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.

Posted by Andrew Walker

  • David

    Andrew, if you push the postmoderinism stuff to the side, do you think the book is worth reading purely for the homosexual conversation? I go to a pretty postmodern Christian college and this is a hot topic, one that I have conversations about a couple times a month on average. We have a good number of students, faculty, and staff fighting on both sides of the “debate”, and then a lot of people fighting to strike a balance in the middle. I think some solid writing would help me solidify the way I approach the conversations that keep coming my way.

    • Andrew Walker

      David,

      I’d be interested to know what “postmodern Christian” college you attend where this subject is up for debate. Inquiring minds are wondering :)

      That aside, the books is DEFINITELY worth reading aside from my jab at postmodernism. In my opinion, I think this book is crucially important for a) ignorant evangelicals who insist that salvation must result in heterosexual relations and b) ignorant evangelicals who insist that we must capitulate to the gay movement and grant full sexual license to anyone’s sexual preference.

      The book is a mere $10.19 on Amazon. It is well worth the price. Pick a copy up and inject its content into the debate. Hill’s argument is pretty third-rail as far as the typical conversation is concerned.

      Andrew

      • David

        Andrew,

        Ha! The inquiring minds would be wondering. I want to protect the integrity of my school, so before I reveal the identity of this “postmodern Christian college”, I want to point out that most, if not all, of the leadership in my college do not support a homosexual lifestyle as viable for the Christian man or woman.

        So.. on that note, I am a physics student and resident assistant at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Due to the open conversations that have been allowed, and a very unrestrained admission policy, some would see me as “liberal” and others as “conservative” as far as this debate goes. The student body in particular spreads across a wide range of viewpoints on all sorts of issues. I personally love the conversations that happen. These are topics that are usually much too hush and taboo in the Christian community. Some have been led astray, however this is a place where they have a good chance of being brought back as well.

        On the postmodern note, I noticed the quotes you put around “postmodern Christian”. For the record, I am an avid fighter against the majority of postmodern philosophy. It demeans our God and our Savior. However, I have had to be careful not to fight the postmodern man and woman (as well as the “others” =) ) with a animosity to every single thing they stand for. There are a good amount of noble goals within the average postmodern mind. Their core is rotten, but love, albeit often a firm love, must be our approach.
        I see no contradiction to this in your article. Thank you =).

        The Amazon tab is open. Now the college kid must decide whether or not to spend his money.

        • Andrew Walker

          David,

          Thanks for the reply. I’ll have to admit, I am a bit disheartened that such a stalwartly evangelical school (with Reformed roots no less) appears to be wavering on this issue amidst students, according to your testimony. Why is that?

          On a larger note (and please do not read me accusing Calvin of this as a generalized statement), I am really perplexed at younger evangelicals and their capitulation to larger cultural attitudes. While I hope this does not apply to the students at Calvin, I fear that younger evangelicals fear being labeled a “bigot” more than they favor being labeled “biblical.”

          Just some thoughts.

          Andrew

          • David

            Andrew, thank you for your reply. This is good stuff!

            You are absolutely right. Younger evangelicals are very lukewarm to say the least, and they are scared of being bigots. Now, of course, this is a generalization, and there are a good chunk of 18-25 year olds who are serious about the faith, love Jesus, and study God’s word with an intentional spirit, regardless of what culture is doing around them.

            Many of the reasons for this lukewarmness, this tendency to move towards culture before moving towards the Bible, I think are the same reason that my school has become the way it has become. Calvin College is a very Reformed school. To call it evangelical may be a stretch. It has Dutch Reformed roots, and deep at its core these roots are still the pillar. There was talk of splitting from the Christian Reformed Church a while back (I believe decades ago), and if that had happened, I believe Calvin would have become like Harvard or Yale. However, in holding onto its Reformed roots, Calvin strives to influence culture in the name of Christ. It is dealing directly with culture, in a very real sense, and a very good sense in my opinion. However, if not careful this can open breaches for dangerous views to seep into the college itself. This has happened somewhat.

            There are many students who have grown up in the church, but were never weaned off of spiritual milk fed to them by young spiritual mothers. Bring them here, where all sorts of philosophies and ideas are brought at them full force and they don’t know what to do with themselves. Peer pressure will usually push them towards cultural acceptance (with as much Bible as they can fit in with that.) Instead of to the Word of God first, and then movement to influence and reach out to the world. I think this might characterize a large part of the problem with young evangelicals across the board. Kids need to see the real thing. They need to find direction; an all encompassing reason to live, beyond degrees and jobs and paychecks and worldly temptations they are bombarded with daily. And, to bring it home to the original conversation, beyond the postmodern idea that they create their own reality. They need the truth placed in front of them plainly and clearly, and they need to be woken up to the fact that life is short, and eternity is in action as we speak.

            This is where I see my biggest ministry right now. It looks very much like a mission field to me. This is where postmodernism is taking root, in the young men and women. Our young Christian brothers and sisters, my contemporaries, are very susceptible, and we need help. The hope lies that not all these young adults are weak and lukewarm. There are those that could care less what culture thinks, and will go out on any limb for their King. I pray for a lot more of these troops.

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  • @David: I’ve read Washed and Waiting, and share Matt and Andrew’s enthusiasm for the book. Keep in mind that it’s a very personal account. For theological, psychological, biblical, and ecclesial treatments of homosexuality, I recommend these titles:

    • William Stacy Johnson, A Time to Embrace: Same-Gender Relationships in Religion, Law, and Politics

    • Judith Balswick & Jack Balswick, Authentic Human Sexuality: An Integrated Christian Approach

    • Lewis Smedes, Sex for Christians: The Limits and Liberties of Sexual Living

    • Oliver O’Donovan, Church in Crisis: The Gay Controversy and the Anglican Communion

    • David

      Thanks for the list, Chris. I will bookmark them and hopefully get to reading more on this at some point.

  • Andrew Walker

    David,

    Thanks for the update on what’s taking place at Calvin. Keep fighting the good fight up there and remember, though I am 25 and have a masters degree, I’m far from being the arbiter of intelligence that many entry-level college students think they possess. Youth + education fuels high level of hubris.

    Gauging what I can from today’s younger evangelicals, it seems that this demographic needs a gut-check reminding them that the future of Christianity is not left to their opinions.

    We stand on the shoulders of giants; bigger men whose britches we cannot fill or even try to fill.

    Shoot me an e-mail sometime. I’ve enjoyed our conversation: atwclw@gmail.com or facebook.com/AndrewTWalker

    Peace,
    Andrew