Also by this author: Strangely Bright: Can You Love God and Enjoy This World?, More Than a Battle: How to Experience Victory, Freedom, and Healing from Lust
Published by B Books on February 2, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Leadership, Marriage, Theology
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It has never been more difficult to flee sexual immorality and pursue holiness.
We live in an age of unprecedented access to sexual temptation. Previous generations faced adultery, prostitution, and brothels. But not every person had a brothel in their pocket. Our society’s obsession with sex, coupled with the technologies that make pornography so accessible, make it more challenging than it’s ever been.
The result is that our families, our churches, and our society are being devastated by a pornography epidemic.
In More than a Battle, pastor and author Joe Rigney offers hope for Christian men who are seeking to live with integrity and faithfulness in the face of the sexual temptation around them. Drawing on the Scriptures, his personal experience, and his pastoral counseling, Rigney frames the struggle with lust beneath the banner of Galatians 5:16: "Walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
The struggle with lust is a fierce battle, an enslaving addiction, and a deep brokenness. Rigney shows us that through the gospel it is the Holy Spirit that gives us victory, sets us free, and heals our wounds.
In More Than a Battle: How to Experience Victory, Freedom, and Healing from Lust, pastor and author Joe Rigney shares insight into how men can defeat lust and experience healing from their sin. In just over 200 pages, he addresses a wide range of different issues and applications, and this book is well-written, clear, and well-organized. Rigney addresses lust and pornography use as immorality, addiction, and brokenness, and combines theological and psychological lenses for understanding the issues involved. He also addresses nuances in different people’s experiences, motivations, and reasons for their struggles, and includes an excellent chapter about how even though someone’s sexual behavior may be attention-getting and their reason for pursuing help, this sin may be symptomatic of other issues, such as pride, entitlement, discouragement, and resentment, which are the deeper problems driving the openly egregious behavior.
Near the beginning, Rigney mentions that he hopes women struggling with lust can also benefit from this book, but he focuses on men’s issues and men’s ministry. This is based on his personal background and ministry experience, but it also flows from his emphasis on how men as a group can hold each other accountable and overcome their sin. His focus isn’t designed to exclude women, but to make it clear that they do not have any burden to manage men’s behavior, and that men must gain mastery over themselves. This approach is very refreshing, especially in light of recent horrific crimes and the problematic quotes that have gone viral on social media from older evangelical books about sexuality. Rigney does encourage wives of struggling husbands to read particular chapters that can help them better understand their husband’s struggles, but he does not blame them for the problem.
A Much-Needed Call to Self-Mastery
This should not be an accomplishment, but in light of other books and teachings, it unfortunately is. I appreciate Rigney’s relentless emphasis on the importance of self-mastery, and his testimony to the fact that controlling oneself is truly possible. He sends the important message that it is possible for men to make their own choices and treat others with dignity and respect, instead of being driven by base passions. He repeatedly emphasizes that men are not beasts, and that women are not objects, and in relation to this, he addresses how harmful it is when church culture allows men to avoid women and view them as temptations. Rigney addresses how painful and damaging this is for women, and argues that it only worsens the man’s situation, since healthy, platonic interactions with both men and women can help a man either regain or develop a healthy view of human relationships.
Rigney roots practical concerns in the gospel, sharing insights into how Christian men can apply biblical truths to their lives and experience victory in Christ. He also writes from a specifically complementarian perspective, but people who disagree with his convictions here can still benefit from the book as a whole. Rigney is incredibly thorough and balanced, keeping in mind the concerns of mentors, wives who may be reading this with their husbands, and men in different stages of life. Near the end, he includes some chapters specifically addressed to men in the stages of singleness, engagement, and marriage.
However, one of my primary critiques of this book is that when Rigney writes about husbands’ and wives’ mutual cycles of anxiety and reactivity to potential lust triggers, he shares insights that deserved their own chapter. For example, he notes that the constant message of “Don’t think about sex!” will produce constant thoughts about sex, making everything worse. If people obsess of their temptation and potential triggers, trying to control every thought that comes into their minds, life becomes an endless game of whack-a-mole that no one wins. Rigney mentions throughout the book that you can’t necessarily control what comes into your mind, and must just choose what to dwell on, but I wish that he had spent more time unpacking what it looks like to deal with mental triggers without creating a cycle of reactivity.
If someone deals with especially intense intrusive thoughts, I would encourage them to read The Imp of the Mind: Exploring the Silent Epidemic of Obsessive Bad Thoughts, an eye-opening book by psychologist Lee Baer. The author is sensitive to the concerns of religious patients who deal with intrusive thoughts and scrupulosity, and even though the book addresses strategies for understanding and overcoming Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, its key messages apply to anyone who struggles with intense, unwanted, intrusive thoughts. The cognitive behavioral therapy principles involved can help anyone diminish their anxious loops and the suffering created by them, regardless of whether or not they would qualify for any kind of psychiatric diagnosis.
Another concern is that Rigney’s pervasive assumption of heterosexuality can be alienating to readers who deal with same-sex or bisexual desires. The same messages and principles apply, but I wish that he had addressed this audience at times, instead of presuming that his readers only struggle with temptation over their attraction to women. Also, even though Rigney briefly addresses criminal behavior in one chapter, emphasizing that mentors must counsel men while also holding them accountable to the social and legal consequences for their sin, he doesn’t address how a leader should handle it if a man confesses to assault, or starts rethinking a past sexual encounter in light of #MeToo. These are not easy things for anyone to address, but that is all the more reason why it would have been helpful for Rigney to provide specific, practical insight into how leaders should respond to disclosures like this.
More Than a Battle: How to Experience Victory, Freedom, and Healing from Lust is a well-written, compassionate, clear-eyed call to men to take responsibility for themselves, hold each other accountable, and break their sinful addictions. It is imperfect, as every book dealing with such a profoundly personal, painful, and traumatic issue inevitably would be, but Rigney writes with experience, courage, and grace, and includes the concerns and perspectives of women throughout. I am grateful that this book exists, especially when there are so few truly holistic and wise books like this available, and I would recommend this to men who are struggling or want to help others, women who are interested in reading a helpful perspective on this subject, and pastors and counselors who are trying to overcome harmful baggage from Christian culture and minister in a more holistic way.