Book Review: Every Man’s Battle – By Stephen Arterburn & Fred Stoeker

Every Mans Battle Arterburn.pngLetter TThe title Every Man’s Battle does well to summarize the issue being dealt with in the book. Every man (and woman, but they have their own book) faces the battle of sexual sin, and here authors Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker attempt to outline a plan for winning that war, for freeing men from the shackles of sexual sin and temptation through a combination of personal testimony and practical steps.

The layout of the book is very straightforward. It begins by defining the problem, explaining where it is that men stand in this battle: that is, assaulted on every side by every form of media and through our bodies themselves. It then goes on to point out how we came to this point (mixing standards, settling for less than perfection, by simply being male) and calls for a return to true manhood, to choose victory, and then explains how the authors believe this victory can be achieved. Their outline is to establish victory on three fronts, through the eyes, the mind, and the heart.

To put it in the author’s words: “That means our objective in the war against lust is to build three perimeters of defense into your life: 1. with your eyes. 2. In your mind. 3. In your heart… So there’s your battle plan. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. Setting up defense perimeters and choosing not to sin. You’ll have freedom from sexual impurity as soon as those defense perimeters are in place.” As the authors state, “We must choose to be more than male. We must choose manhood.”

Their primary tool for this is by utilizing the Job’s tactic of having made a covenant with his eyes. The idea is to get in a habit of ‘bouncing’ the eyes, of gaining motivation by remembering what it is that you have to gain (a closer relationship with your wife, children, ministry and God) and what you have to lose through sexual sin (true intimacy and possibly your wife herself), that you don’t have the right to think about women in certain ways, of starving the mind of tempting images so and eventually allowing the hormones to dry up; simply, allowing no sexual images to enter the mind (save for those of the wife in regards to married men). According to the authors, this war can be won within six weeks as you starve your mind, your hormones kick back and you defeat sexual temptation as any bad habit is defeated.

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All in all, the book is a very practical minded approach to overcoming the war on sexual sin utilizing every means necessary to try and motivate the reader to enter the battle. This often makes the book appear eclectic, at one moment pointing out how men are thieves by entertaining sexual images of women who aren’t their own, at another pointing out what God requires of true manhood (implying they are a sissy if they won’t man up), at one moment stating that the goal is to stop cold turkey and then that the process takes six weeks, explaining the biological and psychological process behind temptations, at others pointing out that we simply lack a perception of the urgency needed in the battle. The problem is that we’re mixing our standards with God’s, that we’re settling for less than perfection, that we’re men and we’re just wired this way; at one moment the authors portray the issue as dire, at the next they acknowledge most men as having only a ‘fractional addiction’ or a ‘low-grade sexual fever’.

The authors present each case in a much more orderly fashion than that, but the pattern is the same, the throw everything they can at the reader in hopes that it will push the right buttons, whether that be guilt, desire for their spouse, desire for God, manhood, etc.

What it all boils down to is a handful of strategies for a fallen man to try and defeat sin on his own, by treating it as just some biological or psychological disorder which can be remedied by following these certain steps. In the 209 pages of the book there are about 2 which briefly give an outline of the gospel in passing. When speaking of “How we got here” the authors mention that it is by being male, and make a short tie in to the Fall, but fail to dwell on the true state of the human condition.

In short, the problem with this book is that it treats sexual sin and the addiction to it as something chiefly physical rather than spiritual. For them, sexual sin isn’t tied to any doctrine (such as total depravity) or chiefly to the event of the Fall or a sinful nature that needs to remedied by Christ, but is simply “a series of bad decisions on our part.” They acknowledge that Christ has freed us from the power of sexual immorality, but then go on to claim that it is simply the habit of it which plagues us, as if there were a dichotomy between the power of sin in our lives and the habit of sin in our lives. The problem is that this book could just as easily have been written by a nonChristian, it’s secular psychology given a Christian overlay.

Every Man’s Battle is a decent text for understanding the magnitude of the struggle which we face and does have a few good ideas and quotes, but overall it amounts to an attempt to treat the symptoms while leaving the disease uncured; furthermore, it is an attempt to fix ourselves while Christ stands with cure in hand. And who knows, perhaps they may succeed in minimizing or even eliminating many of the symptoms for some individuals, but this is far the freedom offered by trusting in Christ’s promises to remove the disease and the symptoms.

Memorable Quotes:

-“You want to honor and cherish every date, just as you hope every guy is honoring and cherishing your future wife when he goes out with her.”

