Review of “Surfing for God”

This is a thorough review of “Surfing for God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle” by Michael John Cusick. I’ll say right off bat that while I’m often very critical of books that deal with overcoming pornography that are in the Christian “mainstream,” this one was quite good for the most part. It offers a more holistic approach which includes work and care for one’s soul. This component is often missing in the bulk of most books which typically aim at the management of behaviors without going deep to the source of those behaviors.

Normally on these reviews, I share excerpts that I highlighted while reading and notes which were my reactions (often upset reactions) to what I’m reading. In this case, I made many highlights, but few notes. My unique perspective as a Christian naturist is obviously missing, but what was also missing from this book were many of the man-made strategies that deserve serious scrutiny. My own thoughts will be italicized from this point on. 

Location 221 (Kindle): I am tired of the never-ending battle over lust.” A battle that so often leads to defeat. Borrowing from the shampoo bottle instructions, I call it the “lather, rinse, repeat” cycle. First, it begins with getting clean—genuine remorse and sincere repentance. Promising God that we won’t go there again. Then, for reasons we don’t really understand, we go there again. Eventually, when our shame overwhelms us, or perhaps we’ve been discovered, we come clean again. But this time we tell somebody and find an accountability partner. Finally, we commit to a new strategy by redoubling our efforts, trying even harder, checking in more often with our accountability partner, and maybe reading our Bibles more. It’s lather, rinse, repeat—with the emphasis on repeat. And the saddest part of this cycle is that most men see no alternative. We’re seemingly stuck with two choices: either suppress our passions or give in and indulge them. We know in our hearts that porn is not God’s best for our lives. But in the heat of the moment, it seems as if there’s nothing better than porn. We desperately need another way to live.

I would agree. I call this the guilt and shame cycle in a chapter of the book I’m currently writing.

He says in Location 257, Many approaches exist for healing compulsive sexual behaviors like porn addiction. By offering my framework, I am not in any way criticizing other approaches.

I guess I am unapologetically criticizing other approaches. But I’m offering a critique of the strategies (which have been found to be woefully inadequate) not the individuals themselves.

Page 7 · Location 370: Who says viewing porn is wrong when our culture tries to reassure us that it’s natural and normal—in fact, based on popular consumption and the ten-billion-dollar industry it generates, you’re abnormal if you don’t view porn!

This is a sad reality we have to deal with. I offer a different spin on the “Normal vs. Natural” debate in this post.

Location 473: …the compulsion toward porn far exceeds the thrill of orgasm or appreciation for a woman’s body proportions. It involves far more than viewing a new stimulating sexual position or a hotter, more provocative partner. In the same way, overeating is not about food—something else compels the food addict to eat an entire one-pound bag of M& M’s in one sitting. Compulsive shopping is about so much more than needing more stuff to put in our garages or closets. So, too, our sexual lusts and preoccupations with porn point to more than naked bodies or illicit sex.

I don’t care at all for some of this objectifying language, but I get that he’s building a case for a focus on the soul of the struggling man (or woman in many cases). I’d have to wholeheartedly agree that lust is about more than naked bodies. It’s about the heart, regardless of one’s dress or lack thereof.

Page 15 · Location 483: …we seek on the physical level what can only be obtained on a spiritual level, then we set ourselves up for a never-ending cycle that only leads to desperation, despair, and bondage. So if sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical pleasure, then what does that tell us? Almost a century ago, G. K. Chesterton wrote that the man who knocks on the brothel door is knocking for God. If he were writing today, he might say that the man who surfs the web for porn is surfing for God. If nothing else, this truth means that sex is a signpost to God. It also points us to the way He designed us as sexual beings—when we are most aligned with this design and intention, we are most powerful, complete, and fulfilled.

Great quote!

Page 15 · Location 489: Maybe you’ve heard the saying that in a marriage the sexual relationship is a barometer for the relationship in general. When a husband and wife enjoy a healthy emotional, relational, and spiritual connection, most of the time good sex follows. In the same way, a man’s sexual appetite is a barometer for what’s going on inside his heart. Your sex drive consists of more than testosterone and the buildup of seminal fluid pressing for biological release, more than being visually stimulated and feeling aroused. Sexual arousal is an accumulation of your experiences, deep needs, and unconscious beliefs. Your heart shares a deep connection to your body parts. The way you are sexually aroused reflects what’s happening deep in your soul, beyond your sexual organs. Indeed, sex is as much spiritual mystery as it is physical fact. The reality is that your heart needs something, and porn promises to meet that need.

Porn promises intimacy, but fails to deliver. Lust is a cheap imitation of the desire for true love that God instills in us. The master counterfeiter is hard at work to keep us from the real deal.

Page 16 · Location 498 Like all idols, porn promises us something we desire. In reality, it overpromises and underdelivers.

Page 17 · Location 526: What makes pornography so addictive,” wrote John Eldredge, “is that more than anything else in a man’s life, it makes him feel like a man without ever requiring a thing of him.” 2 The allure of porn is that—contrary to a woman in real life—it makes us feel like men, and it never rolls its eyes at us or rolls over in bed. Porn never reminds us of our failures, flaws, or shortcomings. It doesn’t evaluate our appearances or performances, our net worths or credentials. Porn doesn’t tell us to clip our toenails or put the toilet seat down. Porn doesn’t care if we are sullen, irritable, overweight, selfish—even undesirable. Porn’s only requirement of a man is a pulse—and maybe the click of a mouse.

And a heart that lusts after another person.

Page 18 · Location 537: So in the absence of felt strength, we turn to porn as if it were steroids for our soul. In our minds, porn makes us bigger, stronger, and more desirable. We get our fix and affirm our manhood. The seductive images reliably tell us that we are the man. But as we do with real steroids, we risk porn’s damaging side effects and possible public disgrace. Without this drug, we become just another guy and wonder if we make the cut. C. S. Lewis understood this when he wrote that every time a man masturbates, he chips away at his manhood.

