November 4, 2015

Book Review: Transforming Homosexuality

by Eric Davis

Transforming-Homosexuality_with-borderIn 2005, same-sex marriage was illegal in all 50 of the United States. In ten short years all that changed. Two-thousand and fifteen might end up being known as the year of homosexual advancement. This past year witnessed the crashing of a moral wave that had been building for years when the United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the 14th Amendment requires all 50 states to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples and recognize those marriages performed in other states.

Questions and confusion abound on the issue. How should biblically-thinking Christians respond? Can individuals change their sexual orientation? Should an individual change their sexual orientation? And for that matter, what is sexual orientation? Christ’s true church must take it upon themselves to become excellently equipped in the issue of homosexuality, homosexual orientation, and becoming instruments of change (Col. 4:5-6). In their recently-released book, Transforming Homosexuality: What the Bible Says about Sexual Orientation and Change, Denny Burk and Heath Lambert provide needed equipping by tackling these questions and more.

Additionally, a plea is offered to those who embrace the homosexual lifestyle while professing the Christian faith: this book will be well-worth your time by providing a perspective grounded in the faith. To those who embrace a homosexual lifestyle, but do not profess faith in Christ, the book will be no less profitable, bringing biblical clarity that you may have yet to see, perhaps due to misled Christians or preconceived notions. I would encourage you to honestly consider the arguments. And wherever one may currently stand on the issue, there is a refreshing humility and love intertwined with an integrity of truth in the book.

The stated goal of the book is to analyze the idea of “homosexual orientation”, or homosexual desire, while demonstrating from God’s word that “desires for a sinful act are sinful precisely because the desired act is sinful” (13). Burk and Lambert write, “God gives us a bodily identity that indicates his purposes for us sexually, and those purposes are unambiguously ordered to the opposite sex within the covenant of marriage. To embrace an identity that goes against God’s revealed purpose is…sinful” (37).

To tackle the issue, the authors anchor themselves to the sufficiency and authority of God’s word on the issue. Doing so provides as much of an objective analysis as possible; something too rare when grappling with this topic.

Rethinking sexual orientation

Insightful clarity is given on same-sex attraction/homosexual orientation. Confusion abounds around a proper understanding of orientation. Typically, the definitions ignore God’s revealed purpose in creating humans as sexual beings while erroneously restricting human identity to our desires.

Four common approaches to orientation within professing Christianity are analyzed. The liberal approach rejects biblical authority, asserting one’s desire as authoritative in determining orientation. The revisionist approach is that propagated by Matthew Vines, who argues that the homosexuality condemned in Scripture relates to sexual excess, not orientation. While affirming the sinfulness of homosexual behavior, the neo-traditional holds that same-sex attraction is good; almost like a fruit of the Spirit. Finally, the traditional view, consistent with historic Christianity, understands same-sex attraction and behavior as sin.

The traditional view is supported by Scripture. Christ teaches that it is always sinful to desire something that God forbids, which the authors demonstrate from Matthew 5:27-28. Much of Christ’s point in that section of the Sermon on the Mount is to demonstrate the depravity of humanity; even at the level of desires.

Burk and Lambert elaborate: “The very experience of the desire becomes an occasion for repentance. And it is pastoral malpractice to tell someone who is feeling a…[same-sex attraction] that there is no need to repent” (29). For a sexual desire or act to consist of virtue, its end must be the glory of God. And we mustn’t make the common error which supposes that the existence of a desire sanctions it. The “enduring nature of same-sex desire is an indication not that God approves such desire but that we are intractably sinful apart from grace” (29). This goes for every desire for something prohibited by God.

A common thread running through flawed understandings of sexual orientation is that human identity is reduced to one’s sexual desires. But human beings were created more than merely sexual beings. We eat, drink, play, work, parent, sing, recreate, and worship. Further, human identity is determined not by humans, but the One who made humans. For that reason, God’s word, not our sexual inclinations, is the final say on the issue of human identity. A Christian struggling with same-sex attraction is not a gay Christian, but a child of God, in Christ, undergoing the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit on his way to glory. The unregenerate who are given to same-sex behavior, similarly, are not to be myopically identified as a homosexual, but a valuable human being, made in the image of God, dead in sin, who needs the saving, transforming work of Jesus Christ, like all of us.

