Gagnon: Bridging the Bible and Gender Confusion, Part 3

Gagnon_review_06082015Robert A. J. Gagnon.  2001.  The Bible and Homosexual Practice:  Texts and Hermeneutics.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press. (Goto part 1; goto part 2)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

If homosexual conduct reduces life expectancy today when modern medicine is readily available, then it must have been even worse in the ancient world. In a context where the poor routinely starved to death, child mortality was extreme[1], and any access to medical care rare, except among the very wealthy, living a godly lifestyle was a survival strategy.  When the Apostle Paul writes:

 “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…” (1 Cor. 15:3 ESV)

life and death hang in the balance.  So Paul describes faith as of “first importance”.

New Testament

Gagnon divides his discussion of the New Testament into a short chapter (44 pages) on the witness of Jesus and a long chapter (108 pages) on the witness of Paul.  He writes in 6 working chapters, including:

  1. The Context of Ancient Judaism and Jesus’ View of Torah.
  2. Jesus on Genesis and Male-Female Complementarity.
  3. Deconstructing the Myth of a Sexually Tolerant Jesus.
  4. Love and Righteousness in the Ministry of Jesus.
  5. Romans 1:24-27.
  6. The Vice Lists in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10.

Let me focus on the longer discussions, items 4 and 5 above.

Love and Righteousness in the Ministry of Jesus

One of the enduring pictures of Jesus come from the parable of the loss sheep (210). Luke the physician writes:

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost. Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:4-7 ESV)

Notice that the parable targets those who are lost in sin and, when lost, are brought back to repentance.  Jesus’ healing ministry was not restricted to physical healing, but focused on repentance of wayward lifestyles and transformation into godly lifestyles (211).

Faith in God is like that—life  requires acknowledging that we participate in both a physical and spiritual reality.  Ignoring our spiritual reality leaves us like zombies—physical beings without life; ignoring our physical reality leaves us like ghosts—spiritual beings without a body.  Jesus rose from the dead both physically and spiritually [2].

Luke 15

Gagnon makes the point that Luke 15 has a theme of lostness—lost sheep, lost coins, lost (prodigal) sons.  He writes:  “The lost son is even identified with a dead person or corpse.” (211) In some sense, the modern church has, relative to those lost in gender confusion, often played the part of the older brother in the parable of prodigal son (also lost) who could not love his father and refused to accept the return of his wayward brother (211-212).

How do you properly love an unrepentant sinner?  Luke points to the father in the parable of the prodigal son who offers forgiveness and reinstatement in the family. Gagnon (213) points out:  “Jesus did not confuse love with toleration of all behaviors…”  Citing the story of the woman caught in adultery, Gagnon focuses on Jesus’ parting words to her:

“Jesus stood up and said to her, Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? She said, No one, Lord. And Jesus said, Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:10-11 ESV)

Healing comes not only from being loved on but also from being transformed. Truth and grace together make the Gospel—truth alone cannot be heard; grace alone denies the law [3].  This idea is captured also by the author of Hebrews:  “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15 ESV)  We need to hear the bad news before the good news makes any sense.  Grace is a gift that we have to live into if it is to transform us.

Romans 1:24-27

One question that intrigued me in seminary was the nature of the new covenant that we have in Christ.  What exactly does the new covenant look like and what are its provisions?

The Mosaic covenant is fairly easy to articulate because the law, starting with the Ten Commandments, is laid out in concrete detail in Exodus 20 (and Deuteronomy 6) and the blessings and curses are laid out in even more detail in Deuteronomy 28.  In Paul’s writing, the new covenant in Christ is loosely described as the Gospel and in the dichotomy between law and grace.  The most specific statement of the Gospel appears in Romans 1:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, The righteous shall live by faith [in Jesus Christ]. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Rom. 1:16-18)

Salvation from sin is freely given to all that believe in Jesus Christ—those that reject this salvation become objects of wrath.  What is this wrath?  Rejecting salvation garners a curse:  “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity…” (Rom. 1:24)  Because of the deprivation of original sin, being given up to your own desires is a curse—it is a curse to get what you want [3].  Rejecting the Gospel also means that one remains subject to the law.  Living a Christian lifestyle is not denying our true selves as victims of dark desires; it is expressing our true selves as victors in Christ’s righteousness.

Gagnon observes that Romans 1:24-27 is a central New Testament text dealing with homosexual conduct, both among men and women (229).  The overall context for Paul is original sin which affects both Jews and Gentiles (240; Rom. 3:9).  This passage is edgy because:

“God does not judge them for their ignorance but for acting contrary to the knowledge that they do have.  This suppression of knowledge shows itself especially in two ways: idolatry and same-sex intercourse.” (247).

