This is the seventh blog in a series from Sunderland minister David Whiting, who is currently on sabbatical
‘Amazing Love – Theology for understanding Discipleship, Sexuality and Mission’ by Andrew Davison, DLT, 2016.
Amazing Love is divided into six chapters, and, as the title suggests, the book seeks to explore sexuality in relation to discipleship and mission.
The opening chapter is entitled ‘Being Followers of Jesus,’ and on the very first page there is a paragraph that explains well what the book is about:
‘We follow Jesus, and that shapes everything: what we do, what we say, and how we pray. It shapes how we use our gifts, our time, and the things we own. It should also change the way we treat other people. That is what we want for this book – for ourselves as authors, and for our readers – that it may help us think about how we live and relate to others, as followers of Christ’ (p.1-2).
The book is concerned about the experiences of gay, lesbian and bisexual people in the church, and it encourages Christians to listen and seek to understand the situation of each other and what it is to be human. The book wants to affirm the role of gay, lesbian and bisexual people in the life of the church and as disciples of Christ.
In this opening chapter the book draws attention to difficulties and the struggles that many gay and lesbian people go through because of the sometimes damaging culture of the Church.
The second chapter is ‘Being Human’ and it explores what is known about sexual identity and orientation and same-sex attraction. It picks up on the complexity of sexuality and changing scientific understanding. The final paragraph reminds us that scientific understanding can never provide a ‘trump card’ in ethical discussions, but this developing understanding does affect the background of discussions (p.35).
The next chapter, ‘Being Biblical,’ picks up on the biblical discussion. It considers how we actually use the bible. The chapter explores as a test case how slavery is treated in the bible and how different interpretations emerged and then it moves on to exploring passages that have traditionally been used in discussions about sexuality. The point is made that it is difficult to be sure of the context of any of the passages, and it is certainly difficult to build a case against same-sex relationships. Towards the end of the chapter the question is asked: ‘What does sexuality and marriage look like in the way of Jesus Christ?’ (p.56) and that includes same-sex relationships.
‘Being part of the story’ is the fourth chapter, and in this chapter the authors write about tradition, making the point that tradition is not static; it is dynamic.
The fifth chapter is ‘Being in Love’. The authors begin the chapter by commenting:
‘Most of this short book explains why we think it’s good for Christians to embrace their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and to celebrate their relationships. That’s no abstract matter; its about how we treat and relate to people who worship in our churches, its about people on your street, with who you discuss your faith; it’s about many readers of this book. Sexual intercourse is part of these relationships, although not the only part. We think the church should be willing – delighted even – to hallow and strengthen such commitments’ (p.75).
The sixth chapter keeps up with the titles of the earlier chapters, this time it is ‘Being Missional,’ and the book finishes with a reminder of God’s grace which is very wide, and wide enough to embrace Christians with whom we disagree.
In writing this review, I have referred to authors in plural. The name of the author on the front of the book is Andrew Davison, who is Starbridge Lecturer in Theology and Natural Sciences at Cambridge University. Andrew should be more correctly referred to as the editor, for inside the book there is a reference to eight other people with whom Andrew has worked in preparing the book: Duncan Dormor, Ruth Harley, Rosie Harper, Elizabeth Phillips, Jeff Phillips, Simon Sarmiento, Jane Shaw and Alan Wilson. There is no indication about who is responsible for each chapter.
Frequently the authors describe the as a short book. It doesn’t take long to read, but it contains things that will take re-reading and pondering over. The book is written from a Church of England perspective and for a Church of England readership, I think, but it can also benefit a wider ecumenical readership.