Book Review: People to Be Loved by Preston Sprinkle

After reading the title and blurb of this book, I had high hopes for it (which is why I requested it for review).

But then I saw that the author had co-written Erasing Hell with Francis Chan. Which didn’t bode well because that is a poorly written, unscholarly, non-researched piece of propaganda. (For my full review on the subject, go here.)

So, I attempted to jump into this book as objectively as I could.

And the book starts out really strong. It seems like he really does attempt to have some compassion, and really does attempt good research

“I frequently wake up way before my alarm, haunted by the pain that Christians have caused gay people.”

I think he really wants to do right.

His section on the terms that we should use was spot on. I don’t think I’ve read a Christian book about this subject (by someone who was not gay) where so much care was taken about what terms are important to the LGBT community.

He understands that:

“…most people who are attracted to the same sex don’t end up leaving the church because they were told that same-sex behavior is wrong. They leave because they were dehumanized, ridiculed, and treated like an ‘other.'”

This is so, so true. And he tries so, so hard to be compassionate. And I really appreciate that.

“If the gospel is not good news for gay people, then it’s not good news.”

I agree. But I think that it’s ironic (in light of the book he wrote with Chan) that he paraphrases Rob Bell: “If the gospel isn’t good news for everybody, then it isn’t good news for anybody.”

I’m glad that he takes issue with this:

“I love the Bible and I cherish its life-giving words. But like a gladiator’s sword, some of its passages are dripping with blood. They have been wielded with reckless ignorance to slash open old wounds and carve out new ones. Razor-sharp verses are thrust between the ribs of people…”

But he follows it up with a story about a woman who was abused by her father, and isn’t gay, but will only have relationships with women. This is a really poor example, but it plays right into his nature-nurture beliefs.

I appreciate a lot of the conclusions that he comes to, given that he believes that maintaining a homosexual relationship is wrong. He’s much more loving and compassionate than I’ve seen any other writer. But the way he comes to believe that homosexuality is a sin is problematic in light of his compassion and research.

“This book is written for Christians, those who consider the Bible to be authoritative.”

But what he doesn’t say here, it is also for those who have a very specific hermeneutic (or way of interpreting the Bible) – that they also consider the Bible to be pretty much all literal, and that it can be used to find prooftexts to prove what is right and what is wrong.

He goes on to say, “You may find it shocking, but most scholars who have written books about homosexuality in the last forty years have concluded that the Bible does not condemn consensual, monogamous, same-sex relations.” At least he’s honest, but then he will go on to disagree with “most scholars”.

It would probably be easiest to go through the arguments that he makes for determining that the Bible (and therefore God) condemns being actively homosexual.

Genesis 

First of all, there’s Genesis.

The first thing Sprinkle relies on is the creation story. Not the ‘Adam and Steve’ argument; he agrees that this argument is stupid.

He says:

“Three things seem to be necessary for marriage according to Genesis 2: (1) both partners need to be human, (2) both partners come from different families (2:24), and—if I’m right about kenegdo [a Greek word he brings up in the text -JM] —(3) both partners display sexual difference.”

But (and it’s a big but), this assumes that 1) Genesis 1 is literal (and that all evangelical Christians believe this); and 2) That this creation ‘story’ is intended to be the model for all relationships going forward; and 3) That Adam and Eve’s children married someone from outside their family.
These are some pretty big assumptions that are plainly not addressed

But he also hinges this argument on the idea that Genesis 1 and 2 are intended to be taken as a single unit. The problem with that is most scholars don’t believe that this is true. Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are two separate creation stories that most scholars agree with written by two different people.

On top of that, he notes where Jesus and Paul refer to “men and women” and tries to tie it back to Genesis 1-2 to try to force a rule out of Genesis 1. This is a bit of a stretch.

It’s such an ultra-legalistic way of looking at the Bible: to mine it for rules to follow. Aren’t there enough direct commands in the Bible that we don’t have to try to piece together to invent new ones?

But he does finish the chapter with this discussion by saying there’s not enough here to settle the debate. So at least he doesn’t think he’s done.

Leviticus (and Jewish Law)

I really like what he says about Sodom:

“What chilling hypocrisy: some Christians who have “excess of food, and prosperous ease” and fail to “aid the poor and needy”— the sins that caused heaven to rumble—have the audacity to condemn gay people when, according to the Bible, they [Christians] are the real Sodomites. Six thousand children die daily from hunger and preventable diseases. Still, some Christians shed more tears over the repeal of DOMA and Prop 8.”

This is what the Bible teaches, though most Christians overlook it

He’s willing to say that Sodom wasn’t destroyed for sexual sin, but goes through some amazing mental gymnastics to indicate that Leviticus is still binding to Christians.

He wants to argue that if the Jews had to follow it, we do too, unless there is a specific command in the New Testament that refutes it. But didn’t Paul say that this isn’t about law anymore? Do evangelicals really believe that the Old Testament is a source for us to find rules and laws to follow? After Paul says we are no longer under the law?

And then he drops this.

“Leviticus 18:19 says that a man shouldn’t have sex with his wife while she is menstruating, and some people say that this law is no longer binding. I’ve never actually seen a good argument that shows why it’s totally okay for a husband to have sex while his wife is menstruating.”

What? What?? WHAT?!?

