Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church's Debate on Same-Sex Relationships  -     By: James V. Brownson
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Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church's Debate on Same-Sex Relationships

Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. / 2013 / Paperback

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Product Information

Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 300
Vendor: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Publication Date: 2013
Dimensions: 9.00 X 5.90 X 0.90 (inches)
ISBN: 0802868630
ISBN-13: 9780802868633
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Publisher's Description

Grapples conscientiously with biblical texts at the heart of the church's debate over same-sex relationships

This thought-provoking book by James Brownson develops a broad, cross-cultural sexual ethic from Scripture, locates current debates over homosexuality in that wider context, and explores why the Bible speaks the way it does about same-sex relationships.

Fairly presenting both sides in this polarized debate — "traditional" and "revisionist" — Brownson conscientiously analyzes all of the pertinent biblical texts and helpfully identifies "stuck points" in the ongoing debate. In the process, he explores key concepts that inform our understanding of the biblical texts, including patriarchy, complementarity, purity and impurity, honor and shame. Central to his argument is the need to uncover the moral logic behind the text.

Written in order to serve and inform the ongoing debate in many denominations over the questions of homosexuality, Brownson's in-depth study will prove a useful resource for Christians who want to form a considered opinion on this important issue.

Author Bio

James V. Brownson is James I. and Jean Cook Professor of New Testament at Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan. His other books include Speaking Truth in Love: New Testament Resources for a Missional Hermeneutic.

Editorial Reviews

Booklist (STARRED review)
"An outstanding presentation of academic scholarship to general readers. . . . Reframes biblical debate about same-sex relationships. . . . This strikes to the heart of the Bible-versus-homosexuality fracas."

Englewood Review of Books
"Fascinating and incredibly helpful. It would be hard to suggest that Brownson is anything other than meticulous, transparent, and authentic in his treatment of the issues and of scripture."

Studies in Christian Ethics
"Perhaps the greatest challenge facing those seeking to argue a biblical basis for same-sex unions is that — in contrast to debates over gender equality or war or remarriage after divorce — the canonical evidence is uniformly, often strongly, negative. Brownson's work asks whether there is anything inherent in the moral logic that shapes the Bible's discussion of one-flesh unions that not only assumes but also requires' (p.106, italics original) such unions to be male and female. Answering in the negative, he has presented the most thorough case so far that one can still be faithful to the Bible by going beyond its explicit witness in this area and appealing to moral logic and cultural change to argue that what is normal in the biblical witness' — only male-female sexual unions — may not necessarily be normative' (p. 109, italics original)."

Library Journal
"A remarkably thorough, patient, and learned treatment of the knotty questions that surround Christian stances toward same-sex relationships. . . . [Brownson's] writing and thinking are deliberate and clear, and may supply a crucial tool for discussion based neither on impulse nor unexamined cultural tradition."

The Bible Today
"This thoughtful book bears reading as an example of a civil and earnest discussion of a sensitive issue."

Theological Studies
"An ambitious challenge to Christians to read the Bible imaginatively if they wish to understand more fully elements found in committed same-sex relationships."

Biblical Theology Bulletin
"In the ongoing debate surrounding same-sex relationships in general, and same-sex marriage in particular, James Brownson's recent work is a welcome addition, providing a calm and well-reasoned examination of Christian Scripture that can be appreciated by all sides of the debate. Regardless of whether or not a person ultimately agrees with Brownson's conclusions, readers on all sides should find food for thought at numerous points throughout the book."

Review of Biblical Literature
"This work has taken the church forward in its deliberations regarding the same-sex debate, both in terms of the centrality of Scripture and of the concerns that face us today."

Wesley Granberg-Michaelson (from foreword)
"Instead of being trapped in shallow debates over the meaning of a few isolated biblical passages, James Brownson grounds his approach in foundational biblical understandings of gender and sexuality. He takes the Bible seriously, engaging it faithfully and deeply, and he encourages the reader to do the same. . . . The church needs this book."

David G. Myers
-- author of A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists
"With gentle wisdom Brownson reveals an implicit moral logic beneath scriptural teachings about sexuality and same-sex relationships. His insights -- which are both prophetic and pastoral -- build a much-needed bridge across the sexual divide that separates people of shared biblical faith."

Brian McLaren
-- author of Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words
"Jim Brownson has written what I believe is a 'game-changing' book on the hotly disputed topic of same-sex orientation and relationships in light of the Bible. He approaches the biblical texts with no less care and respect than the most conservative or traditional scholars, but he makes overt and clear what many seem unconscious of -- the moral logic that operates in a text. By surfacing and grappling with that moral logic, Brownson can explore the why behind the what of biblical prohibitions. In so doing, he provides not only a masterful work on human sexuality in light of Scripture, but also a model for the kind of robust and faithful biblical hermeneutic that our churches desperately need at this point in our history."

