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Welcoming but Not Affirming: An Evangelical Response to Homosexuality Paperback – November 1, 1998
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About the Author
Stanley J. Grenz was Pioneer McDonald Professor of Theology at Carey Theological College in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada,and Professor of Theological Studies at Mars Hill Graduate School in Seattle, Washington, prior to his death in 2004. He authored a number of books, including What Christians Really Believe & Why; and Sexual Ethics: An Evangelical Perspective.
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Top Customer Reviews
Though written fifteen years ago, Grenz's study is still valuable as a survey of the contours of the church's debate about homosexuality. Though there have been additions to the relevant literature--notably Robert A. J. Gagnon's The Bible and Homosexual Practice and William Stacy Johnson's A Time to Embrace: Same-Sex Relationships in Religion, Law, and Politics--the arguments on both sides are basically the same as they were when Grenz's study was first published.
Grenz argues that Christians should answer "questions of faith and practice" through "a conversation involving three `voices'": "the biblical message, the heritage of reflection found within the historical life of the church, and the contemporary culture in which God has called us to live and minister" (p. 11). Given that the first two voices have offered uniformly negative evaluations of homosexual, Grenz narrows the focus of his book's research question: "has our contemporary cultural situation given us such important new insight into the reality of homosexuality that our traditional reading of scripture is woefully inadequate and therefore in dire need of revision?" (pp. 11, 12).
To answer that question, Grenz divides his work into six chapters.
Chapter 1, "Homosexuality in Contemporary Perspective," notes that the current debate involves a new understanding of homosexuality. "Prior to the modern era homosexuality was understood almost exclusively in connection with certain specific activities. The contemporary outlook, in contrast, looks at homosexuality primarily as a sexual orientation--as a fixed, lifelong pattern--and only secondarily as actual behavior" (p. 13). Grenz surveys developments in psychology, biology, and sociology that have fostered this change of outlook. Following the Encyclopedia of Bioethics, he defines homosexuality as "a predominant, persistent and exclusive psychosexual attraction toward members of the same sex" (p. 32).
Chapter 2, "The Bible and Homosexuality: The Exegetical Debate," surveys the biblical passages that discuss or prohibit some form of homosexual conduct under four headings: (1) "The Sins of the Cities" (Gen. 19, Jdg. 19); "The Prohibitions in the Holiness Code" (Lev. 18:22, 20:13); (3) Paul's Critique of Pagan Society" (Rom. 1:26−27); and (4) "The Pauline Rejection of Same-Sex Acts" (1 Cor. 6:9, 1 Tim. 1:10). He also considers whether David and Jonathan were homosexual lovers (an argument sometimes made by revisionist theologians), and what significance the silence of Jesus on the topic of homosexuality might portend. Grenz considers a number of revisionist exegeses of these texts, ultimately concluding--rightly, in my opinion--that "scholars who propose that the church accept committed same-sex relationships have yet to produce a sufficient basis for revising the traditional belief that the biblical writers condemned homosexual conduct, at least as they had come to know it" (p. 62). In other words, the traditional position is well founded, exegetically.
Chapter 3, "Homosexuality and Church Teaching," surveys church history and demonstrates how novel the revisionist position is from an historical point of view. The revisionist position traces its origins to "the last half of the twentieth century" (p. 63). The traditional position is more deeply rooted. "Christian ethicists from the second century to the twentieth century forge an unbroken chain. Their teaching, which condemned a variety of behaviors, occurring as they did in differing social contexts, nevertheless connects all such actions together... In each era, Christian moralists rejected the same-sex practices of their day. And they consistently found the basis for such condemnation in the several scriptural texts in which the biblical authors appear to pronounce divine judgment on the homosexual behavior with which they were confronted" (p. 80).
Chapter 4, "Homosexuality and Biblical Authority," considers the question of how "biblical texts ought to function in the construction of a contemporary Christian outlook toward homosexuality" (p. 81). One might think that the answer is straightforward, but as Grenz notes that this is not the case. Some revisionists argue that biblical authors did not know of the reality of sexual orientation, that is, "a lifelong pattern of sexual preference" (p. 83). More radically, others argue that while "the biblical writers condemn homosexuality," "no one need to take seriously their injunctions" (p. 86). Traditionalists counter that "the Bible does speak to homosexuality as we know it today, and what it says is normative for Christians' (p. 89). For Grenz, this is true not only when it comes to specific texts, but also when it comes to larger biblical themes, such as "covenant," "love," "justice," and "liberation."
