We are now witnessing a moral transformation before our own eyes. It is a cultural shift that continues to sweep the land, and it is the issue of same-sex marriage and homosexuality that stands at the forefront of this fast-moving revolution, and its agenda is being bolstered on nearly every street corner. Are Christians to assume that they have got it wrong all this time? Has tradition really misunderstood what appears to be the clear and consistent message of Scripture on these issues? In today’s increasingly post-Christian world it is imperative that such challenges are met with gentleness and love, and the Christian must be well-equipped to meet such tasks. It is here that S. Donald Fortson III and Rollin G. Grams have provided a unique and timely volume that aims to fill a much needed void amid an ever-changing world.
Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition (B&H Academic, 2016) begins with a history of the Gay Christian movement in America—from the New York Stonewall Inn riots of 1969 to the publication and proclamation of the Boswell Thesis in the early 1980’s. This is an appropriate place to start the conversation for the reader. Not only does it provide a well-documented outline of events for where we are today, but it also helpfully places the conversation amid its proper historical context. This context then becomes an essential part of the initial section as the reader is guided through nearly two millennia of church history, beginning with the Church Fathers and ending with the current landscape of many modern mainline denominations. Fortson and Grams systematically dismantle the revisionist claims that characterize the Gay Christian movement, but it is the abundance of primary source material that carries the bulk of their argumentative weight.
With the historical foundation firmly established, Fortson and Grams can now direct the appropriate attention to the Scriptures that rightly motivated the previous convictions of the Christian Church. This section is divided into three parts: (1) The Bible and Homosexuality, (2) Creation and Law: Old Testament Text and Homosexuality, and (3) Creation, the Law and the Gospel: New Testament Text and Homosexuality—with the latter two parts comprising nearly half of the content of the book. There is no Scriptural concern that is left unturned as Fortson and Grams carefully guide the reader through the biblical passages, what the text says about homosexuality, how the text was understood historically and culturally, and how the text has been understood and interpreted by Christians (p. 2). The interaction with the major interpreters of the Gay Christian movement is ample, and the reader will benefit greatly from the level of scholarship and documentation provided therein.
The attention to scholarly detail in this volume is incredible. On a stylistic note, Fortson and Grams have chosen to utilize the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible because of the similar ecumenical intent of the volume and translation. Fortson and Grams have also provided a whole host of primary source material in the initial section of the book, and to make interaction easier for the reader they have used italics to highlight the portions of text that are most important. In regards to the content, it would be difficult to differentiate between the quality of work therein. Every chapter is equally important to the thesis of the book and the interaction with the Gay Christian movement is witnessed throughout. Nevertheless, some points of particular enjoyment will be the parallels presented between the law code text of Leviticus and Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 5-7 and the revisionist readings of Romans 1:24-28. Moreover, the assessment of the Pauline argument of nature/creation and nurture/law in Romans was also extremely helpful for interacting with some of the contemporary arguments against the traditional understanding of the texts. One major downfall of the volume is the lack of a bibliography. While skimming the footnotes is more work, and I am reluctant to recommend such, it will certainly prove beneficial for the interested reader.
Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition by S. Donald Fortson III and Rollin G. Grams is easily projected to be one of the most important books of 2016. The comprehensive treatment of the issues at hand are presented in a clear and persuasive manner that only the most uninformed of readers would be willing to ignore. Of course, while continuing to play interpretive leapfrog with the biblical text may work in prolonging the conversation among supporters, the nearly two millennia of unchanging witness within the Christian community is not easily dismissed—at least not without severe logical and historical implications. The testimony of both Scripture and the response of the people of God to such have been unanimously opposed to the current revolutionary trend that is sweeping the nation, and Fortson and Grams have displayed this fact with undeniable precision. The Christian would do well in reading this book with careful and attentive eyes of compassion for the ever-changing world around them. It comes highly recommended!
I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.