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Welcoming but Not Affirming: An Evangelical Response to Homosexuality

by Stanley J. Grenz

Buy the book: Stanley J. Grenz. Welcoming but Not Affirming: An Evangelical Response to Homosexuality

Release Date: November, 1998

Edition: Paperback


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Buy the book: Stanley J. Grenz. Welcoming but Not Affirming: An Evangelical Response to Homosexuality

A recent contribution to the debate

I welcome Stanley Grenz' book 'Welcoming but not Affirming' for several reasons:

(1) Each generation has, it seems, the defining touchstone debates in Christianity, that seem to reach to the core of religious practice and community (interesting that subsequent generations rarely sustain the emotional importance attached to those issues of previous generations). In the current generation, acceptance or rejection of homosexuality is one of these (I would say abortion and the status of women are the other two). Grenz, a noted theologian, tackles this issue directly.

(2) Because of the emotional level that such touchstone debates reach to, there is often a tendency to sacrifice scholarship and reasonable dialogue to diatribe and immovable pronouncements, on both sides. Grenz presents a fairly balanced view with his own bias present in the title of the work.

(3) This is a book that will make both sides of the debate variously comfortable and uncomfortable. That in itself is a positive, because it will spur people on to thinking and reflection. A mature faith requires examination, in my opinion.

These things having been said, I have a few criticisms of the book. In the first half, Grenz presents what his view is of the welcoming and affirming side, i.e, those who argue for full acceptance of same-sex unions and open ordination of gays and lesbians. Grenz tends to concentrate only on the same-sex union aspect of this, and Grenz does a pretty good job at this, although there is every so often the tendency I think to make the arguments into a straw figure he can later torch. I would have preferred a little more development of the opposing side, so the arguments weren't so easily refuted.

In his refutation and presentation of his openly-stated bias (that of welcoming, but not affirming, i.e., welcoming the homosexual as a human being, but still viewing that homosexuality as a sin that should not be affirmed), Grenz also lacks a little in the argumentation. Grenz does use scripture well, and avoids many of the pitfalls that both sides often seem to fall into. However, I would have to wonder just how welcome a homosexual would be in this church. While not denying that gays or lesbians can be Christian and receive the Holy Spirit (Grenz is an evangelical himself), he still falls into the trap of not being able to explain why certain scriptural prohibitions are important while others are not.

However, far be it for me to criticise anyone for not being able to settle this debate! I am far from being able to do it myself.

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A "welcome" addition to the controversial conversation

At last we have a sane, moderate, compelling voice taking the "traditional" (but not reactionary) viewpoint, that homosexuality can be compassionately discussed and homosexual persons compassionately ministered to, without wholesale affirmation of their orientation and behavior as God's will for their lives. To demonstrate this book's credibility in the conversation now going on within Christian circles, James Nelson, an articulate theologian with a "gay-affirmiing" viewpoint, adds his highest recommendation. There is nothing "homophobic" in Stanley Grenz's approach, and as an eminent ethicist, he is not writing a moralistic diatribe. His is a reasoned and refreshing antidote to the more strident "right-wing" denunciations of homosexual sin, yet he maintains the clear and unequivocal position, based upon the overwhelming consensus of scripture and tradition, that the Christian faith does not and cannot affirm gay and lesbian behavior, nor same-sex unions, as "normative" or "alternative" lifestyles within the church. That the church should support the "civil" rights of homosexual persons, there can be no doubt, but the church cannot extend a "blessing" in the same manner as it does to marriage. Gay friendships, even when most exemplary of fidelity and longevity, are not, nor should they be construed as analogous with, the marriage of a man and a woman. The only missing dimension to the book, from this reviewer's point of view, is a discussion of the inextricability of sexuality and spirituality, and how this reality must fuel future conversations about Christian sexuality. We are all "fragile" in our sexuality, such that condemnations and judgements have no place, least of all within a Christian community, where healing and reconciliation ought to be emblemmatic. Such healing will often carry us to depths of intra- psychic transformation we dare not have thought possible. Alice Miller's "The Drama of the Gifted Child", a brilliant and recently revised treatment of this corollary topic, makes an excellent companion volume to Grenz's.

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