Hedges: Loving Your Marriage Enough To Protect It by Jerry B. Jenkins has a lot of attributes you would expect from the co-author of the Left Behind series. It is very readable and chock full of stories that are helpful in illustrating the author's point. It is not a theological book, but it does not pretend to be. In fact, other than the theme verse of II Timothy 2:22, in which Paul admonishes the young pastor to, "Flee also youthful lusts;..." there is really very little Scripture in it, which leaves the book with a feel not much unlike a secular self-help book.
The author is brutally honest about a man's weakness toward lust in a way that is probably very helpful to young men who may be harboring this secret, thinking they must be a social deviant for having the thoughts they have. (In fact this is a message I wish we more effectively communicated to our young women, most of whom would be shocked to know how their daddies and elders and other respectable men are thinking when a woman is immodestly dressed.) Rather than deny an appreciation for the female form--a form designed by God to attract men--and attempt to pass through life averting one's eyes, Jenkins suggests that men learn to appreciate without lust. He suggests that men construct what he calls hedges ahead of time to prevent those situations in which lustful thoughts can develop and adulterous actions take place.
Jenkins' story-telling skills are helpful in communicating how good men (humanly speaking), with no ill intentions, can fall into an adulterous trap slowly and subtly by first developing a warm friendship, then engaging in what seems like harmless flirtation and touching, and then find themselves in a situation in which they are tempted beyond what they can bear. His contention is that men need to construct hedges to prevent this, and thus flee from lust, as Paul instructed Timothy. He illustrates well how many men will rationalize their adulterous actions after the fact by blaming or denigrating their wives or by claiming that this relationship is so right, God must have willed it. He also communicates well the devastation caused by adultery and divorce.
I appreciate how well Jenkins was able to avoid legalism in his advice about constructing hedges. He uses as examples the hedges he has constructed for himself, which include such things as never meeting or dining alone with an unrelated woman, regulating how he touches a woman, being careful how he compliments women, and reminding himself often of his marriage vows. Yet he also brings in examples of hedges other men might construct. He advises the reader to understand his own weaknesses and construct hedges that help him to flee those temptations. For example, a man who would be strongly tempted by an offer from a prostitute may need to avoid being alone in any area where one might be found. A man tempted to view pornography may need to put filters on his computer and request the blocking of porn channels in his hotel rooms when he travels.
The book comes with a study guide, which could be used with a men's study group. The discussion leader would need to carefully steer the discussion away from talk that could do more harm than good.
As a curriculum for young men on the biblical principles of purity in thought and action, however, this book could only be a small part. It gives sound practical advice, but there is much more to be said. For example, I was disappointed that the reader was not advised to pray for the help of the Holy Spirit in recognizing lustful thoughts or dangerous situations when they first begin. That seems to me to be a basic principle for avoiding sinful actions, that is, by recognizing sinful thoughts in their infancy and immediately repenting of them. There seems to be an assumption that the reader will be able to predict the conditions of all tempting situations ahead of time and construct hedges to avoid them--an assumption I find a bit naive. (I am reminded of Martin Luther's lament that he became a monk to avoid sin, yet "that rascal followed me into the cell.") Left by itself then, I fear this book might teach young men to seek a self-imposed behavior modification rather than the genuine sanctification that flows from a heart shaped by the transforming power of the Spirit of God.
Yet, as a part of a fuller teaching on this subject, this book can have a useful place. Thinking ahead on how we can avoid temptation for the sins we are prone to is always good advice, and this book is helpful in showing that that temptation to lust and adultery may have its beginnings in what seem at first glance like very harmless situations. Rather than wait until the thrill of 'harmless' flirtation is upon you and then begin fleeing temptation, it seems good advice to avoid the thrill in the first place--and then go home and flirt with your wife--who will be thrilled you did so.