By / Sep 2

We live in a pornified culture. From popular television shows to music, and even billboards along the highway, pornographic images and language are pervasive. As it becomes more normal and increasingly ubiquitous, we may wonder: is there any hope for unseating pornography from its cultural position of power and influence?

Ray Ortlund, with his signature optimism, answers with an emphatic, yes! In his new book, The Death of Porn: Men of Integrity Building a World of Nobility, Ortlund pens a letter to young men charging them to do just that — to take up the noble cause of dismantling the pornography industry by the power of the Spirit and with the grace of Jesus. The Death of Porn is unique from start to finish. I suspect it will be a spark that ignites a movement lasting for generations. Ortlund recently talked with us about this and more. Read more below.

Your latest book, The Death of Porn: Men of Integrity Building a World of Nobility, as the title suggests, tackles the topic of porn. What compelled you to write this book?

I wrote this book because so many of the magnificent young men I know are held back by this one thing: porn. I long to see this generation of men set free, men rediscovering their dignity and purpose, men perceiving women with the same God-given dignity and glorious purpose. And if enough men dare to believe in their true greatness, we will be at a turning point — the death of porn, the birth of revival.

It’s a unique book in that it’s written as a series of letters from you, “an older man” (your words), to your reader, presumably a younger man. What inspired you to take this approach?

I was inspired by a letter from way back in 1791. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, wrote a letter to a young politician named William Wilberforce. It was the last letter Wesley wrote before he died. He called Wilberforce and his friends to give their lives to bringing down the slave trade in the British Empire. And they did. It took a lot of courage and many years. But they succeeded. And now it’s time for the young men of this generation to fight for the freedom of everyone being exploited by the predatory porn industry.

The Death of Porn is a book that seeks to help liberate men and women from the chains of pornography, and it does that primarily by pointing to Jesus, our union with him, and the call he places on our lives. Why is remembering Jesus, and remembering who he’s made us to be, a more effective antidote against the pull of pornography as opposed to the “white-knuckling” approach that we often encounter? 

No one is helped by being pressured, cornered, or shamed. The only way we really grow is the opposite — by being dignified, included, and lifted up. I believe that with all my heart. After all, the Bible says, “By grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:7). So let’s move all our chips over onto the square of God’s grace, and let’s find out what only he can do for us — and through us — in this desperate generation!

The tone of the book is overtly optimistic. Considering the cultural behemoth that is the pornography industry, why should Christians share this optimism? Can we really bring about the death of porn?

Short answer: Yes! If the risen Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, then we have no right not to be wildly optimistic. I only hope that my book is optimistic enough, given what Jesus can do.

Longer answer: Our risen King loves to inspire social justice. For example, the Second Great Awakening in the early 1800s launched schools, hospitals, libraries, orphanages, and labor unions. It awakened Christians who addressed prison reform and poverty and slum housing. They could have shrugged their shoulders and said, “Nothing ever changes in this world. Why even try?” But what cowardice that would be! What a betrayal of Christ himself! The fact is, those brave Christians did make their world a better place. 

Now, in our time, our risen Lord is calling us to be his new resistance movement in a world of injustice, saying a loud no to the porn industry — stigmatizing it, marginalizing it, diminishing it — and saying a loud yes to the worth of every man and every woman. Let’s give our lives to the liberation of this generation, not because we can foresee our chances of success, but because we can see the worthiness of the cause. And we know that Jesus loves to flip impossibilities into actualities!

You talk a lot in the book about nobility. How would you define the term nobility, and what does nobility look like in practice?

Our God-given nobility is a major theme in the Bible. For example, “But he who is noble plans noble things, and on noble things he stands” (Isa. 32:8). There is nothing second-rate in Jesus! All he is for us, all he brings to us, is noble, uplifting, worth reaching for.

Here is what the biblical word noble means: a heart that’s all-in. Not a perfect heart, but a generous heart that cares for others, including every victim of porn.

In practice, it looks like a Christian man reaching out to one other man — any man who wants his freedom back. And that Christian guy nobly shares his heart, his honesty, his vulnerability with that friend. And together those two men begin a journey into a new impact they’ve never dreamed could be theirs. It starts small, but it makes a big difference, because the risen Jesus is right there with those two men. 