Chapter 5, "Homosexuality and the Christian Sex Ethic," develops "a basically teleological approach to the contemporary issue, an approach that draws from considerations of God's telos--God's purpose--for human relationships as given in part in the creation narratives" (p. 102). This includes marriage, of course, but also friendship. He argues: "Same-sex intercourse falls short of the Christian ethical ideal, because it is a deficient act in the wrong context" (p. 110). It is a deficient act because it "loses the symbolic dimension of two-becoming-one present in male-female sex" (p. 111). And it is in the wrong context because it "introduces into the friendship bond the language of exclusivity and permanence that properly belongs solely to marriage" (p. 115).
Chapter 6, "Homosexuality and the Church," asks whether there is a "place" for homosexual persons in the church, looking at four topics: (1) church membership, (2) same-sex unions, (3) ordination, and (4) the church's public stance. He writes: "participation in the faith community involves a give-and-take. Discipleship demands that each member understand that he or she is accountable to the community in all dimensions of life, including the sexual" (pp. 133, 134). While the church welcomes all people, it cannot affirm all behaviors. This is the decisive matter in terms of membership, unions, and ordination. Grenz suggests that "Christians might well support extending [social and economic benefits] to participants in a variety of living arrangements, so long as the latter are reserved for marriage" (p. 152). In other words, civil unions, yes; same-sex marriage, no. This was a daring position for traditionalists to take in the late 1990s. One possible outcome of this year's Supreme Court decision in Windsor v. Perry may be to invalidate that distinction by means of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
It is difficult in a summary of this book to convey the gentleness of tone and nuance of argument that characterizes it. Grenz is a fair-minded reader, generous critic, and resolute proponent of his position. This does not mean that he is uncritical of traditionalists at some points or that he cannot learn at other points from revisionists. But it does mean that, after patient scholarship and without a hectoring tone, Grenz concludes there is insufficient reason to overturn the church's traditional position on homosexual conduct. I agree with that conclusion.
I cannot help but wonder, however, whether contemporary society is in the mood for arguments such as Grenz's. The liberationist trend in our society is impatient with restrictions on personal freedom, incredulous toward the arguments that support them--no matter what the tone or level of nuance, and intolerant of anyone who is insufficiently "tolerant" of their choices. Welcoming, but not affirming? How rude!
Grenz died in 2005. One wonders what kind of book he would have written today.
Along the above truthful statement, the Church must understand that all members are not perfect and that at one point in their past lives they "used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil - the commander of the powers in the unseen world." The Church must also remember that the devil "is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God" ; in this case, people who are homosexual. Lawrence Morgan (another SAGU student) rightly stated that "Somehow people lose the focus that the church is a place for sinners, even the ones that are saved, and that no one is perfect." He further stated that "If there are not any sinners in the church, then it may as well be a tea party." The Church is a hospital for the sick soul and as such, it includes gays and lesbians; and a training facility for those who are spiritually well.
Addressing the issue of homosexuality, especially within the halls of the church, is no easy task; it should be dealt with love but without compromising the revealed truth about this practice the Church understands to be God's view; homosexuality is an abomination. Secondly, the Church must also view or review the historical stance of Christians of the past; in other words, to look at the history of Christian Theology concerning this issue. Thirdly, the Church must also look at the present culture that it exists within and share the message of hope in a way contemporary to its hearers.
A proper Christian theological method involves a trialogue consisting of the interplay among the biblical message, the heritage of reflection found within the historical life of the church, and the contemporary culture in which God has called [the church] to live and minister.
Homosexuality in Contemporary Perspective
"Homosexuality is no new phenomenon. On the contrary, sexual practices involving persons of the same sex have been present among a wide range of human societies." What has changed, concerning homosexuality, is the way is looked at. In the past, even some non-Christians viewed homosexuality as abnormal. Today, that is a different story. With the advent of modern medicine, a little bit of liberalism, and some indifference from some churches which claim to be Christian, homosexuality has shifted from an abomination, through being repulsive, to be viewed and accepted as a sexual orientation; as a normal condition.
While many professional people believe homosexuality is both a learned behavior and that is possibly caused by the lack of parental nurturing, some people have looked to the medicine field in order to find a biological cause for homosexuality. The jury is still out there concerning the gay/lesbian gene. After repeated neuroscientist and psychological studies "no biological factor has emerged as the sole cause in determining sexual preference." Just as the missing link evolutionists are searching for, so they are homosexuals and homosexual sympathizers looking for a biological cause to justify homosexuality as something no person can help to overcome or change.
