"It's amazing how the church manages to tame the wildest things," Debbie Blue notes early in Sensual Orthodoxy. She is referring here to the sacrament of baptism, but the observation applies as readily to each of the other topics she addresses in this short, tightly focused collection of sermons. Blue's central point is that the church tends to remove most of the concrete physicality and sensuality from the gospel, leaving it much tidier but also colder and far less interesting.

Blue, who is part of the ministry team at the House of Mercy in Saint Paul, examines familiar biblical passages and points out how, while "the people in charge have so often had an anti-sensual, abstracting sort of tendency, the story of Christ goes in the opposite direction." She limits her scope to this story of Christ, opening each sermon with a lectionary gospel reading and then reflecting on its implications, often contrasting her own interpretation with a more familiar one. It's important to note that she aims her criticisms not at specific, formal doctrines of any faction of the church so much as at more general attitudes about the nature of the Gospel, attitudes shared by many within the wider church and reflected in sermons, songs, Sunday school lessons, and traditions. Blue's reading of the Gospel is certainly orthodox—or, as she qualifies it, "at least orthodox enough"—but her reflections are original and provocative.

This book's greatest strength might be its limited, consistent focus. Each of the 16 sermons contributes to her point with a different case study, adding up to a pretty convincing argument in 141 pages. Many of the sermons provoke much thought; a few also induce a wide smile and nodding head. "It's incredible, really," Blue ...

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