Sex on Earth as It Is in Heaven

A Christian Eschatology of Desire

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Patricia Beattie Jung
  • Albany, NY: 
    State University of New York Press
    , February
     2017.
     298 pages.
     $85.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781438463810.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Drawing from biblical, philosophical, patristic, historical, and some social contexts, this two-part book offers its own kind of speculative theology on the interplay between ideas of sex in the afterlife and among those living today. Rooted in both this Christian author's long-term marital joy of sex, and her theological commitment to an embodied mode of resurrection self-identity, this volume centers on an imaginative view of sexuality “in heaven.” This eschatological perspective occupies part 1 of Patricia Beattie Jung’s book, embracing New Testament texts and materials drawn from Augustine and other patristic sources, all feeding into “Reimagining Sex in Heaven” before part 2 deals with “Sex on Earth.” The burden of this heaven-earth complementarity is fundamentally ethical, with Jung’s depiction of heavenly sexuality gently prescribing Christians' earthly sexuality. This spirituality of sexuality is framed by a sense of a divine creative love that seeks participation in human existence. Here Protestant sources complement a slightly more emphatic Catholic presence within a breadth of theological concerns generating its own mini theological module that many non-specialist readers may well find informative. 

Jung's subtitle marks her interest in emotions that help generate our relational sense of enduring identity in place, time, and eternity. More interested in an eschatological new earth populated by new bodies than in a discarnate and soul-filled heavenly domain, Jung critically describes ascetic, body-rejecting, and sex-subjugating early patristic traditions in favor of resurrected sexual fulfillments. Albeit with a sustained degree of ethical caution—due, perhaps, to both a sense of living within the ongoing Christian ethical narrative and to a caution regarding her own life-situation—Jung teases with sets of speculative images dancing on the well-known theological stage of the “already-not yet” mode of eschatological interim ethics. This involves brief references to the “interim” value of emotions such as anger, as well as to issues of the interplay of emotion and reason, as with Augustine on orgasm (88). She sets her sights on “erotophobia” as something of a traditional Christian pre-occupation that needs to be replaced by a “vision of glory” where “sexuality serves the holy, intimate, and joyful communion for which we have been made” (125). Same-sex attraction is to “be welcomed by all as an enlivening grace that empowers and expands the human capacity for intimacy and joy” (125). Binary divisions of male and female are brought under eschatological scrutiny with the suggestion that “perhaps in the life to come we will be transformed into people of fluid, ever-shifting, apposite(as in appropriate, rather than opposite) genders” (114-15, emphasis in original). She prefers not to speculate too much on celibacy but sees how it, too, “might well be included and further sanctified in the new creation,” where neither “monastic nor marital” institutions will exist (114-15).

This intriguing, and occasionally amusing book, concerns the “cultivation of sexual desire” (142). Its final chapter, on “Pornography and the Education of Sexual Desire,” is driven by a rationale stressing how “discipleship calls Christians to bear witness in their sex lives on earth to their convictions about the life to come” (161). While Jung advocates “alternative ways to invigorate our sexual lives...the problem with porn is not that it is arousing; the problem is that the erotic desires it arouses are malformed” (161-62). 

Whether you want reminders of biblical texts, Church Fathers, Aquinas, Kant, Internet sources, or a small throng of current thinkers, this is a volume that will spark many a thought. It has a decent bibliography and some fifty-seven pages of useful notes, but its far too limited index is a timely reminder to authors to take trouble over indexing books that have taken years to write. I suppose that the eschatological driver of this less than metaphorical study of heavenly-earthly sexual ethics now demands a complementary study of sex in Hell and its Earth-parallel.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Douglas J. Davies is Professor of the Study of Religion and Director of the Centre for Death and Life Studies at Durham University.

Date of Review: 
April 27, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Patricia Beattie Jung is visiting professor of Christian ethics, Saint Paul School of Theology and coauthor (with Ralph F. Smith) of Heterosexism: An Ethical Challenge, also published by SUNY Press.

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