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Book Review: Washed & Waiting

The two biggest issues for the evangelical church in the next 25 years will be gender and sexual identity in the church. There have been many well-regarded books, both academic and popular, addressing the former issue, however the latter has largely been ignored, at least by authors who take God and the Bible seriously. Thankfully, Wesley Hill has written Washed and Waiting, a book that will be a primary resource for the challenging issue Christians who wrestle with homoerotic desires. Living in a town that was the first to elect a homosexual person to city government, this issue is especially relevant to me and I am grateful for this book and will be recommending it to anyone seeking to do ministry in a similar context.

The Title and Content

The title of this book refers to the fact that we “wait in hope (Romans 8:25), washed clean by his Son and Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:11), “until the time when [God] makes all things new.” (p 21). This clear dependence on Scripture continues throughout the book and demonstrates the author’s submission to God and His Word and enables other readers to find immediate command ground with the author. Hill also makes clear the Biblical prohibitions against homosexual behavior and his obedience to those, which lays the groundwork for what follows.

The Structure

This book contains 3 biographic chapters about Christians who struggle with homosexual desires – one about Hill himself, one about Henri Nouwen, and one about Gerard Manley Hopkins, alongside longer reflections on homosexuality and Christian faithfulness. In these mini-biographies Hill pulls from the author’s own writings and communications to give us a window into the intense struggle for Christians to remain faithful to Scripture and God while battling against desires that they clearly know are sinful. These chapters are illuminating for heterosexual “outsiders” like me as we can get a glimpse of the pain these men have lived through.

The Gospel

An easy path for this book would have been to simply offer love and acceptance to Christians who struggle with homosexual desires without going to the cross and looking to Jesus. Thankfully, the author did not choose that path. Very early in the book he writes “Sometimes I think to myself, ‘If I’ve already given into homosexual desires this much in my lustful fantasizing, I’ve already ruined my track record. Shouldn’t I just go all the way and chuck this whole abstinence thing? God doesn’t want to forgive me yet again.’ But then I remember the gospel.” Time and time again Hill returns to the gospel, the truth of the good news of Jesus life, death, and resurrection, as the foundation for the hope that he has in the midst of personal suffering and struggle. It is only through Jesus that we can find any salvation and rescue from the sin that so easily entangles us and Hill rightfully makes the central theme of the book, particularly the first chapter “A Story-Formed Life.” If you can read only one part of this book, read that chapter.

The Church

Hill makes a compelling case in this book for the role of the church and community in ministering to Christians who struggle with homoerotic desires. For too long the church has responded in two extremes to Christians with homosexual inclinations – affirming their choices completely or marginalizing them. Neither of those is Biblical, but the middle way is muddy. Hill writes “Perhaps one of the main challenges of living faithfully before God as a gay Christian is to believe, really believe, that God in Chris can make up for our sacrifice of homosexual partnerships not simply with his own desire and yearning for us but with his desire and yearning mediated to us through the human faces and arms of those who are our fellow believers.” (p 112) This requires both the church to be welcoming and the struggling Christian to be honest, really honest, with his or her struggle. We as believers can have real fellowship only when we’ve dropped the façade and are speaking and living as the cracked vessels that will one day be made fully whole by Jesus.

My one complaint

My only problem with this book is linguistic, not content-related. Hill uses a variety of terms throughout the book to refer to Christians who struggle with homoerotic desires, including the phrases “gay Christian” and “homosexual Christian”. I disagree with his choice of words because I believe it elevates that particular sin and sin-struggle to a level of prominence that is not supported by Scripture. If we really are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), then we are a Christian, period. Adding modifiers to “Christian” gives prominence to a sin which can make that sin more legitimate to the outside world and also continues to keep the believer attached to that part of their old creation. While believers will continue to struggle with sin to varying degrees, continuing to identify ourselves that closely with our sins can be seen as a negation of the new and good work that Christ has done in us through His Spirit.

The recommendation

Read this book. Whoever you are, Christian faithfulness and homosexuality is an issue that affects you and there are few better treatments of this topic. You will be challenged by what you read and will hopefully follow Hill’s example of repenting of his sin and running to the cross for forgiveness and comfort. May this book mark a turning point in the church’s response to homosexuality, moving us from disgust and loathing to loving community overflowing with repentance and faithfulness to the One who has redeemed us.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I received this book free from the publisher.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”