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In Praise of "Washed and Waiting"

January 11th, 2011 | 3 min read

By Andrew Walker

I'm nearing the end of Wesley Hill's recent book Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality.

In a word, it's a beautifully written and painfully honest story of one young man's journey as a Christian who struggles with same-sex attraction.

While Matthew Anderson provided an excellent review here, I would like to also make a few brief comments on why the book deserves a wide reading: It provides a clarifying juxtaposition of the errors and dangers of postmodernism against a more crystalline view of the gospel. Given the aim of the book, I'm almost sure this was never Hill's intent. Still, two issues arise that are appallingly refreshing—his use of narrative and Scriptural authority.

As we're all now well acquainted with, the larger praise of such movements as the emerging church has been its emphasis on understanding the Scriptures as narrative. Sadly, what has often lacked in this discussion is the omission of biblical authority in discussions of narrative and narrative theology. What has often been apparent in the writings of emerging church leaders—and postmodernism at large— is a muddying of the waters; an either willful or accidental capitulation to ambient culture in the name of epistemic humility. What culture enshrines as normative, more left-leaning blends of the emerging church have enshrined as well.

What Hill succeeds at, however, is combining a stalwart understanding and obedience to Scripture's authority and in doing so, lays out a more venturesome and respectable narrative than any narrative that the emerging church has formulated. In a chapter titled, "A Story-Shaped Life," Hill uses the following quote: "the gospel was a 'comprehensive scheme or story [the Christians] used to structure all dimensions of existence.' And this story fueled a radical, upside-down pattern of life." He goes on to state:

Instead, it is, I think, those texts and traditions and teaching as I see them from within the true story of what God has done in Jesus Christ—and the whole perspective on life and the world that flows from that story, as expressed definitively in Scripture. Like a piece from a jigsaw puzzle finally locked into its rightful place, the Bible the church's no to homosexual behavior makes sense to me—it has the ring of truth, as J.B. Phillips once said of the New Testament—when I look at it as one piece within the larger Christian narrative. I abstain from homosexual behavior because of the power of that scriptural story.

Seeing that the gospel demands an upside-down ethic and further, that the gospel demands obedience to the point of affliction, Hill places his struggle with homosexual desire as a staple of faithfulness, not faithlessness; that he "must struggle to subordinate [his] desires for sex to the gospel's demands for purity." I can hardly think of a more appropriate summary of every Christian's struggle with sexual sin.

In this gospel, he states, we get "a fiercely demanding love, a divine love that will never let us escape from its purifying, renovating, and ultimately healing grip."

In all of this, Hill recognizes that obedience and sacrifice results not in lamentable longings for sexual release, but in becoming more fully alive as an individual dependent upon Christ.

In several parts of the book, Hill expresses sympathy with mainstream animus toward certain passages pertaining to sexuality. To willfully abstain from what seems natural is insane to our culture. Regardless, Hill displays an unflinching obedience and confidence that Scripture's narrative will be more than sufficient to wash and redeem him on the day of Resurrection.

Perhaps the comparison to the emerging church movement is a bit 2008-ish. I don't know. What is clear, though, is that the ever-present postmodern laxity towards just about anything has met its match in Hill's book where self-denial in the pursuit of truth, obedience, and redemption seems far more alluring (and biblical, I might add).

If I can put any book on someone's reading list that is both richly theological, spiritually uplifting, and culturally relevant, it would be Hill's book for sure. It's not a perfect book. But it's good, very good.

Readers, do your pastors and youth ministers a favor and purchase a copy of this book. Hill's substance is the stuff that gives gravitas to serious evangelical reflection on culturally sensitive issues.

Andrew Walker

Andrew T. Walker is an Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.