Clary writes with all the calm and clarity one should hope for in a trustworthy pastor. Because of this, Clary is sure to garner the approval of not a few evangelicals exhausted by the whiplash of late modernity. Unfortunately, this book also comes with some significant downsides.
Michael Clary, God’s Good Design: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Guide to Human Sexuality, Ann Arbor, MI: Reformation Zion Publishing, 2023.
In his recently published, God’s Good Design, D. Michael Clary speaks about the moral and emotional bankruptcy promised by the sexual revolution, and, by contrast, the beauty and goodness of the Christian sexual ethic. Clary’s book is not merely a diatribe against modern sexual madness; he posits a better story and revels in the beauty of God’s design in human gender and sexuality. “In this book,” Clary states up front, “we will demonstrate the truth, goodness, and beauty of God’s design for sexuality. We will show how God’s story of his covenant love for his people, ultimately revealed in the gospel, was a profound mystery, written into the created order from the beginning of time” (3). In this book, Clary neither engages in cowardly obfuscation nor boastful pugilism. Which is to say, the author refrains from virtue signaling, regardless of the audience. Instead, Clary writes with all the calm and clarity one should hope for in a trustworthy pastor. Because of this, Clary is sure to garner the approval of not a few evangelicals exhausted by the whiplash of late modernity. Unfortunately, this book also comes with some significant downsides.
Structurally, God’s Good Design does not necessarily hang together as a single, unbroken argument. Clary lays the foundation for what he intends to argue in the first three chapters, but for the rest of the book, he structures his chapters topically. While I think the book could have benefited from some rigorous editorial work to cut down repeated and redundant material, its topical arrangement (and repetitive content) means that it can serve fruitfully as a reference book of sorts.
Rather than offering a blow-by-blow summary of the book, I would like to commend three of its strengths (of which there are many more I could enumerate), before concluding with a reflection on three of its weaknesses (which, though far outnumbered by the many positive features of the book, are nevertheless significant and, unfortunately, quite costly).
First, in terms of the book’s strengths, Clary demonstrates a non-anxious confidence in the Christian vision of gender, sex, and sexuality. He understands that the blustering pearl-clutching of reactionaries (even of the conservative variety) is neither profitable nor becoming. The author opts instead to outshine the secular script with a story that is better, truer, and more beautiful than its secular alternative. Relatedly, Clary does marvelously at showing the mutual enrichment of men and women. The sexes, he shows convincingly, are made for one another (132).
Second, Clary attends carefully to both books of divine revelation: sacred Scripture and Nature. In this way, he shows how God’s specially revealed assigned gender roles in the home and in the church are not arbitrary; they cohere with the way in which he made man and woman. In other words, to submit to divine revelation regarding matters like headship and submission (in the home and in the church) is to go along with the grain of created reality. Clary concludes, along with the best of the Great Tradition’s reflections on natural theology, that the difference between men and women has everything to do with biological teleology: fatherhood and motherhood. In this way, Clary approaches his subject material from numerous vantage points to tie together again what should have never been torn asunder: marriage, sex, and procreation.
Third, Clary writes with a pastoral sensitivity that is desperately needed in today’s discourse. Clary is direct but not callused; tender but not cowardly. He is also careful to distinguish between what Scripture plainly teaches and requires, and what he thinks is a wise application of biblical truth. One can tell that Clary is a shepherd who has learned to take seriously the requirement to bind his flock’s consciences to what Scripture requires without overstepping the boundary of “teaching as commandments the teaching of men” (cf., Matt. 15:9).