Preston Sprinkle, Living in a Gray World: A Christian Teen’s Guide to Understanding Homosexuality (Zondervan, 2015)
In this book, the delightfully named Preston Sprinkle aims to help Christian teens understand homosexuality. He believes that ‘the homosexuality question is first and foremost about beautiful people loved by God’ (p.52), so the book is filled with stories of people Preston knows and their experiences with same-sex attraction, same-sex relationships, and the Church.
It begins by defining some terms, before taking a quick dive into what the Bible says about marriage and about homosexuality. It then moves on to a brief discussion of gender, before tackling the personal response – how to be ‘truthfully loving and lovingly truthful’ when responding to friends and the world around us. It also offers some advice and comfort to Christian teens who are wrestling with their own sexuality or gender.
Preston is gentle without compromising on truth and speaks honestly about what the Bible says without a hint of condemnation. It would be almost impossible to misread the book and find any judgement or disgust for same-sex attracted people. Yet, it is also impossible to come away with any understanding other than that the Bible says same-sex behaviour is sinful. (Preston is very careful to draw a distinction between behaviour and attraction – crucial for the teen who is seeking to follow Jesus but contending with this.)
As a same-sex attracted Christian, and a youth leader at my local church, I have read many books on this subject, but I’ve never come across one with as much compassion and grace. Preston is a very safe pair of hands: knowledgeable, both from careful biblical study and from many personal friendships with people who are same-sex attracted, and incredibly empathetic, consistently refusing to let this become a discussion about an abstract issue.
The tone is pitched well for the intended audience (students aged fifteen to twenty-two). Preston masterfully manages the balance of keeping it simple without being patronising. He doesn’t assume familiarity with the conversation but is careful to clearly explain what we’re talking about at every turn. There is enough brevity to keep the reader from being overwhelmed and enough depth that they come away with answers. For those who want more, there’s an appendix at the back, tackling some common arguments in support of same-sex relationships. He also points to his book People to Be Loved which goes into all of this in more depth.
Since Preston himself does not experience same-sex attraction, I was initially wary – but in fact, it’s helpful to have the ‘straight perspective’ here. For the straight reader, it’s helpful to know that you have a voice in this conversation, and hearing how the author approaches this is a helpful model for your own conversations. And for the teen who experiences same-sex attraction or is questioning their gender, the many stories of people who’ve had similar experiences convey that you are not alone and build trust in Preston himself. He isn’t going to be yelling at you from a pulpit when this is about people that he loves. Instead of talking about you like you’re not in the room, he is on your side, angry that you may have been made to feel unworthy or unloved because of your struggles. He is entirely humanising.
Preston is also careful to examine what the Bible actually says. He encourages the reader to think deeply, study this for themselves, and resist coming to quick conclusions. This methodical, thoughtful approach gives a great framework for thinking through not just sexuality but any question of ethics or Christian living.
The book does clearly assume that the reader is a Christian. (It’s right there in the subtitle!). This leads to a few statements in Christian shorthand that a non-Christian may find incomprehensible. But there are only a handful of these; it’s not a constant, alienating thread. A non-Christian could still easily engage with the content.
Overall, the book is a clarion call to truth and love. It shows and explains how it is possible to embody both – to remain uncompromising with the truth while ensuring people feel deeply loved and accepted. It equips teens to respond to their friends in the most loving way and offers clear, simple advice for those struggling themselves. Above all, it values people and relationships. Any Christian teens who have questions about this or are wrestling with this themselves – and any parents or youth workers who are caring for those teens – would benefit from this book.