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My kids have been doing the Library’s Summer Reading Challenge (maybe yours have too?).
For the uninitiated, this involves reading a total of six books over the summer, for which various stickers and prizes are awarded, but not before some poor library assistant has had to waste half her morning listening to a blow-by-blow account of what happened on each page of the 150-page classic, given by a 7-year-old who hasn’t yet learned how to summarise.
Whilst I was chatting with Missy about her challenge, I started working out whether I’d read six books this summer. I’m a slow reader, and have only really got back into ‘proper’ reading (i.e. not just Instagram and BuzzFeed) over the last couple of years. But – low and behold (and if you count two that I started before the summer) – yes, by the end of the summer I’ll have read six books! Give me my stickers!
It has to be said, though, that I’ve had some excellent material to work with. Let me tell you about Sexuality, Faith and the Art of Conversation (Parts 2, 3 & 4) by Stephen Elmes.
I read Part 1 last year (click here for my review) and was absolutely riveted.
Steve is a pastor who, in 2013, began to lead his church through a process of answering the question: “How might a local church respond to those who are same-sex attracted and seeking to follow Christ?”.
He included this research in a dissertation for a Masters in Applied Theology, completed in 2015, after which he felt led to widen the conversation by putting it all in a book: Sexuality, Faith and the Art of Conversation (part 1). The book included arguments on both sides of the debate (affirming v. traditional), and opened my eyes to several new ideas.
The problem was: would the sequel match up? Could Steve continue what he’d started? What other circumstances or issues might affect the discussion? And – the big question – would there be any sense of resolution at the end?
I needn’t have worried.
This book is genius, and I’ll tell you why: it doesn’t try to tell you what to think.
The debate around the Bible and sexuality has become polarised. Either people tell you why the Bible says homosexual practice is wrong. Or they tell you why the Bible teaches that a faithful homosexual relationship can fall within God’s plan. Apparently, it’s a done deal.
The problem is there are two ‘done deals’ at opposite ends of the spectrum! So the real question is not what do we believe, but how can we worship and work with Christian brothers and sisters who believe differently to us? I simply can’t believe that it’s possible to create a church community who all see eye-to-eye on such a complex theological issue. And even if we could, why would we want to? It is not, after all, a primary or ‘gospel’ issue.
Here’s where this brilliant book comes in. Steve is not trying to win people over to one side or another (although there are plenty of very interesting and well-argued lines of thought on both sides). Rather, he is looking for a way he can pastor his congregation, with all their different views and experiences, in the best possible way.
Steve writes with enormous grace and compassion for all those with whom he interacts, from a variety of different experiences. He’s also a master storyteller, which helps what could be a very dry and heavy-going theological tome become something quite different. With a cocktail of interviews, letters, reports, commentary and fictional dialogues with ‘Alex’ (whose job it is to ensure the soundness of Steve’s research methods), this book never gets dull.
If you’ve never read anything about what the Bible might say on homosexuality, this is an excellent place to start. Not only will it give you well-reasoned arguments from different perspectives, you will grow in grace as you read it. And no, you don’t have to have read Part One to appreciate this book (although I highly recommend it!).
Quite honestly, the Christian world needs more writers like Steve: writers who are prepared to acknowledge difference, embrace disagreement and encourage honest conversation. Which is, I guess, why the title is as it is!
Steve has kindly given me a copy of Sexuality, Faith and the Art of Conversation (Parts 2, 3 & 4) to give away to one lucky Desertmum reader. In addition, for second and third prizes, he has also given me two copies of his shorter book ‘A Beautiful Endeavour’, which summarises the journey he and his church have been on. This would make a great discussion resource for your church or small group.