Idolatry is about priorities.  Idolatry is anything that we substitute for God’s  priority in our lives—is our identity in Christ or is it in other things like our work, sexuality, or entertainments?  Idolatry is not just substituting stone statues for the reality of God; it is replacing God’s priority in our lives for other priorities. The prohibition on idolatry is the first of the Ten Commandments because our survival depends on it:

“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me…” (Exod. 20:3-5)

God is jealous, not because He depends on our love or somehow needs sycophants; God is jealous because He loves us and knows how easily we are tempted into self-destruction.

Notice the inter-generational curse implied in Exodus 20:5 focused on those that hate God (247-249).  Paul is not making up stuff in Romans 1—he is just adjusting the law to suit the new covenant in Christ.  Ignoring God means worshiping something else and earns the curse of being given over to your own desires.  Because the Romans were famous for their immorality and homosexuality, Paul’s emphasis on immorality and homosexuality is tailored to his audience—but it is also obviously tailored to our unrighteous situation today.


In spite of the passage of time, Robert Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice remains an important resource for biblical scholars and interested Christians. A key difference between Gagnon’s exegetical work on homosexuality and other treatments is his insistence on using scripture to interpret scripture. Authors who claim homosexuality is consistent with scripture usually focus on a narrow number of verses (e.g. Matthew 22:36-40) and discount other passages (e.g. Leviticus 20:13) that disagree with their position.  Consequently, progressives desiring credibility on this subject and evangelicals wanting to be informed need to engage this text.


[1] A parallel is found in Deuteronomy for disobeying the Mosaic covenant:  “The LORD will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish.” (Deut. 28:22 ESV)

[2] Resurrection of the Body (

[3] The story of the woman caught in adultery is widely recognized as a later addition to the text of the Gospel of John and is bracketed in the Greek text.  However, the tension between grace and truth is deep part of the biblical tradition.  See, for example, the attributes of God listed in Exodus 34:6 which are divinely reveal immediately after God gives Moses the Ten Commandments.  The translation reads: “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,” (Exod. 34:6 ESV).  Grace is specifically translated.  The word translated as faithfulness ( אֱמֶֽת ), is translated as truth in the King James and the New American Standard versions.  This implies that both grace and truth have always been God’s character traits.

[3] Child mortality is still a problem in many countries.  My mother-in-law (born 1914) grew up in a well-to-do family in Iran. Still, her mother had only 4 children survive out of 16 live births.

Gagnon: Bridging the Bible and Gender Confusion, Part 3

Continue Reading

Prayer Day 33: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Espera verano 2015
Espera verano 2015

Almighty God, may our words and our actions reflect your glory and bring honor to your name, this day and every day. In the power of your Holy Spirit, cleanse our thoughts; sanctify our hearts; and redeem our actions that we may be a blessing to those around us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Dios Todopoderoso, que nuestras palabras y nuestras acciones reflejen Tu gloria y traigan honra a Tu nombre, este día y todos los días. En el poder de Tu Espíritu Santo, limpia nuestros pensamientos, santifica nuestros corazones, y redime nuestras acciones que podamos ser una bendición para los que nos rodean. En el nombre de Jesús oramos, Amén.

Continue Reading

Jesus: Show Mercy, Receive Mercy

Life_in_Tension_web“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matt. 5:7 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Our tension with God is never more obvious than when we need to model ourselves after his mercy. Mercy is mentioned about 30 times in the Old Testament and all but 4 times it is God’s mercy that is in view (Guelich 1982, 88). We understand this point intuitively because Christ died on the cross for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3). Christ’s atonement is a debt that we can never repay. So we will fall short no matter how hard we try and we are certainly not always in the mood even to try.

