Review of Rachel Gilson's Born Again This Way

Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting was one of the first personal perspectives on homosexuality from a confessionally orthodox Christian. It was followed a few years later by Rosaria Butterfield’s memoir, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, and there have been more since. These books combined excellent writing, compelling testimony, and thoughtful analysis. The latest entry in this genre is Rachel Gilson’s Born Again this Way, which has all of these qualities in abundance.

This genre has always been controversial. The main disagreement has not been about homosexual practices, but about that of homosexual identification and desire. Is it a sin to “be gay”? The controversy crystallized in 2018, when the first Revoice Conference called on Christians to accept “gay Christians” as “sexual minorities” within the Church. This call reflected the views of “side-B gay Christianity,” or more conveniently, “Revoice theology.” The basic point of Revoice theology is that following Christ does not necessarily mean repenting of same-sex desire, or of identification with the LGBTQ+ community.

In the post-Revoice era, the key question for evaluating Born Again this Way is whether it supports the theology of Revoice. It is important to note that Gilson has appeared at Revoice, and often collaborates with other leading figures in the movement. Compared to those other figures, Gilson is quite a good guide to many issues. Still, she fails to warn about the serious errors associated with Revoice, and she even quietly affirms some of these errors herself.

For starters, Gilson does not say that same-sex attraction is sinful. She gives good counsel against describing oneself as a “Gay Christian” (139), but she seems mostly concerned about how this would sound, not what it actually means. She says repeatedly that same-sex-attracted Christians have a unique contribution to make in the Church, which implies that there is something good about this sinful and unnatural desire (59, 65, 99).

Like many in the Revoice movement, Gilson seems not to expect that gay Christians will ever change their sexual orientation. We should not, she says, seek to “replace homosexuality with heterosexuality” (49). She warns that “reparative therapy” is dangerous (83), though she does not restrict her warning to particular methods that go under that name. Does this mean (as recent Canadian legislation implies) that we should never counsel a homosexual to seek natural sexual desire, using God’s means of grace?

Gilson repeats some dangerous half-truths. It is partly true that making someone “straight wouldn’t necessarily make them holy” (121). Still, cultivating natural sexual desire is part of sanctification. It is also partly true that “we are not promised relief from the presence of dangerous desires” (50). On the other hand, God has promised to limit our temptations (1 Corinthians 10:13), and to help our pursuit of holiness (2 Corinthians 7:1).

The practicalities are important. Gilson says that if your church is “predominantly married [and] opposite-sex-attracted,” then you may have problems ministering to gay people (106). This wrongly implies that being homosexual is merely a cultural difference like language or employment. Did the Apostle Paul, a “heterosexual” and “cisgender” male, have difficulty ministering to homosexuals?

Gilson’s excellent writing, moving testimony, and thoughtful discussions have won her an audience in conservative Reformed churches. Sadly, I must warn readers that her thinking is rooted in the theology of Revoice. The Church’s response to the sexual revolution is the great spiritual battle of our day, and Gilson (at best) sounds an uncertain note.

Calvin Goligher is the pastor of First OPC in Sunnyvale, CA.