To that point, one of the practices that you advocate for in the latter half of the book is the act of confession. You say, “We don’t overcome our sins by heroic willpower. We confess them to death” (89). How does the act of confession diminish the power of sin and the shame that it brings?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer nailed it: “The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him.” We never do well, when we cover up our sins, hidden in the secrecy that shame demands. 

But when we dare, by faith in Christ crucified, to confess our sins to a faithful brother, we are no longer alone. We step out of the shadows of denial and start walking in the light together (1 John 1:7). We can finally turn to God in prayer and find healing (James 5:16). Any man who lives in ongoing confession will never be alone again. It is so freeing!

As the book’s subtitle suggests, you are not just calling your reader to a life of personal purity, though that’s certainly included. You are trying to convince your reader that “we can make a world of difference.” You say, “Jesus is calling you to build a new world of nobility, to the furthest extent of your influence, for the rest of your life” (103). Can you talk about that?

Porn is a justice issue. Yes, our personal character is on the line. But even more, our social conscience is at stake. Jesus is not saving isolated individuals here and there. He is creating a new community of beauty in this world of brutality. We, in our life together, are his liberating counterculture, and his “holy city” will last forever (Rev. 21-22). He is calling every man in this generation to join with him in building his new world right here, right now.

Relatedly, in the final chapter you offer practical ideas on how to build this world of nobility. As a father of three boys, one of them really hit home for me. You tell the reader to “educate the rising generation in our history and our stories of nobility,” and then you say something striking: “if you don’t fill their imaginations with greatness, porn will fill their mind with ugliness. Our kids long for nobility. God has planted it deep within them. Teach them how to be at their best” (107)! For fathers and mothers and mentors helping raise children in our day, how important is this? Where’s a good place to start?

We grownups can and must invest in our children for their long-term future. How? For starters, let’s read to our children. Every evening after dinner, rather than watch TV or look at our phones, let’s cuddle on the sofa and read good books to our kids. Let’s read aloud the great stories of the Bible — even acting them out together! Wouldn’t that be fun? And let’s read to them The Chronicles of Narnia, the legendary tales of chivalrous knights, the heroic stories of valiant soldiers and sacrificial mothers and courageous reformers and brave explorers. Okay, there’s a time for silly books. But let’s make sure our kids fall in love with the inspiring stories! They’re going to need all the inspiration they can get, when they face the future as adults.

Undoubtedly, there may be some reading this interview who find themselves in the throes of pornography addiction, experiencing shame and wondering if they can put this addiction to death in their own life, much less the society at large. What would you say to that person? How would you encourage them to move forward?

Yes, some readers are thinking that very thing right now. I’m glad to say this: You are not alone. You are not beneath God’s grace. You are not such a spectacular sinner that you can defeat the risen Savior. But there is one hard step you must take. You must call a faithful friend right now and say, “Can we get together? I’m not doing well, and I need help.” And the two of you get together this week. And you pour your heart out. And with your faithful friend, you begin a new pattern of weekly get-togethers for honesty, prayer, and healing (James 5:16). Yes, it can be embarrassing. But your outpouring of confession and sorrow is where the Lord himself will visit you with his powerful grace. Your new beginning is just a phone call away. It’s how you can start a new life — in transparency, honesty, openness. Jesus himself awaits you. So, make the call?

Your book’s dedication page is one of the most beautiful and hopeful I have ever read. When you think about your grandchildren’s generation, knowing the culture they’ll encounter as they grow up, what are your hopes for them?

I hope, most of all, that my grandchildren will feel deep within how good God is, how glorious he created them to be, how bitterly distasteful all sin is, how life-giving Jesus is, how powerful Christian community is, and how they can advance the cause of Christ in their generation. What will matter far more than what they own is what they believe. If my grandchildren, and yours, will believe the gospel in its totality, they will not just cope; they will flourish. And the world they hand down to their children will be a better place, for the glory of God.

By / Oct 16

Editor’s Note: The article originally appeared in Light Magazine (Summer 2015). Download your copy here.

I had a secret that I kept hidden through high school, college and even the Marine Corp Reserves. Then, when I entered graduate school, I no longer kept it a secret.