Peggy Campolo
-- speaker, writer, and editor
"If ever a book spoke the good news of the gospel with biblical authority to those children of God who happen not to be straight, it is this book. Brownson addresses with clarity an issue that is tearing the church of Jesus Christ apart, as he gently insists that all of us allow new facts and insights to illuminate our understanding of what Scripture has to say to gay and lesbian Christians."


Product Reviews

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3.5 out Of 5
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  1. 5 Stars Out Of 5
    Excellent Scholarship
    February 28, 2015
    Quality: 5
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 5
    Dr. Brownson is a careful and thorough Bible scholar, yet this book is quite accessible for the layperson. He plainly lays out the debate between the traditionalist and revisionist arguments regarding same-sex relationships. He personally favors a revisionist view, yet he is never harsh or arrogant toward traditionalists. The background information that he presents has been useful in understanding other gender-related issues, and clarified the contexts of many Bible passages. I highly recommend it.
  2. Oak Harbor, WA
    Age: 55-65
    Gender: female
    2 Stars Out Of 5
    now same-sex relationships unanticipated in Bible
    March 27, 2013
    Oak Harbor, WA
    Age: 55-65
    Gender: female
    Quality: 3
    Value: 3
    Meets Expectations: 2
    Brownson sets out to find the moral logic behind the same-sex statements in the Bible. Interpretation is the issue. "We do not interpret rightly any single passage of Scripture until we locate the text within this larger fabric of meaning in Scripture as a whole." (9) Underlying values and core principles must be sought.

    "...When interpreting scriptural commands or prohibitions, we must ask not only what is commanded or prohibited but why. The reason for asking why emerges when we attempt to apply the commands and prohibitions of Scripture in new and diverse contexts." (259)

    Christians disagree as to the why of same sex prohibition.

    Traditionalists refer to divinely intended gender complemenarity, discerned in the anatomical and personality differences between male and female. Brownson argues, "The biological differences between the sexes seem a rather slender basis on which to build an entire marriage ethic." (22)

    Traditionalists say the "one flesh" union in Gen. 2:24 is the joining of male and female. Brownson argues that "one flesh" actually refers to kinship and therefore does not preclude committed, loving same-sex relationships.

    Brownson also argues that what Paul prohibits in Romans 1 is not loving, committed same-sex relationships but those of excessive and self-centered desire - lustful ones.

    When Paul writes about what is "natural" in Romans 1, Brownson says, " is clear that Paul is not operating with the modern sense of sexual orientation here." (229) Paul speaks of "leaving behind" their own true nature for same sex relationships. If same sex attraction is a person's true nature, Paul is not talking about them in Romans.

    "We must reckon with the fact that what we are confronting here is a dimension of human experience that is unaddressed and unanticipated by the biblical writers - Jews or Christians - in the ancient world..." (232) "Over the course of human history we have encountered questions that take us beyond the assumptions and problems envisioned by the biblical writers themselves, and these new questions and problems have forced us to reread the text and to probe more deeply for answers." (104,5)

    Brownson says the central problem that he has confronted in his book is "the fact that the New Testament does not envision the kind of committed, mutual, lifelong, loving, moderated gay and lesbian unions that are emerging today." (251) "Writers in the first century, including Paul, did not look at same-sex eroticism with the understanding of sexual orientation that is commonplace today." (166)

    Brownson comments on the other vice lists in the Bible, "...they single out stereotypically abhorrent behavior that is widely regarded in the community with condemnation, ridicule, or rejection. Hence they are of limited use in the morally more nuanced conversation taking place in the church today about long-term committed same-sex relationships." (275) Of these passages Brownson concludes, "The evidence suggests that there are no forms of moral logic underpinning these passages that clearly and unequivocally forbid all contemporary forms of committed same-sex intimate relationships." (277)

    But Brownson adds, "Elements of personal experience factor largely into this discussion as well..." (263) He is quick to point out that he began to rethink his position on homosexuality five years ago when his eighteen-year-old son revealed he thought he was gay. Prior to his "rethinking," Brownson had taken a moderate, traditionalist position on the issue, that, while homosexual orientation was not sinful, homosexual behavior was. (11)

    Brownson notes that there are issues he has not addressed in this book, for example ordination of gay and lesbians and their acceptance as Christian leaders.

    Brownson envisions "that gay and lesbian committed unions might actually find affirmation and support within the life of a church that seeks to be faithful to the gospel." (253) He writes, "I am convinced that the church needs to move away from an interpretation of Scripture that assumes that the Bible teaches a normative form of biological or anatomical gender complementarity." (278)

    Brownson's book is long and, although logically written out, is complex and will probably not be read by the majority of laypeople in the RCA. I have provided a review for those who are looking for something like a layperson's synopsis of the book.

    I must also point out that I do not agree with Brownson's vision for the future of the church. However, I do not have the theological expertise to critique his argument. I must leave that to other theologians within the RCA.
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