-“God always knew marriages would wither when rooted in contracts, which is why He established unconditional covenants. He knew that conditions change.”

-“When challenged by His higher standards, we’re comforted that we don’t look too different from these around us. Trouble is, we don’t look too much different from the non-Christian either.”

-“At Calvary, He purchased for you the freedom and authority to live in purity. That freedom and that authority are His gift to you through the presence of His Spirit, who took up residence within you when you gave your life to Christ.”

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Specific Criticisms

Not only is the book simply secular psychology given a Christian overlay, but the authors actively work against a true Christian mindset of the gospel and freedom from sin through Christ through their works centered strategy. Sure, the author notes at one point that he had no power to achieve victory on his own but this is quickly brushed aside to talk of the ways that Satan tempts us and then to continue talk of psychology.

This working against the gospel can be seen in such statements as “Consider the example of Eleazar, one of David’s ‘three mighty men,’ in this brief record of a tough battle against the Philistines: ‘Then the men of Israel retreated, but he stood his ground and struck down he Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. The LORD brought about a great victory that day. (2 Samuel 23:9-10)’ Eleazar refused to be ensnared by anyone.” The author praises Eleazar, but says nothing of the fact that the Lord brought the victory.

Again the authors state “[People in society] believe if we can only teach people the ‘right’ feelings, they’ll act correctly. In the Bible, however, God tells us the opposite: We’re to first act correctly, and then right feelings will follow.” Now, it may be very true that one cannot simply teach right feelings, however it is the express theme of the entire Old Testament that the statement “we’re first to act correctly, and then right feelings will follow” is untrue. That is Law, and the Law may only kill; what’s more, it is reliance on the self rather than God.

And that is the point, the authors preach self-reliance, actively arguing against relying on God in all aspects of our lives. They say “You see, sexual impurity isn’t like a tumor growing out of control inside us. We treat it that way when our prayers focus on deliverance, as we plead for someone to come remove it. Actually, sexual impurity is a series of bad decisions on our part – a result of immature character – and deliverance won’t deliver you into instant maturity.” It may be quite true that we do not gain instant maturity, sanctification is a lifelong process, but we can be delivered instantly from our enslavement to sexual sin, to habits of masturbation and pornography, and this is “not of the blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God”(John 1:12-13).

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The most damning statement made by the authors is that “God will run with you, but He won’t run for you.” Just as the express message of the Old Testament against the idea that right feelings follow right actions (or even more pointedly, that we cannot perform right actions on our own), the express message of the New Testament is that right feelings and right actions may be obtained, but not through any work or actions on our part but rather through the finished work of Christ on the Cross.

God has run for us, he has run for us in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ’s work does not bring salvation alone, but also works sanctification in us, that is, the freedom from sin: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:11)“…how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:14)” “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. (Romans 6:22)”

The New Testament constantly admonishes us to stop sinning, but you’ll notice that it never gives any ‘practical’ steps on how to do this; the reason for this is simply because just as it is God’s work which saves us from our sins, which removes the power of sin from our lives, so it is his power which removes the presence of sin – it is only by belief in the power of that truth that sin is put to death, not by ‘bouncing’ our eyes or waiting for temptation to ‘dry up’.

As Spurgeon says in his book All of Grace:

We want to be purified as well as pardoned. Justification without sanctification would not be salvation at all. It would call the leper clean, and leave him to die of his disease; it would forgive the rebellion and allow the rebel to remain an enemy to his king. It would remove the consequences but overlook the cause, and this would leave an endless and hopeless task before us… Remember that the Lord Jesus came to take away sin in three ways; He came to remove the penalty of sin, the power of sin, and, at last, the presence of sin…

“I cannot make this change,” says one. Who said you could? The Scripture which we have quoted speaks not of what man will do, but of what God will do. It is God’s promise, and it is for Him to fulfill His own engagements. Trust in Him to fulfill His Word to you, and it will be done…

You must quit sin or quit hope. Do you reply, “Yes, I am willing enough. To will is present with me, but how to perform that which l would I find not. Sin masters me, and I have no strength.” Come, then, if you have no strength, this text is still true, “When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)” Can you still believe that? However other things may seem to contradict it, will you believe it? God has said it, and it is a fact; therefore, hold on to it like grim death, for your only hope lies there.”

Or as the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it: “They whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.

This perseverance of the saints depends, not upon their own freewill, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ; the abiding of the Spirit and of the seed of God within them; and the nature of the covenant of grace; from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.”

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