Preston Sprinkle, People to be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue (Zondervan, 2015)
Let’s be honest – there is now no shortage of Christian books on the topic of sexuality. And much of Preston Sprinkle’s book deals with areas that others have covered. The majority of it covers the key biblical material on sexuality, followed by chapters on what makes people gay and what terminology should be used. That’s fairly standard. But there’s something unique about this book, which means it has become a book I recommend frequently. I’ve never come across anything with such a gracious, pastoral tone. It is the very opposite of a book written with a culture war in mind. Although not aimed at non-Christians, it is a book I wouldn’t mind a non-Christian gay friend picking up.
I’ve never come across anything with such a gracious, pastoral tone.
The opening pages pick up Preston’s concern in writing the book: ‘I am disheartened…that the Christian church has often played an unintended yet active role in pushing gay people away from Christ’ (p.13). As the title of the book suggests this is a book with people at its very heart. Stories of gay people that Preston clearly knows and loves appear frequently. At no point does the book feel remote from deep personal concerns.
What Preston models so well in the book, though, is an awareness that loving people doesn’t simply mean affirming all their choices. That’s why he insists on examining the Bible to work out what God says is best for us in the area of sexuality. The biblical material is written in the form of an open exploration, trying to weigh up the evidence without a predetermined conclusion. It attempts to summarise alternative positions charitably and fairly.
The result is that some of the more conservative arguments for a traditional view on sexuality are rejected. Rightly, Preston argues that the story of Sodom has little relevance to the question of same-sex monogamous relationships. Furthermore, his review of the gospels, some of the best material in the book, has challenges for those of a more conservative disposition. He looks not just at Jesus’ teaching on sexuality but also at the way he treats people. ‘The fact is: religious people today treat LGBT people the same way that ancient religious people treated tax collectors. Therefore, Jesus’ encounter with tax collectors should inform and challenge our approach to gay people’ (p.77). This is an important corrective for the times when sexuality is treated as just an issue or a problem in society. On those occasions, people get overlooked and we become less like Jesus.
Nevertheless, Preston does conclude that sex is only appropriate within heterosexual marriage. His review of the New Testament evidence manages to be both warm and scholarly – a rare feat! His chapter dealing with how to translate the terms that seem to prohibit same-sex sexual relationships is particularly compelling as he demonstrates that all same-sex sexual relationships are included as sinful rather than certain subsets that involved exploitation.
I'd want anybody with pastoral responsibility who cares for others or speaks publicly on issues of sexuality to read this book
The last three chapters of pastoral reflections are wise and winsome. Preston rejects suggestions that to experience same-sex attraction is sinful in itself, rightly questioning what repentance would look like in such a case – confessing sin all the time until God made you straight? Noting that the teaching he espouses will mean celibacy for many he urges the church to value singleness. An afterword presents a number of challenges to the church, including: ‘Cultivate an environment where people who experience same-sex attraction can talk about it,’ ‘Listen to the stories of LGBT people,’ ‘Put homophobia to death’, ‘Promote biblical (not cultural) masculinity and femininity’, and ‘Remember God is holy’.
I want people to read this book. In particular, I want anybody with pastoral responsibility who cares for others or speaks publicly on issues of sexuality to read this book. It is a model of how to talk about people and sexuality with deep Christlike compassion and deep Christlike commitment to the Scriptures.