Listening In — Stephen Arterburn

WARREN SMITH, HOST: I’m Warren Smith, and today you’re listening in on my conversation with pastor and the co-author of the book Every Man’s Battle, Steve Arterburn.

Steve Arterburn and Fred Stoeker’s 2000 book, Every Man’s Battle, caused an uproar in many evangelical churches. The book dealt honestly and frankly with sexual temptation, using language that is rarely seen in Christian books. After a slow start, the book took off, and it has sold more than a million copies. Other books in the “Every Man” series joined this one on Christian bookseller lists, and the total sales for the series have now exceeded four million copies.

But when the book came out, the Internet was in its infancy. No one had heard of the #MeToo or #ChurchToo movements. That’s why Arterburn, Stoeker, and their co-author Mike Yorkey recently published—and by recently I mean last month—a 20th anniversary edition that takes the frank, honest approach of the first book to the issues of Internet pornography and sexual harassment and abuse.

I had this conversation with Steve Arterburn at the annual meeting of the National Religious Broadcasters in Nashville, which took place during the last week of February.  

And a quick word of caution before we get started. Both Steve and I took care to speak in ways that we hoped would be edifying to listeners and bring glory to God. We are not explicit or graphic in any way. But the topics we are discussing, and the way we are discussing them, may not be appropriate for young listeners.

Steve Arterburn, welcome to the program.


SMITH: And thank you for your book, too. Every Man’s Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory At a Time. I think I read the book—in fact, I know I read the book when it came out more than 20 years ago. I read it again in preparation for—you can see all my marks in the book —in preparation for our interview today. So I know that there’s a lot of new stuff in here and we’re going to get to that new stuff in a bit, but I want to start back on the first edition of the book. When you wrote this book with with Fred Stoeker, did you guys have any idea that it was gonna be what it became? I mean, it became something of a publishing phenomenon.

ARTERBURN: Well, I got a phone call from the publisher, Dan Rich, and he said, “Are you interested in doing a book on lust, men, pornography, things like that?” I said, “No. I wrote a book called Addicted to Love and it was about love, romance, and sexual eviction.” And I said, “It sells about a thousand copies a year, so I think I’ve kinda done this.” He said, “Well, would you just be willing to look at what he’s done so far on this manuscript?” So, I said yes. And Mike Yorkey is the one that turned it into something that is enjoyable to read. And the same thing he said, no, he didn’t want any part of it either. Well, after I read it and I saw Fred’s approach, I call Fred just to find out who he is, what he’s like.

SMITH: So, you’d never met before?

ARTERBURN: I’d never met him.

SMITH: How about that?

ARTERBURN: And he said, “Steve, I was given a vision by God that there’d be six books and they would sell millions of copies all over the world.” And I didn’t laugh in the phone, but I was thinking, yeah, Fred, every unpublished author has a vision from God of what he’s going to be.

SMITH: Now you’re sure you don’t want to write a book with this guy, right? He’s a nut.

ARTERBURN: But the more I talked to him, I discovered he’s one of the most solid spiritual guys. And of course now, 20 years later, guess what, there were six books. They’ve sold four million copies around the world. Every Man’s Battle alone has sold over a million copies. I think it really was a real vision, but the thing that was different about this—I had written this book about the problem and all and kind of spiritualized the solution and all that we do. But he had some very concrete things to do. And I think that’s what made the difference.

SMITH: Well, yeah, I mean, as I read the book again, I was reminded—from reading it the first time, one of the only stories that I could remember was the story of driving the Mercedes Benz and—

ARTERBURN: My contribution right up front.

SMITH: That’s right. Where your eyes got distracted and you ended up having a wreck. And I remember that story. And also, you know, that was kind of I guess was emblematic for me of the fact that y’all told personal stories. These were not stories about other people, even though you did have a lot of stories about other people, you were very transparent and very vulnerable about telling your own stories in not prurient, not explicit detail, not salacious detail, but in enough details so that you can’t run. You can’t hide. I mean, you can see—men can see themselves in these stories.