While true, one note I had earlier which I did not include was that this book seems geared toward men only. Females also struggle with porn. The solution should be all encompassing.

Page 23 · Location 609: Porn promises power over women another way. Images and scenes of women being humiliated, degraded, and violated for the pleasure of men are now commonplace online. What is this about? Most often, it speaks to the clinical issue of tolerance, the idea that more and more of the “drug” is required to get the same effect. When more of the drug can’t bring about the desired effect, then it becomes necessary to change drugs. In the case of porn, changing drugs means seeking out scenes that are darker, edgier, and even more abusive. I’ve spoken with numerous men who began their online porn career by “innocently” searching for naked celebrity pics, but eventually ended up compulsively searching for violent and repulsive material they never could have imagined wanting before.

I’ve read over and over that this is the case. With me, I never got to this level, thankfully, but even a “low-grade” porn compulsion is destructive enough. We are made for better.

Page 25 · Location 639: Lust is the craving for salt of a man who is dying of thirst.—FREDERICK BUECHNER

Page 27 · Location 682: Jesus doesn’t call us to a self-improvement plan. Instead, He appeals to our deep thirsts and desires, even if we don’t recognize it.

Page 31 · Location 747: Jesus addressed the issue of lust. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5: 27–28). The Greek word for “lust” in that passage is epithumeo, which means “to set the heart upon” or to “intensely desire.” Yet when Luke recorded Jesus’ words as He broke bread with His twelve disciples at the Last Supper—“ I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22: 15 ESV, emphasis added)—he used the same word, epithumeo, that Jesus used to describe lust. Was Jesus lusting? Yes. Was Jesus sinning? Of course not. He was deeply in touch with the deep and godly desires in His heart. Through the centuries, theologians and philosophers have referred to lust as disordered desire. Such a definition is extremely helpful in understanding Jesus’ two uses of the word for lust, as well as clearing up our own misunderstandings. Disordered desire results from desires that are disowned, demanded, or misplaced.

I love this. Such a good point!

Page 33 · Location 769: While we try to ratchet down our desires, God invites us to desire even more deeply.

Page 33 · Location 773: The problem with lust is that we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Think about it this way. Suppose you have just finished a hard day of cycling or hiking in the heat of summer. Extremely thirsty, you return to your vehicle and grab the water bottle you packed earlier that morning. You are aware that the water in your container is comprised of countless molecules, each containing two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. For some reason, you decide that you will only swallow the oxygen atoms and not the hydrogen atoms. Despite your best efforts, you can’t do it because the two hydrogen atoms and the one oxygen atom cannot be separated. To separate them would mean you would no longer be drinking water, but something else. A man trying to suppress his lust is like someone trying to drink only the oxygen atoms.

Page 34 · Location 784: When we demand, we leave no room for love because we go from being lovers to consumers. A man compulsively drawn to porn does not have a problem with his desire. God created him with a natural attraction to feminine beauty. The problem is not that he is thirsty but that his desire has become a demand.

Page 40 · Location 881: Our hearts—the containers that hold love—are broken. That is why even when we drink deeply of God’s living water, we are thirsty again. Like clay water jugs with cracked sides, we leak because we are broken.

Page 42 · Location 903: As a man heals from his bondage to porn, he must understand his brokenness and allow it to compel him toward Jesus. Our brokenness is our only requirement for receiving God’s grace.

See, this is all excellent!

Page 42 · Location 913: [Jesus] was not giving an anatomy lesson. In a heated conversation with the religious professionals of the day, Jesus had been discussing what makes a person clean or unclean. The popular teaching was that a person was unclean for not having followed certain ceremonial steps. But Jesus turned this teaching upside down. “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’” Jesus said, “but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean’” (Matt. 15: 11). His point was that no matter how many acts of obedience we perform, our problems are internal, not external. Our actions and behavior—what comes out of us—are just the tip of the iceberg.

Page 43 · Location 918: As if Jesus’ impassioned discussion with the religious rulekeepers were not enough, He went on to utter His harshest words yet, to those who believed that God should be impressed with their moral performances. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. . . . First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Matt. 23: 25–26).

Page 43 · Location 922: What this means for a man caught in the chains of porn and lust is crucial. If you could somehow magically stop looking at porn and exercise self-control in place of lust, you still wouldn’t be dealing with the problem below the waterline. You’ve only cleaned the outside of the cup and dish.

Such good insights!

Page 44 · Location 931: Understanding ourselves at this level is not about the “what” of our sin (I can’t stop looking at porn), but the “why” (porn promises to meet some need in me). The whys that explain our addictions can be categorized into four interwoven, underlying dimensions: wickedness, weaknesses, woundedness, and warfare.

He delves deeper into each of these in the book. Worth the read.

Page 48 · Location 991: …these men initially reported to me that they didn’t have any wounds. Not applicable. Not me. I’m good. None of them intentionally lied or tried to be deceitful. They had simply cut off that part of themselves in order to survive. The problem, however, is that the survival techniques that helped us go on when we were young prevent us from thriving when we are adults. Our solution becomes the problem. Until we realize that we are wounded, we will never recognize how we turn to porn as a balm to heal the injuries of our hearts.

Page 48 · Location 1001: Why, then, do we so often limit Jesus’ ministry to forgiveness and payment for sin? His death on the cross restored our relationship with God and enabled us to receive eternal life in heaven. But the restoration of our relationship with God also makes restoration possible in us. Eternal life doesn’t begin after we die—it begins right now.

Preach.

