Pornography: A Spiritual Pandemic


Pornography was the topic in my ethics class this week. The fourth-year Master of Divinity (M.Div.) students surveyed various approaches to ethics at the beginning of the semester, and since then we’ve been studying and discussing various issues such as abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, contraception, divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, transgenderism, critical theory, ethnicity, war, genetic engineering, and the state. In our (justified) concern about prevailing ideologies in our culture, such as LGBT and critical theory, pornography can stay under the radar as a silent corrupter.

Indulging in pornography is an international spiritual pandemic that is doing incalculable damage to men, women, and children. It is a fleeting pleasure that is God-defying, hell-deserving, life-wasting, family-betraying, poison-injecting, mind-ruining, conscience-searing, and slavery-fueling.

One of the books I require the seminary men to read prior to this particular class period is More Than a Battle: How to Experience Victory, Freedom, and Healing from Lust by our school’s president, Dr. Joe Rigney. The wise advice in that book is a gift for two groups of people: those who are struggling with pornography and those who want to help.

Prior to class, I ask the men to respond to the required reading in writing (1) by affirming something they read and (2) by challenging, questioning, or asking a question about something they read. I thought it would interest you to read what some of them wrote about Dr. Rigney’s book (quoted anonymously with their permission):

  • I wish I had read it a decade ago.
  • Joe Rigney’s book hits on some of the physical aspects of pornography that I found really helpful. I recently spent eight weeks going through the book with about 12–15 guys in my church.
  • I appreciate Rigney’s dive into considering what heart-idols are underlying the “symptom” of giving into pornography use and masturbation. I bought a copy for a friend in Florida this summer, and he just texted me this week. It helped him significantly.
  • Rigney’s book is the best I’ve read on the subject.
  • As a newer Christian seeking to disciple young men beyond porn addictions, my chief strategy was to whip them into a fervor against their sin by introducing them to Owen’s Mortification of Sin. Together, I thought, we could channel our inner Puritans in order to vanquish our lusts and be on our way to undistracted fruitfulness in college ministry. That approach (mine, not Owen’s) didn’t prove effective for them or for me (my fault, not Owen’s). Rigney’s More Than a Battle supplies what was absent from my understanding of the problems and solutions at play in our sexual sin—namely, robust doctrines of men and women, sex, sin, and sanctification. I am thankful for the skill and pastoral sensitivity with which Rigney brings these doctrines to bear on men’s battles for sexual holiness. I am also thankful for his willingness to address nitty-gritty aspects of the battle that many men want to ask but are afraid to voice. Especially helpful are his final chapters on fighting lust through the different stages of singleness, engagement, and marriage.
  • I really appreciate Rigney’s section for mentors in each chapter. Very helpful!
  • Rigney shows a lot of wisdom, both theoretical and practical, in addressing the problem of pornography addiction. This book is going to be a valuable resource for pastoral ministry.
  • I cannot praise Joe Rigney’s book enough. I will be recommending it to people far and wide. He is very perceptive and addresses important things that many others don’t (Should a man confess his sin of sexual immorality to his girlfriend? His fiancée? etc.) in extremely helpful ways (the elephant and the rider, etc.). His advice to men during their engagement—this is a time where you will prove your trustworthiness to your wife (you will not take the forbidden woman—her!)—is incredible, and I wish I had this mindset during my own engagement.
  • (1) Rigney’s advice of creating artificial boundaries was game-changing for me (pp. 34–43). Although not foolproof, combined with the tuning of the conscience, a commitment to transparency, and a proper procedure in confessing sin, finding and keeping these artificial boundaries has been singlehandedly the most effective way to stay away from temptation. I would recommend creating artificial boundaries whether one is starting in the fight or finds himself further along (the artificial boundaries would simply look different depending on the stages). (2) The analogy of the unruly elephant is also very helpful; it is crucial to know that it can be trained and conditioned (pp. 55–58). (3) I appreciate that Rigney does not stop at avoiding porn but also guides men in understanding their sexuality and its relation to manhood (chapter 7), as well as past sexual brokenness (chapter 8). (4) Rigney offers many insightful and practical tips to those who are mentoring other men.
  • I enjoyed Rigney’s book: (a) his discussion of anthropology based off of Lapine and Haidt is helpful; (b) his unpacking of justification and sanctification with the phrase “position and progress” is a good way of bridging dogmatics with practical theology; (c) he challenges “engaged men” and advises mentors; (d) he depicts “Covenant eyes” as a kind “paideia” meant to lead us to maturity in the Spirit.
  • Rigney’s book is so good. It’s a book I wished I had read in high school and when I started dating my wife. It would have saved me from so much pain and frustration. I cannot commend it enough.

We want our Bethlehem Seminary graduates to be ready to shepherd God’s people with biblical clarity and Christ-exalting affection for the rest of their lives. In our culture, that means they need to be able to help people fight against the spiritual pandemic of pornography by finding a superior pleasure in the triune God.

Praise the Lord that these pastors-in-training are convinced that pornography is poison. Please pray that they would experience decades—not just days or weeks or months but decades—of not indulging in pornography but instead be satisfied in God and enjoy God’s good gifts.

Andy Naselli, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and New Testament