Book Review: Living in a Gray World by Preston Sprinkle

 So, did I get both Sprinkle books at the same time? Yes.

Was that a mistake? Maybe. 

I’ve already reviewed Sprinkle’s other book and this is mainly a repeat of the same info, but dumbed down for high school kids. Why does it need to be dumbed down? I don’t really know. Maybe because everyone needs to hear that gay people shouldn’t be treated with anything but the love and kindness you give to everyone else – and parents and teens may be more likely to read this much easier book. At least I hope so.

He starts out with his message to parents in the beginning saying: 

“I’m a husband to my beautiful and energetic wife, Christine.”

Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel like the whole point of this line is to say, “First, let me tell you that I’m a straight, married, male Christian.” Maybe not, but it just feels like that since he basically opens the book with it. 

What the Bible Says

There’s really nothing new in the sections about what the Bible says, from Sprinkle’s other book. 

But in an attempt to write at a simpler level he says some things that I think have logical issues: 

“Every time marriage is talked about positively, it’s always between a man and a woman.”

Well, that’s not true. Sometimes it’s between a man and several women. Or concubines. Or…well you get the picture. 

Also, if that’s the logic we’re using, then every time leadership is talked about, it’s men doing the leading. Does this mean we must prevent women leaders in the church? (Well, I guess evangelicals *are* doing a pretty good job of that.)

He also says, 

“If God affirms same-sex couples, you would expect that the Bible would say something positive about same-sex relationships.”

Well, If the world was round you’d expect God to say something about it. And maybe Galileo wouldn’t have been persecuted.

If slavery was wrong you’d expect God to say something about it. And maybe all the Christians might not have used the Bible to support slavery in the 19th Century. 

He also addresses the same issues in nature vs nurture. Again, I think his arguments are ignorant at best disengenuous at worst.

The T and the I (Transgender and Intersex)

He’s very fuzzy on transgender. He states that, “…men and women shouldn’t cross gender boundaries.” But then he says this is a cultural thing and that women can have short hair and men can wear skirts. But who gets to decide what’s cultural and what God wants? Preston Sprinkle?

Later in the book, he states:

“As i said earlier, i believe God wants girls to act like girls, and boys to act like boys.”

This is so unbelievably vague and offensive, I don’t even know how to comment on it. 

He also spends more time on intersex people in this book. He really talks around himself here. 

He says, “First, the fact that some people are born with ambiguous genitalia should not be surprising.” 

“…it means is that sin has affected the very fabric of our being, and sometimes it distorts our biology—even from birth. siamese twins, missing eyes, or even brains attached to the outside of a person’s head. These birth defects are products of a fallen world.

I’m sure intersex people won’t mind being told they have a defect – much like having their brain attached to the outside of their head. 

“Again, we must have compassion and empathy for anyone born with ambiguous genitalia, especially if the doctor happened to cut off the wrong parts.”

This is on the tail end of the transgender discussion. 

So first, Sprinkle says that God requires us to live a certain way based on our sex. 

Second, some people are born without a definite sex. 

Third, Sprinkle tells us that they are not a third sex. They are either male or female. 

Mr. Sprinkle, you leave us hanging with who gets to decide what which sex they are. I mean – especially since it can affect our salvation. So what happens if a doctor, as you say could happen, cuts off the wrong part? Is that person now consigned to hell? Is there God’s grace for that? If not, do they have a choice in heaven or hell? If so, why is there not grace for transgender people?

The more he attempts to be compassionate, the more he attempts to state God’s Law beyond a reasonable doubt, and this is where he gets himself in trouble.

“Acceptance Precedes Obedience”

These are Sprinkle’s own words in placing the importance on accepting everyone including people who are gay. Jesus accepted the tax collectors – and he uses this analogy in the grown-up version of his book, too. 

Again, I appreciate Sprinkle preaching compassion and love before all else. But his hermeneutic and his arguments trump this and still fall into the danger of preaching against the values of Jesus.

And this comparison (to tax collectors) isn’t kind. It’s condescending. 

It’s like saying, “I love you even though you’re a sinner just like the evil tax collector from the Roman occupation that all the Jews hated.”

But then he says that he’s not really making that comparison. But by then it’s too late and his message is going to fall on deaf ears.

If You Think You Are Gay 

Sprinkle has a whole chapter titled “I Think I Might Be Gay”.

I think he’s struggling as hard as he can to be open and loving and compassionate in the light of his belief that gay behavior is wrong. But it really feels like a “love the sinner hate the sin” diatribe. Maybe that’s not fair. 

