In June I took three days to go on a retreat in the foothills of North Carolina. I took several books with me including Tim Chester’s Closing the Window (IVP 2011). It was one of several books dealing with pornography that I have received from InterVarsity over the last six or so months (we get periodic copies of new releases from IVP, our publishing division, that may prove useful in our ministry to students and faculty). I was not familiar with Tim Chester, but looking around his website it seems like he’s involved in some intriguing ministries.
Closing the Door isn’t a remarkable book. There’s nothing in it that is revolutionary. Of course, it’s something of a mistake to believe that the only books worth reading are those that are revolutionary and remarkable. We’re shaped by all sorts of things we read, the mundane and the paradigm-busting.
Here’s an outline of the five stages or steps that Chester proposes as part of a continuum of Gospel change.
||abhorrence of porn
||a hatred of porn (not just the shame it brings) and a longing for change
||adoration of God
||a desire for God, arising from a confidence that he offers more than porn
||assurance of grace
||an assurance that you’re loved by God and right with God through faith in the work of Jesus
||avoidance of temptation
||a commitment to do all in your power to avoid temptation, starting with controls on your computer
||accountability to others
||a community of Christians who are holding you accountable and supporting you in your struggle
In many ways the book started off with a section that was remarkable. Chester spent several pages discussing myths that surround the sex workers who make porn movies. The popular conception is that it is a highly glamorous life of sizzling sex. The reality, Chester notes, is quite the opposite.
Most sex workers are deeply wounded people who mask their brokenness (as many of us do) with drug use. Life of the set of an X-rated movie isn’t particularly glamorous either. Chester notes that the very fact of the presence of a film crew changes fundamentally alters the encounter between actor and actress such that it is really a performance and not love-making in any true sense of the word.
Further, the encounter itself is scripted and staged in such a way as to allow for maximum viewing for the audience. This means physically awkward (and apparently not particularly pleasurable) positions for the actors, which actually means that the work of a filming a porn movie is exhausting and un-pleasurable (is that a word?). I could go into more detail about suicides, drug abuse, STDs, but I think you get the picture. Pornography is a profoundly de-personalizing and de-humanizing endeavor. Many performers remain in the industry not by choice, but by necessity.
On a related note, pornography can be viewed as a form of trafficking. Catharine MacKinnon argues in The Michigan Journal of International Law (26 Mich. J. Int’l L. 993 2004-2005) that in order to make pornographic movies, “…real women and children, and some men, are rented out for commercial sex acts. In the resulting materials, these people are then conveyed and sold for a buyer’s sexual arousal” (993).
Much Christian writing on fighting pornography starts with the individual who is consuming it. There’s something profoundly right, however, about beginning a discussion of porn with the way in which is warps and diminishes the souls of those who star in movies even before it extends to the souls of those who watch.
The other section of the book that’s particularly helpful is Chester’s discussion of grace. It’s easy for the person who is fighting pornography to be consumed with a sense of deep shame and a sense that God must hate him. Certainly, there can be little doubt that God’s anger burns against pornography because it is such a particularly insidious snare that debases our humanity. However, for those of us who are in Christ God looks upon us and sees us not as porn-consumers, but in the likeness of His Son Jesus.
There’s a passage in The Pilgrim’s Progress (part 2, section 4) where Christian comes upon a mirror. When viewed one way, the mirror shows the likeness of the face of the one holding it. When viewed from the other side it shows the image of “the Prince of Pilgrims” (that is, Jesus). This is a powerful image for to describe our situation in Christ – looking into a mirror we see Jesus. This is particularly important for those who wrestle with besetting sins (which is all of us).
In all, Closing the Door provides a helpful primer on the theology and practice of fighting temptation, particularly the temptation to consume porn. The church has been strangely silent on this issue — we write about it, but fail to talk about it in our small groups and in our sermons. It is this silence that has allowed the problem of porn to become one of the single biggest issues for Christian people today.
Note: I have written critically elsewhere of Mark Driscoll. Here I would like to offer a word of praise for the forthright way in which he has addressed pornography in the context of his congregation. We certainly need more pastors who will speak pastorally and Scripturally to the issue of pornography in the midst of their communities of faith. Take a look at this pamphlet published originally for use with Mars Hill Church: Porn-Again Christian.