Mercy appears in many word forms in scripture, but the form used in this beatitude is used nowhere else. Merciful (ἐλεήμων) means “being concerned about people in their need, merciful, sympathetic, compassionate” (BDAG 2487). It has the same root as compassion (ἐλεημοσύνη) and mercy (ἔλεος). The word, forgiveness or to forgive (ἀφίημι), is closely related. In a real sense, mercy and forgiveness are two sides of the same coin [1], as the Psalmist writes:

“Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!” (Ps. 25:6-7)

The importance that Jesus placed on mercy shows up both in his repeated use of the term and the reciprocal form that he uses it in (France 1985,110). Jesus uses the word, mercy, in these verses:

  • “Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice [2]. For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:13) [3]
  • “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (Matt. 23:23)
  • And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Matt. 18:33)

Some of Jesus’ closely related phrases are actually better known:

  • “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 7:12)
  • “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matt. 6:12)

Whether it is the Golden Rule or part of the Lord’s Prayer, clearly mercy is God’s signature character trait [4], as we read during the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai:

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exod. 34:4-7 ESV)

The reciprocal form of this beatitude makes it very convicting. We do not earn mercy by being merciful, but if mercy is God’s signature character trait, then we recognize His presence and blessing when we offer it and experience it.

Being created in the image of God, we identify ourselves as Christians when we reflect God’s mercy to those around us.

[1] See: Guelich (1982, 88).

[2] Hosea 6:6.

[3] Also: Matthew 12:7.

[4] “Mercy is a central biblical theme, because in God’s great mercy he does not give humans what they deserve, rather, he gives to them what they do not deserve…” (Wilkins 2004, 208)


Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

France, R.T. 1985. Matthew. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

Guelich, Robert. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing.

Wilkins, Michael J. 2004. The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Continue Reading

Gagnon: Bridging the Bible and Gender Confusion, Part 2

Robert Gagnon, the Bible and Homosexual PracticeRobert A. J. Gagnon.  2001.  The Bible and Homosexual Practice:  Texts and Hermeneutics.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press. (Goto part 1; goto part 3)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

What does it mean to be human?

The focus of the modern church since the nineteenth century has been on finding new interpretations of the Bible’s view of anthropology—anthropology is the study of what it means to be human.  According to one definition of anthropology, it is:  “the science that deals with the origins, physical and cultural development, biological characteristics, and social customs and beliefs of humankind.”[1]  Much of what the Bible says about the nature of humanity comes from the Old Testament, especially the Book of Genesis.  One of the Old Testament’s core teachings is that—whatever else we are—we are all inherently sinful by nature.

Old Testament Teaching

Gagnon appropriately devotes more than 100 pages at the beginning of The Bible and Homosexual Practice to the Old Testament.  These topics are covered:

  1. The Ancient Near East (ANE; outside of Israel) laws and practices pertaining to homosexuality;
  2. The creation accounts in Genesis 1-3;
  3. Noah’s curse of Ham in Genesis 9:20-27;
  4. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:4-11;
  5. The rape of the Levite’s concubine (Judges 19:22-25) and the image of women in Judges (19-21);
  6. Homosexual cult prostitution in Israel;
  7. The prohibition of homosexuality in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 where it is described as an abomination ( תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה); and
  8. David and Jonathan.

Because most conversations about homosexuality sexuality within the church revolve around the creation accounts and only occasionally stray as far as the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, let me focus my comments accordingly.

The Creation Accounts

The creation accounts in Genesis 1-3 are important because they set the standard for “acceptable sexual practice”— homosexuality is not specifically mentioned (56).  Only human beings were created in God’s image and given the task of ruling God’s creation.  Only human beings are capable of working the garden and resting on the seventh day to consciously worship God. Ruling requires populating the earth with human beings and procreation makes this happen.  Gagnon (57) writes:  “The complementarity of male and female is thereby secured in the divinely sanctioned work of governing creation.”

Gagnon views male/female complementarity in Genesis to be more than simply physical—it is physical, interpersonal, and procreative sexual complementarity—that is blessed by God, anchored in a stable family structure, and given a mission (58, 62).  God said:

“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:28 ESV)

Adam and Eve were blessed to be co-regents (having dominion) in the Eden kingdom working on God’s behalf—procreation was part, but not all, of being a co-regent.  Animals were rejected as suitable partners for Adam; Eve was acceptable because she was “bone of my bones and flesh from my flesh” (Gen. 2:23)—part of what it meant to be a complete human being (61).  Furthermore, the marriage was more important than parental obligations—an uniquely Hebrew concept in the Ancient Near East (ANE) where family and clan had priority over everything else.

The story of Eden, however, does not end well.  Adam and Eve disobeyed God and were cast out of the garden (Gen. 3:24). Much of the remainder of the Book of Genesis outlines the corrupting power of sin. This corruption runs deep—polluting both our hearts and minds—and no one is immune. Sin affects who we are (our identity) and everything that we do.  Confusion is not the exception; it is the norm.  The good news is that in Christ we are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves of righteousness (Romans 6).

