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The Meaning of Sex

Christian Ethics and the Moral Life

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"Hollinger addresses the complex issues of sexuality with a rare combination of theological-philosophical expertise, cultural savvy, and pastoral sensitivity. A much-needed 'for such a time as this' book."--Richard J. Mouw, Fuller Theological Seminary

Our culture is sex-crazed. That is no secret. But our culture is also deeply confused about sex and sexual ethics, often sending conflicting messages--at times promoting an "anything goes" attitude while at other times seeking to impose limits on sexual behavior. Unfortunately, Christians seem equally confused, and the church has tended to respond with simplistic answers. The reason for this confusion is that the meaning of sex has been largely lost.

Dennis Hollinger argues that there is indeed an inherent, God-given meaning to sex. This meaning provides a framework for a biblical sexual ethic that adequately addresses contemporary moral issues. Written primarily as a textbook for Christian college and seminary courses in ethics and human sexuality, The Meaning of Sex provides a good balance between theological reflection and engaging discussion of the practical issues Christians (especially students) are facing. Part 1 lays the groundwork, discussing ethical theories and the competing worldviews that shape various approaches to sexual morality. The Christian worldview of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation is then applied to sex, followed by an exploration of the God-designed purposes for sex. Part 2 delves into critical issues: premarital sex, sex within marriage, homosexuality, reproductive technologies, and faithful living in a sex-obsessed world.


"Dennis Hollinger does the world a wonderful service by helping us all to understand the liberating good news of what sex can be. People must still choose whether to embrace this good news. But many are likely never to know about it without reading this book, which in turn will point them to the meaningful counsel of the One who created sex in the first place."--John F. Kilner, Forman Chair of Ethics and Theology, professor of bioethics and contemporary culture, Trinity International University

"Debates and dialogues about sexual ethics spin in circles unless we clarify 'the meaning of sex.' Indeed, what sets apart a truly Christian sexual ethic is that it is founded on the distinctive meanings of sex and sexuality established by God and revealed in the Scriptures. Hollinger's book articulates these foundations persuasively and then mines them to clarify the most pressing ethical and moral challenges facing the church today. This is a wonderful sourcebook for thinking Christians."--Stanton L. Jones, provost, Wheaton College; author, Ex-Gays? and God's Design for Sex

"Dennis Hollinger has put sex in its place. In societies such as ours, in which sex has become both all-consuming and trivial, Hollinger locates the meaning of sex in the context of a Christian worldview that takes seriously the goodness of created bodies and the gift of sexuality along with limitations on what we should do with our bodies and those of others. Hollinger provides a broad and thoroughgoing analysis of various frameworks played out in sexual practices and continually points readers to God's intended purposes for sexual expression in the context of marriage. This book is an important resource that offers us rich theological and moral language to make normative judgments about the expression of human sexuality based on the witness of Scripture, Christian tradition, reason, and experience. Characteristic of Hollinger's pastoral proclivities, he also offers helpful suggestions for churches desiring to help Christians find their way in a 'sex-crazed world.'"--Wyndy Corbin Reuschling, associate professor of ethics and theology, Ashland Theological Seminary

"Dennis Hollinger addresses the complex issues of sexuality with a rare combination of theological-philosophical expertise, cultural savvy, and pastoral sensitivity. In doing so, he goes beyond general references to 'love and justice' to take seriously the specifics of what the Bible says about this most intimate area of our lives. The Meaning of Sex is a much-needed 'for such a time as this' book."--Richard J. Mouw, president and professor of Christian philosophy, Fuller Theological Seminary

"Dennis Hollinger offers here a careful, well-researched, up-to-date, and well-written evangelical account of sexual ethics against the backdrop of the sexual chaos and confusion of our time. This text may become the standard account of evangelical sexual ethics. Highly recommended."--David Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics, Mercer University

"'Sex' is a word that has meaning for everyone in our world. Sadly, the disconnect continues to grow between the Maker's intent and the understanding and practice of sex and sexuality in our culture. One of the greatest needs today of young and old alike is to rediscover the liberating freedom that accompanies understanding and experiencing sex in all its God-ordained glory. Dennis Hollinger has given us what I believe to be the best contemporary treatment on this timely subject. The Meaning of Sex strikes a balance informed by both the guidance of the Word and a deep knowledge of today's world. This is not just a book for ethicists. I'll be recommending it as a must read for all pastors, parents, youth workers, and young adults."--Walt Mueller, president, The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding

"The Meaning of Sex is a well thought out and superbly articulated work of Christian sexual ethics. Here Hollinger sets the issues in their proper context in a Christian worldview and constructs a thorough theoretical framework through which to view them. He does not shy away from any of the important issues in this field, and he is faithful to Scripture and to the theological framework he lays out. At the same time, Hollinger helps the reader to think creatively about how to apply the biblical text to the issues at hand. This is not simply an academic work on sexual ethics, for it has a pastoral dimension that emerges throughout the book, especially in the final section on living in our sex-saturated society. It's a terrific contribution."--Scott B. Rae, professor of Christian ethics, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University

"In a culture that is careening toward sexual nihilism, we desperately need teachers like Dennis Hollinger. His account of the meaning and purpose of sex calls us to a path of healing and wholeness. With wisdom and compassion he considers specific areas of sexual life. His teaching shows us clearly and concretely what life could look like if we received our sexuality as a gift and lived sexually in line with God's redemption of creation."--Jonathan R. Wilson, Pioneer McDonald Professor of Theology, Carey Theological College

The Author

  1. Dennis P. Hollinger
    courtesy of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

    Dennis P. Hollinger

    Dennis P. Hollinger (PhD, Drew University) is president emeritus and senior distinguished professor of Christian ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He has been actively speaking, teaching, and writing on topics in ethics, including bioethics and...

    Continue reading about Dennis P. Hollinger


"There are a host of resources on teenage sexuality that you can use to deepen your own understanding of the issues, while looking for help in leading kids to honoring God through their choices. This new book from Dennis Hollinger offers an accessible and comprehensive foundation for understanding and practicing sexuality, covering everything from the purposes of sex, sex before and after marriage, homosexuality, and how to live in a sexcrazed world."--Simply Youth Culture newsletter

"The book offers an accessible and articulate defense of a Christian ethics of sexuality that will be welcome among evangelicals seeking to think creatively about sexual issues in light of the[ir] Christian convictions. Hollinger's book is especially well-suited for young Christian college students seeking to understand how the Christian view of sex is indeed good news, despite the contrary cultural impulse, and how their Christian convictions may be lived out in a sex-crazed environment."--Beth K. Haile, Boston Theological Institute Magazine

"Deeply thoughtful, very much worth reading. . . . An excellent book, carefully considered, biblical, wise, and rooted in conversations about a Christian worldview, a way of being in the world that is faithful. . . . We need to clarify 'the meaning of sex' if we are going to go beyond some of the debates and controversies. Highly recommended."--Byron Borger,