Jim Brownson teaches at Western Theological Seminary (Holland, Michigan), one of the RCA’s two seminaries. Brownson is widely respected in the denomination, and many look to this General Synod Professor of Theology for guidance on theological matters.

I hope they look elsewhere when it comes to the issue of homosexuality.

Ron Citlau, an RCA pastor in Dyer, Indiana, has reviewed Brownson’s new book Bible, Gender, Sexuality and highlighted several of its weaknesses. Here’s Citalu’s conclusion:

Evangelical churches seeking to walk alongside men and women who identify as gay or lesbian and calling them to a biblical vision of life through Jesus are, Brownson avers, acting destructively. To be sure, some churches are hateful and bigoted, perhaps more than we like to admit. And I’m sure some churches care more for the sin than the sinner. But make no mistake: Scripture calls all who would follow Jesus to come and die to their sin, their lust, and their desire—no matter how innate it might feel.

I know.

I’ve dealt personally with homosexual desire most of my life. When Jesus rescued me, he demanded all of me. And I’m thankful for churches that gave me a biblical vision for my life—including my sexuality. I’m more like Jesus today because of their call for me to die to the deepest desires of my broken humanity.

In Bible, Gender, Sexuality, however, Brownson elevates caricature over substance. He uses a low homosexual-to-healthy-heterosexual change rate to argue God doesn’t call gays and lesbians to repentance and purity. Really? Jesus is the one who said, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:14).

Gospel change is hard work that happens in those who actually decide to follow Jesus, which many don’t do precisely because of the high cost. This is true for all sinners, including those fighting homosexual sin. As a pastor, I know many people sitting in my pews are still battling besetting sins after decades of being in church. Should we accommodate for them as well?

Brownson’s words sound compassionate, but they aren’t compassionate enough, since they’re not the gospel. It’s time to reassert what’s always been true: the gospel of Jesus is the hope for sexual sinners. Whether gospel change happens through celibacy, marriage, transformation of innermost desires, or faithful purity in suffering, Jesus is the only way to live out our purposes as sexual beings. Instead of cowering behind statistics, we must declare the gospel and walk with others so they can experience its costly joy. It’s time to more fully live into our calling as the church of Jesus.

Be sure to read the whole review. Ron is a good friend and a good pastor. His brief presentation at our last General Synod were the most courageous, gospel-saturated address I’ve ever heard at Synod.

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9 thoughts on “Ron Citlau’s Good Review of a Bad Book”

  1. Matt says:

    The fact that people regard the Bible as the best reference on how to treat gay people astonishes me. Let’s face it, the bible is wrong about how to treat homosexuals (in case you’ve forgotten, it says gay men should be executed.)

    I fear for the gay youth in your denomination.

  2. Melody says:

    Matt, Jesus led a sinless life and was tortured, then executed for you. Is this not enough for you?

  3. anaquaduck says:

    Attempts to twist the Bible’s meaning will come, says Scripture.
    The Bible is wrong about this or that is a popular opinion often voiced, but is it true, can it be proven.

    Scientific studies seek to find naturalistc solutions, they are not interested in the soul of a person or the words of a creator. They know the way & the meaning of life it would seem, but scientific interpretation has been proven to be wrong on many occasions.When new data is revealed that contradicts current views the story changes.God through Scripture warns against doing things that way, He warns of the deception that seeks to undermine solid ground.

    The irony is that some practising gay people claim to know & love God.So can we come to the Bible & say, I dont want this bit or that bit. To know Gods holiness is to recognise that He too says of our lives, I dont want this or that in your life…what ever that sinful deed may be,it is destructive & leads to a horrible place…who knows best God or you.Scripture appeals to both good & bad examples of the past for learning.

    In struggling with sin & trusting in grace we can learn to repent & grow throughout our lives, one thing God doesnt say is give up on fighting sin,so the life long battle remains with the world & the flesh for now, looking to Jesus, our hope & our joy.

  4. bill says:

    re: the Bible says gay men should be executed

    Wrong era Matt – if you’re actually interested, you need to understand how the Old Testament ought to be read, ie, via the lens of the New Testament and also understanding the cruel and barbaric ancient pagan, baby sacrificing world in which the laws given to the ancient Israelites were an incredible leap ahead in progressive law and civilization. You just have to be willing to see things in context.