Sodom and Gomorrah

Gagnon describes the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as the classic story about homosexuality.  More recently, critics have argued that the story only deals with homosexual rape or merely being inhospitable.  However, Gagnon makes the point that this narrower reading focusing on rape is inappropriate. The text, like other texts such as the curse of Ham[2], uses the reference to same-sex intercourse as expressing an “inherently degrading quality” which is, for example, why Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed by God himself (71, 75).

The interpretative dilemma arises because in Genesis 18, where the reason for God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is discussed, the first 9 verses in the chapter portrays Abraham as the ultimate hospitable host—the first 3 verses of Genesis 19 do the same thing for his nephew Lot.  Meanwhile, Genesis 19:5-11 shows the men of Sodom as an angry mob bent on homosexual rape. The key verses spoken by the men of Sodom to Lot is: “Where are the men [angels] who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know [יָדַע] them.” (Gen. 19:5 ESV) [3]. This verse accordingly explains, presumably, why: “the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave” (Gen. 18:20 ESV).

Is Genesis 19 being used by the author, presumably Moses, as a case of an inhospitable community or is it displaying an arch type of wickedness?

Gagnon opts for the latter interpretation and uses other scripture passages in the Old and New Testament to argue his case.  For example, the Book of Leviticus, also written by Moses, could not condemn homosexuality more strongly than saying:

“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” (Lev. 20:13 ESV)

Why would Moses treat homosexuality more leniently in one place as another? (75, 83)  Gagnon interprets later references to Sodom and Gomorrah in Ezekiel 16 as displaying—in addition to immoral conduct, pride, child sacrifice, and contempt for the poor (injustice)—arrogance in relation to God.  Gagnon additionally cites 2 Peter 2:6-10 and Jude 7[4] as New Testament passages supporting this interpretation (85, 89).

Curiously, it is God that destroys Sodom and Gomorrah, not Abraham, even though  Abraham had ample opportunity. Abraham captured it as a prize of war (Genesis 14) and later interceded with God not to destroy the cities (Genesis 18:20-33).  If Abraham is our model of faith, then we are to leave judgment to God and pray for those around us caught up in gender confusion [5].

Hostility in Old Testament?

More generally, why is there such hostility to homosexuality in the Old Testament?

The usual answer among Jewish scholars is that homosexuality is contrary to nature, as created by God (159-183). Reviewing extra-biblical sources, such as Philo and Josephus (160), Gagnon cites 4 reasons for why only heterosexual intercourse was natural:

  1. Homosexual intercourse cannot lead to procreation;
  2. Physical complementary of male and female sex organs;
  3. Homoerotic desire reflects an  excess of passion; and
  4. Animal do not normally practice homosexuality (163).

Of these 4 arguments, Gagnon sees the first two arguments as constituting the primary concerns (180-181).   Because God is first identified as a creator in Genesis, procreation in the accounts of Adam and Eve plays an important role in bearing God’s image (Gen 1:27).


The gist of Gagnon’s argument is that homosexuality is clearly inconsistent with the Old Testament witness and that this inconsistency entails health consequences even today. Therefore, the moral teaching on marriage and prohibitions in the Bible on homosexual practice remain binding on the church today (theological statement).  Our response, however, should be to stand with those caught up in gender confusion—much like we would stand with someone caught up in alcoholism—and, at a minimum, to pray for them (ethical dilemma).  Obviously, because it is hard to hate or to ostracize someone that you pray for, God’s instruction here implies that we should do much more than simply pray.

In part 3, I will explore Gagnon’s arguments based on the New Testament.



[2] Commentators frequently argue that Ham’s son Canaan was cursed to be a slave of his brother because he homosexually raped his father Noah.  Therefore, because his sin involved his “seed” then the curse would fall on his “seed”. Theologically, this is an important argument because it essentially justified the genocide practiced against the Canaanites—the sin of homosexuality, especially the rape of one’s father— was so extreme that an extreme remedy was thereby justified.

[3] In the Hebrew, to know [yada] someone was a euphemism for sexual intercourse.

[4] “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day–just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones.” (Jude 1:6-8 ESV)

[5]  This same prayer template is repeated in the enigmatic story of Abraham, Sarah, and Abimelech (Gen 20) which also focuses on sexual sin (adultery/polygamy).  In this story, Abimelech takes Sarah into his harem and God informs him in a dream that he would die because he has done this.  Abimelech protests that he has not touched Sarah.  God then instructs him to return Sarah to Abraham and to ask Abraham intercede in prayer for his life.  Abimelech faithful adheres to God’s advice—he returns Sarah to Abraham; grants Abraham a huge reparation payment; asks Abraham to pray for him; Abraham prays for him; and Abimelech’s life is spared.  Why is prayer successful in Abimelech’s case and unsuccessful in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah?  My guess is that it is because Abimelech repented of his sin.

