The full title of the book is “: “It’s Life Jim…. A journey to sexual and spiritual reconciliation via the road of fundamentalist religion””, Amazon link here.
To review a controversial book as such, first of all, will not be easy. No one comes into the homosexuality issue empty-handed: everyone has a perspective which is itself coloured by philosophical presuppositions and worldview.
At the same time, I come to the table as someone who has in the last 8 months just underwent a battery of philosophical ideas via the courses at SES that shape the contemporary societal climate. That has illuminated largely to my perspective on how the Christian church ought to handle the homosexuality issue.
I will start out by saying this: this book is by itself an autobiography, and so any critique on it has a high likelihood of being perceived an attack on the author himself, even if you are attacking his belief and not his being. Why? Because the intellectual climate in Western world is that of (Secular) Existentialism. Those in the church has to realise that those in Christ has a vastly different set of ontology of identity to those who’re not. Existentialism is essentially that: you existence precedes your essence. What your existence is right now is defined by what you do. In attacking the act of homosexuality itself, many often do not realize that they are indirectly attacking someone’s being because the world coloured by existentialism cannot move beyond that fact that there is more than you as a person than what you do.
The “rough” sketch of his life looks like this: he’s an Australian who grew up in a nominalist Anglican home, and roundabout 15 y.o. he had a religious experience that cause him to be a Christian. Then he grew up, moved around a bit, found himself to be artistically inclined, did drugs before his 21st, struggled as a musician, “jumped” denomination into the Pentecoastal movement,. All sounds “normal”… except underneath the hood, he has Same Sex Attraction (SSA).He mentioned that he had to put up a facade with friends, struggled with suicide and eventually got married for 3 years before separation. It was hinted that he engaged in homosexual activity during ministry even. After moving between NZ and Straya and involved in various Pentecoastal music ministries and Vineyard movements (3rd Wave Pentecoastal) eventually he “settled” in Auckland, managed to find a teaching job.
Then followed the “Job” moment of his life: late diagnosis of ADD/ADHD which made him felt ripped off, the dying process of of his second wife due to cancer, failure of Pentecoastal healing conferences in restoring his wife, lost his job, bankruptcy. He ultimately came to a series of epiphanies at the conclusion of the book:
All religious systems have a mix of healthy and unhealthy beliefs. By that I mean, beliefs that are built on love and benefit the whole society, or beliefs that are based on power, control and greed. In the end, it’s not important what religion you believe so much as the integrity of your heart and how it resonates and contributes to the universal heart of love – to God – who is all in all, and the expression of that love. Is the fruit of your religious belief healthy or unhealthy!
“Although I still call myself a Christian, it’s a very loose label. I have shed so much of the religious package that Christendom has constructed to maintain its security, exclusivism and power, that I get labelled a heretic more often than not!
I now see the beauty in real spirituality instead of the religious constructs that cultures build to try to understand and shape their beliefs. I see common threads through all religions that point to our real identity and relationship with God. I can still relate to a lot of Christian theology because it’s only a particular way of expressing and interacting with universal truths. So many of the arguments over doctrines, biblical inerrancy and rituals are completely irrelevant. The true nature of God is so much bigger and so much more awesome than any religion could contain. All religions are just one particular culture or society’s way of expressing spirituality in a way that they have found to work for them.” (page 155)
“Doctrines don’t matter. Was he God incarnate? Born of a virgin? Died for sin in our place? Resurrected from the dead? Who knows!! And really, if we make these doctrines the “make or break” for our eternal security, we have completely and utterly missed the point. You can believe them if you want, if they help you find the peace and security you need to grow. But they are a simple starting point, and just one option on the way.” (page 161)
“All religious systems have a mix of healthy and unhealthy beliefs. By that I mean, beliefs that are built on love and benefit the whole society, or beliefs that are based on power, control and greed. In the end, it’s not important what religion you believe so much as the integrity of your heart and how it resonates and contributes to the universal heart of love – to God – who is all in all, and the expression of that love. Is the fruit of your religious belief healthy or unhealthy! “(page 163)
The following details are worth mentioning especially:
1) At one point, he mentioned he “found himself on the cynical side, questioning and rebellious.” He even penned these words:
I even thought I must be “repressed by a “spirit of rebellion”! ( a favourite diagnosis for anyone who struggled with questioning the Pentecoastal way) But I couldn’t really put my finger on it in any succinct way. The biggest problem was they appeared to have solid biblical support for everything they preached. It was all so clear and straight forward because that’s what The Bible says. I found myself being drawn into fundamentalism and biblical literalism. Even though my heart could see the holes in it all, my head had to accept what The Bible seemed to say!” (Page 55)
2) (After he got married to his 2nd wife) This is where life got really difficult (as if it hadn’t been before!) The real hidden, silent me, the one that no one really saw, was still the same suicidal mess from his teens. The one who found he could only survive by pretending to be something else. The one who, through all this, only had God to hold on to, because only God could possibly understand. I was alienated from the rest of the world.
The shame, humiliation and guilt of living a lie, of being “found out”, of repressing, faking, covering up, was never far from the surface. The loneliness and frustration of never being able to really love someone with all my heart and body was crippling. People would often see me as a failure. As I mentioned before, I couldn’t commit to things, despite huge potential. I’d often come across as lazy, but how could I share that I was really paralyzed with shame, fear and indecision that seeped through nearly every area of my life – it was much easier to read a book, watch a movie; anything that was a distraction.