You’re actually going to suggest that the Levitical law that a man could not have sex with his wife while on her period may actually be binding to believers today?? (He’s arguing here that all the sex rules in Leviticus 19-20 still apply.)

   Note: this is when I knew the book was really running off the rails. 

So to make this an anti-gay prooftext, you’re going to suggest that a man sins every time he has sex with his wife if she’s on her period? Are you really going to base your argument on this??

Jesus

This isn’t much better.

Sprinkle seems to believe that when Jesus said he came, not to abolish the law, he really intended for us to set up a complex system of prooftexts whereby we cross-reference the Old Testament with the New Testament to come up with every specific rule God wants us to follow. Really? Even in the light of the Greatest Commands (see Matthew 22)?

So, Christianity is still about mining the Bible for laws?

Sprinkle’s hermeneutic is so messed up: A) All of Genesis is literal. B) We have the Bible primarily for figuring out which laws to follow.

This evangelical hermeneutic is all about believing that God dropped the Bible from heaven, created as a single thing – just like the earth in Genesis 1. It doesn’t take into account that it was written by fallible men (even if they were inspired) and definitely doesn’t take into account that it was assembled by fallible men (that many evangelicals don’t even suggest were inspired.)

So, we have to follow every OT law ever unless the NT specifically redacts it? Crazy. Especially in light of what Sprinkle believes about Paul’s letters.

Sprinkle says:

“I don’t want to put words in Jesus’ mouth. But I also don’t want to recreate Jesus in our twenty-first-century, Western, postmodern, do-whatever-feels-right-for-you image. Jesus is not some ethical Gumby that we can bend around our personal desires.

Because this is what people who aren’t Sprinkle are doing. I feel some of the compassion melt away here – as if to say ‘this is what you people are doing.’

“Jesus cares deeply about obedience. Not man-made, legalistic obedience cooked up by twentieth-century American fundamentalism, but that radical, counterintuitive, life-giving obedience to our gracious Creator.”

What’s the difference, Mr. Sprinkle? I’m not sure he could tell us.

Then he keeps saying that he’s not comparing gays to tax collectors. But he keeps comparing gays to tax collectors.

Paul

Romans 1. “Their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature…men committed shameful acts with other men.”

According to Sprinkle, this is unequivocally all-inclusive of every same-sex relationship. I just can’t get there. Even trying to follow all the mental gymnastics he takes to get there.

He relies on the interpretation of a specific Greek term to indicate all same-sex relations. the phrase is para physin and it means “contrary to nature”. It doesn’t translate literally as “gay sex”. Though he suggests that is what it is used for all through the ancient world. So when Paul uses this phrase in Romans 11:24 when he talks about Gentiles and Jews worshipping together, and a wild olive tree branch being grafted onto a domesticated olive tree – he’s definitely talking about gay sex here, too? Oh – Sprinkle discusses this…but still. To suggest that this phrase is always used throughout the ancient world to talk about homosexual activity is a stretch. Especially since he admits most of these writers also thought that non-procreative sex was contrary to nature.

1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1. Both of these use other Greek words that are sometimes translated as homosexual in one way or another.

While many scholars have come to many different conclusions about what the Greek words mean in these passages, Sprinkle agreed with the ones that say this includes any sexual relationships between two men.

This is why I have such a problem with Evangelicalism and fundamentalism. They suggest to know God’s intention when he wrote the Bible. They say they aren’t using their own reason. They say it’s just scriptural authority. Again, as my daughter would say, “But…is it?”

This is why books like this, couched in such compassionate language may be even more dangerous then books that just are out right anti-gay like one I just reviewed. Because he makes a pretense to be compassionate and the pretense to research, but the logic is just as bad.

The second ½ of the book discusses how we should be or act toward the LGBT community. And while he says a lot of good stuff, some of the stuff is still troubling.

While he focuses on the fact that the scientific community doesn’t fully know where it lands on the nature-nurture debate, they do agree that it’s largely unchangeable. But if it’s nurture, shouldn’t it be able to be changed?

He’s a bit soft reparative therapy: “many people didn’t experience the change they were expecting and sometimes promised.” No – it just doesn’t really work at all, Preston. That’s why Exodus International closed its doors.

He talks about the two other options (besides reparative therapy) that are open to Christians who are gay. (Well, he suggests Christians who are gay shouldn’t call themselves gay. Whatever.)

The first is the Mixed Orientation Marriage. This is when a gay person marries a straight person of the opposite sex. But he only gives 2 anecdotes to support that this is a plausible idea.

The second is celibacy. Which he doesn’t do justice to. I mean, unless a gay Christian is willing to marry someone of the opposite sex, to Sprinkle, celibacy is the only option (if they want to remain a Christian). He’s suggesting God would force someone who is gay to remain celibate for their whole life. He feels like Matthew Vines (in God and the Gay Christian) misrepresents the problems that this causes. And goes on to talk about the “gift of singleness”. I feel like he’s really downplaying this as an option.

And the there’s the discussion of whether or not just having the orientation is a sin. Sprinkle concludes it’s not. But, really? Is this even worthy of a discussion? This is insane.

He ends on a decent note, talking about the importance of treating people in the LGBT community like Jesus would have. With the same love and compassion you treat anyone else. And that’s all good. But still. This isn’t something I could recommend.

Thanks to NetGalley and Zondervan for a copy in return for an honest review.

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