Thursday, April 27, 2017

Book Review for CRITICAL CONVERSATIONS: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with TEENS by TOM GILSON

I found CRITICAL CONVERSATIONS: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with TEENS by TOM GILSON incredibly readable and concise, yet informative primer on how to discuss homosexuality. This book, while informed by top notch scholarship, is easily accessible to a lay audience.  This book was written primarily as a discussion guide for parents to discuss homosexuality with their teens, but it would be useful to use in any discussion context.

The book is divided into three sections:

The first section gives us needed background to this discussion. Gilson us a brief but informative picture of how our culture has to come to where we now are. It is here that we are also presented with the foundation for a defense of traditional marriage. Gilson defends the natural law basis of traditional marriage using both Biblical grounds and religiously neutral common experience.

The second section is a primer on how to navigate relationships with people with a particular emphasis on how teens should interact with those in  authority who may show hostility to traditional values. Gilson draws extensively from Greg Koukl’s Tactics in this section and gives advice reminiscent to the wisdom Daniel used in navigating his relations with the pagan kings of Babylon and Persia. Gilson provides counsel on both the necessity of  defending the moral “red line” AND using wisdom in HOW we do this.

The third section is a reference useful in answering  specific questions and challenges that supporters of same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ perspectives will throw at those who believe in  traditional values. Gilson discusses 27 major challenges in this section. He uses a three part structure in discussing each challenge. “The Challenge”  is a introduction to the challenge using language similar to language that supporters of same-sex marriage would use in  actual conversations. “Truths Your Teen Needs to Know” is a concise statement of the central truth that should be conveyed as a response to each challenge. “Digging Deeper” takes a closer look at the issue.

The things I liked about this book.
First and foremost, this book presents a natural law defense of traditional marriage. The convincing reason why we should discriminate in favor of traditional marriage is that the natural order is discriminatory. The logical structure of the physical system and human biology in particular favors heterosexual relations and monogamous ones at that. Homosexuality, while existing in nature, is not the normative basis for sexual relationships. The best constructs of marriage are those that harness normative natural  impulses and channels those energies in a way that is conducive to civilized life. Same-sex marriage stands in diametric opposition to normative human sexuality. Gilson presents this concept using both Biblical arguments and common reason. We, as parents and Bible teachers, need to equip those we teach in  ways  that respect the supreme authority of Scripture and also give an answer to those who do not believe. This demonstrates the superior value of the Biblical narrative while building bridges to neighbors who do not share our beliefs.

I also liked the grace in which Gilson presents his narrative, particularly in how we navigate relationships in this new cultural landscape. He emphasizes repeatedly the need to be Christ-like, acting always in a spirit of love. Two-thirds of the book addresses issues in a relational contexts. It is in these relational contexts that the tide will be turned. A few people will be converted from argument on social media, more people are moved by seeing authentic life-styles from those they know who speak the truth with love and practice love towards those not in their in-group.

I also liked the practical wisdom Gilson gives on how to navigate relationships. Evangelicals have had a poor track record in recent decades of foolishly engaging, often feeding the stereotypes those hostile to Christianity would like to attach to us. We all need to use wisdom in how we engage the world system.

What I wish was different about this book.
There is not much negative to say about this book. There are only  a couple of things I would have done differently. I would have expunged references to licensing of marriage. In the best case it does not really help the case for traditional marriage. In the worst case, it could reinforce a major premise used to defend non-traditional marriages. That is the idea that marriage is nothing more than a social construct that is created by the state. I would have liked to have seen this issue discussed a little more deeply in this book. We see this subjectivist approach not only in marriage, but in gender identity as well. If institutions such as marriage and identities such as gender that touch on very personal, intimate affairs of life  are nothing more than creations of the state, then the door is opened for massive state intervention. Same-sex marriage, in particular, requires massive state intervention and a centralized propaganda apparatus to bend populations towards acceptance. As same-sex marriage is not normative human sexuality, it would be highly unlikely that populations would ever naturally come around to accept it as normative in the absence of statist or corporatist collusion. A brief, but more robust discussion of the problems of a subjectivist view of marriage would have enhanced this book.

My conclusion
I highly recommend this book. On a scale of one to ten, I would give it a nine. On a five star scale, I would give it five stars. I gave it five stars in my Amazon review. This book is well worth the time and money invested in obtaining it and reading it. It is available  here on Amazon.

Tom Gilson is a senior editor and author at The Stream. His articles can be found here.