Ed Shaw, “The Plausibility Problem: The Church and Same-sex Attraction”, Nottingham: IVP, 2015.
This book comes with a foreword by Vaughan Roberts and fourteen other commendations at the front. The breadth of Christian leaders which celebrate this publication, includes Dan Strange of Oak Hill; Terry Virgo, the founder of New Frontiers (Virgo claims to be an apostle!); four female “church leaders”; and the Bishop of Winchester.
Ed Shaw is an Anglican minister currently working with a new church plant called Emmanuel City Centre in Bristol. He is very open in this book, in that he explains that he is same-sex attracted to “beautiful men” (p 31). He seeks to handle this sensitive subject pastorally and from an evangelical perspective. The opening chapter is called “The Plausibility Problem” which paints two fictional scenarios of two separate same-sex attracted (SSA) individuals called Peter and Jane. Both of them end up embracing a liberal Christian position and living in same-sex relationships. Shaw explores how we can prevent professing SSA Christians from leaving the evangelical church.
He contends that just citing proof-texts on homosexuality to such situations is an insufficient response and that this is an approach that lacks credibility today. He asserts that the evangelical church need a more robust approach and he seeks to offer a way forward, part of this is to suggest celibacy as a vibrant Christian lifestyle, one that can plausibly be without crippling frustration.
He approaches this “plausibility problem” by offering nine chapters, to handle what he perceives as “missteps” by the church in caring for SSA professing Christians. The author works hard to create “space” in the contemporary evangelical church for SSA Christians, and indeed chapter 8 on “Celibacy” was one of the best chapters. However, this book offers insufficient biblical exegesis and careful thought beyond the author’s own experience. This is a highly sensitive subject, one which needs handling with biblical thoroughness.
It is a tenuous foundation when we mainly present broad-based solutions for what is a complex and sinful world and this is what this book does in many ways. The author left me with unanswered questions, such as: Why is the book light on answering key questions exegetically?; Why does Shaw cite female ministers and Roman Catholic writers to support his arguments? (pp 24-25, 74, 88, 92, 114); Why are the words lust and sin avoided in describing SSA temptations?; Is it legitimate for a Christian minister to hold office, be open as a SSA man, and still meet the biblical qualifications of eldership?
The primary value of this book for the evangelical church is perhaps a stimulus and much-needed catalyst for the church in the coming years, to think through their care of SSA people. That is to find a spiritually healthy way that is intentional, diligent and biblical. However, considering the breadth of endorsements and authors cited in this book, we also need to revisit the question: “what is an evangelical?”.