ARTERNBURN: Well, you know, one of the things that we did, we did this. Every Young Man’s Battle is less in detail. And then Preparing Your Son doesn’t mention masturbation or anything like that, self-pleasuring. But in this, what we did is we describe things in enough detail that if it bothered you, you probably have a problem. Versus you’re just moving on. And so that has proven to be true. But I just have to tell you this really quick. The other day I was listening to this pastor and I had my son, Solomon’s 13 years old, and we went up to this pastor afterwards and I said, “I cannot tell you how much we loved your message.” And there’s my boy right there. And he says, “Well, thank you. You need to know that 20 years ago I read Every Man’s Battle, changed my life and I decided to go into ministry because of your book. And for Solomon to hear that, you know, I’m trying to get him to think he’s got a cool dad, you know, but for somebody else to say you made a difference, it was just so great.

SMITH: If you ever figure out how to get a 13 year old to think he’s got a cool dad, let me know. My kids are beyond 13 at this point, but I hear that loud and clear. But, again, to come back on point Steve, is that, I mean this is real stuff. Was it hard? I mean, you said you’d written a book about sexual addiction before. I mean, whenever you read this book and you saw the level of detail that Fred had put in, and then you kind of knew that you were going to have to step up to that plate yourself. What was that like for you coming to that decision and going through that process?

ARTERBURN: Well, I had gone to seminary and it was there that I felt like God was calling me to be a revealer, that I was not going to be a guy that would go through my life in ministry and only talk about things that I had total victory over. So, I had been doing this, and especially in the area of having paid for an abortion. And all of this actually works together because I was exposed to pornography at age four, not just one time, but my grandfather had pornographic pictures all around his office. He had the first—I was born in ’53—he had the first Playboy that came out in ’53 of Marilyn Monroe and the center pulled and all this stuff around there. And so my parents were very strict Southern Baptists, but they, for some reason, didn’t think that was wrong me to go in there.

Well, so you learn to objectify women. You see your grandfather the way he looks at women. And so it just was in me. I developed a very promiscuous lifestyle. Women were for me to use. I got a girl pregnant. So, if you objectify women and she gets pregnant, that’s an object inside of her, not a baby. And I paid for the abortion. So, I had been talking about this horrific decision that I’d made before. So it wasn’t anything new for me to reveal that, but it was more uncomfortable because what I did with the abortion was in college and what I did with my lust and my ongoing problem, even after I was married, that was much more recent. So that’s what made it uncomfortable.

SMITH: Yeah. And so you and Fred—with Mike’s help, Mike Yorkey’s help—write this book. And at what point did you realize that it was striking a chord, that it was resonating with people?

ARTERBURN: Well, it was selling about 1,500 books a month. And I kept hearing from pastors who read it that they wanted more of it to give out. I went to the publisher and I said, “If you’ll do something, I think it could make a difference. If a pastor comes into a bookstore, if you could arrange for them to get a 30 percent discount on a box or a crate of these, I think it could make a difference.” And it went from selling about 1,500 or so to 30,000 to 60,000 pretty quickly because pastors were buying it and just giving it out to every man. We gave out Promise Keepers in Phoenix back then. We gave away thousands of these books there. I think it went down as the most frequently reordered book and a Christian bookstore. It maybe didn’t sell more, but somebody would come in and say, I want every copy that you have because I want to give it away.

SMITH: You’re listening in on my conversation with Steve Arterburn. Back in the 1990s he was a speaker at the national Promise Keepers events, and he is the creator of the Women of Faith conferences, which have been attended by more than three million women. Today, we’re discussing the revised 20th anniversary edition of his classic book, Every Man’s Battle.

I’m Warren Smith.  More with Steve Arterburn, after this short message.


Welcome back. I’m Warren Smith, and today you’re listening in on my interview with Steve Arterburn.

Let’s get right back to our conversation.

