More Than a Battle: A Book Review

by Sam Parkison June 3, 2021

Joe Rigney’s recent book, More Than a Battle: How to Experience Victory, Freedom, and Healing from Lust, is (tragically) necessary.

Some might find such an assertion odd, given the plethora of similar books already in print. “Do we really need another book on overcoming lust and pornography?” The answer is simply that until we, as Christians in the twenty-first century, can start showing progress in this area, books like More Than a Battle will be unfortunately relevant. As it stands, it still seems to me that every pastor will answer the question, “What is the most perennial and wide-spread sin-struggle plaguing the men in your church?” the same way: pornography/lust.[1]

Still, is there anything about More Than a Battle that sets it apart from the rest of similar books? The answer is yes, and its unique contribution is hinted at in the title and subtitle. More Than a Battle is holistic in its approach to dealing with this issue. Rigney approaches sexual sin through three distinct lenses: sexual sin as immorality, sexual sin as addiction, and sexual sin as brokenness. Most books on the subject tend to lean heavily into one or another of these lenses, with a suspicious eye towards the others.

For example, those who make a big deal of sexual sin as immorality tend to take a war-like approach to name, attack, and kill the sin with extreme prejudice. This approach naturally has my sympathies, which means I tend to raise an eyebrow whenever sexual sin is described as “addiction” or emotional “brokenness”—I am sensitive to the danger of blame-shifting, a temptation ready to pounce when sexual sin is approached through these lenses. The danger is not abstract for me: on more than one occasion, I have had to bring Christians I’ve counseled back from trying (in vain) to identify some past injury to explain their present disobedience. These are not cases in which a glaring past hurt has been ignored and have subsequently festered (scenarios which, admittedly, would benefit a lot from the insights of sexual sin as “addiction” or as emotional “brokenness”), but rather cases in which no clear damage has been done, and an excavation has nevertheless begun so as to dig up a scapegoat. Rigney recognizes this threat and warns about as much when he says, “as you consider the various layers of your own struggle, beware of the temptation to absolve yourself of responsibility” (pg. 73).

But my default lens has its own dangers as well, such as giving the struggling sinner the cathartic outlet of self-loathing on the one hand, or placing him on the treadmill of working hard (on the surface of the issue), but not smart (at its root) on the other. Both of these pitfalls give the illusion of accomplishing something, and neither of them do a thing. Rigney, not content with leaving any lawful and biblical resource untapped, brings all three lenses to bare. And he does this by bringing them all under the umbrella of “Walking by the Spirit.” In a real way, More Than a Battle could have just as easily been titled, Walking by the Spirit (with Respect to Lust). In this way, the book is robustly biblical, immanently practical, and strikingly enlightening. He pulls from the pastoral wisdom and David Powlison, the theological-psychological insight of Matthew LaPine, and the clinical research of Jay Stringer to leave no stone unturned.

Particularly strong are chapters three and four, which give a biblical and theological accounting for the body and the mind. They offer compelling explanatory power for how pornography becomes such a formidable foe in the Christian life that draws on the common grace insights of psychology and places them squarely within a theological framework. “The body, with its intuitions and appetites,” writes Rigney, “is both malleable and stubborn; it can both be shaped and afterward hold its shape. That is, we can develop habits, whether for good or ill. While our mind and body were both created good, since the fall, our corruption extends to the whole person, both mind and body” (pg. 56). This means that the body has the potential to be an ally in pursuit of righteousness, but also to become weaponized by sin—an assertion that jives well with Paul’s instructions in Romans 6:12-14. “Central to renewing our minds,” says Rigney, “is reminding ourselves again and again that men are not beasts and women are not objects” (pg. 78).

Another strength that makes More Than a Battle altogether different is the pastoral mood in which it was written, which manifests itself in a wonderful feature: “A Word to Mentors.” At the conclusion of every chapter, Rigney has a section aimed directly at mentors, equipping them to help navigate the chapter’s information for maximal fruitfulness. This is consistent with Rigney’s own expressed intention for the book: “This book is designed for two different groups: men who are presently struggling with lust and pornography and men who want to help them” (pg. 10).

In these sections, Rigney not only instructs mentors on how to help make the concepts click into place in practical ways for the men they are serving, but also on how to shape an optimal atmosphere or culture for growing in this area. Central to this culture-making is what Rigney calls “Gospel Presence.” Mentors who bring gospel presence to those they are helping are men who have so marinated and soaked in the goodness of God in Christ that they cannot help but drip with it. These kinds of men are unshockable—men who have gospel-truth and assurance pent up behind their lips, ready to pour out at the first opportunity. But this does not mean that mentors who exhibit gospel presence make sin out to be light. The opposite is in fact the case. At my own church, I’m in the habit of saying that we want the kind of environment that is hospitable to the confession of sin, and hostile to the practice of it. Or, as Rigney puts it, “Embracing broken sinners always entails a violent hostility toward their sin” (pg. 99).

More Than a Battle is the best book of its kind that I have read to date, and it has instantly become my default go-to resource for discipling men in my Church who struggle with lust and pornography. It is biblical, practical, and hopeful. Too many today have concluded that there is no hope for experiencing victory in this area, and More Than a Battle is the exact kind of sobering medicine such people need. I cannot commend it highly enough.

[1] I am aware, of course, that pornography is a growing issue for women as well, and that is no small thing. But I’m talking generalities here, and generally speaking, this is the issue for men in the church today.