Gagnon: Bridging the Bible and Gender Confusion, Part 2

Continue Reading

Gagnon: Bridging the Bible and Gender Confusion, Part 1

Robert Gagnon, the Bible and Homosexual PracticeRobert A. J. Gagnon.  2001.  The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press. (Goto part 2; goto part 3)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

At one point in seminary I asked a professor [1] to outline the biblical case for gay marriage. He responded that the Bible did not offer a strong case for gay marriage; it was just the right thing to do. Evangelicals typically focus on his first point while progressives typically focus on the second point. Robert Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice outlines a detailed interpretation of the Bible’s teaching on this issue.


Gagnon states his objectives as:

“to demonstrate two main points: First, there is clear, strong, and credible evidence that the Bible unequivocally defines same-sex intercourse as sin. Second, there exist no valid hermeneutical arguments derived from either general principles of biblical interpretation or contemporary scientific knowledge and experience for overriding the Bible’s authority on this matter” (37).

Gagnon’s conclusion that the Bible treats homosexuality as sin[2] (a theological statement) should surprise no one, but it is not obvious how the church should respond to it (a problem in ethics). Theology is easy because a statement is either true or not; ethics is hard because it necessarily involves trade-offs between multiple theological principles in tension. We are all sinners and stand in need of God’s grace.  This implies that no sin is unforgivable and we are to share the Gospel with everyone.  But, how do we properly love the unrepentant sinner?  And, what is special about witnessing to someone struggling with gender confusion?  These are not hypothetical questions.  Unfortunately, the postmodern church (like the church at Laodicea) has often neglected to teach the doctrine of sin which leaves it with scarce moral authority to provide advice on any particular sin (Rev. 3:14-19).

Homosexuality Contrary to God’s Intent

Gagnon summarizes his book with 4 reasons “why those who engage in same-sex intercourse act contrary to God’s intentions for human sexual relations”.  Those reasons (487-489) are:

  1. “Same-sex intercourse is strongly and unequivocally rejected by the revelation of scripture.”
  2. “Same-sex intercourse represents a suppression of the visible evidence in nature regarding male-female anatomical and procreation complementarity.”
  3. “Societal endorsement of homosexual behavior will only accelerate the many negative social effects [serious health problems, greater pedophilic behavior, erosion in expectations of marriage, annihilation of gender norms, and marginalization of those that speak out] arising from such behavior…”
  4. “The practicing homosexual’s own relationship with the Creator will be put in jeopardy.”

Gagnon’s argues these points thoroughly.  For example, in talking about the health effects of homosexual behavior, Gagnon cites[3] an unspecified health condition and lists all the possible negative consequences of this condition.  Reading about this list, one is suspicious that the condition is homosexuality—it is not—the condition is alcoholism.  The health consequences of homosexuality are much worse (471-473), including:

  • “A significantly decreased likelihood of establishing or preserving a successful marriage.
  • A 25-35 year decrease in life expectancy.
  • Chronic, potentially fatal, liver disease—infectious hepatitis, which increases the risk of liver cancer.
  • Inevitably fatal-immune disease, including associated cancers.
  • Frequently, fatal rectal cancer.
  • Multiple bowel and other infectious diseases.
  • A much higher than usual incidence of suicide.
  • A very low likelihood that its adverse effects can be eliminated unless the condition itself is.
  • An at least 50% likelihood of being eliminated through lengthy, often costly, and very time-consuming treatment.” (473)

Having worked in a hospital emergency room, this list is not surprising. I lost a pastoral mentor to AIDS as a young person and personally assisted a number of hospital patients suffering from problems on this list, including HIV, when I worked as a chaplain intern [4].  The Center for Disease Control estimates that more than half a million people have died from AIDS in the United States alone.  Meanwhile, more than a million people are currently infected with HIV [5].  Gagnon’s point is that the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality is of continuing relevance in postmodern moral teaching.