I came out of the closet.

I broke the news to my parents and told them, “I am gay.” The news devastated my mother, who was not a Christian at the time. She was confused and angry, but God used it to draw her to himself. Through a little pamphlet on homosexuality that shared the plan of salvation, she came to realize that if God can love her in spite of her sin, then she could love me, her son. Within a few months, my father became a Christian, as well.

Meanwhile, I spent most of my free time in the gay clubs and began experimenting with drugs. Eventually, I supported my habit by selling drugs. I thought I could be a student by day and a drug dealer by night, but three months before I was to receive my doctorate, the administration expelled me. So I moved to Atlanta, Ga., and became a supplier to other dealers in over a dozen states. In addition, it was nothing for me to have multiple anonymous sexual encounters each day.

My parents didn’t know the details of my life, but they knew my greatest need was to make Jesus Christ my Lord. Along with more than hundred prayer warriors, my mother began to pray, “God do whatever it takes to bring this prodigal son to you.” In her desperation, my mom fasted every Monday for seven years and once fasted 39 days on my behalf.

An answered prayer

God answered her prayer the day I opened up my door to twelve federal drug enforcement agents, the Atlanta police, and two big German shepherd dogs. I had just received a large shipment of drugs and was charged with the street value equivalent to 9.1 tons of marijuana. With that amount, I was facing ten years to life in federal prison. I had started with a bright future among society’s finest in academia and I found myself in the ditch among society’s despised in Atlanta City Detention Center.

I called home from jail, and my mother’s first words were, “Son, are you okay?” No condemnation, just unconditional love and grace. Romans 2:4 says, “God’s kindness leads us to repentance.” Even on that miserable day, God was pouring out his irresistible grace and drawing me to himself through the words of my mother. My mom was actually excited to get that call because I hadn’t called home in years, and she knew without a doubt that this was God’s answer to her prayers.

Three days later, I found a Gideon’s New Testament on top of a heap of trash, which is what I felt like, and read through the Gospel of Mark. I started reading the Bible because I had an enormous amount of time on my hands. But a Bible is not just ink on paper. It is the very breath of God, sharper than any double-edged sword, and it exposed my sin.

A couple of weeks later I was called into the nurse’s office. They handcuffed me, chained my hands around my waist, and shackled my feet together. I shuffled in and knew something wasn’t right. She was uncomfortably struggling with the words to say and finally scribbled on a piece of paper: HIV+. The days after this diagnosis were dark and lonely. I was sentenced to six years, certainly much better than ten years to life, but the news of my HIV status felt like a death sentence.

Lying in my bed one night, I noticed among the profanity on the metal bunk above me, “If you’re bored, read Jeremiah 29:11.” “For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” At the most hopeless point in my life, God told me that regardless of who I was and what I had done in the past, he still had a plan for me.

A gradual transformation

My transformation was gradual. God was convicting me, but I didn’t want to let go of my sexual identity. I went through every verse and chapter of the Bible looking for the blessing of a monogamous gay relationship. I couldn’t find anything. I also realized that unconditional love is not the same thing as unconditional approval of my behavior.

My identity is not gay, ex-gay, or even heterosexual for that matter, but my sole identity as a child of the living God must be in Jesus Christ alone. A decision had to be made: either abandon God and pursue a gay relationship; or abandon pursuing a gay relationship — liberating myself from my same-sex desires — and live as a follower of Jesus Christ. My decision was obvious. I chose God.

I used to think that to please this Christian God, I had to become straight — I had to become heterosexual — but even those with heterosexual feelings still struggle with sin; that should not be the goal. Our goal, as Christians, no matter what feelings we have, must be holiness. As I began to live this life of surrender and obedience, God called me to full-time ministry while I was in prison of all places. God did another miracle too—he shortened my sentence from six years to three years, which is almost unheard of in the federal system.

I was released from prison in July 2001, and I started school at Moody Bible Institute the very next month. I graduated from Moody in 2005 and went on to get my Master of Arts in biblical exegesis from Wheaton College Graduate School and recently received my Doctorate of Ministry from Bethel Seminary. I also had the immense honor of co-authoring a book with my mother called Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God. A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope, and I am now back at Moody teaching in the Bible department. I went from prisoner to professor, how about that for a resume?