Hope and help for true transformation

Many myths pertaining to real change are floating around even in professing Christian culture. Misunderstandings here shipwreck the real changed guaranteed to all who embrace Christ. Five common myths are presented in chapter three: an understanding of biblical ethics leads to change, change is impossible, change is harmful, change requires heterosexual desire, and change can happen without repentance.

cf6a168b97fca416ed23e13b8f9058c0Rather than Christian-based behavior modification and other erroneous solutions, Jesus Christ and his sufficient work on the cross are held necessarily high in the book. Since Christ came to die for, and transform us from, sin, there is immense hope through repentance and faith in him. Change happens not only when we repent of sinful behavior, but the heart worship and desires which lead to the behavior (79).

Heath and Lambert provide a good treatment of the path of biblical change in chapter four. The material will prove helpful for counselors and any seeking to better understand the true hope Scripture offers for change.

If our focus on change is merely sexual orientation, then we’ve adopted a myopic view of sanctification. Transformation that every Christian experiences is not limited to selective compartments of behavioral modification, but into the all-inclusive image of the standard for humanity; Jesus Christ. For that reason, when approaching sexual orientation, Christians must keep in mind that Scripture commands “is not heterosexuality, but holiness” (14).

Those who trust in Christ and experience same-sex attraction, however, may not experience complete eradication of the desires this side of heaven. The same goes for Christians battling with any other sin. Sanctification is finished at glorification. Even so, God’s people make it their goal, more than not experiencing a certain desire, to become more like Christ in all things.

Overall, I appreciated how Burk and Lambert make the case that biblical Christianity seeks not to adjust individuals’ sexual orientation. Sexual preferences are not the problem, but merely symptomatic. Rather, biblical Christianity brings a far more comprehensive message: reconciliation to God and a new nature by faith in the Person and finished work of Jesus Christ. That message alone delivers the power to cleanse and transform all sin.

Shepherding the church

Finally, the authors make a needed plea to evangelicalism to no less embrace growth and change when it comes to this issue.

“Same-sex attracted people are not the only ones who need to change. Evangelical Christians have certainly had a spotted record when it comes to addressing the issue of homosexuality. Our churches have not always been the welcoming places that they should have been for sinners—especially for those struggling with the same-sex attraction” (101).

The good news of Christ crucified must stay central in the content. And our lives must no less demonstrate personal need for and change from the cross of Christ (105-9).

Transforming Homosexuality is a needed work in this hour of history. Counselors will find it helpful for counselees, pastors and teachers will benefit from the clarity and insight given for preaching and teaching, Christians will be better equipped to interact intelligently, biblically, and lovingly with the world around us, and those of differing spiritual persuasions will be lovingly and truthfully guided to the true hope of Christ.

Eric Davis

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Eric is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. He and his team planted the church in 2008.
  • Dan Phillips

    “Should an individual change their sexual orientation?”

    Well no, an individual probably can’t change their sexual orientation. That is something they will need to deal with before the Lord — as will the individual also.

    (You’re welcome!)

    • Michael

      Dan,
      Is the “they” in italics the same person as “the individual” in italics?

    • Eric Davis

      Thanks Dan.

  • kevin2184

    Thanks for the review on this book Eric. I recommend this book to any person who struggles with same-sex attraction and to those who minister to them. I greatly appreciate how the authors: define the many uses of “sexual orientation”, denounce “reparative therapy” regimens as un-biblical, and clarify that the goal of a penitent homosexual (like myself) is not for heterosexuality, but for holiness. Praise God that He not only forgives all who come to Him and confess their sins (homosexuality or otherwise) but that He also provides the deliverance (i.e. power) to the one who desires to repent of their sin (turn from it) and turn to Christ and follow Him.

    • Eric Davis

      Amen. Thanks Kevin.

    • Jason

      I’ve heard the “turning homosexuals into heterosexuals” goal stated far too often… I’m glad to hear this book covers that.

      I think part of the issue is that the church, instead of viewing marriage as a commitment that prevents unchaste behavior and provides another way in which people might serve God, tends to view marriage as the *only* way to serve God. Just look at all the well-meaning match makers and groups intent on getting everyone married.

