Every Man’s Battle, hereafter referred to as EMB, is a best-selling book coauthored by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker with Mike Yorkey. The subtitle is Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time. The authors hope to help men gain victory over sexual temptation and lust. They aim to shed light on an area of darkness in the souls of men. However, there is such a mixture of darkness and light that one must wander through the darkness of tawdry tales of men’s sexual sins and be subjected to explicit descriptions that ironically in themselves provide fuel for the sin the authors intend to oppose. Interspersed are gleams of light from Scripture and admonitions to be pure. One asks, must a man wend his way through the filth of other men’s minds and actions to find the truth, or is Scripture enough? Indeed, the Bible declares that it is sufficient! Yet, the thread of hope (tension line) in EMB keeps the reader wading through the mire in hopes of finding out how to overcome sexual sin.
According to the authors, this book is about “roving eyes,” “sexually impure thoughts,” and “sexual addictions” (p. 6). They tell the reader, “God offers you freedom from the slavery of sin through the cross of Christ, and He created your eyes and mind with an ability to be trained and controlled” (p. 4). Indeed, God does offer freedom through the cross of Christ and also through His Word empowered by the Holy Spirit when a person truly desires to obey Him. That is why it is unnecessary and even dangerous for some men to read a book that explicitly dramatizes the darkness to the degree that it could easily draw the reader into visualizing the sexually provocative scenes and further indulging in sexual sin. While the authors may have had good intentions in writing this book, much of the content is unscriptural. It violates Scripture so much that Christians should not waste valuable time reading it. In addition, the recommended protocol for cure is a works oriented, unbiblical psychological behaviorism.
The Apostle Paul warned: “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret” (Eph 5:11-12). Although the authors of EMB reprove sexual sinning, their numerous references to the stimulating effect of sex, sexual images, and attention to female body parts are certainly contrary to these verses.
Mike Yorkey, the editor, refers to coauthor Fred Stoeker as follows: “But here was a guy exposing his life story and the life stories of other men. Ogling women. Dreaming about sexual acts with female acquaintances. Sexualized what-ifs and double entendres. Rampant masturbation” (p. 2). And, indeed, the authors do not just refer to these sinful activities by name; they spell out these sinful activities and explicitly express details of “ogling,” sexual dreaming, “sexualized acts,” and “rampant masturbation,” etc. Such explicit details feed the flesh and work to build camaraderie among those men involved in lust. For us to detail these here or to provide quotes for documentation would violate Ephesians 5:11-12 in the same way the authors have done.
The authors attempt to justify their explicit language by referring to Ezekiel 23:3 (p. 66) and verses from Song of Solomon (p. 209). But, no “ogling,” sexual dreaming, or “sexualized acts” or “rampant masturbation” are discussed in these or in other Bible verses. Check a concordance and you will see there are very few verses that mention women’s breasts, and the verses that do are primarily used in reference to Israel’s “whoredoms” (Eze. 23:3) and “harlotry” (Eze. 23:5).
Comparing the authors’ explicit sensual and sexual language with examples from the Song of Solomon clearly reveals that there is a vast difference between the EMB’s graphic, sexually provocative language of explicit sexual sin and the Bible’s poetic figurative language of true love. The authors of EMB describe in detail the numerous sinful acts of men lusting after women in various contexts and in explicit language. The Song of Solomon can be read both as a romance between a man and a woman expressed in poetic language and as the relationship of Christ and His Bride in figurative language. To use the Song of Solomon to justify expressing explicit details of lust (forbidden by Ephesians 5:11-12) borders on blasphemy.
Works-Oriented, Unbiblical Psychological Behaviorism
A second problem we find with EMB is its solution to the sexual sin problem. While the authors refer to the eyes, mind, and heart, the overall emphasis and focus is on the eyes. If one circled the word “eyes” throughout the book, it would become apparent how often the word “eyes” is used, how the eyes are presented as the gateway to the mind and heart, and how crucial and central the eyes are to the authors’ proposed solution. The authors refer to the eyes as the first perimeter of defense in their battle plan (p.104).
Psychologically speaking, the authors are behaviorists. They say:
In our society, we have “sensitivity training” and “cross-cultural enrichment” classes. We believe if we can only teach people the “right” feelings, they’ll act correctly. In the Bible, however, God tells us the opposite: We’re to first act correctly, and then right feelings will follow.
