The conversation about sexuality in our churches, denomination, and wider culture remains shrill and discouraging. Presbyterians have grown weary of the debate, often due to the fact that the loudest voices (who are so often magnified by the media) do not speak for the perspectives of many. In this context, Campbell’s pastoral voice is welcome and helpful.
To be sure, Campbell has his convictions, and he does not hide them. He stands squarely in the “conservative evangelical” camp of the debate and effectively and concisely articulates the stance of those who would seek to maintain the traditional view of Biblical sexuality. Campbell begins by framing his treatment of these issues with the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). Guided by this passage throughout, he suggests that it shows Christ’s balance of grace and truth — cautioning the left against compromising God’s truth, and cautioning the right against compromising God’s grace.
Framing the debate this way gives Campbell a refreshing even-handedness, enabling him to cut through much polarizing rhetoric and instead offer a calm, loving, and pastoral voice. For example, how often does one hear an evangelical defend those with whom he disagrees by acknowledging that they are driven by “love and compassion and a concern for justice” (pg. 73)? Yet, Campbell also offers caution that is instructive for both sides: “Those who fight for justice and compassion can just as easily find themselves bending the clear teaching of the Bible to promote their causes, as those who are strong about the truth of Scripture may fail to demonstrate the love of Christ. We must avoid both extremes” (pg. 74).
The book has three parts. Part 1 locates this discussion as one for the local congregation, inviting the reader to locate her own church on a spectrum of responses and positions. In Part 2, Campbell delves into contentious issues of science, psychology, and Scripture. Though some will disagree with his conclusions, Campbell is fair-minded and informed, and offers an accessible account of these complicated matters that would be helpful for the church member who seeks to understand the issues. In Part 3, Campbell offers a blueprint for how a local congregation might enter into ministry to and with those who are struggling with sexual brokenness of many kinds.
Not everyone will find Campbell’s underlying theological stance, exegesis, and analysis compelling, but they will still be edified by the winsome and thoughtful manner in which he takes up the matter. If there are Christians (and I suspect there are many) who desire to uphold the church’s historic teaching on Biblical sexuality and at the same time want to find a less strident way to engage the issues, they will appreciate Bill Campbell’s contribution
ANDREW NAGAL is the associate pastor of Neelsville Church in Germantown, Md.