Book Review: Sexuality, Gender, and the Church

by Zach Vickery

“We’re living and ministering in an era of swift and unprecedented change, especially regarding the definition of sexuality, gender, and marriage,” writes J. Matthew Pinson in Sexuality, Gender, and the Church.[1] Though these issues are not unique to our day, many changes concerning sexuality and gender have arisen in recent years that have forced the church to reaffirm and strengthen its historical positions.

While numerous books are being written on this very subject, few are as comprehensive as Sexuality, Gender, and the Church. Most of these books focus on one aspect of this issue, looking at it from a pastoral perspective, a legal perspective, a psychological perspective, or a historical perspective. This book, however, considers the subjects from many different angles, having authors who are experts in their respective fields.

About the Authors

All four authors of this book serve as faculty at Welch College in Gallatin, Tennessee. Matthew Steven Bracey serves as the Vice Provost for Academic Administration and teaches law and theology, Matthew McAffee is currently the Provost and teaches biblical studies, Michael A. Oliver is the Psychology Program Coordinator, and J. Matthew Pinson is President.

Review

As mentioned above, this book examines the subjects of sexuality and gender from several angles. In chapter one, Pinson sets the scene by describing where the church is in regards to the culture and how the church responds to the culture. Pinson calls the church to be “radically in the world, bearing witness to the transforming rule of Christ in every area of life,” while also being “radically not of the world, living out what it means to be Christ’s redeemed people, called out from the world, set apart for His holy purposes.”[2] He does an excellent job of offering a balanced approach to these issues, encouraging the reader to be in the world without conforming or giving into the ways of the world.

McAffee then lays the biblical foundation for our understanding of sexuality, gender, and marriage in chapter two, pointing out God’s original design. McAffee connects these issues by explaining what man being made in God’s image means. He explains the etymological significance of the Bible’s terminology for male and female by noting how the names are “directly tied to human anatomy and the sexual union of the two.”[3] After explaining the character roles of male and female, highlighting their mutual submission, McAffee explains how the Fall corrupted God’s original design. McAffee then considers Old Testament and New Testament passages dealing with sexuality and recognizes how the ancient world viewed these issues. Finally, McAffee ends his chapter with an encouraging excursus on the hope found in the transforming power of the gospel.

In chapters four and five, Bracey discusses how Christians should engage the culture and be good stewards of their citizenship. Bracey points out how a Christian’s individual lifestyle should be characterized by moral living consistent with God’s Word and by loving others as Christ loved us. He urges Christian leaders to equip their congregations with a “framework for persecution, and, if the need arises, civil resistance and disobedience.”[4] He stresses that the Christian should do all he does in love. Bracey then applies these foundational truths in practical ways to everyday Christian life and also to the sphere of politics.

In chapter six, Oliver discusses this new cultural landscape in the area of psychology. He traces the normalization of homosexuality, pointing out the changes made in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) between 1953 and the present. In 1953, homosexuality was listed as a “sociopathic personality disturbance,” but the 1973 edition omitted this diagnosis.[5] Oliver also provides careful exegesis of biblical passages dealing with this subject and highlights the hope found in the Gospel. Finally, Oliver provides direct application for dealing with these issues in both the church and the home.

The final chapter of this book is a sermon by McAffee calling the church to sexual purity. As he succinctly states, “We can’t win the battle for marriage outside the church if sexual sin persists inside the church. Our attempt to protect marriage must begin with a fundamental commitment to sexual purity.”[6] He essentially argues that the church must protect marriage from impurity since it is a picture of Christ’s love for the church.

Analysis

This book valuable to the reader in several ways. First, it approaches this subject from many different angles. Because each author has specialization in the fields with which their chapters deal, each angle is covered with depth and excellence.

Another commendable quality of this book is that it is accessible to a variety of readers. For example, those who can benefit from reading this book include the pastor and the layman, the professor and the student, the professional businessman and the stay-at-home mom. Each chapter is both analytical and extremely practical. Never in my reading did I feel as if the material overly simplistic or overly academic. A well-balanced approach was maintained throughout.

An additional strength of this book is its direct application to the church. The data presented in each chapter would not be as valuable were it not for the authors describing how it applies in a day-to-day context. For example, Bracey’s discussions concerning Obergefell v. Hodges would not have been nearly as valuable if he did not address questions directly related to its implications on our culture such as whether Christian should attend a same-sex marriage ceremony.[7] Providing examples such as this appeals to the reader’s total personality, engaging their minds, their thoughts, and their actions.

The only critique I have concerns the fact that the research primarily deals with homosexuality. The principles still apply to anything that may fall under the umbrella of sexuality and gender, but I felt like the subject of homosexuality was better dealt with than transgenderism. One reason for this may be due to the fact that homosexuality is more prevalent, at least for now, and more research has been done on it at this point. Either way, the material in this book was sufficient for addressing any issue regarding sexuality and gender.

Conclusion

I highly recommend this book to anyone living in this new cultural landscape, because, as Bracey contends, “We don’t regret the age in which we live, but recognize that God has put us here for a reason.”[8] We are called to be in the world, engaging it with the gospel of Christ while resisting the temptation to conform to it. This book provides us with the tools necessary to do this effectively. It provides a biblical foundation for these issues, it discusses crucial doctrines such as total depravity and atonement, and it interacts with the subject in the fields of politics and psychology. And best of all, this book reminds us of the hope we have in Christ. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

The theme of hope is found in every chapter of this book as the authors continually remind us of the saving grace offered to all who believe. As McAffee humbly reminds us, “We must offer our neighbors and friends the transformational healing that is the gospel. Such were some of us, but we have been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of our Lord and by the power of His Spirit.”[9]

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About the Author: Zach Vickery is an ordained pastor in the Free Will Baptist denomination. He is an Alabama native who moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to attend Welch College, where he received a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree. He, along with his wife Emily, are currently preparing to move to England, where Zach will pursue further education at the University of Cambridge. Zach enjoys spending time outdoors and with his wife, preferably at the same time.

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[1] J. Matthew Pinson, Matthew Steven Bracey, Matthew McAffee, and Michael A. Oliver, Sexuality, Gender, and the Church: A Christian Response in the New Cultural Landscape (Nashville: Welch College Press, 2016), 1.

[2] Pinson, 4.

[3] McAffee, 18.

[4] Bracey, 72.

[5] Oliver, 118.

[6] McAffee, 148.

[7] Bracey, 76.

[8] Ibid., 114.

[9] McAffee, 42-43.

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