• Archive for November, 2014

    Recommendation: Bible, Gender, Sexuality

    November 19, 2014 // No Comments »

    9780802868633I had the privilege a couple weeks ago of hearing Dr. James Brownson, professor of New Testament at Western Theological Seminary, speak in Washington, DC, on the topic of the Bible as it pertains to homosexuality in particular, how the Bible might inform our thoughts on the relatively new phenomenon of gay covenanted (married) relationships. I was so impressed with Brownson’s careful, thorough approach, combined with a calm demeanor that eschewed the often pitched emotionalism surrounding this issue, that I decided to read his book, Bible, Gender, Sexuality.

    I have to say it’s one of a very few books I’ve read in the last couple of years that I thought added anything new and meaningful to the discussion, and it rightly earned its starred review from Booklist. Brownson spends roughly 300 pages asking not just what the Bible says regarding gender and sexuality, but why. What is the moral logic behind what the biblical authors say, because only in rightly understanding that will we know how to apply scriptural teaching to our own cultural context today.

    Along the way, Dr. Brownson offers gentle but strong critiques of previous works on the topic from both sides of the debate. Herein lies one of the strengths of the book: Brownson seems to have read everything out there on the topic prior to his own book. I can’t think of a single argument on either side that he leaves unaddressed. True to his non-combative style, Brownson classifies the various positions of previous authors, not as “pro-gay” and “anti-gay” terms that incite more than they describe but as “traditionalist” and “revisionist.” And he is balanced in calling into question some approaches from both camps. (Particularly devastating is his analysis of traditionalist Robert Gagnon’s focus on the gender noncomplementarity of gay relationships. I mean, there is just nothing left of Gagnon’s argument when Brownson is finished, and it all unfolds in the most scholarly, respectful manner.)

    What I think I appreciated most about the book is what Brownson doesn’t say. He doesn’t conclude by telling churches what they must believe. He ends by explaining why churches must wrestle. Yes, Brownson is now affirming of covenanted (married) gay relationships (a change from his previous position), but you never get the sense that he’s insisting that you must be. And so the book wraps with an exhortation to think about these things in new ways, always asking not just what the Bible says, but why. This is a book for anyone who wants to delve into the thick of the church’s most urgent moral discussion. And it’s a book that every church leader, regardless of his or her position on the matter, should rush to read.

    Posted in Book Reviews, Gay Marriage, General, More Gay Stuff

    Recommendation: “Changing Our Mind” by David Gushee

    November 11, 2014 // No Comments »

    David-P-Gushee-Changing-Our-Mind-front-coverDr. David Gushee has been for many years the leading conservative Christian ethicist, a friend to Evangelicals, with some twenty books to his name and another releasing next year. But now he’s gone and done it, announcing recently that he has switched his view of gay covenantal (marriage) relationships. Gushee now says the church should embrace gay marriages as fully as heterosexual marriages, and LGBT Christians as full members of the church.

    Not surprisingly, that has earned Gushee more than a few friends-turned-enemies. In his latest book, Changing Our Mind, Gushee gives a brief explanation of himself, how his mind changed and why he thinks the church universal needs to do some serious rethinking (and repenting) vis-a-vis the gay issue. I won’t retell his story here; I’ll leave it to you to read the book. But here are a few things I think commend this book to a broad audience.

    1) It’s short, only about 125 pages, so anybody can get through it.

    2) The style is accessible, not academic as with many of his other works. It reads more like a journal than a scholarly tome, so you won’t be wondering what in the heck he’s talking about.

    3) Gushee is a sage among straight, conservative Christians, so he can’t be easily dismissed. Some Evangelicals have objected to similar works by gay Christian authors such as Justin Lee and Matthew Vines because, well, the authors are gay and, therefore, naturally prone to having a gay-affirming position, but also because they’re young and not credentialed. This has always seemed unfair and snobbish to me, but it has been a problem. Gushee is straight, seasoned, and credentialed. He’s tough to ignore.

    4) Changing Our Mind offers exhortation to folks on both sides of the debate. Gushee cautions gay-affirming Christians not to charge all those opposed with hate or fear. Many traditionalists are motivated simply by a desire to be faithful to the biblical texts, which they read as critical of gay relationships. Disdain and homophobia are far from their minds. But Gushee also admonishes his critics for, at times, behaving more like Pharisees than the Savior, seeking to enforce rules without any concern for how those rules affect real people.

    5) The whole book just feels balanced. Gushee writes, “If what we are talking about is blessing an anything-goes ethic in a morally libertine culture, I stand utterly opposed, as I have throughout my career. But if what we are talking about is carving out space for serious committed Christians who happen to be gay or lesbian, to participate in society as equals, in church as kin, and in the blessings and demands of covenant on the same terms as everyone else, I now think that has nothing to do with cultural, ecclesial and moral decline, and everything to do with treating people the way Christ did” (p. 117).

    6) Gushee is humble. He repents, and when he does, you sense his grief. He makes a point of “apologizing to those who have been hurt by my prior teaching and writing on the LGBT issue. Where I have the chance to amend my written work I will do so. I ask your forgiveness. I apologize that it has taken me so long to get here. I look forward to continuing the journey together in your company, if you will have me” (p. 126).

    The book is too short to satisfy all of the objections of its author’s critics, but I suspect Gushee is not trying to convince anyone. I think, as his apology suggests, he’s simply clearing his conscious. And maybe he’s asking his adversaries to consider, just to consider, “What if I’m wrong? What then?”

    Click here to read a transcript of a recent speech Gushee delivered at a conference of The Reformation Project in Washington, DC.

    Posted in Book Reviews, Gay Marriage, General, More Gay Stuff