But while part of this is an attempt at inclusion, it’s also an attempt to convince teens to not make being gay part of their identity. 

He differentiates between the terms “gay” and “Gay”. (Yes – based on whether or not it’s capitalized.) 

“• gay (lowercase) is a description of one’s same-sex orientation. such a person may or may not engage in sexual behavior, but they use the term gay as an easy way to describe their experience of same-sex attraction. 

• Gay (uppercase) refers to one’s identity based on their attraction to the same sex.”

He wants kids to not label themselves as gay. 

“I don’t feel it’s good for christians to label themselves as “Gay” (uppercase) as their primary identity. our identity is in Christ—everything else is secondary. we are first and foremost followers of the risen Jesus.”

But even if you buy into his evangelical beliefs that you can’t be practicing gay and Christian, until everyone is accepted by society, and by Christians, they use this label to give themselves identity. Don’t take that away from them. They can’t use being a follower of Christ as their identify if all the followers of Christ reject them. I realize this book is an attempt to staunch that behavior, but until (if) it stops, we all need to have some sort of group to identify with. 

He encourages teens who are gay to find someone to talk to. 

“Some of you have already found someone to talk to. If that someone is authentic, loving, wise, and understanding, then consider yourself blessed. In fact, make sure you thank this person for being a listening ear and loving friend. Such people are rare.” 

But I really feel like Sprinkle is wanting to say, “It gets better.” Unfortunately, right now, it doesn’t unles you’re outside mainstream evangelical churches. And that doesn’t mean it’s good or easy if you’re not in them. Just that it won’t get better until you leave them.

Gay Friends

There’s so much good in the chapter titled “My Best Friend is Gay…Now What?” There’s so much focus on listening. And not stereotyping. All good stuff. 

Sprinkle even refers to a transgender youth by the pronoun she wants to be referred to by – not the one that refers to the biological sex she was born with. That seems like progress in the face of his earlier comments.

But there’s some bad stuff in here, too. 

He suggests avoiding direct questions like, “Are you gay?” 

Which, on the surface seems good. But one of the reasons to avoid questions like that is: 

“This could not only be offensive, it could also crush someone who really isn’t gay.”

Really? This statement is offensive. 

And then he uses an over-simplistic condescending analogy about sin being like a fish on a hook. God gave us rules (like, “no gay sex”) to make our lives better. Though they may be tempting, like “those extra-plumpy worms” (exact quote). But they will eventually lead to our destruction.

“But sex is powerful, and Satan is powerful too. Together, they are seeking to destroy people with same-sex attraction by convincing them that same-sex behavior is the only way they will flourish as humans.”

Good grief. 

Homosexuality, Politics, and Persecution 

And when Sprinkle talks about politics, it doesn’t get any better.

He starts to say that there’s no real “gay agenda”. (Thank you!)

But then he notes: 

“It’s true that some LGBT people have an aggressive agenda to gain equal rights through marriage laws and workplace diversity codes.”

This is the “aggressive” gay agenda: Equal Rights! Heaven forbid! 

Then he thinks that he’s being magnanimous when he says, not every gay person has “an agenda to demoralize society.” 

Wanting the same rights as everyone else is an “agenda to demoralize society”???

This is getting insane.

Especially because in the same chapter he talks about Christians being persecuted. Nevermind that he is admitting throughout this book that the LGBT community has been treated like crap by the Christian community.

He says that if you love gay people: 

“You’re going to be mocked, shunned, laughed at, and possibly persecuted. Some of you already have been.”

Because we all know Christians are regularly persecuted for openly professing their religion. That’s why there are so many Lifeway (conservative) Christian bookstores.

And, he notes, “Persecution is coming…” 

C’mon, Preston!!

In the same chapter you talk about gays not having the same rights as everyone else, you are going to talk about Christian persecution? A group that is in no danger of losing their rights?

And after you spent this whole book talking about how horribly Christians and treated days, you’re going to call persecution being made fun of a little bit?

I realize this is to a Christian audience but have some reality here please.

He ends the book with some questions that teens may have. But I don’t think any of them are worth mentioning on top of what’s already been said. 

I will note, that like in his last book, he’s very wishy-washy on reparative therapy. Even though it doesn’t work, he won’t admit that because he’s “heard some stories” about how people have changed their orientation. That’s crap. It’s bad journalism and it’s dishonest. He’s just pandering at this point. 

As much as he talks about loving and being compassionate, I still can’t recommend this book because of all the bad in it. 

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

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