beginning to learn about that subject'. Whether beginning to learn or wanting a succinct but thorough introduction to the vast, deeply personal and thoroughly relevant topic of “Sex, Marriage & Family Life”, Martin Davie’s book is superbly helpful.
It is exceptionally clear, biblically faithful and thoughtfully reasoned, whilst being written with a gentle and softly irenic tone.
Whilst it is written into the context of the forthcoming “Living in Love and Faith” material produced by the Church of England, it is accessible for anyone seeking to have an edifying introduction to what is such a contemporary subject.
Indeed, I can’t help but think that the first definition of “primer” in the Oxford Dictionary is also relevant: “A substance used as a preparatory coat on wood, metal, or canvas, especially to prevent the absorption of subsequent layers of paint or the development of rust.” In a world of such theological confusion on this subject, sadly even within the church, Davie’s primer establishes an essential foundation of truth such that it provides a healthy framework for future discussions. There is much teaching – and many teachers – that would cause “rust” in the Christian life; this primer prepares well against that and them.
For that reason, I can see this book being used very widely, within Anglican circles and beyond. At less than 50 pages of text, it is easy to read, yet not insubstantial.
People from churches where these subjects have been addressed frequently will appreciate the grounding of all the teaching on who is God and who we are as humans, under him.
Those from churches where there has been much less teaching will find each chapter thorough and faithful to the biblical text, without being overwhelming in content. Davie manages to summarise the core principles of each area in two or three pages.
After rooting humanity (male and female) in the purposes and love of God, Davie addresses a number of key implications for life today, some of which are easily forgotten. He rightly places marriage today in the context of the eternal marriage, where our perfect love will be seen in union with Christ and the whole church. Sexual satisfaction today is not essential to enjoy fullness as humans.
The biblical truth that sex is for within a lifelong, heterosexual marriage or not at all is worked through thoughtfully with respect not only to same sex relationships, but also prostitution, pornography, masturbation, sex-surrogacy and cohabitation.
Davie continues with similar biblical clarity and faithfulness when speaking of marriage and divorce, and procreation. The introduction notes that some Christians would disagree on the line that Davie takes, namely the possibility of remarriage even after adultery, not withstanding the deep sadness of any divorce.
As with each of the other areas, there is obviously much more that could be said on divorce and remarriage, but what is said is well reasoned and explained (and possibly/probably the ‘majority’ view within conservative evangelicalism).
His chapter on birth control and fertility treatment is also excellent and would be worth giving any Christian couple before they marry (or once they have if they’ve not thought it through).
Quibbles? It feels churlish to think of any, but some might have one or two.
Because it is so succinct, it is likely to leave a number of people wanting more: but then, isn’t that a good thing? The challenge will be for each church to pick up where the primer sets off.
The Appendix for “Further reading” contained just ten books, five introductory, five deeper (including one from John Paull II!). Given the breadth of the material covered in this short Primer, it would have been good to suggest a next step for each of the topics. He references in a footnote Rosaria Butterfield’s excellent testimony (The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert) but I would have liked to more. Given its usefulness, there will surely be reprints so hopefully a longer list can be included then.
But I for one won’t be waiting to buy copies for a number in my church. I encourage others to do the same.