In the past few years I have read half a dozen books on the topic of homosexuality and Christianity. I have read many more journal and magazine articles and blog posts. I have studied extensively for preaching on the topic in Romans 1, reading somewhere between 15-25 commentaries on the significant passages. I may not be a scholarly expert on the topic, but I am well acquainted with the key biblical passages and the significant literature on the topic.
So when I saw that there was another new book on the topic of homosexuality being published by a Christian publisher — Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends (by Brad Hambrick, Cruciform Press; $5.99, Kindle edition) — I initially wasn’t interested because of all my other reading and study on the topic. But then I read his premise —
“…the aim of this book is friendship. Friendship is the level at which influence can be had, because the dialogue does not seek to represent an agenda but to understand a person. Friendship is what protects good points from becoming gotcha moments.”1
So I was intrigued. Would reading this book help me in my relationships with those who struggle with SSA (same-sex attraction) and homosexuality? If so, it would fill a particular niche that many other books being written about homosexuality and Scripture have missed.
Do Ask is Helpful…
I have appreciated much of what Brad Hambrick has written on the topic of biblical counseling. His website is filled with helpful resources and biblical direction on a wide variety of topics. I have benefited often from the resources he has made available there. And I was hopeful the book would similarly prove to be a helpful resource.
The tone of the book is gentle and gracious. Hambrick has obviously interacted with numerous individuals who struggle with SSA and not only is compassionate toward their struggle, but longs for them to know the grace of Christ to free them in and from the struggle.
I also frequently wrote things like, “that’s helpful” in the margin — the book is filled with practical counsel on how to approach relationships with individuals who struggle with SSA. For example:
- “We will never befriend those whose stories we cannot bear hearing.”2
- “…we can’t make someone change. We can’t reason someone to a different sense of attraction. It is impossible to usurp the will of another without becoming sinfully controlling or offensive.”3
- “By ascribing excessive explanatory power to SSA, my friend was sabotaging his own desire to resist it. This was something we needed to talk about as friends—not to challenge his experience of SSA or try to decrease his attractions but to comfort his pain without affirming his over-generalized conclusion.”4
Yet for all the help I have received from Hambrick’s website, and in spite of some of the helpful tips that he gave in the book for cultivating relationships, I had three main disappointments with the book.
Do Ask and the Bible
The most glaring weakness is one I have often had about the biblical counseling movement (of which I am a joyful participant): too often what is labeled as “biblical counseling” is merely good advice, but it is not overtly biblical. I’m sure that many of the principles that Hambrick suggests are rooted in biblical instruction, but he fails to make those connections. This topic was calling for an exposition of many passages in the epistles that demonstrate how the church is to conduct itself with struggling sinners. Particularly in helping church members who struggle with Same-Sex Attraction (SSA), how is the church to respond? Many passages could have been expounded: Romans 12, Ephesians 5, and 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15 come to mind quickly as key passages that would have been helpful for him to consider. Yet there are no such expositions or explanations.
Throughout the book as Hambrick counseled how believers are to befriend people fighting with SSA, he invariably fails to make biblical connections or offer biblical support for his assertions. And in failing to do that, then the authority and power of Scripture is undermined. Is it worth cultivating relationships with unbelievers for the sake of gospel conversations? Certainly (see passages like Col 4:5-6; Eph 6:18-20; 1 Cor 2:1ff.). But is there a caution about fellowship with unbelievers? Yes (see 2 Cor 6:14-18.). How might a believer balance those questions, including in relationships with those struggling with and succumbing to SSA? That is a question worth considering from a biblical perspective, which Hambrick left undone. It would have been helpful for him to consider how only the Spirit and the Word can produce and keep relationships and friendships among people in difficult (and even sinful) circumstances; that point is never clearly articulated or defended in the book.
Further, he misunderstands and subsequently misapplies the key New Testament passage concerning homosexual behavior (Rom 1:24-28). I preached that section over a series of several sermons, reading many commentaries on the topic, yet I did not find his “common” interpretation mentioned in any commentary and I have never heard anyone explain it to me the way that he said it is commonly explained. He suggests that this passage teaches that all sexual sin begins as heterosexual sin and when that heterosexual sin is continually practiced it ultimately will lead to homosexual sin in a quest for a “more stimulating experience” and that will ultimately lead to “an orientation as God gives them over to their lusts.” His contention is that this interpretation precludes the possibility of the existence of SSA. And that leads him to suggest that, “SSA can emerge as part of the Fall, and initially is a matter of suffering which … becomes a context for temptation to sin. Because I believe SSA can emerge in this way, I also believe we can (and should) learn from those who experience SSA.”
Unfortunately, Hambrick has offered this interpretation as common and typical when it is neither. And it appears that he uses his faulty interpretation to provide a justification for SSA.
