This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2013 vol. 170 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Ashamed No More: A Pastor’s Journey through Sex AddictionIVP Books, Downers Grove, IL July 16, 2012
This book reports Ryan’s account, his experience, with sexual addiction. Ryan’s courageous disclosure offers vital help and hope to all people, especially those in ministry, whose sexual temptation runs the continuum from the momentary to the continuous, the latter being of an addictive nature. Most touching of all, however, is that Ryan pens his pastoral journey with a compassion that can come only from brokenness.
Ashamed No More roughly follows Ryan’s biographical timeline—an initial, brief description of his experience, along with the culminating moment of his addiction’s exposure. There follow relevant experiences from his childhood, early ministry, latter ministry, and then life after leaving the ministry. The author interweaves his biography with moving disclosures of his struggle and addiction, pertinent Scripture, spiritually formative principles, and psychological insights from his own analysis and from writers, mentors, and therapists.
Ryan offers help for fellow strugglers, addicts, and the church—a supportive and healing process for pastors and leaders. Anyone who mistakes Ryan’s treatise as being soft on sin or as giving license to sexual misconduct misses the point. Rather, his is a loving, even Christlike approach.
Several features of Ryan’s book are worth highlighting. First, Ryan takes full responsibility for his actions. There is no displacing of responsibility, no victim mentality, no rationalizing of sinful actions. He acknowledges personal fault throughout his work in implicit and explicit ways. Ryan never fails to characterize sexual behavior outside the bounds of marriage as sin.
Second, Ryan deals with sexual temptation and addiction in a thorough way. Around the nexus of sexual addiction orbit contributing factors, predispositions, and dysfunctions. While none of these excuse the struggle or addiction, they do help others understand the problem and become more compassionate. Such factors and dysfunctions are examined with surgeon-like precision and yield a fruitful and loving understanding. This is important because Christians and churches have often taken extreme positions, when the complicated nature of addiction or developing addiction demands something better than a damaging, simplistic treatment.
Third, churches need to be more compassionate and redemptive, especially with pastors, but also with other leaders and church members as well. People already in a state of brokenness are frequently removed from ministry, stigmatized, and isolated, which is the last thing they need. Ryan adroitly surfaces the subterranean emotional, spiritual, and psychological currents whipsawing the addict. The vortex of these powerful currents is almost impossible to escape by oneself. But what is the alternative? Any admission comes with devastating, often fatal results, at least professionally if not psychologically. So the idea of disclosing one’s struggle to others only magnifies the anticipated unbearable rejection. Thus the addict focuses on the inescapable vortex, unable to break free from the deadly cross-currents pulling him under, and needing a life preserver.
Fourth, further exacerbating this dilemma is the high-stress, high-burnout nature of ministry. The catalog of expectations can be crushing: great leader, winning personality, above-average intelligence, ideal family man or woman, constant self-control, spiritually advanced, relationally skilled, emotionally sensitive to others, biblical wizard, organizational genius, and successful. With such an exalted but unrealistic list comes the fear of failure for most and the reality of it for many.
This ever-present stress drives many to an unhealthy escape in pornography. However fleeting and short-lived the escape, it is at least that—a moment far removed from the crushing pressures of ministry, submerged in pleasure and ecstasy. Ironically it functions as a momentary life preserver desperately needed to alleviate present pain and anguish. But at the same time it exacts a price of guilt, shame, and defeat that completes the downward spiral.
A fifth salient point of the book is the manner in which the church has wrongly magnified sexually related sins out of proportion with others. The author draws on a number of supporting passages to illustrate his point. Matthew 5:27–28 presents a definition of lust that few if any can claim they avoid perfectly, even for one day and especially for men. Colossians 3:5–10 and Galatians 5:19–21 offer lists of practices to be avoided by believers. Granted that these lists probably characterize an ongoing practice or lifestyle, sexually oriented behaviors are just part of them. Yet how often are pastors severely disciplined or dismissed for angry outbursts, other forms of idolatry, jealousy, selfish ambition, or covetousness? This reviewer agrees with Ryan’s charge of unacceptable hypocrisy over this unbiblical differentiation.
Ryan proposes that churches, groups, and organizations become sanctuaries of healing, restoration, and spiritual transformation.
Ashamed No More is aptly titled. Shame does little to bring about deep, long-term change and growth. And healthy, long-term change and growth are at the heart of Ryan’s book. But how can that best come about? In a context of only ambiguous and oblique references to one’s admissible struggle? In a context that spotlights the strong, the successful, the ideal, and thus sends a powerful message about what is really valued? In a context of cosmetically enhanced spirituality, where all blemishes have been airbrushed away? Or are changes and growth best accomplished where pastors, leaders, and church members can freely engage in the work of spiritual transformation? This freedom requires a spiritual context that understands, receives, and even welcomes the messy, broken, tension-filled confrontation with a loving embrace.
Ryan focuses his remedies on sexual addiction. But much of what he says is helpful for all kinds of personal and ecclesiastical ailments. The genius of his work is the promise it holds forth for sexual addicts and developing addicts as well as for the rest of the mostly unnamed but broken community who also need to be “ashamed no more.”
—Linden D. McLaughlin