In 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.
Rather 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.