Pastoral Response

Ironically, pastors and churches that ignore people suffering from gender confusion (or, worse, condone it) are complicit in the Apostle Paul’s assessment in Romans 1:24-27giving them over to their ungodly passions. Gagnon compares homosexuality with alcoholism both because of the medical problems associated (including an addictive character), but also because recovery is difficult.  Clinical studies prior to politicization of the issue reported recovery rates of about 30 percent (28.8%), roughly on par with success rates reported by Alcoholics Anonymous (420-432) [6].  Recovery in this context means we are able to control our responses, not our temptations.

Background on Gagnon

Gagnon is a professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). He has a master’s in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School and a doctor of philosophy from Princeton Theological Seminary [7]. The acknowledgments section of his book reads like a who’s who of evangelical scholars.  The Bible and Homosexual Practice is written in 5 chapters:

  1. The Witness of the Old Testament,
  2. Same-Sex Intercourse as a “Contrary to Nature” in Early Judaism,
  3. The Witness of Jesus,
  4. The Witness of Paul and Deutero-Paul, and
  5. The Hermeneutical Relevance of the Biblical Witness (5-10).

The introduction and conclusions are not numbered.  These chapters are proceeded by the acknowledgments and followed by both a topical and a scriptural index.

Church Response

The response of the church to gender confusion is the defining issue of our day. Until the 1980s, no Christian denomination considered homosexuality acceptable behavior; now, many denominations, including my own, are having trouble establishing spiritual boundaries of any kind—the teaching on homosexuality stands out primarily in that it is the most obvious.  As a consequence,  Christians need to be aware of the arguments being made. In this debate, Gagnon’s research is an important resource.


Here in part 1, I have given an overview of Gagnon’s argument and highlighted health effects of homosexuality.  Christians more normally focus on scriptural arguments.  So, in part 2, I will survey his review of Old Testament passages on homosexuality and, in part 3, I will turn to passages on the New Testament.


[1] The professor was on the faculty at University of Dubuque Theological Seminary.

[2] For example: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Lev. 18:22 ESV)  Also: “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” (Rom. 1:26-27 ESV)

[3] This reference is taken from Jeffrey Satinover’s “Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth” (Grand Rapids:  Baker Books, 1996).

[4] The issue of health effects relating to homosexual behavior was in the media only this morning (


[6] Earlier I reviewed the story of a Lesbian conversion:  Butterfield Journeys from PC to JC (


Gagnon: Bridging the Bible and Gender Confusion, Part 1

Also see:

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site:, Publisher site:

Newsletter at:

Continue Reading

Prayer Day 32: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Espera verano 2015
Espera verano 2015

Almighty God, Great I AM (Exod 3:14). You created us in your image; you have imbued us with your beauty. Shelter our hearts and minds from idols that ensnare us stealing the dignity and protection of your divine image. Help us to keep your image sacred and holy. Keep our faith strong in the power of your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Padre Todopoderoso, el gran «yo soy» (Ex. 3:14). Nos has creado a Tu imagen; nos has imbuido con Tu belleza. Refugias nuestros corazones y mentes de ídolos que desean cogernos en una trampa y robarnos de la dignidad y la protección de Tu imagen divina. Ayúdanos a mantener Tu imagen sagrada y santa. Fortalece nuestra fe en el poder del Espíritu Santo. En el nombre de Jesús oramos, Amén.

Continue Reading

In Jesus Completeness is Restored

Life_in_Tension_web“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Our tension with God, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, arises out of our incompleteness. We are created in God’s image, but only as a complement with our spouse, or future spouse, and then only incompletely. We remain separated from God by our unholiness and by our finitude. We yearn to complete our incompleteness; we yearn to be whole. We remain creatures of God’s creation. Yet, gardeners thrown out of the garden.

So we have reminders.

We are reminded by mere physical things: an empty stomach hungers; a dry mouth thirsts; our loneliness.

We are reminded by our limitations. We fail to keep our promises and to realize our potential.

We are reminded also by spiritual deficits. Our sin cuts us off both from our neighbors and from God. We fall short of the mark; we transgress boundaries; we fail to do the things that we should.

So we are thrown out of the garden.

Out of the garden, we feel shame and guilt.

Out of the garden, we cannot realize our destiny.

Out of the garden, completeness and holiness and fellowship with God are out of our reach.

So Jesus offers us a path back back to wholeness.

Back to restoration and healing.

Back to the garden and our destiny.

Back to our completeness and holiness and fellowship with our maker.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matt. 5:6 ESV)

Continue Reading

Schaefer Analyzes Social Media Logic and Purpose

Social_media_06052015Mark W. Schaefer.  2014. Social Media Explained:  Untangling the World’s Most Misunderstood Business Trend. Schaefer Marketing Solutions[1].