If you don’t feel like cherishing, cherish anyway. Your right feelings will arrive soon enough (p. 198).
Contrary to what the authors say, this is not a biblical teaching. It is simply a works-oriented behaviorism. While God gives us instructions to obey whether we feel like it or not, He does not guarantee that “right feelings” will follow obedience.
With the dominance of the eyes over the mind and heart and behavioristically working from the outside in, the authors lay the groundwork for their solution by discussing the role of habit. Their understanding of habit is one more variable in the works oriented behavioristic equation of their battle plan. They say:
Impurity not only lives like a habit, it also works like a habit. The same is also true for purity; it works like a habit.
What do we mean?
Once we set a habit in concrete, we can forget about it. The habit will take care of business with little conscious thought, enabling us to focus our attention on other things. For example, we all have a habitual way of getting up in the morning. Many of us slowly climb out of bed, brush our teeth, take a shower, get dressed, and eat Wheaties with the kids at 7:10 A.M. We don’t even have to think about it. We could do our morning routine in our sleep, and we usually do!
While sexual impurity works like a bad habit, sexual purity works like a good habit (emphasis theirs, p. 107).
While this behavioristic scheme may make sense to the authors, it makes no sense to compare a lust-of-the-eyes, sinful habit to an automatic, routine habit of “getting up in the morning.” Developing such habits and routines as “getting up in the morning” come automatically and easily to the natural man. However, overcoming habitual sin associated with the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life and developing a life of purity require more than simple fleshly maneuvers. This is a battle that involves the entire person (body, soul, spirit, mind, heart, will). While the authors include the mind and heart, the emphasis is more on habits of the eyes. And their prescribed use of the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith looks more like behaviorism than true faith in God and in the power of His Word (pp. 141-142).
Indeed, this battle is fought on a spiritual battleground against “spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12). However, such a battle requires full spiritual armor and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God in its fullness. For some this may be a spiritual battle in which the believer must be constantly circumspect and diligent, rather than routine and automatic. One does not simply form a new habit regarding sexual sins and forget about it. In fact, if one treats such sinful activity as a habit to be overcome and gains success, he may be caught unawares with the sin of pride. The believer’s entire life is a spiritual battlefield. The enemy is wily and invites people to use fleshly means to fight spiritual battles, because as the flesh gets stronger the spiritual man gets weaker. Yes, we agree that men must do something, but what they must do is: “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).
The final element of the works-oriented battle plan is this:
You can win this battle by training your eyes to “bounce” away from sights of pretty women and sensual images. If you “bounce your eyes” for six weeks, you can win this war.
The problem is that your eyes have always bounced toward the sexual, and you’ve made no attempt to end this habit. To combat it, you need to build a reflex action by training your eyes to immediately bounce away from the sexual, like the jerk of your hand away from a hot stove (p. 125).
They also say, “For openers, the habit of what your eyes look at is no different from any other habit” (p. 126).
As we indicated, sexual lust, contrary to their habit example on page 107, is not like getting out of bed each morning, brushing our teeth, showering, getting dressed and eating. If it were that simple and that much a simple work of the flesh, almost no man who desired otherwise would be indulging himself in sexual sin. The authors have over simplified the problem to an addiction (sometimes calling it sin), referred to it as a habit to be broken, and erroneously established “bouncing the eyes” as the solution. And, to compound this problem and silly solution is the fact that some women’s faces and/or facial expressions are sexually provocative.
Contrary to what the authors say, sexual sin is not an eye and mind problem first to be worked from the outside in. It is the other way around. It is first and foremost a heart problem. While Job made a covenant with his eye, he had already covenanted himself wholly with God. Job’s statement about making a covenant with his eye includes more than his eye. Job referred to one part of the whole, the eye, to represent the whole of all that is connected with what is involved in this kind of covenant. This kind of expression is called a “synecdoche,” which is a figure of speech in which one part of an idea or object stands for the whole idea or object. Here the eye stands for the whole idea of taking a sexual interest in other women. Much more than the eye is involved!
