Friday, February 29, 2008

A Critical Review of Sexual Healing by David Kyle Foster, part I

Sexual Healing: A Biblical Guide to Finding Freedom from Sexual Sin and Brokenness by David Kyle Foster, Regal Books 2005.
I recieved Sexual Healing by David Kyle Foster as a Christmas gift. Foster is a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. I decided to publish a review of the book here because I feel his book illustrates a number of the pitfalls both liberal and conservative Christians can fall into when attempting to articulate a Christian view of human sexuality and what my might be sinful about our sexual practices. Also, it is a prolegomena of sorts to posting a paper I wrote, during my internship at a church while in seminary, on homosexuality and human sexuality, that I plan to post here serially soon.

Foster claims to have been a sexual addict so offers the contents of the book on recover from sexual "brokenness" as one who has been there.As such he writes with patience understanding and grace. The book moves between being a Biblical and spiritual guide and making psychological and psychoanalytic claims. When he speaks as one seeking the cure of souls he advises with grace even if I may disagree with his Biblical interpretation. However, while he is at his best in this regard Foster relies too heavily on his own experience. Foster’s book on the psychology and psychoanalytic treatment of what he considers sexual sins is questionable and less informed by scientific evidence and more informed by what he has concluded based on his Scripture interpretation. Thus his psychology tends toward the pseudo-scientific. The book is divided into two parts: Part one “Laying the Foundations” and could also be called a “manual for the cure of souls”, and Part two “Special Sin Areas” which goes beyond a cure of souls and attempts to speak Biblically, psychologically and psycho-analytically.

Chapter one lays the basis of the healing Foster is offering in God and our trust in God. This trust is in knowing the truth about God about us and having a relationship with God. Apart from his approaching a Calvinist total depravity of humanity sort of theology, I found this to be a solid chapter the content (through not exact phrasing) of which I seek to have those I pastor and direct understand about the Christian faith. I particularly appreciate his emphasis on relationship Love and grace in this chapter.

It is strange to me that Foster' second chapter is on God the Father. What this second chapter essentially says is that God the Father is to be the father no earthly father is or was for us . It is what we want form earthly fathers but made infinite that God the Father become for Foster. Unfortunately this means that God or at least the person of the deity central for Foster in our healing is not only masculine, but a male heterosexual without any femininity and of whom mother or maternal could not be applied. Thus, mothering attributes ascribe to God in scripture are lost. God the Father serves as a surrogate and is more the concept of a father than the first person of the Trinity who is beyond gender and our need for a parent of a particular sex. His Scriptural support for the above view is week given that the passages sited say that God loves us that the Father is known to us through Jesus Christ and similar such things. But none of them state explicitly that God serves as a surrogate for our failed human fathers(I would challenge anyone to find such a Scripture in the canon). Now the texts sited don’t prohibit this idea admittedly, and Foster based on his own experience of healing has attached these passages about the love of the Father and the intimacy with God the Father through Jesus Christ with his personal spiritual experience of God as a surrogate father. I linger on this issue of Fosters conception of the Father because it illustrates many weaknesses of the book: his generalizing from personal private spiritual experiences, based on this generalization and a practice of eisegis (reading his experiences into the text) claiming it as exegesis, and then taking this Biblical interpretation and selectively applying psychological and psychoanalytic theories in an attempt to give a scientific aura to his views.

Chapter three he returns to themes of chapter one but focus on God’s grace and letting go of ones reliance on performance. Foster directs people from attempting to stop certain behaviors in order to make God happy to immersion in a sense of God’s love, presence, and acceptance of us in Jesus Christ. The order of the chapters would suggest that Foster believes that the ability of letting go of ones performance before God takes place only through accepting God the Father as one’s surrogate father. However, the chapter rarely mentions God as Father and communicates God’s love and acceptance very effectively. Foster is able to encourage us to make that love our motivation for change and to rely on God and Christ for the power to make changes and to give us strength to turn away from sin. In chapter 3 he articulates the healing power of the Gospel without reference to God as a surrogate Father and thus is at his most powerful and I found myself agreeing with him wholeheartedly.

In Chapter 4 as he looks at the divine intent for human sexuality, we return to the author’s heterosexual biases and emphasis. His interpretation of Genesis sounds like a heterosexual version of Aristophanes in Plato’s symposium, suggesting that in some sense that the first human Adam was divided in half, and thus that we are made complete again in the joining of heterosexual sexual intimacy. However, Genesis chapter 2 does not describe a division of Adam but that Adam and Eve are of the same stuff, from the Rib God creates a new and independent being but made of the same stuff as Adam “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”. The one flesh speaks of being the same type of being not that in sex or marriage that we somehow return to the Adam before the one Adam became two: Adam and Eve. From there he moves to the typology of Christ and the Bride the church as a purely heterosexual typology, ignoring the obvious that the church that forms Christ Bride are both male and female, so that men in their relationship to Christ as Bride (either as an individual soul or as a member of the Church) typologically are female. But Foster is so fixated on the male/female sexual union that he only briefly touches on celibacy and essentially writes it off as rare. Apparently forgetting that the Church has not held the author’s view and that for the full Christian understanding of sexuality one needs to consider the eschatological nature of our call as believers and the ways in which celibacy relatives a focus on heterosexuality. However, Foster is correct that we need to have a sense of what sex and sexuality is for if we are to order our sexuality rightly.

In Chapter 5 the last chapter of part 1 Foster subtly moves from the pastoral and the cure of souls to the clinical and causal as he talks about sexual development. His emphasis in this chapter is on the nurture of the child and the child’s choices in response to that nurture. His focus is also on poor or abusive nurture and a child’s sexual responses and choices in relation to this failure to nurture a child well. I found it odd that he does not speak about sexual development in children in general nor even focus on what he would argue as proper and healthy psychological development in the area of sexuality. He surprisingly does not even attempt to show some ways in which unhealthy development radically deviates from what he considers proper development. However, this is not really Foster’s point in this chapter rather he is really dealing with spiritual snares that can arise in family, self and from the general propensity to sin as well as demonic influences. However, he does so pseudo-scientifically attempting to under gird these spiritual explanations with theories of development that approximate what he wants to say about the spiritual snares that can lead a person even as a child into a disordered sexuality. This final chapter in part one attempts to give his teachings on human sexuality the aura of coming from psychological research where as he is basing his views on possibly sound spiritual teaching (or at least teaching similar to catholic and orthodox Christianity) but attempting to show that this teaching is backed up by psychological research. The result though is not confirmation but a selective use of scientific evidence as that evidence agrees with the opinions he already holds about human being and human sexuality.
I will continue with the second part of Foster's book in part II of this review.