Christian parents of LGBT or same-sex attracted children often feel alone and sometimes racked with guilt. But, it’s not their fault. Perfect parenting does not guarantee perfect children. The job of Christian parents is not to produce godly children but to be godly parents, love their children, and point them to a life of costly discipleship. Without my parents living out the gospel in relationship with me, I would not be here. Church, let us come alongside our parents and our children—no matter what sin they’re struggling with — and point them to the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ.

By / Jun 24

I had a secret that I kept hidden through high school, college and even the Marine Corp Reserves. Then, when I entered graduate school, I no longer kept it a secret.

I came out of the closet.

I broke the news to my parents and told them, “I am gay.” The news devastated my mother, who was not a Christian at the time. She was confused and angry, but God used it to draw her to himself. Through a little pamphlet on homosexuality that shared the plan of salvation, she came to realize that if God can love her in spite of her sin, then she could love me, her son. Within a few months, my father became a Christian, as well.

Meanwhile, I spent most of my free time in the gay clubs and began experimenting with drugs. Eventually, I supported my habit by selling drugs. I thought I could be a student by day and a drug dealer by night, but three months before I was to receive my doctorate, the administration expelled me. So I moved to Atlanta, Ga., and became a supplier to other dealers in over a dozen states. In addition, it was nothing for me to have multiple anonymous sexual encounters each day. My parents didn’t know the details of my life, but they knew my greatest need was to make Jesus Christ my Lord. Along with more than a hundred prayer warriors, my mother began to pray, “God do whatever it takes to bring this prodigal son to you.” In her desperation, my mom fasted every Monday for seven years and once fasted 39 days on my behalf.

An answered prayer

God answered her prayer the day I opened up my door to twelve federal drug enforcement agents, the Atlanta police and two big German shepherd dogs. I had just received a large shipment of drugs and was charged with the street value equivalent to 9.1 tons of marijuana. With that amount, I was facing ten years to life in federal prison. I had started with a bright future among society’s finest in academia, and I found myself in the ditch among society’s despised in Atlanta City Detention Center. I called home from jail, and my mother’s first words were, “Son, are you okay?” No condemnation, just unconditional love and grace. Romans 2:4 says, “God’s kindness leads us to repentance.” Even on that miserable day, God was pouring out his irresistible grace and drawing me to himself through the words of my mother. My mom was actually excited to get that call because I hadn’t called home in years, and she knew without a doubt that this was God’s answer to her prayers.

Three days later, I found a Gideon’s New Testament on top of a heap of trash, which is what I felt like, and read through the Gospel of Mark. I started reading the Bible because I had an enormous amount of time on my hands. But a Bible is not just ink on paper. It is the very breath of God, sharper than any double-edged sword, and it exposed my sin.

A couple of weeks later I was called into the nurse’s office. They handcuffed me, chained my hands around my waist and shackled my feet together. I shuffled in and knew something wasn’t right. She was uncomfortably struggling with the words to say and finally scribbled on a piece of paper: HIV+. The days after this diagnosis were dark and lonely. I was sentenced to six years, certainly much better than ten years to life, but the news of my HIV status felt like a death sentence.

Lying in my bed one night, I noticed among the profanity on the metal bunk above me, “If you’re bored, read Jeremiah 29:11.”

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

At the most hopeless point in my life, God told me that regardless of who I was and what I had done in the past, he still had a plan for me.

A gradual transformation

My transformation was gradual. God was convicting me, but I didn’t want to let go of my sexual identity. I went through every verse and chapter of the Bible looking for the blessing of a monogamous gay relationship. I couldn’t find anything. I also realized that unconditional love is not the same thing as unconditional approval of my behavior. My identity is not gay, ex-gay, or even heterosexual for that matter, but my sole identity as a child of the living God must be in Jesus Christ alone. A decision had to be made: either abandon God and pursue a gay relationship; or abandon pursuing a gay relationship—liberating myself from my same-sex desires—and live as a follower of Jesus Christ. My decision was obvious. I chose God.

