Books reviewed by James Woodward

Past and present Christian development

Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality by Jack RogersJesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality. By
Jack Rogers

Westminster John Knox Press 2006.  
xiv + 169 pp.

For many British readers, the value of this useful book is likely not to be what its title may suggest. That is, it is not yet another survey of the small number of biblical passages that are commonly taken to refer to homosexuality, and of such arguments as they may prompt. No, this is primarily a book about how Christians can change their minds and have sometimes done so. Jack Rogers is a retired professor in an American Presbyterian seminary and a former Moderator in the American Presbyterian Church.  He is then a leading senior American churchman of evangelical background and convictions as well as theological competence. But unlike many such persons, he has remained capable of changing his mind, not in a fit of nostalgia for lost youth but through the force of evidence and theological good sense. He could offer an interesting model for British Christians, who may look rather close to him in religious style and culture but are also usefully distinct in history and circumstance.

In this book he outlines the series of changes of mind that have taken place in the past among American Christians in general and his own church in particular – all as contentious in their day as the present gay controversy, and all seeming in retrospect astonishing for having been conducted with such eloquent ferocity of theological (so-called!) argument. The issues are: white supremacy and negro rights; divorce and remarriage; women’s equality with men in church life. In all cases, Scripture and Christian tradition were invoked to justify traditional assumptions and practices, and in all cases, eventually, the walls fell – and soon most people found themselves amazed that the old arguments had held the field for so long among Christians.  All through, it was not simply a matter of changing ethos or fashion in society at large, but of genuine developments in theological perspective, notably in relation to the use of Scripture. We now await the consummation of the process in relation to the status of gay people in church life as well as in society.

This is all set in the context of American Presbyterianism with its rich internal politics and we are told the story by one of its elder statesmen – a brave one at that. The British churches have already traversed a comparable path on some of the issues, but are so far stuck on homosexuality.  Jack Rogers has written what could serve as a church leaders’ guide on how Christian politics and thought may proceed.  It is then a case-study of past and present Christian development --- in non-Roman Western churches at least. Roman Catholics get few mentions and have hung fire on all the issues discussed except slavery.

James Woodward