The rapid pace of innovation in social media continues to evolve and reshape how we communicate both socially and commercially. This innovation brings new opportunities, but it also challenges businesses to evolve with these changes.  This evolution requires awareness, reflection, and response.  Because time and money are involved, it is helpful to get advice from time to time from industry pros.  Mark Schaefer’s Social Media Explained (SME) provides such advice.

Schaefer states his purpose: “This book explains how social media marketing works in plain English” (5). In this case, plain English includes graphical illustrations by Joey Strawn (135) which provide the text with themes and pictures that mirror the points being made. The text clearly targets busy business leaders who don’t necessarily want to know all the details, but need to be able to ask informed questions (5). More than once, Schaefer chides the reader to turn off distractions, sit up, and listen—an interesting commentary on cultural trends.  Between the cartoons and the commentary (and the all black outfit in the photo), one gets the impression that he is targeting a millennial, not a boomer, audience. OMG!

Schaefer describes himself as an (best selling, globally recognized) author, marketing consultant, and faculty member at Rutgers University. Other books that he has written include:  Return on Influence, Born to Blog, and The Tao of Twitter[2].  Schaefer divides SME into 3 sections:

  1. The 5 Most Important Things You Need to Know about Social Media Marketing.
  2. The 5 Most Difficult Questions You’ll Face
  3. A Social Media Primer (2).

These 3 sections are followed by biographies of the author and illustrator and an index.

Section 1. As alluded to above, Schaefer’s introduction is actually aptly named—may I have your attention please? —because while his is not verbose, he does choose his words carefully and knows what he is talking about.  In chapter 1 (Humans Buy From Humans), for example, he uses a rather shocking analogy—social media is a lot like an ancient bazaar. The point is that people buy from other people—personal contact and feedback remain important.  People want to connect with other people (8-12)[2].

Schaefer’s point mirrors my own business experience.  Although my book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality, is available worldwide through, I generally sell about 10 books through personal appearances for every 1 book that I sell online.  Even when I make online sales, I generally have a good idea of who the online buyers were because of recent interactions with people.

For those of you new to Schaefer’s writing, chapter 3, The Social Media Mindset, provides an important interpretation of how to understand social media.  Schaefer makes 4 points:

  1. Target your connections,
  2. Provide meaningful content,
  3. Be authentically helpful, and
  4. Reap business benefits (23).

Point 1 is less than obvious—in the entire world of possible contacts, you want to reach people who are most likely to be receptive to your service.  Point 2 defines the task at hand—provide content useful to your connections.  Point 3 speaks to motivation—being truly helpful is something rare, remembered, and, ultimately, rewarded. Point 4 answers the why question—being available and helpful to your connections makes it more likely that your connections will stay in touch and consider your service in their purchases.  Taken together, these 4 points speak about the need to develop relationships—social media is social in the sense of providing unique networking opportunities.

Section 2. Among the questions that Schaefer fields, chapter 6 was the most eye-opening for me.  What is the value of social media and how do we measure it? Schaefer starts with a brilliant statement of the obvious, for those of us who live in the real world—we have to measure our progress (51).  He give 4 reasons:

  1. Everything has an implied value.
  2. We have to justify what we do—if we want to continue being employed.
  3. Measurement helps us determine when we are making progress.
  4. With so much data floating around, there is no reason not to measure (51-52).

Having said this, Schaefer sees the benefits of social media as primarily nonfinancial, intangibles—much like networking. Listing his own benefits in a recent year, he cites these items: increased customer loyalty, free advice, a job offer, greater awareness, and a book contract (55). The big question is how do you learn in a fast-paced, changing environment? Learning is a non-financial, intangible, yet it is often critical for firm survival. No one wants to become, so to speak, the next high-quality, buggy-whip manufacturer.

Section 3. Keeping up with social media innovations is the source of a lot of my anxiety about social media—which platforms do I need to pay attention to and what tools are a priority to learn?  Schaefer’s comment gave me great comfort:  “Blogs are among the most important sources of ‘rich’ content—the real fuel for your social media engine” (124). My comfort arises because, contrary to other advice, my social media strategy focuses on blogging on a regular basis. Schaefer goes on to mention podcasting, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+ [3], YouTube, and SlideShare (125-132).  Personally, I probably need to spend more time developing my presence in Facebook; SlideShare is one media that I had not considered but probably should.

Mark Schaefer’s Social Media Explained provides a helpful overview of the current status of social media and why firms need to be aware and involved.  SME is also very readable.