I used to think that to please this Christian God, I had to become straight—I had to become heterosexual—but even those with heterosexual feelings still struggle with sin; that should not be the goal. Our goal, as Christians, no matter what feelings we have, must be holiness. As I began to live this life of surrender and obedience, God called me to full-time ministry while I was in prison of all places. God did another miracle too—he shortened my sentence from six years to three years, which is almost unheard of in the federal system.

I was released from prison in July 2001, and I started school at Moody Bible Institute the very next month. I graduated from Moody in 2005 and went on to get my Master of Arts in biblical exegesis from Wheaton College Graduate School and recently received my Doctorate of Ministry from Bethel Seminary. I also had the immense honor of co-authoring a book with my mother called Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God. A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope, and I am now back at Moody teaching in the Bible department. I went from prisoner to professor, how about that for a resume?

Christian parents of LGBT or same-sex attracted children often feel alone and sometimes racked with guilt. But, it’s not their fault. Perfect parenting does not guarantee perfect children. The job of Christian parents is not to produce godly children but to be godly parents, love their children, and point them to a life of costly discipleship. Without my parents living out the gospel in relationship with me, I would not be here. Church, let us come alongside our parents and our children—no matter what sin they’re struggling with—and point them to the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ.   

This article was featured in our inaugural issue of Light Magazine. Visit the ERLC store to download Light for free and discover more resources.

By / Feb 28

There is no better theological learning environment than the family. It is in the context of family that you see the truest picture of your son’s heart, and therefore have the best opportunity to speak life-transforming, Christ-exalting truths to his heart. And, since it is the Holy Spirit who ultimately superintends our growth and maturity (Gal. 3:1-3), it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a seminary degree, or if you are just learning all of this stuff yourself. You, dad, can and should be a tool of theological growth in the life of your son.

After the nation of Israel is freed from slavery (Exodus) and makes the journey through the wilderness to the land God promised to them (Leviticus-Deuteronomy), Joshua tells us the story of Israel taking over the land. But they failed to obey God and did not drive out all the people living there. The book of Judges depicts a repetitive cycle of what follows as Israel lives in the land along side those people: Israel abandoning God and sinning; God allowing them to be conquered; the people crying out to God for deliverance; God raising up a judge to deliver them from their enemies; the people obeying as long as the judge lived, but when the judge died, the people go right back to their evil ways.

In Judges 6, we again see this cycle of sin. In one of these cycles we see a glimpse of the life of the nation of Israel. This glimpse provides a great backdrop to teach your sons the difference between repentance and regret.

“The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years” (Judg. 6:1).

This time was worse than any other time. Usually their oppressors would come in, collect some tribute, impose their political will on the Israelites, and then life generally continued. The Midianites, however, were a different kind of bad guy. They were a bunch of marauding nomads that liked to ride in on their fast camels, and decimate everything you had, taking it all and leaving absolutely nothing (6:5). It was so bad that the people left their homes and were living like a bunch of animals in the mountains (6:2).

The result? “And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord” (Judg. 6:6).

But this time was different. Every other time, the Israelites would call out and God sent a hero (3:9, 15; 4:3-4), someone who would free them from tyranny and suffering. This time, God doesn’t send a hero, he sends a prophet. This prophet comes and doesn’t lead the people to military conquest over the Midianites, he preaches to them. And you have to stop and ask, “Why would God give them a sermon when they wanted a savior?” The answer is in the content of the sermon. In verses 8-10a, the prophet tells the people all that God had done for them, his deliverance of them from slavery, his giving of the land to them, but in 10b, the prophet tells the people what they have done. “But you have not obeyed my voice” (Judg. 6:10b). The people were filled with regret over their circumstances, but they had not repented.

There is a difference between regret and repentance. Paul illustrates this difference in 2 Corinthians 7:10: “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” Regret is centered on the circumstances. Regret is the expression of your desire for the situation to be different, the pain to stop, the punishment to end, the suffering to subside. Repentance is different than regret. Repentance includes a desire not just for situational change but for heart change. Repentance has more to do with others and less to do with us. Repentance understands that there is damage to the relationship that needs to be healed.

So dad, when your son says, “I’m sorry,” what does he really mean? Is he expressing regret or is he expressing repentance? Does he know the difference?

See the original article here.