EMB is essentially a self-help book for the Christian market with all the flaws of such books. EMB is built on the authors’ testimonies, told in an interesting fashion and enlarged with explicit language to appeal to the imagination and to encourage hope for cure. However, as with most self-help books, the hope generated by testimonials is not supported by any proof of success for what is implied or claimed. The unstated message is, “Trust us. This will work for you.” The only evidence or proof is the authors’ say-so based on their personal experiences.
If the authors dealt with the sin of gluttony in the same way they deal with the sin of lust, they would talk about all the delicious food that surrounds everyone, both in the media and in the stores. They would include enough detail to stimulate the juices to flow and enough variety to tempt a person to satisfy that craving even while reading the book. Their solution would be “eye bouncing.” Since we are surrounded by food, it would become an almost impossible task. The same applies to their eye bouncing solution to sexual sins. Whether in church or out of church, American women have increasingly over the past one hundred years publicly undressed themselves, thereby creating a situation in which the proposed, outside-in, behavioristic solution will not work. Those who gain victory will do so for reasons other than the book. What is needed is something that speaks of how salvation and sanctification can work in a person’s life to conform him to the image of Christ so that a man will grow in the things of the spirit and mortify the flesh.
EMB is loaded with unsubstantiated information. For example, the authors say:
So how do we train this new bouncing reflex? . . . Since experts say that anything done consistently for twenty-one days becomes a new habit, you must find some way to consistently bounce your eyes over time (emphasis theirs, p. 126).
We know of no experts who have proven that all one needs to do to defeat a habit like sexual sins, drunkenness, gambling, and such is to practice another habit for twenty-one days.
According to our experiences, we figure around 10 percent of men have no sexual-temptation problem with their eyes and their minds. At the other end of the curve, we figure there’s another 10 percent of men who are sexual addicts and have a serious problem with lust (p. 31).
There is no reference to research to support what Arterburn says. When important and critical statements like that are made, the reader is entitled to some proof beyond Arterburn’s personal experiences. To use his words, we could say that “according to our experiences, Arterburn’s figures are greatly amiss.” While we believe they are, it would be inappropriate to declare this as factual without evidence.
In addition to the above problems, there are other theological and doctrinal problems in EMB. When author Fred Stoeker told his wife that he “felt vaguely unworthy” of God, she replied, “Well of course. You’ve never felt worthy to your own father. Every preacher I’ve known says that a man’s relationship with his father tremendously impacts his relationship with his heavenly Father” (p. 11).
Faulting Fred’s father is repeated and amplified throughout the book. It is sinful to give such details because it violates the commandment to honor one’s father. Such details also give the impression that it wasn’t really Fred’s fault that he sinned in this way. One gets the distinct impression that Fred is painting a picture of personal victimhood. He says:
I remember listening to one sermon in which the pastor talked about “generational sin”—patterns of sin passed from father to son (Exodus 34:7). Sitting in my pew, I recalled that my grandfather had run off from his wife in the middle of the Great Depression, leaving her with six kids to raise. My father left his family to pursue multiple sexual affairs. That same pattern had been passed to me, proven by my own multiple affairs in college. Though saved, I now found that I still didn’t have this purity issue settled in my life, and I was scared by the thought of passing this pattern on to my kids (p. 19).
Contrary to the idea of the false doctrine of generational sins, Ezekiel 18:20-22 reveals:
The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.
New Life Clinics Advertised
Author Stephen Arterburn is the founder of the chain of New Life Clinics (p. 3). The clinics are advertised on a number of pages in the book with a full-page ad on page 230. An underlying idea here is that, if the reader just can’t make it on his own with this self-help book, he can find help at one of these clinics. As far as insurance coverage is concerned, New Life Clinics function like other secular psychological and psychiatric clinics that dispense psychotherapy and drugs. New Life Clinics and Arterburn’s books represent at best an integration approach, which we call psychoheresy. While the authors rightly warn about mixing standards of the world with God’s standards, they themselves present a mixture of darkness and light and a mixture of the wisdom of the world with the Word of God.
While EMB was written by professing Christians, we would not recommend it to Christians for the reasons listed above and for other reasons not mentioned in this review. We adamantly disagree with their unbiblical approach, their outside-in-behavioral-psychology recommended path of cure, and their misuse of Scripture.
PAL V11N2 (March-April 2003)