[2] Read my review in 2013:  Schaefer Works Twitter; Brings Business Sense (

[3] I am surprised that Schaefer did not mention Google’s preference for Google+ in its SEO algorithm.  This was a motivator in using Google+.  Has this advantage gone away?


Continue Reading

Scazzero Links Emotional and Spiritual Health

Scazzero_review_0530215Peter Scazzero.  2006.  Emotionally Healthy Spirituality:  It’s Impossible to be Spiritually Mature While Remaining Emotionally Immature.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The collage provides an important symbol of the postmodern era.  A collage is collection of art objects strung together  whose defining concept is balance.  The solar system is a kind of collage, but before the Copernican revolution the balance was not obvious.

The cosmos became mathematically simpler to model with the Copernican revolution.  When astronomers started seeing the earth revolving around sun rather than around the earth, the stability of the planetary system became obvious.  In a similar sense, postmodern ministry looks like a collage—pre-Copernican—until it is brought into conformity with Christ.  In his book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazzero centers on helping pastors and Christians to travel this journey successfully.


Peter Scazzero is a founder, former senior pastor, and now teaching pastor at New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York[1].  Peter and his wife, Geri, also found Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, a teaching ministry[2].  Scazzero divides his book into 2 parts:  The problem of emotionally unhealthy spirituality (chapters 1-3) and the pathway to emotionally healthy spirituality (4-10).  The chapter titles are:

  1. Recognizing the tip-of-the-iceberg spirituality (something is desperately wrong).
  2. The top ten symptoms of emotionally unhealthy spirituality (diagnosing the problem).
  3. The radical antidote: emotional health and contemplative spirituality (bringing transformation to the deep places).
  4. Know yourself that you may know God (Becoming your authentic self).
  5. Going back in order to go forward (breaking the power of the past).
  6. Journey through the wall (letting go of power and control).
  7. Enlarge your soul through grief and loss (surrendering to your limits).
  8. Discover the rhythms of the daily office and Sabbath (stopping to breath the air of eternity).
  9. Grow into an emotionally mature adult (learning new skills to love well).
  10. Go the next step to develop a “rule of life” (loving Christ above all else) (iii-iv).

These chapters are preceded by acknowledgments and an introduction.  They are followed by 2 appendices, notes, and a short biography of the author.

If spirituality is lived belief, then a well-formed theology leads us to a complete and well-formed spirituality. God’s immutable character and emotional stability become a model for our own virtuous character and emotional stability [3].  If theology is neglected, by contrast, then we work from an incomplete model–our spirituality will have holes like an unbalanced and haphazardly constructed collage.  For many Christians, one of those holes has  been their emotional life.

Personality Components

Scazzero sees our person divide into 5 discrete components: emotional, social, intellectual, spiritual, and physical (18).  Scazzero’s Copernican revolution arose in seeing a link between the emotional and spiritual components of his life (19).  An important breakthrough came in discovering that he had misapplied biblical truths in his life (23).  He accordingly cited 10 symptoms of an emotionally unhealthy spirituality:

  1. Using God to run away from God.
  2. Ignoring the emotions of anger, sadness, and fear.
  3. Dying to the wrong things.
  4. Denying the past’s impact on the present.
  5. Dividing our lives into secular and sacred compartments.
  6. Doing for God instead of being with God.
  7. Spiritualizing away conflict.
  8. Covering over brokenness, weakness, and failure.
  9. Living without limits.
  10. Judging other people’s spiritual journey (24).

While he devotes chapter 2 to discussing these problems, they arise in different forms throughout the book.  I too struggle with these symptoms in my own faith journey all too often.


Scazzero covers a lot of ground in this book. Nevertheless, one priceless image stands out  which Scazzero draws from Parker Palmer’s book, A Hidden Wholeness[4].  Scazzero likens our lives to a white-out blizzard where it is easy to get lost and freeze to death without a rope to bind us to our home. The rope that he suggests is the daily office—praying the hours (153-157). Praying the hours structures our day around God. Great analogy; good advice.  Scazzero goes on to recommend developing a Saint Benedict’s rule of life (198-200) and making use of Saint Ignatius Loyola’s prayer of examin (211).

Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality is a helpful and accessible read.



[3]See, for example, Matthew A. Elliott. 2006. Faithful Feelings:  Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament.  Grand Rapids:  Kregel.

[4]Parker J. Palmer. 2009.  A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Scazzero Links Emotional and Spiritual Health

Continue Reading