Page 50 · Location 1037: In the embers of your wickedness, weakness, and woundedness, the Enemy lurks, seeking to throw gas on the fires of brokenness.

Page 51 · Location 1043: The greatest barrier to the life of freedom that God desires for us is not our brokenness. It is brokenness unsurrendered. When we conceal or refuse to surrender our wickedness, weakness, and woundedness, they remain not only out of sight but also out of the realm of healing.

Page 56 · Location 1116: …porn is such a snare to our souls. It sells us a pack of lies by making us feel so alive . . . for a moment. But the “life” it hawks is 180 degrees different from the life Jesus offers. Porn’s “life” is a counterfeit…

Page 57 · Location 1132: When the devil tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread, he was appealing to Jesus’ legitimate desire for food. In the case of my knockoff watch, the legitimate desire was a longing for approval and acceptance, born out of my insecurity. With porn, any number of legitimate desires may fuel the lust—affection, comfort, strength, or affirmation. It might help to compare designer gifts with deceiver gifts.

Page 58 · Location 1155: Jonah warned us that we cannot keep both the counterfeit and the real at the same time. We must choose. “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs,” he wrote (2: 8). Counterfeit worship renders us unable to receive God’s good gifts.

Page 59 · Location 1160: That’s what porn and lust do to us. They tell us we’re not going to receive God’s provision, that we’ll never be satisfied with His manna, so we’re better off finding our own. But the intimacy we experience in those illicit moments is a counterfeit intimacy. It makes us feel like men without requiring us to be men—until we wake up one day with a cheap imitation of intimacy in our top drawer.

Page 59 · Location 1163: We begin our journey from slavery to freedom when we expose the counterfeits at the root of our brokenness and admit our thirst for the real thing. It involves shifting our focus from the external objects of temptation (i.e., women and porn) and, as I said earlier, taking an authentic look at the spiritual roots under the surface.

This is where the concept of Imago Dei fully understood and implemented really comes into play. Women (and men) are not objects of temptation. It does help to look at the roots, but if you continue to see others as temptation, they will be.

Page 61 · Location 1190: …demonic spirits are attached to these idols (1 Cor. 10: 20). Scripture also warns that when we give ourselves to an idol, it ensnares and traps us so we cannot break free (Deut. 7: 25). We are fooled into thinking an idol is serving us when in reality we are serving it. We have fallen for a counterfeit “god” to worship. Unbelief lies at the heart of idolatry.

Reminds me of Romans 1, worshiping the created instead of the Creator.

Page 64 · Location 1240: What we see is the progression of compulsion. It starts when we turn away from God as our source of life and turn other things into idols that we’re convinced will satisfy our desires. We worship and serve “created things rather than the Creator”—that’s counterfeit worship. Along the way we try desperately to numb the painful realities in our lives—the discontent, disappointment, dashed dreams, or fears often going back decades and rarely related directly to sex. Rather than face what’s really churning beneath the surface, we opt for denial and distraction in fantasy “relationships” that get us off the hook from stepping up to the plate as real men. Our minds become “futile . . . foolish . . . darkened”—that’s counterfeit truth.

Haha, yep, we’re tracking together here!

Page 67 · Location 1283: …while guilt says, “I have done wrong,” shame says, “I am wrong.” Shame is a feeling (which quickly becomes a belief) that we are defective, flawed, bad, or worthless. The lens of shame always focuses not on what a person has done but on who the person is. It focuses on one’s self. The heaviness and torment of shame are unbearable. And the verdict is always the same—that at our core we are inferior, inadequate, or unacceptable.

I’ve said it before, shame is not of God. Conviction is, but it’s tone is kind, and God’s kindness leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). God is calling us wayward children home to embrace us (see Luke 15:11-32).

Page 68 · Location 1294: To be naked and unashamed before God meant that Adam and Eve were both free and able to offer to God exactly who they were, without holding anything back or hiding their true selves. They were fully known, just as they were created to be, and they were fully okay with that. This led to an uninhibited intimacy with God and with each other.

Page 69 · Location 1316: Vulnerability, once a blessing, became a liability. Unity, once a reflection of God’s nature, now divided them. Being known, once a gift, set them up for possible heartbreak. So they gathered fig leaves, not just to cover up physical nakedness but also to cover their nakedness of soul. Hiddenness became Adam and Eve’s self-protective strategy of choice in relationships.

Page 70 · Location 1329: Suddenly Adam and Eve were afraid of God. Their shame became a barrier to His offer of mercy, love, and care. Between the fig leaves and running for cover in the trees, they removed themselves from being able to receive what only God could offer.

You said fear and that’s what the text says? Where did shame come in? Why do you and others skip over God’s question of “who said you were naked?” Here’s what you glossed over. Our enemy must have told them they were naked and should feel shame over their bodies. They were married after all. They had no need to cover themselves without this deception.

Page 72 · Location 1351: For the most broken people in Jewish society, Jesus extended mercy, forgiveness, and hope into their sexual messes.

Amen.

Page 72 · Location 1352: This tells us that the voice of shame should never be confused with the voice of God. The voice of shame comes from our brokenness, not from our loving heavenly Father. God never turns away from our brokenness. But in regard to our shame, we have good news: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8: 1).

Page 76 · Location 1425: What are your wounds and weaknesses? They will become the place where the lies of the Enemy become your beliefs. That will also become the place where you take matters into your own hands to overcome weakness or find relief for the pain of the wound. Put simply, we hide, compensate for, or seek relief from our wounds and weaknesses. Our brokenness is also the place where we become vulnerable to the Enemy’s lies.

I do really appreciate the emphasis on the realities of spiritual warfare. I don’t see a demon under every rock, but have acknowledged the gravity of this truth that few talk about. That is why I am also writing a chapter entitled “The Real Enemy.”

