Hedges by Jerry Jenkins

Jenkins is a gifted story teller and in Hedges he makes ample use of this talent. The book is a breeze to read, humorous, open, honest and unpretentious. Jenkins’ concern is how to combat moral impurity in the life of Christians, particularly men. His solution is to plant “hedges,” i.e. rules, boundaries, and practical safeguards, which will protect us from sexual sins. Jenkins offers his personal hedges as examples, including not dining, meeting or traveling alone with an unrelated woman, being careful about touching, complimenting appropriately, avoiding flirtation and recalling your wedding vows. Such hedges are wise and should be carefully considered by every believer who wants to walk in purity. Jenkins is also on target as he identifies common rationales, excuses and mind-games people play as they slide toward adultery (p. 27, 39-41). How many men think they are being original when they whine, “I never really loved her,” or “Actually, I disobeyed God by marrying her in the first place”? If only they knew that these, and similar lines, are the common fodder of every cheating man. Jenkins also makes appealing cases for marital faithfulness, romance and priority of the family. Taken as a whole, Hedges certainly has value and may prove useful in the war against impurity.

Having said all of this, there are nevertheless some glaring problems with Hedges. First, there is virtually no use of Scripture throughout the entire book. While there are a few scattered passages here and there, he really only interacts with a portion of one verse, 2 Timothy 2:22a, “Flee also youthful lusts” (p. 45). The rest of the book is in essence an application of that phrase. Jenkins believes that this is the one command given by God to provide moral victory. He goes so far as to write, “Scripture does not imply that we ever shall have victory over lust the way we are expected to win over worry or greed or malice” (p. 16). Therefore, “I don’t have to manage, all I have to do is flee” (p. 16). Jenkins’ view provides a highly unbalanced understanding of the biblical teaching on the subject. Scripture does indeed tell us to flee impurity but it does far more than that. To adopt Jenkins’ philosophy will most likely protect us from external sins—which is surely a good thing, but it will do nothing for the inner man. I found it amazing that Jenkins did not even comment on the rest of 2 Timothy 2:22. The instruction there does not end with fleeing youthful lust but goes on to say, “And pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” Fleeing sin does nothing for the heart unless we are also pursuing righteousness. Surely we must not be content with the externals only, yet this seems to be Jenkins’ contention. For example he is convinced that no one could “avoid a peek at pornography if convinced no one would find out” (p. 45). This may in fact be true of the one who is content with merely setting up hedges that keep the outer manifestation of our flesh under control. But Paul says that the pursuit of righteousness, etc., is the antidote to the desires of the flesh.

This leads to a second surprising omission, a complete absence and discussion of other pertinent passages, especially Galatians 5:16-24. There Paul says that if we walk by the Spirit, “we will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (v. 16) which includes sexual sins (v. 19). Here Paul offers the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to lead us into Christ-like living. Clearly, fleeing is biblical but it is not the only or even the best weapon in our arsenal.

What Jenkins substitutes for the power of the Holy Spirit, the Word richly indwelling us (Colossians 3:16), prayer, focusing on the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18-4:6), fixing our eyes on Christ (Hebrews 12:2) and other biblical teaching, is largely a secular approach. There is very little found in Hedges that could not be suggested by a moral unbeliever. For example, take the widely popular accountability group. Jenkins says, “I make myself accountable to close male friends, and we pledge to punch the other in the mouth if we ever run roughshod over our sacred cows” (p. 32). While Scripture calls on us to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16) and to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24-25), it never prescribes accountability groups. These are drawn straight from the secular world, not Scripture. And while some may find such groups helpful, shouldn’t a Christian book on “hedges” at least deal with God’s “hedges” first? Secondly, I believe such groups are greatly overrated. If I am willing to violate my vows to my wife and God, why would I not be willing to lie to my accountability partners? After all, Jenkins admits that “adulterers are liars” (p. 71).

Drawing it altogether, I found Hedges helpful but incomplete. Jenkins’ practical suggestions have the ring of wisdom, but he does not flesh out the full teaching of Scripture on this subject nor does he lead his reader on to true inner godliness.