So, Steve, I want to jump into some of the content in the book, and especially the new content in the book. There’s a lot that is a reality of our lives today that was not so much a reality of our lives 20 years ago. I mean, I think lust has, you know, been around since the beginning. But, you know, in 2007 these little iPhones came out, which made pornography instantly accessible and free and anonymous for so many of us. We’ve got streaming movies that, you know, you don’t have to go to the video store and go into the back room and, you know, there’s a little bit of a barrier to entry on that. It’s real, real different. There’s also been a lot of new brain research that’s come out in the last 20 years.

ARTERBURN: Correct. And we put that in the book.

SMITH: Yeah, I was gonna say all that stuff’s in the book. So, talk about what you’ve discovered has been timeless about the book and what you wanted to put in that was new.

ARTERBURN: Well, what’s timeless about the book was the standard that we told men. It wasn’t excellence, it wasn’t doing better than you used to. The standard was holiness. God wants us to keep our mind, heart, soul pure. And if you’re just trying to be a good guy, then you’re going to look at stuff and you’re going to say, well, I’m not lusting after that. Or, you know, whatever. But if your standard’s holiness, you are avoiding those movies and things. You just want to be closer to God rather than have some picture in your head that somehow is kind of satisfying as a visual male. So that’s timeless. The other thing is this whole issue of starving your eyes, that if you’ll stop looking at things, the woman you’re married to is going to be so attractive to you, you won’t even believe it.

But to me, here’s the most significant new thing that we did not have any idea about. It’s pretty fascinating. So, we all know that when a mother nurses a child, it releases oxytocin. It’s a bonding hormone that flows through her brain, her bloodstream, goes into the baby, the baby secretes it to because of that wonderful loving feeling. And so there’s this bonding hormone, supernatural hormone designed by God for a mom to bond to her baby. Now, the cave woman that’s bonding with her baby nursing, if she hears a lion outside the cave, well, that oxytocin does two things. You’re bonded to your baby and you’re also aggressive toward anything that’s a threat to what you’re bonded to. When people are sexually intimate, they also—there’s this release of oxytocin in the brain and it’s that feeling of wellbeing and that’s why God I think designed sex in marriage. It does bring you together in a way that just talking or whatever doesn’t.

So, if you are having a sexual experience with pornography, which is what it’s all about—self-sex and all this—you are having the same oxytocin in your brain and you are bonding with pornography. So, now you’re also going to be aggressive against anything that’s a threat to it—like your wife. And a guy can’t understand how was it she was so wonderful I wanted to marry her, now I can’t even stand being around her. It’s because of your pornography use. That’s what you’re bonded to. And you’re aggressive toward her because she’s a threat to the thing that you think you have to have. So that’s a new thing. And I just think it’s opened the eyes of a lot of guys.

And then of course the other big thing is like Time magazine about three years ago had a cover story of all these teenagers not looking at pornography anymore now because they, you know, found faith or Jesus or whatever. They couldn’t have sex with their girlfriends anymore. And so just the opposite of what Hugh Hefner was trying to get everybody to believe that this helps make you a better male. Pornography neuters you. And the research shows that there are these folks that even after just three weeks of pornography use, they are dysfunctional. They have erectile dysfunction with a real woman, but they don’t with pornography. And I just think—and then once Hugh Hefner died, a lot of the girls were coming out and saying, yeah, I had sex with him and anything he ever said about what that was supposed to be like, that wasn’t in his life. I mean, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Bible is so true. It’s so smart and we can count on it to protect us and give us the most fulfilling life ever.

One final thing is just the plasticity of the brain. And it’s kind of like this: in the early days of smoking, you’d see doctors, some even say it was good for your lungs, you’d see lots of people smoking in movies, TV, advertisements. And we just didn’t know. And I think when pornography started on the internet, the way you’re talking about in 2007 people just didn’t know what it was going to do. And now you do know and if you can’t get out of it, well, I think Every Man’s Battle is a great book to help you.