Page 80 · Location 1483: Who might be an Eric to you—someone you could invite into your shame who would not be frightened by your nakedness? Who can you trust with you?

The author probably doesn’t even understand the full truth of this statement! This, after a heart-wrenching story and some real vulnerability on behalf of this Eric person. Christian naturism excels in this area by default in ways uncommon or even unattainable to most people.

Page 84 · Location 1524: Each time the cycle concludes and repeats, we descend deeper into a downward spiral that reinforces the previous cycle. In my case, I turned to porn and sex to relieve the pain of my brokenness. But each time I gave in, my shame poured gasoline on the fire, which increased my brokenness, which in turn increased my need to find relief. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Page 86 · Location 1552: External triggers can be obvious—like getting an e-mail solicitation for porn or seeing a beer commercial where an attractive woman bends over a pool table. External triggers may also be less obvious, like being home alone, having unrestricted computer access, or interacting with someone you find sexually attractive. Internal triggers include feelings and thoughts. Emotions such as disappointment, loneliness, rejection, anxiety, anger, and boredom are common triggers. Physical feelings, including fatigue, headaches, hunger, or chronic pain, can also serve as internal triggers. Thoughts can be more subtle internal triggers. A few examples include: I’ve been working so hard I deserve to reward myself . . . My girlfriend is so inattentive . . . My boss never appreciates me . . . If I were a real man, I’d know how to rock climb (or fix my own brakes).

Page 88 · Location 1581: Although I have not acted out sexually since 1994, at times the battle with lust can be intense. Recently, I noticed a pattern I had not been aware of. Whenever I would go to the grocery store, I made it a point to walk down the magazine aisle. As I walked past glossy covers featuring celebrities and models, I discovered that my energy and mood lifted ever so slightly. Even though I wasn’t stopping to focus on any given magazine, just walking past those images was like an afternoon shot of espresso. The moment we become preoccupied, our brains start releasing dopamine and adrenaline, our energy levels may increase, and our deflated souls begin to fill and rise like a balloon inflated with helium. I know men who haven’t looked at porn in years but who virtually live in the preoccupation stage. Their minds are constantly on the prowl for sexual stimulation, and they justify it because they aren’t using porn.

I don’t feel that pull anymore, at all, since changing the way of think about the body and the Image of God.

Page 93 · Location 1669: Our hearts are freed from the fixation on porn to be captivated by the beauty of God’s love, all so that our hearts can be given more fully to God and others.

Page 95 · Location 1689: Larry [Crabb]  just looked at me, dead serious, and repeated himself. “If what you really want to do is look at porn and masturbate, then go ahead and do it.” I could tell he wasn’t being flippant, but I also knew his integrity. So I launched back at him, “I know this must be some kind of reverse psychology or paradoxical treatment you’re trying on me, right?” The look on his face, however, told me this was not his intention. “I don’t get it,” I exclaimed. “Why are you telling me to go ahead and look at porn and masturbate?” In frustration, I hit my fist against the armchair and shouted, “That’s not what I want to do!” Larry’s eyes sparkled with delight. “Exactly!” he cheered. “That’s the point. Looking at pornography and masturbating is not what you really want to do.”

Great story. We must grow up and mature. Our identity is of one who does not resort to such childish habits. 

Page 97 · Location 1732: Some years ago a man said to me, “I wish I could go to a hospital and have my sexual addiction surgically removed!” Although he spoke in jest, his desire for healing was intense, and he knew he needed to get to the heart of his problem. Wouldn’t it be nice if a doctor could give us an anesthetic and then extract our sinful patterns—just like a ruptured spleen or an inflamed appendix? Of course, no such operation for the soul exists. And if it did, it still wouldn’t deal with the problem.

That’s right.

Page 98 · Location 1747: Throughout the rest of the sermon, Jesus made the point that obedience to the law begins and ends with the heart. Let’s face it: a blind person is just as capable of lusting as you and I are. Physical surgery won’t cure our lust. Jesus knew better than anyone else that the surgical procedure we needed was a heart transplant, not dismemberment.

Page 101 · Location 1788: The truth is this: God has dealt with sin in your heart. And having a new heart changes everything—including what you do with your eyes and hands and other body parts.

Page 101 · Location 1792: From the teaching I had heard, through Jesus’ death on the cross, my relationship with God was restored and the debt for my sins was paid. As a result, I was forgiven, and I was assured of going to heaven. Little did I know that although these truths were certainly real, the gospel involved so much more. I had no idea that my heart had been made new or what that actually meant. I had no idea that salvation was an absolutely essential door I entered, so that in Christ I might experience restoration.

Page 102 · Location 1811: Your sin nature is not your true identity. It’s not your deepest nature and it’s no longer your controlling disposition, proclivity, or propensity. Sin no longer defines you. Instead, here is the deepest truth about you: your sinful nature has been put off, or stripped away (Col. 2: 11), and you are dead to your sinful nature (Rom. 6: 11).

Yes, yes, yes!

Page 103 · Location 1826: Countless followers of Jesus have lived under a crippling theology that defines them by their sinful nature and a desperately wicked heart. But we must not confuse our sinful nature with our new hearts. Our sin nature was crucified with Christ. Our new hearts are alive with the very life of God beating in us. And our new hearts are good hearts.

Page 104 · Location 1835: If you set a bowl of carrot and celery sticks beside a bowl of potato chips on a table, which would seem more appealing and appetizing? I’ve always known that vegetables are good for me, and that chips may be an unhealthy option. But knowing that fact has rarely made a difference in my appetite. I want the chips! For the first twenty years of following Jesus, I associated God’s ways with the carrots and celery, and my ways with the potato chips.

