Book Review: Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions

By | April 28, 2011

So, I finally got around to purchasing and reading Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions by Dan Brennan. I’ve been wrestling a lot here recently with his ideas, so it only made sense that I read his book in order to try and obtain a more full understanding of what he is trying to communicate.

At it’s core, this is a book about friendship, and about challenging us to do friendship better. I think the second paragraph of the foreword sums it up well:

While the concept of friendship has been expanded to such a degree that it has largely been diluted, the concept of intimacy has been narrowed to mean primarily sexual intimacy, and within the Christian community, exclusive marital sexual intimacy.

Allow me to unpack this a bit. What is the first thing you think of when you think of friendship? Is it a very deep close relationship, or is it more of a general, casual relationship? While we know the terms “best friend” and “close friend”, those aren’t necessarily the first things we think of when we encounter the word “friend”. The fact that we use those modifiers (“best”, “close”) just proves the point.

Now, what is the first thing you think of when you hear the word “intimacy?” All I can say is that, whenever I write about intimacy, I feel the need to clarify that I’m not talking just about sex. It seems that word has become so closely associated with sex that many think they are synonymous. And even if you don’t, sex is probably one of the things which comes to mind quickly.

Brennan is suggesting that we don’t take friendships seriously enough. He also reminds us that intimacy can be had outside of marriage and “romantic” type relationships. In fact, Brennan is suggesting that it is good and healthy to have intimate friendships. (Brennan’s specific focus is on friendship between members of opposite genders, but many of the points apply more broadly.) He even demonstrates how in some cultures, friendship is viewed as the highest relationship.

This bring us to a second primary point in the book. Brennan often refers to the “romantic myth”. This is the culturally prevalent idea that the “romantic” relationship (with sex) is the highest relationship, and that sex is the ultimate intimacy. He argues that these ideas are false, but that they are generally reinforced in evangelical Christianity. Brennan argues that most of the forms of intimacy we associate with marriage or “romantic” relationships shouldn’t be exclusive to this type of relationship. He also dismisses the idea the sex is the ultimate intimacy, a belief which I’ve heard confirmed more than once by others. Brennan’s point is that we are missing out on opportunities for life-giving, life-sharing intimacy, simply because we’ve narrowed our understanding of it so much.

One of my favorite ideas of the book is when Brennan talks about how Christ changes our relationships. Galatians 3:28 states that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In other words, the old things which separated people in the world, those things which put walls between people, have been torn down. Because we are one in Christ, we can have fellowship or communion with each other, despite our differences. Formerly we may have viewed others with fear, judgement or condemnation. But now we are able to draw near to one another. God is one, and he is joining us into one as well. The oneness spoken of in the bible does not mean the individual ceases to exists. Rather it refers to a close, covenant like bond between people. This is a core part of God, and likewise a core principal of the church. In other words, the ideas in Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions are quite relevant to the church and Christianity. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of relationships in the church, and this book helps to see the possibilities.

I sincerely value the ideas in this book and wish to share them with others. Unfortunately, I feel that the book is too academic for a general audience. I say this for a couple of reasons. The book is written at a fairly high level. Uncommon words are sometimes employed, and certain terms are used in an uncommon, more academic way. Sentences and sections are often long. Also, the book mostly focuses on theory. Examples are only occasionally included, and are generally lightly touched upon. (These things aren’t bad; it gives the book its place.)

My only real criticism of the book is just that it doesn’t seem to be organized to my liking (I recognize that this may just be the way I think). I didn’t understand the chapter titles, and couldn’t differentiate the themes of the various chapters and sections well. (Call me dull, but I just now realized each chapter title ends in “and friendship”) It often seemed that Brennan was making the same points in different chapters. I felt it was confusing in that he would talk about things which applied to friendships in general, to relationships with members of the opposite sex in general, and then to a relationship between a specific man and woman. These have some different applications, but seemed to be mixed together without always being clearly delineated.

Also, I felt many of the terms and phrases weren’t clearly defined. Rather, I felt like I had to deduce their meaning through seeing how they were used and looking at the context throughout the book. For example, Brennan often referred to sexuality in friendships. To me it would seem that sexuality refers to sex. However I came to realize that he was using it to mean expressions of masculinity or femininity and/or of passion, desire, and feeling in friendship.

In supporting his points, Brennan quotes heavily throughout Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions. This greatly strengthens the book, demonstrating that these are much more than merely Brennan’s own ideas. I know that I personally underlined a significant part of the book, and plan on going back through it again. I believe that these are ideas which will continue to shape me for some time. Thank you Dan for making the effort to write this book.

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  • It seems odd to review a book which focuses on male-female friendships without hardly mentioning that fact in the review. However, while the book focuses on cross-gender friendships, that nevertheless seems to be a secondary theme at the same time. The ideas regarding male-female friendships are founded on the primary themes which I mentioned. This is another example of why I found the book organizationally confusing.

  • I decided, if I were to reorganize the book, I think I would do so as follows:

    1. Chapter one – Intimacy. Explain what intimacy is (and what it isn’t), and that it isn’t limited to marriage, “romance”, or sex. Give examples of other intimate relationships.

    2. Chapter two – Friendship. Demonstrate how friendship has been undervalued, and thought of mostly as a casual relationship. Make a general case for deeper friendships, and for intimacy in friendship.

    3. Chapter three – Relationships between the sexes. Look at relationships between men and women in general. Include examples of family relationships here. Argue against the walls built between men and women.

    4. Chapter four – Marriage. Discuss here what marriage is and what it is not.

    5. Chapter five – Passion in friendship. Discuss how there can be passion, desire, feeling, and emotion in friendship. Convey the idea the love language should be at work in relationships beyond just “romance”.

    6. Chapter six – Church and relationships. Talk about the importance of relationships among Christians. Discuss how Christ redeems relationships, and frees us to connect with each other. Look at how God is one and how he is joining his followers into one as well.

    7. Chapter seven – Intimate Cross-gender Friendship. Explore here the idea of an intimate relationship between and man and woman outside of marriage, “romance”, and sex.

    8. Chapter eight – Barriers to Cross-gender friendships. This chapter would explore in more depth dealing with the barriers to male-female relationships. Look at the differences for married couples and for singles. Discuss when to be cautious and when to be open.

    9. Chapter nine – Fostering Intimacy. Similar to the present final chapter, take a look at ways and areas in which we develop deep relationships with other people.

    10. Chapter ten – This would be a possible addition: share some real life stories of friendship.