Jerry B. Jenkins. Hedges: Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013. 224 pp. $17.99.
In an age that prizes illicit sexual gratification and trivializes the marriage promise, can a Christian man effectively protect his marriage against lust, adultery, and divorce? Jerry Jenkins has written Hedges in order to answer this question with a resounding, “Yes!” Jenkins, a prolific, best-selling Christian author and the chairman of the board of trustees at Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, employs biblical truth, personal experience, and practical advice to urge men to vigilantly safeguard their marriage.
Hedges has three parts, but the most important section of the book is Part Two, “How to Start Planting,” where Jenkins explains the six hedges that he has planted in order to protect his own marriage. Here they are in abbreviated form:
1) “Whenever I need to meet or dine or travel with an unrelated woman, I make it a threesome” (90).
2) “I am careful about touching…I embrace only dear friends or relatives, and only in front of others” (99).
3) “If I pay a compliment, it is on clothes or hairstyle, not on the person herself” (107).
4) “I avoid flirtation or suggestive conversation, even in jest” (117).
5) “I remind my wife often–in writing and orally–that I remember my wedding vows” (125).
6) “From the time I got home until the children went to bed, I did no writing or office work” (136).
Thankfully, Jenkins does not issue a set of ‘cookie cutter’ procedures that we must integrate in our pursuit of marital faithfulness. Rather, he explains how his self-described “list of rather prudish rules” (15) has helped to preserve his sexual integrity and foster a vibrant marriage. Jenkins does not insist that we mimic his personal hedges. Instead, he prods us to follow his model of intentionality that often prevents temptation before it has opportunity to entice. Jenkins is careful to acknowledge that every man has particular points of weakness and vulnerability, and so the hedges must necessarily be tailor-made (80). Jenkins’ model of creative hedge-making provides us with a strategy of preventative maintenance so that we might not make provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Rom 13:14).
While Jenkins is remarkably frank in his discussion of men’s physical attraction to women (chapter 3), at times his perspective is unhelpful. Recalling how he talked with his sons about physical attraction, Jenkins writes,
Without being crude, we discussed which girl in an ad or on a television program was most attractive and why. I admitted that women were still fun to look at, even at my ripe age. They probably got tired of my cautioning them to be careful about dwelling on the sexual and to simply admire, delight in, enjoy, and respect God’s beautiful creativity (49).
I am thankful that these discussions were not crude and that Jenkins frequently warned his sons about lust. Granted, Jenkins does state that a relationship built on the physical alone is doomed to fail (51). He also reiterated in personal correspondence that objectifying women based on outward appearance is a “fool’s game.” However, by evaluating women in ads (and implicitly advocating this practice), it seems that Jenkins is accepting our culture’s definition about what the physical ideal is. By ingesting the cultural definition of physical beauty, it is more difficult to prize a woman’s inner, lasting beauty, especially when she physically does not meet the cultural standard. In addition, when a company utilizes a woman’s physicality or sexuality to sell a product, it tempts men to cheapen her value as one created in God’s image. Evaluating women like Jenkins describes does not help men focus on what is most important.
Perhaps more problematic is that Jenkins confuses the nature of a man’s battle with lust. He writes concerning 2 Timothy 2:22,
Trying to conquer lust and failing is maddening, frustrating. Until we get the message from Paul that we aren’t expected to even try. Don’t work at it. Don’t study it. Don’t pray about it. We’re given permission to flee! Head for the hills. Run for your life (16).
Later in the book, Jenkins repeats his perspective,
In other areas, God grants us victory. We can win over jealousy, bad temper, greed, and even pride…But do you know anyone who could avoid a peek at pornography if convinced that no one would find out? (45).
Of course, we must run from lust when we hear its siren call. However, I think that Jenkins incorrectly categorizes lust, mistaking a man’s sex drive with an inability to conquer lust. If, by the first quotation, Jenkins means that looking at a woman’s naked body will forever sexually stimulate men, then I agree with him. However, there is a difference between our biology and our sanctification. Is not consistently fleeing from lust, motivated by grace through the power of the Holy Spirit, evidence that we are conquering it? There are many godly men who once wrestled with pornography, and now the Lord has set them free! It is not that they would no longer enjoy indulging themselves with porn. Rather, because they know that Christ offers a far more lasting and superior pleasure than lust, they would absolutely abstain from viewing pornography, even if nobody ever discovered it. The Spirit changes us to progressively hate our sin and love righteousness, transforming our very desires and thoughts (2 Cor 3:18). Yes, the self-pleasuring power of sexual lust is especially strong because it includes a biological component. However, lust can be conquered through the power of grace and the Spirit (Tit 3:11-12). Because of the gospel, there is hope for the weary sinner!
Even though I found these specific parts of Hedges concerning, I respect Jenkins’ humble transparency. Jenkins makes it clear throughout the book that he is not immune to sexual temptation. In fact, he describes himself as vulnerable in this area (157). This transparency provides Jenkins an immediate connection point with those of us who also wrestle with lust, yet want to fight hard to glorify God and safeguard our marriage. Jenkins is also humbly transparent about his marriage’s success. While he indicates that staying within the safety of the hedges has contributed to marital joy and trust, he never makes himself the hero of Hedges. In fact, Jenkins goes out of his way to tell us about other couples’ success rather than his own.
Hedges is an easy book to read—Jenkins style is more like prose than pedagogy. He keeps his readers engaged with his witty humor, interesting anecdotes, pointed questions, and unambiguous application. I also appreciated Hedges because it accomplishes its goal. It gives men practical help in guarding their marriage. Certainly, we should plant as many hedges as we can, but if we do not allow the Holy Spirit to daily renew our minds and hearts, we will not honor God in our marriage. For this reason, I recommend complementing Hedges with another book that gives a more comprehensive view of sanctification. Jenkins himself is aware that this book is not heavily theological (17), so readers must take the book for what it is. Hedges is about practicality and, in that regard, Jenkins hits the nail on the head.
 Jenkins is widely known for his award-winning and New York Times-bestselling Left Behind series, a fictional dramatization of the dispensational, pre-tribulational view of the end times.
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