SMITH: Yeah, I’ve heard it said that since the advent of the smartphone that we’re engaged in a massive unregulated social experiment that no one knows really, or, well, I shouldn’t say no one knows the outcome. Guys like you know the outcome and the outcome is not good.

ARTERBURN: And I would even say—like I say to my son, I just told him the other day, we were talking about this concept not related to pornography, but just the viewing of screens versus reading a book or something like that, you really have to monitor how much you’re doing it because all of the research seems to indicate there’s nothing good about sustained viewing of screens. So the research isn’t quite in yet, but it’s going to be.

SMITH: So, you know, we’ve kinda been focusing on the bad news, I guess you could say, but there is good news kind of implicit in that as well, which is that if you can train your brain to become dependent upon pornography or if we train our eyes to look, we can train them not to look.


SMITH: We can train our brain to not need those stimulations.

ARTERBURN: Well, you know, it’s all kinda summarized in one verse. It’s really easy to remember where it is. And with my ADD brain, I need that. But it’s second Timothy 2:22 and it says there that we need to run from anything that stirs up youthful lust. So, that’s not just pornography. That’s that lady three offices down that whenever you talk with her, you get a little bit energized. That’s stirring up of that lust. So, the way our strategy needs to be, you run from it. And then it says to focus on, you know, love, peace, joy, these things. But then the final part of that verse says, enjoy the company of others who seek the Lord with pure hearts. So, run from temptation, look toward good things, put them in your life, and get with a group of guys. Be sure you are getting with a group of guys if you’re a man. And my wife facilitates a group for women who have pornography problems. But if you’re a man, you get with other men and enjoy the company.

Also, you spend a lot of time looking at pornography. Just think if you spent that much time looking at scripture or reading a great classic book or anything like that. So you put something good in to replace the bad and then you just decide, I’m not going to look at anything and I’m going to just bounce my eyes. I’m going to look away. I’m going to be a gentleman and I’m going to realize that somebody’s daughter or whatever. You will be astounded at how attractive your wife becomes. Even the stuff that bothered you, we wrote in the book, stuff that bothers you, becomes things that you kinda think is endearing about her. And it’s hard to explain, but what isn’t hard to explain is Romans 12:2 and in the NLT, the New Living Translation, it says to be transformed by changing the way that you think. Now, a lot of translations say renewing your mind, but this is a little more specific. Change the way you think. Well, how do you change the way you think? Start thinking the way the Bible tells you to think. Look at Jesus, he treated women with such respect, ministered with them. They weren’t objects to him. He loved women and men alike. And if you objectify women, if you are treating a woman less than you, if you are some kind of dictator and she’s a doormat in your marriage, that is not the model that Jesus gave us. So you can change that, but you have to want to and be willing if it’s going to change.

SMITH: You’re listening in today on my conversation with Steve Arterburn. He has appeared on Oprah, Inside Edition, Good Morning America. He’s been featured in Rolling Stone magazine, USA Today, and elsewhere. We’re discussing his book Every Man’s Battle.

I’m Warren Smith.  We’ll have a few final thoughts from Steve Arterburn, when we return.


You’re listening in on my interview with Steve Arterburn. With Fred Stoeker and Mike Yorkey, he wrote Every Man’s Battle, a book that has spawned nearly 20 books for men, women, boys, and girls on the subject of sexual purity and overcoming sexual temptation. The 20th anniversary edition of that first book has just been published, and it’s the subject of our discussion today.

Let’s get right back to our conversation.

Steve, I’m guessing that people who have been listening to us up until now might fall into one of two or three categories. One is, amen, brother. Preach it. You know, I read your book 20 years ago and you know, maybe like that pastor that you mentioned, you know, it made a difference in my life. I get it, I’m there. You know, let’s press on together. And then you might have others that say, this guy’s a nut, right? I mean, you know, I’m never gonna change. And then maybe even a third category of like, I want to change, but I don’t know how. I can’t. I’ve quit a thousand times. Like what Mark Twain said about smoking, “It’s easy to quit smoking. I’ve done it a thousand times.” What do you have for those?