OK, this is hitting too close to home now! I joke, but it’s true. In the same way I’ve overcome lust through God’s work, I now need to overcome gluttony and take better care of the body he gave me.

Page 104 · Location 1839: The gospel turns all of this upside down. The reality of the new covenant and your new heart is that deep down, your inclination now gravitates toward God’s heart and ways. “Delight yourselves in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37: 4).

Page 105 · Location 1846: Following Jesus is not about not sinning; it’s about releasing His life from within. Like turning on the faucet. The goal is not to turn off the faucet of lust, but to turn on the faucet of trust. Trusting that God has restored my heart, and that my heart is good. Slowly, I began to understand just how much energy I had spent on sin management, trying to repress the cesspool I imagined within and keep the sewage inside from spewing out. As I stopped putting my energy into shutting off the faucet from the cesspool, my real passions began rising to the surface. The pipes in my soul were getting unclogged, and something was starting to flow that I didn’t know was there. I began experiencing what Jesus described as “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4: 14).

Page 109 · Location 1905: In light of current world conditions, few people would disagree that we are at war. Just look at ongoing problems with terrorism and countless murders from the illegal drug trade. Add to that grim reality the atrocities of genocide, childhood sex slavery, and sex trafficking, and few would deny the reality of evil. But speak of evil in the form of living, breathing personal entities—Satan and demons—and, well, that seems a little extreme to most people. Despite the visible evidence of evil, plenty of skeptics refuse to believe in a source behind that evil.

Here starts a whole section about the invisible battle in the spiritual realm. Again, I’m glad he included this.

Page 109 · Location 1910: And I can certainly understand. Even as a Christian, I haven’t always believed in the influence of evil spirits or demons. Until twelve years ago I held a strong—though largely unexamined—position against the direct influence of the Enemy in our lives. What would people think of me? Would I come across as some religious nut? As a part-time seminary professor, I didn’t want to appear intellectually unsophisticated.

Page 110 · Location 1913: I remained resolute in my beliefs until I encountered man after man in my office who struggled with all kinds of sexual brokenness. One man confessed that every time he looked at porn and masturbated, he immediately heard an accusing voice telling him he would never be free.

When I read this, I shuddered, showed Mrs. Phil, and we were taken back to a time that we fought an eerily similar battle. She heard those same words: “You thought you could be free? You’ll never be free!” With the most evil laughter. We will expand this story in our book. Suffice to say, this stuff is very real. The enemy does not want anyone to be free.

Page 113 · Location 1960: Theologian Christopher West remarked, “If the body and sex are meant to proclaim our union with God, and if there is an enemy who wants to separate us from God, what do you think he is going to attack? If we want to know what is most sacred in this world, all we need do is look at what is most violently profaned.” 2

I love reading Christopher West. This is a quote I had also included.

Page 115 · Location 1991: And once we grant the powers of darkness permission to influence us, the Enemy uses two important strategies to further deepen our bondage: footholds and strongholds… Paul very well could have said, “In your anxiety, in your lust, in your passivity, do not sin . . . and do not give the devil a foothold.”

Page 116 · Location 2010: Spiritually speaking, certain circumstances allow the Enemy to not only get in the door but also set up camp and stay for a while, all with the goal of conquering the individual.

Page 116 · Location 2011: Paul described the nature of our war against the Enemy’s strongholds this way: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10: 3–5). Notice that Paul began with the assumption that believers are actively engaged in a war. He also reminded us that our weapons in this battle are distinctly different from the world’s weapons. Also, notice that Paul defined strongholds as “arguments” and “pretension”—beliefs and lies—that take root in us, and that stand in the way of knowing God. These falsehoods concern our perceptions about God, ourselves, or others. Lastly, notice the order of the warfare. Strongholds are demolished before every thought is taken captive. Countless men have told me that they cannot control, or take captive, their thoughts. But we cannot take our thoughts captive, or overcome any other sexual sin, until the stronghold has been demolished.

Page 117 · Location 2021: When the U.S. Navy Seals captured and killed Osama bin Laden, they didn’t walk up to his compound, ring the doorbell, and quietly request that Mr. Bin Laden come with them. Instead, they commandeered the heavily defended compound in which he had been living before taking his life. It works the same way in the spiritual sense.

Page 117 · Location 2028: First, you must announce the lie you have befriended. Below are some of the most common ones.

• I will never be sexually satisfied in my marriage.
• Sexual gratification is necessary for my well-being.
• I will always be ruled by lust and cannot change.
• Real intimacy is not worth the risk.
• I don’t really love God or I wouldn’t be struggling this way.
• My heart must be desperately wicked.
• I can never let anyone know my deepest struggles.
• I am not a strong and powerful man.

I have written about agreements in the post Onions Are Terrible.

Page 118 · Location 2045: Next, you must renounce the lie. In 2 Corinthians 4: 2 Paul declared that he had “renounced . . . shameful ways.” He didn’t say that he’d stopped them, or even repented of them. He said “renounced.” Renouncing means to formally withdraw from participating in the lie, like a gang member who renounces his affiliation in a gang.

…You may have believed the lie in your past, but you are deciding—by an act of your will—that you will no longer buy into it.

…Finally, we must pronounce the truth.

Such good stuff here: Announce the lie, Renounce the lie, Pronounce the truth.

Page 123 · Location 2111: Without understanding porn’s impact on the brain, too many men either quit trying to change or carry unnecessary guilt and shame when their spiritual zeal and willpower aren’t enough.

I love the brain stuff. It’s fascinating and important to understand.