What is contested about SSA is whether attraction itself (or the more biblical term, desire) is a sin. Lambert and Burk have masterfully addressed this topic in their book Transforming Homosexuality, making the case that desire itself is a sin. Any desire that is not glorifying to God is sin. For instance, we have no problem saying that gluttonous or covetous or adulterous desires are sin (cf. Mt 5:27-30). If we desire something sinful, that desire itself is sin. So why do we have trouble saying that about homosexuality? Now I will affirm that everyone has what we might call “creational dispositions” — an inclination to sin in certain areas. Because of the sin nature that everyone is born with and because of the training and lack of training each one receives in his formative years, everyone will have a proclivity to particular sins; and those innate dispositions themselves may not be sin. But as soon as the inclination becomes a desire, it is sin. And that means that the “attraction” component of SSA is not passive and something that happens to an individual, but is an active sin cultivated in the mind, will, and desires.
Do Ask and Homosexual Desires
Here is my second concern about Hambrick’s book: He fails to see a distinction between inclinations toward homosexual sin and the desire for homosexual sin. Instead he puts all desires toward homosexuality in the broader category of SSA and labels it not as sin, but suffering:
I believe that the best theological category for the experience of unwanted SSA is suffering — something for which we should not feel a perpetual sense of condemnation, because it is primarily the result of living in a broken world which adversely impacts our lives. True suffering is not sin. In response to suffering, God offers comfort, not forgiveness. At the same time, suffering is always a context for temptation, and we are responsible for our response to suffering.5
That’s ultimately not helpful to dealing with SSA — it makes people struggling with that sin victims of something that is outside of them and uncontrollable rather than something that is internal and thereby forgivable and transformable.
Do Ask and “Special” Sins
My third concern with this book is the sense that homosexuality is a special category of sin that needs a particular kind of treatment; dealing with this sin in the way we deal with other sins will not work. That is never stated in those terms, but the book reads that way. Throughout the book, Hambrick seems hesitant (especially in chapters 4-5) to deal with desires and actions as sin; instead the reader is exhorted to ask questions and invite conversation with the person experiencing SSA, rather than confronting the sinner (especially the individual experiencing SSA who is in the church and claiming to be a believer). For example, he suggests that when a believer acknowledges that he is in a physical homosexual relationship that we need to ask things like:
- How did the two of you meet?
- How long have you been together?
- How have people — family, friends, Christians — responded to your relationship?
- What are some of the dumb things people say when they learn about your relationship? I would prefer to learn from their mistakes than risk making them myself.
- If your friends have children: How do your kids refer to each of you? (Use those titles when referencing a given parent to one of the children.)
- Would the two of you like to come over for dinner?
- What do the two of you do for fun? Could I/we join you?
As I read that section, I asked two questions: 1) Is this how he would deal with a “believer” who was a serial adulterer or child molester or someone ensnared in pornography? 2) Just when would he then begin to address biblical principles with the person and call him to repentance? Being a friend also includes openly and directly confronting sin and calling for repentance. To avoid confronting sin is an act of hatred and denotes a lack of love for the individual, because we are not concerned about the wrath that awaits them from God if they do not repent. To confront one’s sin is to seek to have them “come to their senses” and be freed from the captivity of their sin (2 Tim 2:26; Rom 6). To be sure, that should be done with gentleness and patience (2 Tim 2:25), but it should be done — and it should be done with the goal of repentance (2 Tim 2:25b).
To that end, the sins of SSA and homosexuality are sins that can be dealt with in the same way as every other sin — by confession, repentance, and restoration. All sin needs to be put off, righteous thinking about the sin needs to be cultivated, and righteous activity needs to be put on in place of the sin (Eph 4:22-24). Is it worth working to cultivate and keep relationships to continue to walk alongside struggling individuals? YES! But do we do that at the expense of calling people to repent as we would for other life-dominating sins? No.
I am thankful that Hambrick has begun speaking about this topic. For everything else that has been written about homosexuality from a biblical perspective, this is a topic that has been overlooked. I was hopeful that this book would be, if not the definitive work on the topic, at least a very helpful step in that direction. Unfortunately, for all the good that is in the book, there are too many inherent weaknesses to make it worth recommending.
[A free digital copy of this book was made available for the purposes of reviewing this book; a version of this review was first posted at Words of Grace.]
- Hambrick, B. (2016). Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends. Hudson, OH: Cruciform Press. 13.
- Ibid. 23.
- Ibid. 57.
- Ibid. 74.
- Ibid. 18-19.
Terry Enns is the pastor of Grace Bible Church in Granbury Texas. He has over twenty years of pastoral counseling experience, and is a certified counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC, formerly NANC). In addition to his preaching and pastoral duties at Grace, Terry maintains an active blog at Words of Grace.
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