Books on the Bible’s view of homosexuality are a dime a dozen these days. They tend to come from one of two perspectives – gay affirming or non-affirming – and they depending on their position they all say the same things. They look at the same Biblical passages and wrestle with the same practical questions. At this point the market is so flooded with these books that it’s hard for any new ones to stand out. Preston Sprinkle’s People to Be Loved, which came out in 2015, does feel different. The refusal to fit a mold makes this a somewhat fresh voice on the subject.
Sprinkle is not a voice I was personally familiar with prior to this book. I don’t recall reading him before, nor had I ever listened to his podcast. He is apparently well respected and a sought after speaker. He has a PhD in New Testament from University of Aberdeen, and has served as both a college professor and a college Vice President. In other words, he has some serious credentials behind his name and an expertise in New Testament that lend themselves well to the discussion of various aspects of the topic he covers in this book. As he seeks to parse passages of Scripture and wrestle with ancient cultures and Greek words he demonstrates his skill and knowledge well. I often found his insight on the conversation to be clarifying and helpful. He knows his stuff.
The book is functionally, if not officially, broken down into two parts. Part one, which is the bulk of the text, focuses on the textual arguments regarding the subject of homosexuality. Here Sprinkle explores the commonly cited passages of Scripture from the Old and New Testament and seeks to clarify the overall picture of the Bible on the issue of homosexuality. He gives a chapter to exploring the thought of ancient Judaism and Greco-Roman culture on the subject and seeks to frame a historical/cultural perspective for his readers. Finally he offers a summary of the major points in an “interlude”.
Part two shifts to more personal questions. All throughout the book Sprinkle emphasizes the title of his work: a people to be loved. He insists that while we must wrestle with the academic, textual, and historical issues of homosexuality we must never lose sight of the fact that we are talking about real people not just agendas and political issues. In part two, however, he focuses more accurately on this idea, raising questions about individuals and the church’s relationship with various individuals. Here he seeks to respond to common questions like: Does God make people gay, can someone be gay and Christian, what does faithfulness look like in life if you have a same-sex attraction. He answers each questions with clarity, precision, and yet sensitivity, striking a good balance throughout the book of truth and love.
While the book’s conclusions are not any different from the vast majority of theological conservative works it is Sprinkle’s tone which makes it as unique. In the beginning of the boo he asserts that Christians have attempted to make this a simple and easy discussion, and we have often repeated tired and simplistic arguments against homosexuality. In the process we have not only done poor apologetics, poor exegesis, and poor discipleship, but we have also failed to love others. He dismantles arguments on both sides of the equation showing how both affirming and non-affirming theologians have settled for simple yet invalid points, and challenging both sides to wrestle with the actual words of Scripture and accept their conclusions (wherever they may lead). He asserts that he started the research for this book with an open mind, wanting to be shown from Scripture that either homosexuality was wrong or that in its modern manifestation it was permissible. He comes down on the side of the non-affirming position, concluding that Scripture declares same-sex sexual activity to be unacceptable in all forms – no exceptions or caveats. Yet, the way he presents these conclusions is with immense sensitivity, compassion, and often with a direct challenge to the non-affirming advocates (those who would already side with his conclusions). It is a work of apologetics, but it is a unique work in that regard.
I liked this book. We live in a day and age where discussions about sexual identity are so full of heat that it can feel impossible to discuss without getting burned or burning one another. I am not sure that Sprinkle’s conclusions will be any more palatable to those who disagree with him, but he makes a genuine effort at compassion and sensitivity in his approach. The “us” vs. “them” mentality that so often accompanies these conversations must be put away with if we are to have actual dialogue and love one another well despite our differences. Sprinkle offers a constructive example of this and I am grateful for it. People to be Loved does not offer anything new in content, but it offers something fresh in presentation.