Page 125 · Location 2159: If some malevolent being held a competition to create the perfect delivery mechanism to enslave our human desire, Internet pornography would win the grand prize. You must understand that online pornography is fundamentally different from the Playboys or Penthouses of past generations. If the magazines, videos, and DVDs of the past were like the Wright brothers’ plane at Kitty Hawk, then Internet porn would be a supersonic jet.

Page 126 · Location 2167: No one would argue that the orgasm is one of the most powerful physical, emotional—and some would say spiritual—experiences of being alive. Scientists have shown that in those moments of ecstasy and surrender, the release of serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and norepinephrine is as powerful in the brain as heroin. 

Page 126 · Location 2171: Internet porn overstimulates the brain. This occurs in four unique ways. First, our brains crave novelty, and the Internet provides an endless variety of novel sexual images. When I was a young man looking at magazine centerfolds, images lost their appeal within a short amount of time. But with online porn, new images are instantly available with the click of a mouse. With each new image, our limbic system releases a burst of dopamine, which tells us we gotta have it.

…The connection between novelty and sexual arousal is well established by what scientists call the Coolidge effect. After dropping a male rat into a cage with a receptive female, researchers initially observed intense copulation between the rats. Eventually, the male rat exhausted himself; even when the willing female rat wanted more, he was spent. However, when the original female was replaced with a new receptive female, the male rat immediately revived and began to copulate again. This pattern was repeated over and over until the male rat was literally exhausted. With the introduction of a novel sexual mate, this process will be repeated again and again until the male succumbs to exhaustion or death.

Page 127 · Location 2185: In food and substance addictions, a person either runs out of the drug or food, or is physically unable to tolerate more. A man can eat only so many pizzas or smoke only so much crack before reaching the obvious limits. With Internet porn, an infinite supply is available.

…And as long as a man has an Internet connection, he can continue to binge. This is why it’s not uncommon for addicted men to stay up all night viewing porn, and even lose track of time.

Page 128: Internet porn overstimulates the brain because it’s available on demand. Again, unlike substances that require the user to arrange for a fix, a man carries a forever stash of porn in his mind without even turning on the computer. Every time the images come to mind, he experiences a burst of dopamine in his neuropathways.

Pages 129-130: When dopamine is released in large amounts or for long periods, two things happen simultaneously. First, the receiving nerve cells get overstimulated and start removing receptors. It’s like when someone keeps shouting at you; you cover your ears. But the sending cells scream even louder (more dopamine) until they are hoarse, and can now only whisper (the amount of dopamine sent is below normal). With the receiving cells half deaf (fewer receptors) and the sending cells whispering (less dopamine released), you are left with two options—feeling awful, or finding porn, the one thing that now releases dopamine more than anything else. With porn this is a gradual process, yet it lies at the heart of addiction. Low dopamine signaling that leads to a numbed pleasure response is known as desensitization. It is precisely why men feel so helpless, so powerless, when they try to overcome their sexual addictions.

…Every thought, feeling, habit, skill, or behavior in your life has a corresponding neuropathway that fires in your brain. These pathways are designed to function optimally. However, as the brain’s reward circuitry gets entangled in a tug-of-war, the brain rewires itself for addiction and new neuropathways are created. Every time a man views porn, or eventually even thinks about porn, the burst of dopamine strengthens the connections between cells. The stronger the connection, the easier it becomes for cells to communicate on that path. This idea of the brain changing itself is called neuroplasticity.

Page 131: Our brains can be rewired from their addictive patterns. Just as you can reboot your computer and reset the hard drive, you can reboot your brain and restore the sensitivity of your brain circuits.

Page 132: …begin your first ninety days of abstinence.

Better than the first 90 days of abstinence is the first day of true freedom which brings instant abstinence for life. This is what my experience shows me is possible.

Page 133: Holding on to the idea that you won’t, or can’t, relapse is not only unrealistic; it’s counterproductive. If you fall, get back up. Some people hear the drama of my story and assume that I experienced an immediate breakthrough. But my journey from identifying my addiction to freedom took four years.

Mine was a breakthrough and took much less time (almost instantly).

Page 133: Determine the day you will commit yourself to sexual sobriety. Once you begin, keep a calendar to track the days, weeks, and months.

I did this and accountability. It didn’t work. There is a better way. Better than being sober for so many days or months is being new for the first day of the rest of your life. The author spoke of this being new earlier in the book. This is walking that back.

Page 136: Recent attention has been given to children and adults who suffer from NDD, or nature deficit disorder, as a result of spending too much time online or engaged in electronic media. Avoid this disorder by interacting with the outdoors in the sunshine, fresh air, and natural beauty of God’s creation. Get out and move! Pursuing alternative passions expands your horizons and rewires your brain at the same time.

Amen, and I could say much more about this!

Page 137: So be encouraged. Your struggle with porn is a learned response, in many ways, just like the skills of a pianist or athlete. Your brain can unlearn, and it can change.

Page 145: Modern Christianity has all but lost an understanding of the inner sanctuary. God never intended our faith to be a mere intellectual pursuit. He intended to restore humanity’s ability to walk with God. He calls us to walk with Him from an inward place. When we are disconnected from this place, this center, we gravitate toward anything nearby that gives us a false sense of being centered.

Page 146: I remember speaking with a man I’ll call Mark about facing the emptiness. With great frustration he related his difficulty of being able to sit still, remain attentive, or simply be engaged and present when he attempted to spend time with God. I assured him that his frustrations were a common struggle. Then I asked him what seemed like a totally inappropriate question. “What would it be like if during your time with God you were to imagine the hottest, most sexually appealing woman, and focus on her for twenty minutes? Would that change anything?” Mark smiled impishly. “Well . . . yes, but that would be a sin.” In no way was I encouraging him to sin, or even attempt to do what I was asking. But my hypothetical question allowed our conversation to take an important turn. What we ended up discussing was that he was able to be still, attentive, engaged, and present. The only requirement was that he had to be looking at porn. This was no small insight. With no awareness whatsoever that his brain had become wired for porn, or that he was addicted to his own brain chemistry, Mark had wrongly concluded that he just couldn’t engage and be attentive because he was somehow deficient and unspiritual. Do you hear the lie even here? The lie he came to believe was that he didn’t love God and must not care very deeply about the kingdom. As soon as he understood the basic way his brain worked, he was able to separate his brain rewiring from the novelty of porn from his true heart.

