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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

"People to be Loved" (Preston Sprinkle)

TITLE: People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just an Issue
AUTHOR: Preston Sprinkle
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (224 pages).

There is little doubt that the topic of homosexuality has split Christians and churches in many parts of the world. Every denomination has their controversial splits. Every theological institution has members, faculty, and students with strong views on both sides. Many books have been written from both sides. Some try to take the middle ground and received criticisms. Others advocate their views strongly and receive equally strong push backs. Along with the various authors views, there are multiple support and opponents from publishers, readers to casual commentators. Many try to see the matter as simple and clear cut as possible but to no avail. Instead of a polemical approach against either side, author Preston Sprinkle decides to build bridges through understanding and honest appreciation of each view. He points out the strengths and weaknesses of both sides and the ways they interpret the biblical passages. In doing so, he turns what is potentially a contentious issue into a conversational style engagement without coercing anyone from compromising their stand. Calling homosexuality not just an "issue," Sprinkle highlights the greater importance: People. In reading this book, we learn that it is not the answer but the search for truth and more importantly, the way we argue out our views that represent the better way forward.  There is no point in winning any argument and losing our friends (or foes).

Sprinkle writes about his shift from dogmatism in certainty about bible verses condemning homosexuality. Using slavery as a parallel to his shift, he claims that Christians had been wrong before about their certainty in the Bible when applied to certain issues like slavery, warfare, women, and so on. He goes on to declare that "Homosexuality is not an issue to be solved; it's about people who need to love and be loved." On the two positions with regard to homosexuality, he is careful to use words like "nonaffirming" instead of condemning; and "affirming" instead of championing. On Genesis 1-2, he asks about the meaning of "one flesh," the nature of divorce, and notes that Genesis was not written as a polemic against gay marriage. There is evidence on the gender differences in marital matters. On the Gen 19 passage about Sodom and the homosexuality references in the Old Testament, Sprinkle calls it the "clobber passage." He questions the translation of "to know" and whether it ought to be translated in sexual terms. He says that Lev 18 and 20 need to be questioned with regard to relevance to our present society. For instance, eating of pork and the homosexual prohibitions. Why single the latter out and not the former? On the New Testament, the author looks at some of the popular verses such as Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, 1 Timothy 1, and others, focusing on word studies like "malakoi" and "arsenokoitai." He then lists 8 "nonaffirming arguments" and 9 "affirming" arguments. These are placed together as an invitation to discuss rather than a proclamation of some kind of dogma.

He then asks several pertinent questions:
  • Does God make people gay?
  • Can a person be both Christian and gay?
  • Is same-sex orientation sinful?
  • How nonaffirming Christians should view affirming Christians?
  • What are the options?

To the last question, he describes some options that have been tried by various parties: such as "reparative therapy"; mixed-orientation marriage; celibacy. He says that the mandatory choice toward singleness is most difficult, even cruel.

So What?

Whether Sprinkle is aware or not, his arguments about biblical parallels between women, slavery, and homosexuality reminds me of a more comprehensive work done by William Webb entitled, "Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals" in which Webb touches on the Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic which clearly distinguishes the interpretation of the slavery, of women, and of homosexuality differently rather than in simple parallels. Webb specifically separates the topics of women and slavery from homosexuality. In this book, Sprinkle lumps them together by making a brief mention of women, slavery before jumping straight to argue against the way nonaffirming Christians view homosexuality. I think such an approach would be unfair to both sides when applied to complex issues such as homosexuality. He also critiques people like Robert Gagnon. Interestingly, he does not engage or mention people like John Piper or Kevin DeYoung who had spoken out strongly their "nonaffirming" positions.

Sprinkle struggles honestly with the issue, and tilts more in favour of the affirming position. At the same time, he is careful to insist that he is not making a conclusion about anything. He just wants to list the differences, point out the inconsistencies (especially the nonaffirming side), before unleashing five final arguments for re-interpreting Romans 1, that is more sympathetic of the affirming position.

Overall, I think Sprinkle begins well and exercises his own cautionary approach when labeling the groups as "nonaffirming" and "affirming." Even though he does not explicitly call himself either, the book does tilt his position toward the "affirming" position. Using love as the all-inclusive antidote, he interprets the passages with great empathy toward the affirming party. As again, even if we were to grant Sprinkle the liberty to say that the Bible does not prohibit the kind of homosexuality we see in our modern age, the push back is this: The Bible also did not PROMOTE the type of homosexuality in the 21st Century. Thus, we end up in the same place of contention where nobody actually wins anything. The big question I would pose is this: Can one be nonaffirming and yet love people in the manner that Sprinkle has described? Perhaps, we may not be able to expound the truth to the full. Just like the book of Job, where Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar tried to explain the truth as best as they can, it takes a voice from heaven to finally silent every single one of us. On the issue of homosexuality, regardless of what position we may take, it is good to do what Sprinkle has done in terms of fairly and compassionately describing both the nonaffirming and the affirming positions. The next is a humble posture to be open to learning.

Love can mean so many things to many people. The biblical injunction is to speak the truth in love. We cannot allow the unfortunate expressions of hate by people who hold the nonaffirming positions to throw away the pursuit of truth according to what the Bible say or not say. There is a way to love people and at the same time hang on to the plain biblical truth. It is true that Jesus does not mince his words when he criticizes the Pharisees for their dogmatic stands. It is also true that his standards is not about human experience or the hunger for love. His standard is the holiness and the will of God to be fulfilled. Eventually, it is not about affirming or non-affirming positions. It is about obeying God's Word as best and as faithfully as we can, and to discuss and where necessary debate. Perhaps, there is a way out of this homosexuality quadrangle, but at this point, it looks like there is a long way to traverse. Sprinkle's book does not show us an explicit way. It basically tells us how complex the issue is, and if in doubt, just love.

Preston Sprinkle is Vice President at Eternity Bible College in Idaho, and has previously taught at Cedarville University in Ohio as well as Nottingham University (England).

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Zondervan Academic and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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