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It has been called to my attention that the following book promoting homosexual marriage has been of some influence in the Presbyterian Church in recent conversations and decisions about ordination, so it occurred to me that I needed to read it:


Johnson, William Stacy. A Time to Embrace: Same-Gender Relationships in Religion, Law, and Politics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006. x + 330 pp.


Johnson makes two main points. One is negative. The other is positive. His negative point is that the Apostle Paul does not know what he is talking about. His positive point is that marriage is "a means of grace." Let me take up each of these.


The Apostle Paul

The main point that Johnson makes, over and over again (including pp. 45-46, 55-57, 64-65, 75-76, 82, 89-90, 98-100, and 135-136), and it is a negative one, is that the Apostle Paul does not know what he is talking about.


The premise of this assertion is that the only homosexuality of which Paul was aware was that between social unequals (pp. ix, 4, 12, 18, 49-50, 124-129, 131-135). But Paul never limits the application of his writing to such cases. He never criticizes the inequalities involved.


And yet, we know that Paul was perfectly capable of making fine distinctions. The fact that he makes broad and sweeping statements about homosexuality as such is a reality which we are bound to continue to take seriously.


This negative point about Paul fails.


"Means of Grace"


The second main point that Johnson makes, and it is a positive one, is that marriage is "a means of grace" (p. 110; cf. pp. 97, 102-103). Actually, he sometimes qualifies this ever so carefully, saying that marriage "functions as" a means of grace (again, p. 110, but see p. 153 for an unqualified statement of the same). But even with this qualification, his point is, of course, that surely we cannot deny "a means of grace" to anyone.


There is a problem with this assertion. "Means of grace" is a technical theological term with a rich history of meaning and use. The Reformed theological tradition has understood "the means of grace" to be the reading and preaching of the word of God, prayer, and the sacraments. It has not understood marriage to be a means of grace.


Surely Johnson knows this. He has purposefully introduced a novelty here, without saying so, in the hope of winning readers to his point of view. But that is hardly appropriate.


Surely marriage is a wonderful thing. It is a gift from God. But we have not understood it to be a means of the saving grace of God. We have not understood it sacramentally. We have not understood it to be available to all standing in the need of grace.


This positive point about "a means of grace" does not apply.  

In conclusion, I am not convinced. Johnson's negative point is unfounded. His positive point is wrong and misleading. The church should not be persuaded by this work.


Dr. James C. Goodloe IVGrace and Peace,
Dr. James C. Goodloe IV, Executive Director
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