      Scripture clearly teaches that some people will best be able to serve God outside of the commitment of marriage, so it’s clearly something we’ve picked up from the world. Probably the secular view that a person’s identity is wrapped up in their sexuality.

  • Jason

    “To embrace and identity”

    an*

  • Reba

    My husband and I recently left a church (very reluctantly) because the national organization validated same-sex marriage and they would not let our particular church leave the denomination. What can we do about the many churches that are saying that homosexuality is fine? Are they no longer true christian churches? I’m confused because my pastor is a good man, and most of the people in the church disagree with the national decision.

    • Jason

      Leadership in the church is a position of servant-hood. If that leadership attempts to lead congregations in a direction contrary to godliness the congregations are responsible for holding it accountable. If they refuse to be held accountable the church should practice discipline and no longer fellowship with them (just as any member who rejects all correction). A worthy leader of the church is not one to lord their leadership over the other members(Mark 10:42-45).

      In this case, with all the legal and financial implications of what that usually means (at least, in the cases I’ve been privy to locally with the ELCA doing something similar in my area), that probably means giving up a lot of worldly things. The building is likely the property of the national organization, as are most of the other assets.

      However, the *church* isn’t owned by this organization. Have you considered speaking with your pastor about everyone dissociating from this national organization and sticking together as the church? Maybe you could find another congregation in the area that is serious about following Christ and working together to care for those who are disenfranchised in the current community.

      • Reba

        It’s complicated not only because our parishioners have maintained the church and school for over 100 years, but also because our pastor is old and his entire pension is controlled by the national denomination. Basically, if we left we would have to cease being a church (could not afford to rent a new space) and the pastor would lose all of his retirement. It’s hard because I don’t agree with what the denomination is doing nationally, but most of the people in our chuch do not support homosexual relations. Is it a sin to stay with this church? I am not sure. The national denomination says that the verses in the Bible talking about homosexuality are only talking about pedophilia… but I’m not sure about that.

        • Jason

          Whether it is a sin to stick around is a matter of conscience. If a person is fully convicted by the Spirit that a community is not one in which they should be a part it is certainly sin to ignore God, regardless of how many hundreds of years of memories or how much pension is wrapped up in staying.

          Personally, I know I would be driven mad by the conviction that would be laid on me if my fellowship were to offer even token acceptance of the intentional twisting of scripture that you’re talking about here, regardless of financial benefit or sentimentality (neither of which should be the reasons anyone makes a decision in this situation).

          As for not being sure about what the Bible says, you can be certain. Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:26-27, etc… don’t use a term where the meaning could be argued. They speak in terms of gender being the key issue. Even the terms that are generally argued have their root in the greek words for man, and as far as I can tell, don’t have anything to do with age (though I’m no greek scholar).

          As for not being able to be “a church”, what is important is to continue to fellowship as *the* church more than having any official, government registered name somewhere (which, in this day probably is just as much a target as anything). While it is certainly easier to organize when a building is available, many of the members likely have houses and hopefully at least some are hospitable with them!

          Please consider reaching out to other believing congregations in your area (sadly, there is usually plenty all mostly unaware that the others even exist, because of labels and assumptions). The early church was known to share all of their possessions in common. If the body can summon even a fraction of that unity today, you may not suffer nearly as many financial restrictions you seem to be.

  • tovlogos

    “A Christian struggling with same-sex attraction is not a gay Christian, but a child of God, in Christ, undergoing the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit on his way to glory.” Right.

    Too often Christians leave it there… Many have the impression that walking the narrow path is enough — yet God is results oriented. Yes, we march along the narrow path; and “some” improvement will be forthcoming. Engagement with the Spirit definitely reaps results. The turning point for is to realize that we cannot do anything alone, without the helping hand of Jesus. Yes, we all as sinners march toward heaven; but if we are not experiencing distinct improvements over our shortcomings, whatever they may be, the failure propels me to look more carefully at myself in general — looking for that objectivity that can only come from the Spirit, which ultimately turns my attention away from myself to that Blessed Hope.
    A good book for Christians as well as people who sincerely want to rise above this misguided attraction, is:
    “What does the Bible really teach about homosexuality?” By Kevin Deyoung. I believe it was also a Cripplegate recommendation. A review sounds similar to the one of this post. The sensitivity is there, but no games.

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