Review: The Plausibility Problem

I’ve just finished reading The Plausibility Problem by Ed Shaw. The book is subtitled “The Church and Same-Sex Attraction”, and I can understand why that might immediately put people off: surely, we don’t need yet another book on the church’s view of sex? And this is exactly the reason I wanted to write this brief review: in my view this is one of the most important books to have been written on the subject – it is not what you think it is!

The real strength of the book for me is the fact that it doesn’t deal with traditional / revisionist Biblical arguments (although they are treated in two appendices), but rather seeks to outline how evangelical churches have made the church’s traditional teaching on sexuality implausible by a number of ‘missteps’ in the past few years. In other words, the problem which traditional Biblical churches face is not what they believe about sexuality – it’s how that teaching can be plausible in today’s society. Too often in today’s churches, the orthodox Biblical view of sexuality is seen as implausible because the church has lost focus on a number of other important teachings. These are what Ed Shaw labels ‘missteps’.

These missteps are:

  1. Your identity is your sexuality;
  2. A family is Mum, Dad and 2.4 children;
  3. If you’re born gay, it can’t be wrong to be gay;
  4. If it makes you happy, it must be right!
  5. Sex is where true intimacy is found;
  6. Men and women are equal and interchangeable;
  7. Godliness is heterosexuality;
  8. Celibacy is bad for you;
  9. Suffering is to be avoided.

In all these areas, Shaw demonstrates how evangelical churches have often bought into cultural assumptions or perhaps not taught the full Biblical picture in a certain area. For example, I found his chapter on being “born gay” helpful: he argues that evangelical churches who argue that being gay is simply a ‘lifestyle choice’ are detrimental to the cause – it is in fact irrelevant whether same-sex attraction is chosen or not, and arguing that it is chosen will do nothing but alienate those for whom it is not a choice (or is experienced that way).

In my opinion, the area of sex and sexuality is shaping up to be the biggest area of contention between the church and the world and what Shaw outlines in this book is absolutely vital to enable people to make the move from the world to the church. It is no longer enough to simply teach what the Bible says about sex and sexuality – our church must regain its hold of teachings which have perhaps been under-emphasized in recent years.

I heartily commend this book to anyone who has an interest in the church – especially to anyone involved in church leadership in any capacity (including things like PCCs and so on). It is sorely needed, a real word in season for the church of today.


4 responses to “Review: The Plausibility Problem”

  1. Peter Kane avatar
    Peter Kane

    I very much agree, Phill.
    I ordered the book immediately after seeing it mentioned on Anglican Mainstream, and was certainly not disappointed!
    Ed has been really brave in sharing so much of his own struggles with SSA, and he demonstrates a great deal of pastoral empathy, whilst at the same time firmly holding to the word of God.
    What I felt was particularly helpful was the way in which he showed how the specific issue of sexuality impacts upon so many wider aspects of the Christian life, such that his book is not simply addressed to believers struggling with SSA, but has something to say to all committed Christians.
    I found Ed’s chapter on suffering and what it really means to ‘deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus’ especially poignant. The Christ-centred emphasis here is much needed in light of the worldly individualistic approach which seems to have infiltrated much liberal and ‘revisionist’ thinking in the Church.
    Just as an addition to Ed’s comments on the matter of celibacy, I think there is, perhaps, something we can learn too from the Roman Catholic tradition.
    On the whole, the book does indeed do ‘what it says on the tin’. It poses a profound challenge both to the revisionists (who, motivated primarily by pastoral concerns, have simply abandoned Scripture, reason and Tradition) as well as to orthodox believers (who have been strong on the biblical theology, but do need to be able to formulate a pastoral approach which helps people to recognise the attractiveness of singleness and the joy of non-sexual companionship). Alongside initiatives such as Living Out and the True Freedom Trust, this book really helps us to move beyond just the re-statement of orthodox teaching on sexuality, to actually applying it to the pastoral context in a positive way.

    1. Hi Peter,
      Thanks for your comments – very helpful thoughts!
      It’s always interesting when I read of Anglican clergy who desire their legal right to marry (a same sex partner) and would consider taking legal action against the Church of England. I wonder how many Roman Catholic priests have taken legal action against the church for not being allowed to exercise their legal right to marry?…
      Anyway, I thought the book was very thought provoking and will hopefully become better known in conservative circles!

  2. For someone so against gay people, you sure do like to talk about them A lot…
    Yea.. not helpful.. blabla… hahaha

    1. Thanks for your comment as always, Darren. God bless.

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