Page 147: Ten years ago I decided that I no longer wanted to live off of other people’s spirituality. I no longer wanted to settle for hearing about other people’s encounters with God, and only teach others what I could glean from the books I was reading. I wanted to experience God as David did. I wanted to dwell in the sanctuary of God and “gaze on the beauty of the Lord and . . . seek him in his temple” (Ps. 27:4).

Pages 149-150: …will solitude and silence, centering prayer, and inward attentiveness really make a difference in my struggle with porn? That’s a very important question. The scientific verdict is in, and the answer is a qualified yes.

I know what did work for me without any qualifiers.

Pages 156-157: Identifying what places, people, circumstances, or experiences trip your trigger is key. What provokes lust, craving, and movement toward porn? No trigger is insignificant if it serves as a cue to lust and craving.

He says to stalk your triggers. With a new heart and redeemed mind, you don’t want or be bothered by whatever used to trigger you. That’s called healing, peace, and renewal.

Page 157: …your cravings do talk to you. They are the physiological expressions of thirst and longing, communicating to you that a legitimate desire is not being met. What is the craving about? What is the longing beneath the urge? What is the legitimate desire? Before learning to interrogate their cravings, I hear men say, “I’m just really horny.” But after learning this method of soul attentiveness, men say, “I’m not horny; beneath feeling sexually aroused, what I really feel is lonely.” Surf Your Urges By now you probably understand that white-knuckling and gritting your teeth is not going to take you to the root of your lust issue.

I can relate to this. This WAS me.

Page 159: Here’s an example of what urge surfing might look like with porn or lust. Say you are home alone and haven’t looked at porn for two weeks. Suddenly, you start thinking about going online and surfing for porn. The first step is simply to observe. Sit comfortably in a chair and take a few deep breaths to help you get centered. Then take an inventory across your body. Where is the urge coming from in your body? Where do you feel it? Is it a feeling in your gut, shoulders, genitals? What is the sensation? Is it emptiness? Is it tingling? Anxiety? Now comes the part that requires a little courage. Speak out loud what you are experiencing: “I’m feeling a craving . . . it feels like butterflies in my stomach. It’s a light, hollow sensation.” Say whatever you are experiencing three or four times out loud. Now that you have observed what the craving is, the next step is to focus. Direct your focus on one specific area where you are experiencing the urge. Notice the exact sensations. Focus on the lightness, or hollowness, or tension. Observe how large of an area the sensation takes up. Is it the size of a baseball? Or is it the size of a pinprick? As you focus upon the sensation, describe it to yourself out loud. For example, “My heart rate seems faster. I can feel my face flush. I feel an energy in my temples.” As an outside observer of yourself, keep noticing the sensations and experiences and describe them out loud. The third step is to refocus. Return again to each part of your body where you experience the urge or craving. Are you able to observe any sensory changes? You may perceive after several minutes of urge surfing that the cravings have decreased or altogether disappeared. It’s important to say here that the point of urge surfing is not to eliminate cravings, but to experience them differently. Instead of running into the wave of craving, you are riding on top of it. Knowing that you can ride even the biggest wave is empowering. In the early stage of recovery, you can practice this until you are so familiar with the urges that they no longer trouble you.

Fine and good, but seems a bit tedious to me. Perhaps that’s me denying my inner feelings, but I would rather think that my former impure desires have all been replaced by pure ones.

Page 160: Of the hundreds of men I’ve counseled about their sexual addictions, not one has told me that after masturbating he felt stronger, more confident, and more vitally connected to the deep part of his soul. Debates over whether or not masturbation is a sin totally miss the point. The crucial question is not whether masturbation is right or wrong. The question is, as it is with any thought or behavior, does it hinder our spiritual, emotional, and social maturity? Does it stand in the way of love?

Page 166: One’s naked self is the self that is hidden and alone. Wicked, wounded, and weak, broken and impoverished. It holds no charm, credential, accomplishment, or status. Henri Nouwen called it the “irrelevant self.”1 It is the self that, apart from God’s loving pursuit, we try to conceal. In order to be ourselves, we each must come to terms with our naked selves.

…In our nakedness there is no pretense of earning or obtaining His love. It’s a gift that makes the gospel more real. Only in our nakedness can we experience the Father’s mercy, tenderness, and healing and realize that we are neither shamed nor despised.

He speaks in a spiritual sense here, but he’s right in more ways than he knows! There is something that happens when you embrace your physical nakedness as well. You can go from a hate relationship with yourself to a loving relationship for the body God has lovingly given you, in his own image.

Pages 167-168: As you embrace this freedom, you can begin to direct your will according to your truest desires. You can make healthy choices and exercise self-control. You decide whether or not you will stare at a woman’s breasts, masturbate to porn, have sex with your girlfriend, or flirt with the woman at your office. This is what the Bible means by self-control.

Nothing accomplished this in me as quickly and completely as embracing Christian naturism.

Page 168: God is concerned with so much more than giving you the energy to keep you from looking at porn. Obviously, He wants you free from any bondage—including porn and lust—that stands in the way of your relationship with Him. But in the big picture, He wants to free you from any encumbrances (related or unrelated to porn) that prevent you from living the life he intended.

