Living in a Gray World

Preston Sprinkle, Living in a Gray World: A Christian Teen’s Guide to Understanding Homosexuality. Zondervan, 2015. 160 pp, paperback, $16.99

We have been waiting for a book to help Christian teens navigate questions about sex and gender. This book seems to fit the bill: it is attractive, well-written, and faithful to biblical teaching at many points. Unfortunately, this is not the right book to give to teens in your life because its many strengths are intertwined with dangerous strands of worldly thinking. By untangling these strands, we can see more clearly the danger that this book poses to Christian teens.

Two brief chapters focus on exegetical questions. Sprinkle does an excellent job explaining some challenging texts and guiding readers through some complicated debates. He upholds many unpopular points of biblical teaching. For instance, he affirms that Leviticus 18 and 20 (in which homosexuality is called an “abomination”) continue to apply today. Sprinkle commits a major exegetical error, though, in his conclusion that the sin of Sodom was not homosexuality but inhospitality. This error, rooted in a misinterpretation of Ezekiel 16:49-50, is common among those who affirm homosexuality, but it has been thoroughly refuted by biblical scholars such as Robert Gagnon. Is Sprinkle, despite his expertise in biblical studies and sexual ethics, unaware of this refutation?

Sprinkle also excels at explaining the key terms involved in current discussions of sex and gender (22-26, 58-59, 87). These terms are confusing for several reasons: there are a huge number of them, they are often used in highly specific ways, and many of them were coined very recently. Misunderstanding these terms confuses our thinking and frustrates our teaching on these subjects, and so Sprinkle’s glosses provide valuable help. Where Sprinkle is less reliable, though, is in identifying untruthful ideology that is built into these terms. For one, he does not warn readers that the term “orientation” attributes to biology what God attributes to our sinful hearts (87). For another, does not give clear guidance about whether Christians should call themselves “gay” (88).

This book stands out for its practicality. Sprinkle’s gifts as a writer shine in his clear and friendly advice. He deals with questions that teens are likely to ask: “I think I might be gay,” “My best friend is gay,” “Can I attend a gay wedding?” While he gives some good advice, his judgment is clouded by serious errors. The most obvious is that “same-sex attraction is not a sin, nor is calling yourself gay” (119). To see where this thinking leads, consider his advice to same-sex attracted people wondering about marriage: “Now, if you can’t (or don’t try to) change your orientation and you don’t pursue a mixed orientation marriage, then there’s always the option of celibacy” (135). This is disastrous advice, rooted in a worldly way of thinking. Sprinkle should be calling people to turn from homosexual desires, and to trust that the Spirit is powerful to transform repentant sinners (1 Corinthians 6:11). Instead, he concedes that transformation may be impossible, or so difficult that we could reasonably decide not to attempt it. He should be advising his readers that one way to pursue sexual purity is to seek a godly marriage. Instead, he indulges an unbiblical notion of a “mixed orientation marriage,” and recommends unduly delaying marriage by a pursuit of celibacy.

There are many more examples of Sprinkles’ worldly way of thinking. He uncritically repeats the secular narrative that Christians “have treated LGBT people the same way that ancient religious Jews treated tax collectors” (74). He says that Christians may be right to attend a gay wedding (125). He does not rebuke Christians who advocate civil recognition of same-sex marriage (129). He thinks Christians might benefit from the media’s normalization of homosexuality (115). In all of these points, Sprinkle’s thinking is conformed to the world rather than transformed by the Spirit’s renewal. He is therefore not able to reliably help his readers to discern God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will in these important matters (Romans 12:2).

Calvin Goligher is the pastor of First OPC in Sunnyvale, California. He and his wife Joanne have four young children.

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