Not surprisingly, my post about Ed Shaw’s book excerpt could use some updating. My original post is here. The article I am critiquing is here. Justin Taylor tweeted out two positive reviews of the book. One was by Tim Challies here. The other was a review by the Gospel Coalition here. In this last review, there was a paragraph near the end which identified the same problem I identified, but without any of my colorful adjectives. Here it is:
“There is another way to read this section of the book. Shaw could be saying his same-sex orientation is in and of itself a morally neutral reality that doesn’t need to be redeemed. It’s a weakness perhaps, but only sinful if acted upon, and it is different than attraction. If this were true, challenging questions are raised: Does a same-sex orientation have good in and of itself? Should it be embraced even as one shuns same-sex desire (lust) and activity? It seems Shaw moves between a conversation about desire, attraction, and orientation without helping the reader understand how they are different—or if they are. I’m sure Shaw has strong feelings about all of this. It would just help all of us navigate these waters better had he been more explicit in the book.”
And this is the issue. In the comments section of my post, someone asked if I agreed with Denny Burk that same sex attraction was sinful in itself, even if never acted on. I said yes, but that appropriate qualifications needed to be made. Here they are.
If a desire cannot go anywhere good, then the desire simply must be reckoned to be part of the old man that we must be entirely dedicated to putting off. If the desire can go somewhere good, as heterosexual desire can, then the mortification process is supposed to see to it that it goes to that place, and nowhere else. If we see same sex orientation (so long as it never has an overt sexual expression) as a good in itself, or even as neutral, then we are setting ourselves up for a bad fall. Here is why.
You do not want to adopt a principle for living that becomes immediately absurd or impossible when we get to the next iteration of the sexual revolution — and believe me, it is coming. Just as some people are “same sex attracted,” so also others are “pre-pubescent attracted.” Now is that orientation sinful?
Of course it is. And I can acknowledge that it is sinful without insulting godly Christians who have the misfortune to have to deal with those sorts of lusts. If a man has those sorts of lusts, then he must mortify them. Execute them. Put them to death. A godly Christian can in fact have those lusts, and we can tell that he is a godly Christian because he hates every last one of those little bastards. They are nothing but cross fodder to him.
What does Paul tell the Colossian Christians, after he addressed them as “saints and faithful brothers” (Col. 1:2)? He told them that they had died, and that their life was now hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). As a consequence of those realities, he commands them to put to death their members which are on the earth (Col. 3:5).
“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” (Colossians 3:5–6, ESV).
Now if it were not sinful, I wouldn’t need to put it to death. If there were nothing wrong with it, I wouldn’t need to walk away with my revolver smoking.
These are not truths that are limited to those with homosexual temptations. In just the same way, a man can be a godly Christian and be multiple-women-in-one-day attracted. It may be part of his orientation, but that is no reason for giving it the time of day.
If someone who identified as “pre-pubescent attracted” wanted to discover “the good” in his orientation, we would all warn him (I hope) that he was playing with fire. There should be a zero tolerance approach to this kind of thing. But if we don’t like a principle here, we should not tolerate it anywhere else.
We should let John Owen have the last word on this — a man will make no progress in godliness unless he walks daily over the bellies of his lusts.