ARTERBURN: Well, you know, the third category and Mark Twain, who’s one of my favorite writers, I had a man stand up at a conference I was speaking at and he said, “Every morning I wake up and I lift up my hands and I surrender my lust and my pornography problem to God. And every day it comes right back.” He said, “What do I do?” I said, “Well I think you need to have a laying on of hands. So, tomorrow morning you lift up your hands and you lay them on the steering wheel of your car and you drive that car to a meeting before you go to work of other men. Maybe it’s a Celebrate Recovery. Maybe it’s a life recovery group. Maybe it’s an Every Man’s Battle group where you can be open about this because you at home keeping this a secret, I mean James 5:16, so specific, confess your sins one to another, pray for each other that you might be healed.” So you’ve gotta be open.

SMITH: Well, you know, one of my favorite—and maybe this says a lot about me that I’m a little weird—but one of my favorite stories in scripture is Jesus casting out the demons from the Gerasene demoniac and putting them into pigs. And when Jesus said to the man, you know, what is your name? And, and the demon spoke, “My name is Legion for we are many.” That was sort of a turning point in that interaction where Jesus was able to—not that he wasn’t able to before, but at least in the narrative, the naming of the sin, the naming of the demons was an important turning point in the story. It seems to me that that’s what you’re saying as well. We got to name it out loud.

ARTERBURN: You do. And not only that, you need to be with some men, but if you’re married, you know, like if you came to our Every Man’s Battle intensive, you would be instructed to go home and do a full disclosure to your wife and so that she would know everything so she wouldn’t be discovering this over here and hearing this a year later and all of that. So, you are literally naming it. You are telling her this is the problem. This is the full dimension of the problem that I have. And, you know, one of the things that that does of course for a guy that’s struggling, your best day—you get that guilt and shame off of you—is her worst day many times. Because it’s so offensive to her. People say, “Oh, this isn’t hurting anybody.” Well it is. It’s hurting her. It’s against your vows to just be faithful to her in every way. You know, Job said, I refuse to look upon the young women of the day. And he said, I wouldn’t allow myself to look to the right of the left. That’s what we need to be doing.

SMITH: There’s a lot of guys that are going to hear what you just said though, Steve, and say, “If I tell my wife this, it’s going to destroy our marriage. It will destroy her.” 

ARTERBURN: Yeah, well you destroyed your marriage the way God intended it to be. And the only hope for that marriage to become something that honors God versus you stay in control, you keep your image up, the only way is for you to humble down, confess, and trust God with the outcome. It’s an easy excuse.

The other thing I hear, I have a guy who will call our radio program and say, I’ve had five affairs. I’ve been to prostitutes and I quit. And I say, well, so what are you doing? Well, I get up in the morning, I read my Bible and pray. I go, okay, so you’ve ripped out the heart of your wife. She caught you and you’re telling me that you’re going to be more spiritual now? Bible study and prayer is great, but you need to humble down and get with some other people so that she sees what you’re doing. Not looking like some spiritual giant. Cause here’s the thing, even if you—like the demon—if you were delivered from this, I’ve never known anybody delivered into instant Christian character. I’ve never known a man looking at dirty pictures gets delivered and then all of a sudden he’s got godly character, maturity, and all that. You need a growth plan and men become men in the company of men. So you need to get with some men to help you grow. And then that’s going to say to her, when you’re getting in the car, driving off in the morning, I’m not keeping this a secret, honey. I’m not trying to keep myself looking good. I’m working here. And that she might act like that means nothing to her. It means everything. What you do versus what you say.

SMITH: So, confession, getting with other men that are seeking holiness and sort of that iron sharpens iron process. What else?

SMITH: Well, you know, I think you’ve got to do a Bible study. I think you’ve got to get into the scripture. So it’s not just confession and getting with other men, but you gotta get into the scripture. You know, we developed a workbook for sexual integrity. Every Man’s Battle has a workbook, but you start to study, what does God say about me, my manhood? Where’d I go wrong? And you start to see how things got messed up. And I gotta tell you, I don’t blame anybody for my problems, but I wish my parents hadn’t let me look at pornography as a four year old. And so when we kind of look back, maybe we can have a little grace for ourselves. Shame only drives you back into the problem. Maybe we could accept God’s grace and then move on and try to become that man that we were called to be.

