March 30, 2011

Mark Yarhouse, Homosexuality and the Christian

Thanks to Bethany House for the review copy.

In this book that reflects many years of dedicated thought, counseling, and discussion, psychologist Mark Yarhouse steps right into the controversial waters of a Christian response to homosexuality. In it, he approaches the issue from a number of different angle. The first point in his discussion is a brief survey of the biblical evidence, which includes a helpful discussion of how not to misuse it, and he also helpfully contextualizes the discussion of Scripture in a wider discussion of sources of theology (covering the traditional quadrilateral of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience), which helps to make readers aware of how they are approaching this difficult issue and also helps people to understand how others are approaching it. I think this is a helpful move, which helps people to be aware of how others are approaching these controversial questions, and helps us to appreciate the type of reasoning they are using instead of simply dismissing them. And I think this move of driving toward listening and understanding as a key component of dialogue is indicative of Yarhouse's book, which demonstrates that type of sympathetic listening and determination not to jump too quickly to facile conclusions.

The chapter that I think was for me the most helpful is his second chapter, where he looks at sexual identity. He advocates a three-tiered understanding of homosexuality: attraction, orientation, identity. The level of attraction is purely descriptive, people experience same-sex attraction. The second level, homosexual orientation, takes a step beyond attraction to a declaration of a settled pattern of attraction. The third level, gay identity, extends beyond either of the first two largely descriptive categories to a statement of identity formed around the sexual orientation, a self-attribution of who a person is that now integrates and endorses the sexual attractions. In our culture, there is a "gay script," as he describes it, that seeks to draw people from the first tier, attraction, through the second and into the third tier, all the while seeking to show that they aren't really tiers at all but one integrated whole. This script is based on the ideal of "self-actualization" and discovery. Yarhouse, on the other hand, posits the possibility of another more traditionally Christian script, which he describes as "Identity 'In Christ.'" He details this script as follows:

-Same-sex attraction does not signal a categorical distinction among types of persons, but is one of many human experiences that are "not the way it's supposed to be."
-Same-sex attractions may be part of your experience, but they are not the defining element of your identity.
-You can choose to integrate your experiences of attraction to the same sex into a gay identity.
-On the other hand, you can choose to center your identity around other aspects of your experience, including your biological sex, gender identity, and so on.
-The most compelling aspect of personhood for the Christian is one's identity in Christ, a central and defining aspect of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. (p. 51)

It is this alternative script that forms the basis for his prescribed response.

Yarhouse, as a practicing psychologist and professor of psychology, is well qualified to speak to the medical issues surrounding the discussion of sexual orientation, and his brief chapter detailing some of the important research demonstrates again that he resists facile conclusions but instead allows sometimes complex data to bring him to nuanced statements. As he discusses what causes homosexuality, he concludes that it likely has many causes, which are weighted differently in different people, and that we must be careful not to blame a person who is experiencing same-sex attraction as though they have chosen to experience it. His discussion of orientation change is likewise nuanced, as he endorses the fact that change can occur, but also cautions that only some people experience change, and most of those are only an incremental change as opposed to a complete reversal.

These chapters form the foundation of the book, and lay the groundwork for the real practical discussions that follow. The second part of the book investigates how to respond to a adolescent child, adult child, or spouse who is dealing with this issue. In the third part, he turns the focus on the church's response. I won't detail these here because my review is already longer than I had intended, but I will simply state that he uses the groundwork he has laid to good effect as he helps Christians to look at this issue from a somewhat different, and I believe helpful, perspective. I do not hesitate in recommending this book. I think he strikes a very warm and irenic tone, even as he seeks to correct people on both poles in this often acrimonious debate. Instead, he puts a very human face on the issues, interspersing his discussion with anecdotes from his own practice and people he has encountered over the years. In the end, I think the question that forms the title for his discussion of the church's response, "Whose people are we talking about?" puts things just the right way, and his answer is emphatically that Christians who struggle with homosexuality are "our people," people who need our support and encouragement as we all the while acknowledge to being fellow travelers on the road to Christlikeness. This doesn't mean compromise of biblical standards of sexuality, but it does mean a different approach toward those who are sincerely struggling. In all, I found this book a great resource, and I have gained a broader and more nuanced perspective that will be beneficial going forward.

March 29, 2011

Uncorrected proofs . . . cool.

I have recently been invited by Amazon to participate in their Vine reviewers program, which means they allow me to select books and other products through their review program. I was happy to see Jeff Shaara's The Final Storm come up for review. I just read his WWII trilogy (The Rising Tide: A Novel of World War II, The Steel Wave: A Novel of World War II, No Less Than Victory: A Novel of World War II) last summer and really enjoyed them, so this sequal volume dealing with the final stages of the war in the Pacific really piqued my interest. But when it arrived in the mail, I was even more excited: uncorrected proofs.

The book doesn't actually release until May 17, so I get to read it a month and a half before it's even available. Now I've been in the book business for years, so it's not like I've never held uncorrected proofs in my hands, but I guess, being a book person, book stuff amuses me. So here's to enjoying the small pleasures of life.

Recovering the Scandal of the Cross, 2nd ed.

IVP Academic has announced that Mark Baker and Joel Green are releasing a second edition of their relatively controversial Recovering the Scandal of the Cross (link to the first edition here) this coming September. This is one of the books that has sought to broaden the evangelical understanding of atonement, and it has been met with a good bit of resistance. It will be interesting to see what they have to say a little more than ten years after the release of the first edition. You can also get a feel for Joel Green's approach to atonement in The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views.

March 19, 2011

Ben Witherington, Roman Numerals

Roman numerals is the second Art West adventure from Ben and Ann Witherington. Ben is a prolific and widely respected biblical scholar who has written widely in new testament history, exegesis and theology. Ann is his biology-professor wife. And together they have crafted this series of adventure mysteries. In this second installment, Art West finds himself investigating a major antiquities heist, and he is later abducted by an Islamic group that wants to silence his christian witness. The books are relatively well written, and have lots of action as well as some interesting characters. Much of the action takes place in Jerusalem and in archaeological sites in its surrounding hills, and the Witheringtons show sensativity to the complex historical, cultural, and theological situation there. Also a major theme in this book was Art's ficticious investigations into the presence and extent of the emperor cult in the first century, and especially in Palestine. this theme especially is helped by a brief author's note at the end of the book that details which archeological finds and ancient artifacts were real and which were ficticuous. I won't ruin the plot by outlining it here, but there is enough action woven together with thoughtful and authentic historical detail to make these great books, especially for people with interest in Biblical history and archaeology, and not to mention an ability to explore the content and implications of Christian faith. I look forward to reading the third installment.