A few months ago a youth ministry friend asked me to blog on what I’ve been reading in response to my desire to sort out the same-sex issues that have been so prominent in culture in recent months. “I need a list of things to read,” he said. Well, that was back in February. I decided that I would pass on my suggestions over the course of the next few days. I know that some of you are still looking for some summer reading suggestions, so I hope that you will find this helpful.
Before I start passing on some titles, I thought I would offer a little bit of context to give you a sense of where I’m coming from in all of this, what it is that motivates me, and where I hope to wind up. It’s no secret that the many issues related to same-sex attraction (homosexuality, transgenderism, same-sex marriage, etc.) have taken a front seat in the public square and are unavoidable. I can’t remember any issue that’s morphed so quickly in so many places and in so many ways. I also believe that for far too long the church (of which I am a part) has done a horrible job of understanding and responding to these issues and the people for whom they are very real. I don’t think we’ve glorified God or shown much grace in our understandings and responses. I put myself in the front of that line. I’ve realized that I need to deepen my understanding of both Word and world when it comes to the issue of same-sex attraction. And, I hope that my response is one marked by a faithful and absolute love for God and neighbor. Consequently, my journey to learn is one that I pray will yield a faithfulness to the way that God intends things to be. Above all, I want my response to the world to be shaped by the Word. Then, I want to be able to have meaningful discussions with people of all ages, particularly young people, who need guidance and nurture in how to best respond in ways that bring honor and glory to God and His intent for our lives.
Since starting this journey in a more deliberate manner about 16 months ago, I’ve read all kinds of books. My starting point, however, has been where it always is when approaching any matter of life. . . with God’s revealed will in His Word. I do believe that God created the world and has a divine design that we, in our sin, have distorted. While things are not the way they are supposed to be, our calling is to understand “Shalom” (God’s intended, creational flourishing. . . the way things are supposed to be!) and seek it for our selves and our world. So today, I want to pass on three titles that have been most helpful to me in getting to the heart of God’s Shalom for our sexuality, particularly as that relates to our current cultural discussion of same-sex attraction. Here they are in no special order. . .
First, Robert Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics is what many have come to recognize as the standard-bearer on the topic. Gagnon’s book is thick, well-researched, and exhaustive. This is one that you’ll have to work your way through. It’s not an easy read. Several of my friends read this book about the same time that I did, and all of them found it to be very helpful. Gagnon concludes that “same-sex intercourse is strongly and unequivocally rejected by the revelation of Scripture. . . . Scripture rejects homosexual behavior because it is a violation of the gendered existence of male and female ordained by God at Creation.” While many might conclude that Gagnon is horribly insensitive to those in our midst who deal with same-sex attraction, he is not. He cares deeply for the same-sex attracted. He writes, “The practicing homosexual’s own relationship with the Creator will be put in jeopardy (when they engage in same-sex intercourse). If we are to believe the Scripture, the failure of the church to help the homosexual make the transition out of homosexual practice and into sexual wholeness will make the church an accomplice to the very form of behavior that God finds detestable.”
Second, there’s Mark Yarhouse’s Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends. Yarhouse and his work is gaining some traction in our youth ministry community, and this is one book that deserves your attention. I love that Yarhouse begin’s with God’s Word. His first chapter is titled “What does God think about homosexuality?” He walks readers through the flow of creation, fall, and redemption and how the unfolding flow of Biblical/redemptive history has distorted God’s sexual shalom. The book then takes readers on a practical, grace-filled journey into how to best respond as individuals and churches to those we know and love.
Finally, I am a big fan of ethicist Dennis Hollinger’s The Meaning of Sex: Christian Ethics and the Moral Life. This is a book that’s about so much more than same-sex attraction. Parents, pastors, and youth workers will find The Meaning of Sex to function as a strong foundation from which to teach, preach, and talk about sex with people of all ages.
These three books have served me well as a good starting point. Each is marked by a deep love for God and neighbor, a commitment to good Biblical exegesis and interpretation, and practical outcomes.
Tomorrow, I’ll blog on five books which have each been written by a person who has had to deal with same-sex attraction in their own lives. These are the stories and struggles that we need to read and understand if we hope to develop a deep sensitivity on this issue.