Here’s the other thing. When you get through all of this junk, you start to discover you’ve got some spiritual gifts and you start to see some fruit of the Holy Spirit living within you. And it is just such a dramatic change in life that you kind of wonder how in the world did I ever stay back in that. Well, you didn’t know any better, but you do now. And every person has a decision to make and you can know you have a problem, you can want it to be better. But if you’re not willing to humble down, it’s worthless to know about it or want it to be better.

SMITH: Steve, I want to pivot in our conversation just a little bit because you  said my pornography problem is nobody’s fault, but mine can’t blame my parents. But you also in the same breath said that, you know, you wished that your parents hadn’t let you look at pornography when you were four years old. What can we do? Maybe some of us are, you know, church leaders or leaders in our community and maybe we don’t struggle with this personally, but we’re all affected by it. I mean, this has become so pervasive in our culture. Got any thoughts about that?

ARTERBURN: Well, a couple of things. One is that the most recent Barna research says 63 [percent] of the men that are there on Sunday morning struggle with pornography. There is no other problem that that many folks are struggling with. And if they’re struggling with it, then there’s a woman around there—sister, girlfriend, wife—that’s also impacted by that.

SMITH: A victim of some kind or another. These are men in church.

ARTERBURN: Right. And the sad thing is that also revealed that only 7 percent of churches are doing anything about it. Where I’m a teaching pastor, we’ll have on any given week 300 people in groups for Every Man’s Battle and the wives of them in groups that help them and help them grow. So, we gotta talk about it. I was in a city doing a pastors appreciation luncheon and I ask, “Hey, what’s the big problem around this city?” And they said, “Well, everybody wants to grow, but they don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. So they don’t talk about these big problems like pornography and all that.” I said, “Well, you know, I’m teaching pastor of the third fastest growing church in America. We’ve got 13 campuses, three in prisons, and our favorite series that we do are on the real problems—divorce, homosexuality, abortion, things like that.” I said, “You’re making a big mistake.” So you need to address it. Talk about the problems.

But here’s something really important. I didn’t write this book, but when my kids were six years old, we got this book called Good Pictures, Bad Pictures. Wish I had written it. But it helps a young child understand that when something shows something more than you would see at a swimming pool and somebody in their swimsuit, that’s pornography. And to call it out, show it, and do something about it versus have these and you kind of think, well maybe that’s not so bad. So you really got to start working with kids young, but you need to be talking about it from the pulpit and you need to be doing—Our church, we do a whole father-son weekend. We give every dad and son a kit. It’s got chili, games, and the book inside it. And you go off for a weekend and it’s got it all there. What to do, what to say. You have to talk about this. And the good news is once you talk to your kids about pornography and other things, you can talk to them about anything.

SMITH: Yeah, I bet that’s true. So, Steve as we started it up, we’ll sort of end where we began here. This is the 20th anniversary book just came out not long ago. You’ve been at this awhile yourself. You’re a teaching pastor, so you’re in the trenches at a church. Are you hopeful? Are you worried?

ARTERBURN: I’m very hopeful. We have an intensive thousands of men have come to us for a weekend where we work with Christian counselors. Somebody could find out about that at 1-800-NEW-LIFE. But almost every guy that comes, just the fact that they come, it doesn’t matter what their motive is, even if it’s just to get out of trouble, when they get with these other men that are struggling and finding victory and hope, they change trajectory. You know, we don’t fix anything in a weekend, but I see all those guys and I just think it’s just a matter of time before more and more men are willing to do whatever it takes to get this out of their life and start to honor the woman that they married. And we are seeing radical changes in marriages because of what’s happening with the man’s integrity.

(Photo/Steven Arterburn)

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