The Bible and Homosexuality: the Exegetical Debate
It should not be a surprise for Bible believing persons to see other "Christians" re-interpreting old truths and for non-Christians to attack what the Bible teaches about same sex relations because homosexual conduct is not a major theme in the Bible. Though the Bible addresses the issue directly or indirectly; explicitly or implicitly, the fact that any sinful conduct in particular is not a major theme in the Bible does not disqualify the sinful act from being contrary to the revealed will of a Holy God. From any which way possible, the consensus of the Bible concerning homosexuality is very clear even when is read by some non-Christians. Though Mr. Grenz mentions the 7 most, if not only, references concerning homosexual behavior, these references are enough to convince, whether a person adheres to Christianity or not, that they in fact speak against homosexuality and that homosexuality is depicted or viewed as something abnormal and detestable. I truly believe that debate has moved from exegetical in nature to eisegetical in nature. Even some traditionalists have succumbed to the possibility that after thousands of years believing homosexuality is wrong, that the Church has somehow misinterpreted God's intentions for humans in the area of sex. The Church today must draw the line and stand as "the pillar and foundation of the truth" that it is. Any one, Christian or non-Christian, can use the Bible to prove what they want. Even the most honest Christians have done this at one time or another, consciously or unconsciously. So it is no surprise that homosexuals and their sympathizers use the personal bonds between Ruth and Naomi, and David and Jonathan. They even justify their conduct by rightfully pointing out the Jesus, the Teacher of teachers, never spoke against it. But what they fail to recognize is that Jesus did speak about it when He addressed the issue of marriage and celibacy. I believe that it is properly to say that if they seek, they will find.
Homosexuality and Church Teaching
According to Grenz, "From the early centuries (commonly known as `the patristic era') to the twentieth century, Christian moralists have censured homosexual behavior." What has happened that today the Church seems to be losing ground on its stance against homosexuality? I believe there are two explanations for this: First, the Church has been deceived. 2nd Corinthians 11:3 & 4 (NLT) states (emphasis mine), "But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent. You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed." Second, because standing for the truth brings division and, as a consequence, a reduction in numbers which translate to money, the Church has turned its back to truth for the sake of mammon in order to win the world for Christ. This second explanation goes hand in hand with the first; the Church has being deceived.
Homosexuality and Biblical Authority
In order to know and understand homosexuality, in this case, from the biblical view, a serious Bible student must ask himself/herself two questions: 1) What does the Bible say about homosexuality? 2) What does the Bible mean when it says what it says about homosexuality? These two questions, I believe, are foundational to the proper understanding of Scripture concerning any topic.
The sad thing about homosexuality and biblical authority is that the Bible has lost its authority, and possibly it relevancy, because some loud voices have silenced the Bible as a whole by using biblical texts that go contrary to the consensus of the Bible about homosexuality. Just as the body abnormally attacks its immune system and destroys itself in the process, so have the themes of "covenant", "love", "justice", and "liberation" - which the Bible clearly addresses - have been used to undermine the Bible to the point where the Bible is no longer authoritative or viewed as reliable. In the middle of this confusion between accepting and rejecting homosexual conduct, many Christians have being "carried about with various and strange doctrines" just as Hebrews 13:9a states.
I believe that God, through the Bible and His spokesmen, has made His will and perfect plan known to mankind, especially in the sexual realm. What men and women do with the truth revealed is a matter of choice at the hearers' end and a matter of sound doctrine taught and defended at the speakers' end, in this case, the Church of Jesus Christ. In the mean time, the church should reach out to the homosexual community and to any sinful community to the extent the church does not condone their sinful behavior by choosing to ignore God's position, as revealed by the Holy Spirit through Scripture and conscience, to any sin, homosexual or not, or by using the "God is love" half truth ("God is a consuming fire and a judge" being the other half truth) without homosexuals being told that they must change their sinful and destructive habits. While the Church must not condone homosexuals' sinful behavior, it should be willing to receive them with compassion, especially when the Holy Spirit has convicted them of their deceptive ways. Homosexuals must know that the Church is there to help and serve them, and that it will also be there to see them grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ as well as in "holiness without which no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14 - NKJV).
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