Friday, January 5, 2018

Review of David Powlison's Making All Things New

Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken” is an outstanding book, suitable for both counselors and counselees, and in all probability needed by both (and for the same reasons). Even if we’ve never crossed the line in sexual sin (possible, but highly unlikely in light of Matthew 5:27-28), we’ve all been tempted to find our comfort in resources other than God Himself. That’s ultimately the issue David Powlison addresses.

Though expressing himself in prose Powlison writes like a poet, with deep empathy and suffused with understanding and hope. The intended audience includes both the victimized and the victimizer, and both men and women. This book is no “bible band aid,” but is a theologically responsible, Christ-centered look at the knotty problem of sexual sin.

Powlison spends Chapter 1 orienting the reader to his approach; it is grounded in the realities of the biblical Christian faith: sexual fidelity is good, sexual sin is wrong, and Christ alone can transform the unfaithful into the faithful. The reader is questioned in Chapter 2 about where he or she stands in relation to the topic of sexual brokenness. Hope wrapped in warm understanding of life’s suffering and difficulty is offered. The road of healing is characterized as “walking toward the light,” a metaphor that disabuses us of the notion of quick fixes, all the while holding forth hope for the future.

In Chapter 3 he explores the wide varieties of behaviors that can turn God’s wondrous gift of sex into tragic darkness. At each turn he reveals how such behaviors fall short of and pervert God’s good intentions, and how God in Christ draws near to offer deliverance and healing to both the victim and the predator.

Chapter 4, Renewal is Lifelong, is outstanding. Though aspects of sanctification are indeed crisis events, and God does sometimes deliver in a single stroke, more frequently the process is a long one involving progress, regress, and sometimes standing still. Both healing and growing in obedience are challenges requiring endurance and patience. For biblical counselors, this is a helpful corrective to some of Jay Adams’ earlier writings. One could get the impression from, say, “ChristianCounselor’s Manual,” that nouthetic counseling fixes problems in a relatively short time. Sometimes it does. But the more frequent experience (and I think Adams would agree) is that progress in overcoming habitual sin issues is often slow, beset with setbacks, and in many cases continues until the end of life. Powlison makes the important point that the crucial issue in sanctification is that we are oriented in the right direction—towards Christ.

In Chapter 5, Powlison pulls the dirty veneer off long-term sexual sin, demonstrating that there is more going on in the heart than simply the fall to lust. In fact, what’s going on in the heart might be even more abominable: a reduction of grace to an inverted retribution theology (“I serve You, but You haven’t given me what I want, therefore I will take revenge by indulging in sexual sin”).

In Chapter 6, Powlison discusses some of the motives that might be at work behind sexual transgression, and some of the motivations that might be behind a victim’s responses.

Chapter 7 is spent peeling back the layers of the onion to show that the battle is not simply against the outward, obvious, “big” sin. There are progressive levels of sin and temptation on which the battle for Christ-glorifying purity will be fought, some of which are so subtle and insidious we can barely detect them except in retrospect.

Powlison reminds the reader in Chapter 8 that the goal is much larger than merely not sinning: it is Christlikeness. God’s words to us, “I am with you,” become the focus of the final chapter, in which Powlison encourages us to “get down to today’s skirmish in the great war.”


David Powlison is a gifted counselor and writer: this book just might be Powlison at his best. Highly recommended.