Sunday, October 29, 2017

Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church by Various Authors


First off, this is going to be a long post, so grab a cup of tea or coffee (or juice if that's what you prefer) before you settle down to read this.

This book comprises the affirming view, in which the authors argue that same-sex relationships and marriages among Christians are permissible, and traditional view where they argue that it's not. Each view is written from the point of view of both a theologian and a biblical scholar, so be prepared, this is a somewhat technical read. Although I must say that it's surprisingly readable even for the layman.
The authors are well-qualified to be contributors in this excellent volume and here's a bit about them lifted from the introduction of the book:

Affirming view

Dr. William Loader (Dr theol, Mainz, Germany)
Widely regarded as the foremost scholar on sexuality in ancient Jerusalem and Christianity, he has written five scholarly volumes on the topic, which he recently summed up in a popular-level volume, Making Sense of Sex.

Bill argues for an affirming view of same-sex relations; however, he fervently believes that we must take the Bible seriously and that the Bible prohibits all forms of same-sex relations. What the Bible says and what the Bible means are very clear - same-sex relations are wrong.

But every faithful application of the Bible to contemporary ethics must consider advancements in biology, anthropology, sociology, and other fields related to sexuality and gender. For hermeneutical and ethical reasons, Loader affirms the sanctity of faithful, monogamous, same-sex relations.

Megan DeFranza (PhD, Marquette University)
An emerging leader in the theological study of sex, gender, and sexuality, her pioneering book Sex Difference in Christian Theology explores how intersex persons challenge the assumption that all people are born clearly or exclusively male or female.

Studying the complexity of biological sex development and the challenges of interpreting the Bible for contemporary theology and ethics opened the door for her to reconsider the non-affirming view of homosexuality that she grew up with.

Megan argues that the prohibition passages are better understood when read in the light of ancient sexual landscapes, dominated as they were by human trafficking, economic exploitation, and differences of power related to assumptions about gender and social class. Biblical passages are not focused on consensual, monogamous, same-sex unions.

Traditional view:

Wesley Hill (PhD, Durham University)
An accomplished biblical scholar and theologian who has written several books and essays related to the topic. Moreover, Wesley is a self-identified gay Christian who has a lot of skin in the game, as it were - as you will see from his opening paragraphs of his essay.

Wesley argues for a non-affirming view of same-sex relations by revisiting the prohibition passages (Lev 18:22; 20:13, Rom 1:26-27, 1 Cor 6:9, 1 Tim 1:9-10) and setting them in conversation with an overarching theology of marriage, sex, and procreation, and enlists Augustine as his primary dialogue partner.

Stephen R. Holmes
A prolific theologian with a long list of highly acclaimed published works, Stephen's essay focuses on theology of sex and marriage and argues that the so-called prohibition passages are important, yet secondary to the debate.

A Christian theology of sex and marriage alone rules out the sanctity of same-sex relations on the grounds that sex and marriage are oriented toward procreation, and same-sex couples cannot procreate. Stephen looks to Augustine's influential treatment of marriage as the foundation for subsequent Christian theological reflection on homosexuality.

Even though Stephen argues for a non-affirming position, he explores the possibility of some sort of pastoral accommodation for gay and lesbian couples in the church, similar to the way Christian leaders have accommodated heterosexual couples who have been remarried after divorce.

My review

And that's basically a summary of the entire book.

However, I'd like to point out the interesting bit about the book. After every chapter where each author expounds on their position (as mentioned above), we have the other 3 contributors giving a robust response to the author's position.

They do so with great civility, which is a great contrast to the debates on homosexuality we have in our society today. Yet, they do not compromise on their own stance which might be firmly opposed to the author's.

Then, the original author provides a rejoinder where he/she responses to the response. Reading the dialogue created in this format is not only insightful, but also very interesting. More so than just reading only the original author's piece. Props to Zondervan for pioneering this format of discussion!

I will focus this review on the more interesting takeaways I got out of the book.

The prohibition passages

William Loader begins the book by exploring in great detail the various prohibition passages found in the Bible. So much so that I thought he held the traditional view.

If you've got no idea what they are, by the end of it, you'd be very well-versed in them.
What I was surprised to find was that he held an affirming view. Get the book to find out why.

The intersex

Megan DeFranza is an expert on the topic of the intersex and how it intersects with Christian theology. Having read her first book, Sex Difference in Christian Theology, I was very excited when I found out she was a contributor in this volume and I was certainly not disappointed.

In her chapter, she points out how the intersex is not alone in nature. Just as amphibians who live both on land and in water, dawn/dusk which blends both day and night, the intersex are neither male nor female.

Who are they then to marry?

So DeFranza argues that although "Adam and Eve may be the majority story, but they are not the exclusive model for what it means to be human. By extension, heterosexual marriage can be seen as the majority story, not the exclusive model."

Also, she expounds on the uses and origins of the word malakoi and arsenokoitais, explaining that they could mean effeminate and refer to men as being "soft ones" as they were like women and that they lack self-control. This was a big thing in ancient cultures as women were seen to be less than humans and to be associated as one was the greatest insult.

Something interesting I learnt was the fact that we might not want to read arsenokoitai as a reference to Leviticus 18 and 20 because compound words to not always mean what the sum of their parts suggests. As English speakers, we know that "understanding" has nothing to do with "standing" or location "beneath." Here she quotes from Dale Martin, the author of Sex and the Single Savior.
I thought she made a strong case for the affirming view.

Spiritual Friendship

Similarly, I've been a fan of Wesley Hill since he published his first book, Washed and Waiting, which was a mini-memoir of his life as a gay Christian and also includes some theological reflections.
I've also read his subsequent one, Spiritual Friendship, where he explores the history of friendships of ancient Christians. It also draws from areas of his own life where as a celibate gay Christian man, he is committed to living his life out with a close heterosexual couple, sharing a house together.

In Two Views on Homosexuality, he elaborates a little bit about what Spiritual Friendship is at the end of his chapter and I thought it was a great introduction to something that might be foreign to a great majority of Christians in this day and age where friendship seems ephemeral as people move across a country for work.

Augustinian view on marriage

Stephen Holmes does a good job expounding on the Augustinian view on marriage. Before reading this, I had no idea what this was.

Also, he explores the topic of marriage in Christian history in great depth.

Finally, I thought it was very gracious of him to admit that even after an extensive study of this topic, he might be wrong about it all.

In conclusion

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book even though it was rather technical at certain parts.

I would highly encourage everyone to get a copy of this book if they are interested in finding out both the affirming and traditional views of homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church.

Also, it provides the common arguments for and against each view and that alone was worth the price of this book.
Enjoy!

Check out my YouTube book review here:


Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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