    Too often though, many just want to trot out those kinds of objections so they feel they can safely ignore the message of the Bible lest it should place any limits on their life and in their path to utter self-absorption. Unrestrained we are all utterly selfish creatures if we dare to admit it. Its such a tragedy because what you see as unloving is in fact the revelation of the absolute epitome of love and mercy. Give it some thought and maybe you’ll consider questioning your perhaps hasty objections.

  5. Henry says:

    bill, I think you miss the point.

    The penalty for homosexuality in the NT is much worse than in the OT. It says those who do such things ‘will not inherit the kingdom of God’…

    along with adulterers, thieves, drunkards and others who do not repent of their sins. Which is worse – physical execution or eternal hell?

    Lets not try and minimize the severity of OT laws – they are given by a just God. We have just become calloused as to the heinousness of our sin.

  6. Linda says:

    It deeply grieves me that Dr. Brownson would take this path. Thanks be to God for His Word, and for the context of its’ content.

    Thanks Pastor De Young for sharing this….

  7. Paul Janssen says:

    Strictly on terms of what constitutes a fair review, this doesn’t cut it, imo. Brownson takes issue with Gagnon, for instance. So how is a review helpful when it in essence says, Gagnon is right, Brownson is wrong? It has the character of either preaching to the choir or the playground quality of “is not….is so!” ad nauseam. If you want to review Brownson, demonstrate that you understand his logic, the deconstruct it, either on its own terms, or with a broader argument that clearly delineates where you think he is wrong on foundational principles. I.e., treat him with the same respect with which you want to be treated.

  8. Ron Citlau says:

    Paul,
    Thank you for your comment and I thought it would be helpful to reply. For sure, Brownson wants to build a “new structure of understanding” based upon a theology of kinship. Brownson understands that to “get there” he needs to dismantle widely held views on complementarity theology, lust,sexual orientation, and the church’s role with walking with those who identify as gay or lesbian (just to name a few of what Brownson seeks to dismantle). Then, in their place, he can seek to build a new structure concerning sexuality, gender and marriage.

    In this review, you’re right, I did not seek to engage direclty his theological vision (or how he builds it) but instead to engage his attempts at dismantling core evangelical beliefs. For me, his theological vision is irrelevant if the evangelical house still stands. I would assume he would agree since a good portion of his book is about discrediting evangelical assumptions and seeking to give ‘better’ explanations. For this review, I asked myself this question: does Brownson’s arguments dismantle traditional biblical views of complementarity, orientation, lust and church engagement? If they do, then perhaps it would be appropiate to see what new insights Brownson might have. For me they did not; you must decide if they did for you.

    For example, on the issue of complementarity and Genesis 1:26-28, you’re right Brownson engages this important issue and he engages Robert Gagnon. My point is that his argument is not compelling. When I read Genesis 1:26-28, two things are self apparent: 1) God-ordained gendered difference (male & female), 2)a call to procreation. This along with Genesis 2 becomes the essential building blocks for sexuality and marriage (which Brownson readily agrees to–“the story envisions marriage as the most basic form of community…constituted by a husband and wife”). The logic of the text is that gendered beings are to come together sexually as part of God’s intent. For me, Brownson does not effectively dismantle this foundational block of an evangelical view of sexuality. The logic of Gagnon and anatomical complementarity seems to stand.

    There will be others, smarter than me for sure, who will engage Brownson’s larger argument. My point was that the evangelical view of sexuality upheld by Gagnon, Deyoung, Stott and others is not that easily knocked down. For sure, you must decide for yourself whether Brownson’s dismantling is effective For me, it was not.

  9. Paul Janssen says:

    Thanks for the gracious reply, Ron. I think that if one wants to offer a negative critique of Brownson, one might wish to tackle his assumptions about the nature of the Scriptures, the nature of revelation, and an underlying philosophy of history. For my part, I think I’m with him on all of these points; all I’m saying is that that’s where the discussion might have a bit more traction. But now I’m reviewing a reviewer…probably not the most fruitful of exercises. Thanks again.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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