Pages 173-174: God passionately desires to transform you from a twig of shame—think Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree—into an oak of righteousness that will display His splendor, His glory—like one of the mighty redwood trees in Yosemite.

Great section in this chapter on Isaiah 61, and oaks of righteousness, over the oaks of idolatry.

Page 178: A friend from AA drove him to the hospital where he began treatment. After a week of extensive mental health assessments, his psychiatrist, a straight-shooting Irishman, announced that he had reviewed the data and made a conclusive diagnosis. My father braced himself for the worst. “Your problem is that you are immature,” the doc pronounced. “You need to grow up, and learn to live without alcohol.” Dad walked back to his hospital room, where he sat for a long time to ponder the doctor’s words. “I decided he was right,” he told me later. “When I walked out of the room, I decided I would do whatever it took to learn to live without alcohol, to grow up.” And grow up he did. Almost forty years later, he still hasn’t had a drink. But even better, his journey of recovery has led him to become the man that one day I hope to be.

I love this story and the life altering decision to grow up. You cannot mature if you think you can never look at people and their bodies differently. The church typically warns against lust and tells you it’s a never ending battle. These two ideas cannot coexist. There are men in their 70s and 80s who never grew up in this area. This cannot be so with us.

Page 179: This is what the LORD says to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem: “Break up your unplowed ground and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the LORD,

circumcise your hearts, you men of Judah and people of Jerusalem. (Jer. 4:3–4)

God told His people to break up their unplowed ground, referring not to soil but to the ground of their hearts. The Israelites’ hearts had grown hard and unreceptive, like parched land that can’t absorb rainfall. The soil of their hearts had become barren and unable to grow anything. In order to yield a harvest, the fallow ground needed to be broken. Their hearts needed to be broken in order to absorb God’s love.

Pages 181-182: In the battle against lust and porn, most Christian approaches stress the importance of accountability. In my experience, however, what we need more than accountability is accessibility. During my sexual struggles, I was held accountable by friends and mentors who were among the most insightful and highly trained men around. But I didn’t have the ability or desire to let these men into my heart.

That level of vulnerability is rare among men. It’s automatically present when we take off our clothes and just are as we were created.

Page 183: It’s about the avoidance of shame. This form of accountability is a gospel of sin management that is all too common, and fraught with problems. The most obvious issue with this approach is that every addict is a master at deception. We lie. It’s what addicts do.

Pages 184-185: In the cardiologist approach we move from accountability to accessibility. We expose our hiddenness, but more than that, we acknowledge our brokenness. Instead of trying to manage our sin, or be inspired to obey, we recognize our need for transformation. We begin to allow God, and a few others, to walk into the messiness of our lives, and we learn that we are more than the sum of our brokenness. Cardiologist accountability does not require a professional therapist or counselor. It begins with the assumption that our whole lives, including our brokenness, are the soil in which God grows us. The only requirements for becoming a cardiologist of this kind are a healthy curiosity, a desire to be a caring friend, and a willingness to grow in your understanding of the process of spiritual transformation.

Pages 189-190: Recently, I heard a Christian expert in sexual addiction suggest that telling men to pray more in order to overcome porn was tantamount to spiritual abuse. On one level I totally agree. Any approach that does not take into account the whole person— emotional, relational, and physiological, as well as spiritual—is incomplete. To emphasize the spiritual at the expense of our total personhood is a reduced gospel.

Did you catch that? The most overused advice usually given by those in the church is practically spiritual abuse!

Page 194: “Since junior high I’ve fought a war against lust and porn. I finally got tired of putting so much energy into battling porn, so I gave up. Instead, I’ve been putting my energy into becoming a different kind of man. I’m changing the way I do life. I’m starting to see myself and God differently. I’m learning what intimacy is all about. I guess I’m becoming a man who just doesn’t need to look at porn anymore. What it once did for me, I no longer need, because the gaping hole in my heart is gone. I’m pursuing God for who He is and not what He can do for me. I’m focusing on being transformed and discovering that it’s actually starting to happen.”

Page 196: …on a behavioral level you have been surfing for porn, while on a heart level you have been surfing for God.

Hence the name of the book.

Again, this is a book I can recommend without too many caveats. There exists in it an admission of the limitations of many modern man-made strategies that fall short or have loopholes and don’t get to the root of the matters of the soul. The laser focus on our real enemy, and the matters of the heart that are in play was a welcome breath of fresh air.

8 thoughts on “Review of “Surfing for God”

  1. Paul B

    It looks like one of the best such books so far. But reading your review, your comments had a personal connection for me. Except for the Christian Naturism, I haven’t been in any social nudity context, and can’t see any opportunity. But that’s another issue. Like you, I never got into any extreme porn. Actually, anything with even a hint of violence turned me off. I’m currently reading Nancy R Pearcy’s book ‘Love Thy Body’, which is in the Protestant Theology of the Body’ genre. Although she doesn’t focus on the physical Image of God in a big way, it’s there and people will, hopefully, push people’s thoughts in a direction which will lead them to find the truth. Books like ‘”Surfing for God” can hopefully do the same thing.

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  2. Paul B

    It’s good to see Protestant theologians going there. When I’ve finished that, I have Sam Allberry’s “What God thinks about your body”. I have a lot of time for Sam’s writing.

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  3. pastordavidrn

    It’s been a while since I’ve read such a long book review, but the material, as you might imagine, kept my interest all the way through. And really, it was more like a presentation than a review, with so much of the author’s work quoted. But, yes, he powerfully hammers in nails with very few misses. It made me want to read the whole book, so I bought the Logos 9 version, which is the same price as the Kindle, but I love the way Logos brings up a Scripture box when the mouse hovers over a reference. Thank you for making us aware of this book.

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