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How a Jesse Stone novel reflects our sexual culture

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Robert B Parker Blind Spot, written by Reed Coleman, book cover (Credit: Putnam Adult)

I have been a fan of Robert Parker’s novels for decades.  Parker had a Ph.D. in English literature and was a college professor before his crime novels made him famous.  His Spenser character is considered one of the finest crime fiction characters of all time.  Satirical, tough, and wise, Spenser is the private eye you wish you could be if you were a private eye.

Parker’s other main characters included female crime-solver Sunny Randall and Police Chief Jesse Stone.  Stone is a former LAPD homicide officer whose drinking cost him his job and led him to the small New England town of Paradise.  The Stone character has been made famous by Tom Selleck in a series of made-for-TV movies.

Parker died in 2010, but a succession of writers have kept his characters alive.  I just finished reading Reed Coleman’s latest installment in the Jesse Stone series, Blind Spot.  Once again Stone solves the crime and saves the victim.  Once again his drinking gets him into trouble and reveals his troubled soul.  And once again he sleeps with the most beautiful female character in the novel.  Such is the formula for every Jesse Stone novel.

Stone’s sexual morality is consistent with Parker’s other characters.  Spenser and his girlfriend have had a sexual relationship for decades, but will never marry.  Sunny Randall has slept with a variety of men, including Jesse Stone.  Parker and those who have continued his characters are never explicit in their sexual descriptions, which is one reason I enjoy reading the novels.  They would be PG-13 at worst.

But after finishing the latest Stone novel, the thought struck me: Parker’s fiction may be a greater threat to our moral climate than if it were more explicit.  The narratives make unmarried sex as normal as any other human behavior.  In Parker’s world, it is expected that people who are attracted to each other will have sex with each other.  His novels assume that there is nothing wrong with unmarried people having sex with as many people as they wish.

Parker’s characters are merely a reflection of our culture.  Television shows, musical lyrics, movies, magazines, website content–it’s hard to find entertainment which does not view unmarried sex as normal and expected.  Unlike pornography, which depicts sex in explicit and lurid ways, the popular culture of our day does not usually portray unmarried sex graphically but normalizes it completely.

Two conclusions follow.

One: guard your mind (2 Corinthians 10:5).  Watch what thoughts, attitudes, moral standards, and behaviors you read, view and hear.  Be discerning about your fallen culture, and do not allow it to harm your relationship with Jesus.  If you consume media written by lost people, expect it to reflect lost values.  Be intentional–refuse to allow these values to affect yours.

Two: pray about ways you can influence the culture for God and for good.  Mark Twain is credited with observing that everyone complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it.  It’s the same with popular culture.  There is a Christian subculture producing movies, novels, music, etc., but much of it is not known by secular society.  We must be excellent in everything we do, earning the right to compete with the fallen culture and making an impact with our creativity as well as our biblical worldview.

I would love to see more novels as well-written as the Spenser characters but with biblical messages.  Whatever you can do best, do to the glory of God.  Let your light shine so that the rest of us see your good works and praise your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).