I have been working through books on the church’s approach to issues around sexual orientation (slowly) over the past several months. I have reviewed several books that have taken a position that is more inclusive and now I am reviewing what I think is the best book I am aware of that takes a more traditional position.
Preston Sprinkle has a PhD in New Testament and has been a professor, but is now a full time writer. Although this is the first book of his that I have read, he has a reputation for writing theologically sophisticated books on difficult issues that are readable by a wide audience.
People To Be Loved walks a pretty clear line of asserting a traditional understanding of sexual ethics (sex is reserved for marriage and marriage is only for heterosexual couples), but also prodding those that agree with that message to be much more open and loving toward those that outside of that understanding.
After a good introduction by Wesley Hill, another New Testament professor who holds similar convictions, but is a celibate gay man, Sprinkle sets up the tone of the book. Homosexuality is not a theoretical issue and there is not a monolithic ‘gay culture’. There are many people that identify as gay or have same sex attractions and this is an important issue because we as Christians love them as individuals.
The next section is a slow careful exploration of scripture. One of the problems for non-theologian, non-bible scholars evaluating the arguments around this and other similar issues is that some of the arguments are pretty technical. Sprinkle does not shy away from being technical when necessary. But it does make it hard to evaluate the evidence. It is why we need to read several books from each side to get a better understanding of the weight of evidence.
From what I have read, People to Be Loved is the most balanced and clear argument for the traditional position. He does not rely on just historical interpretation or the easy arguments. He refutes some of the bad interpretations that support traditional position on homosexuality while still maintaining the overall traditional position.
The last third of the book is a more practical look at how we as Christians need to approach practical ministry in a world that has actual gay people that we love and interact with.
I think this is the best book I have read from a traditional position. But I think there are some problems. First it uses the traditional six passage format. That has been done over and over, and while this is better than most, it feels a bit overdone and I think some creativity is needed. Second, while I do think the tone is better than most books I have read from a traditional position, there are multiple places where I think cultural bias creeps in, even though I think he tries to be fair. Third, I think it would be better to mix up the structure a bit. Even though I read a fair amount of bible and theology, I got a bit bored in the middle of the bible section.
If you want to read just two books on this issue, I would recommend People to Be Loved as the best on the traditional position and Changing Our Mind by David Gushee, as the best on a more affirming position. (At least so far in my reading. I have three more books purchased to read over the next couple months.)