I was stuck with me – and God. Not the God that performed the Pentecostal two-step every Sunday and demanded endless rules of holiness, but the God who found me when I was 15. The one who secretly told me he loved me, despite all the noise in my head. I had two Gods really, and they never seemed to meet… (page 61)
3) We had plenty of prayer and counselling. Perhaps the most outrageous was VMTC (Victorious Ministries Through Christ). We all really wanted to be holy, pure, anointed and passionate for God, no matter what it took. So we got on board with this process that required us to fill out a form first, listing all our sins and potential areas of demonic oppression. Then we would go to a very long, closed door session with an experienced “prayer counsellor” and an “intercessor” who would sit there and quietly pray (mostly in tongues) for the whole session. I had to list every sinful activity, name every guy I had ever had (or even thought about) sexual contact with, as well as renouncing a huge list of books I’d read and films I’d seen, Masonic influences etc, and then we even looked at hereditary lines of oppression! By the time I was finished, I realised this was the biggest load of bullshit ever created. It achieved absolutely nothing in anyone we knew who did it. It was traumatic, invasive, impersonal, belittling, shaming and guilt inducing. I would go so far as to say it was “evil”, in that it produced the opposite of all I understood the love of God to represent. (page 67)
4) Anyway, things started to get difficult in the church after a while as the intensity of seeking and craving more anointing, spiritual power and miracles, began to turn to performance driven legalism. By that I mean we began to judge ourselves and others by that intensity and determination. We made it the standard by which all Christians were to be judged. Some of us started to see the levels of control that had crept in, the pressure to conform and perform. We would “encourage” everyone to spend at least an hour a day speaking in tongues, locking ourselves in our “prayer closet” (a quiet place somewhere) to intercede and sweat it out with God.
The reasons why I highlighted these quotes is that they give way to certain points that one cannot help thinking after finishing this book:
a) the portrait of his life showed a huge absence of apologetics: from the experiential-seeking side, to hoping toward supernatural healing, to his existential struggle, to his “epiphany” of Jesus Christ minus all the true doctrines around Christ concerning him being the only way, coming to save us from everlasting judgment, etc. In fact – and this is no fault of his, the very people accountable for watching over him seems to reject apologetics!
And by apologetics, I mean both the conventional understanding of the branch of Christian knowledge that defends the truth of the Christian message, as well as the original Greek Apologia, with the root words apo logos : “With Reason”, the clear thinking through of theology systematically.
Why do I bring this up? Because in reading this particular book, one cannot help but draw the parellels between Jim and Rozariah Butterfield. In her book “Secret thoughts of an unlikely convert”, there was a particular exchange that ultimately led a tenured, feminist lesbian professor to shed herself to become a follower of Jesus Christ and forsake her homosexual identity:
“I said something like, “You have one book that claims itself to be true, which is in philosophy called an ontological fallacy, and I have about 50 on my shelf that says you’re wrong. So it all comes down to how and why you claim that the Bible is true.” I hoped this would burst his bubble and send him packing and out the door. But it didn’t. Ken clapped his hands with a big toothy smile that seemed to imply that we were on the same page. (We were not.) He said with great joy and delight, “Exactly!” Ken’s enthusiasm for opposition annoyed me to no end.
We agreed that next time he would tell me how and why the Bible is true. ” (Loc 934 of 2808)Two incommensurable worldviews clashed together: the reality of my lived experience and the truth of the word of God. In continental philosophy, we talk about the difference between the true and the real. Had my life become real, but not true?The Bible told me to repent, but I didn’t feel like repenting. Do you have to feel like repenting in order to repent? Was I a sinner, or was I, in my drag queen friend’s words, sick? How do you repent for a sin that doesn’t feel like a sin? How could the thing that I had studied and become be sinful? How could I be tenured in a field that is sin? How could I and everyone that I knew and loved be in sin? In this crucible of confusion, I learned something important. I learned the first rule of repentance: that repentance requires greater intimacy with God than with our sin. How much greater? About the size of a mustard seed. Repentance requires that we draw near to Jesus, no matter what. And sometimes we all have to crawl there on our hands and knees. Repentance is an intimate affair. And for many of us, intimacy with anything is a terrifying prospect.When Christ gave me the strength to follow him, I didn’t stop feeling like a lesbian. I’ve discovered that the Lord doesn’t change my feelings until I obey him. During one sermon, Ken pointed to John 7:17, and called this “the hermeneutics of obedience.” Jesus is speaking in this passage, and he says: “If anyone is willing to do God’s will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from myself.” Ah ha! Here it was! Obedience comes before understanding. I wanted to understand. But did I actually will to do his will? God promised to reveal this understanding to me if I “willed to do his will.” The Bible doesn’t just say do his will, but “will to do his will.” Wanting to understand is a theoretical statement; willing to do his will takes action.I knew I didn’t have that! I prayed that the Lord would give me that whole-hearted will. I learned that the Lord wants all of our loyalties under submission to him. He wants us to identify ourselves, to call ourselves by name, in his name for us. In my case, my feelings of lesbianism were familiar, comfortable, and recognizable, and I was reluctant to give them up. I clung to Matthew 16:24, rememberingevery believer had to at some point in life take the step that I was taking: giving up the right to myself, taking up his Cross (i.e., the historicity of the resurrection, not masochism endured to please others), and following Jesus. The Lord made it clear to me that I had to make some serious life changes. (Loc 486 of 2808)
It seems to me that quite often, in the “How Christians should deal with X problem of sexuality”, that too often the place of Christ ontologically in our lives are forgotten, the part where we are asked to kill the very core of our being in order to be restored to who we are meant to be (over time). When you contrast Rozariash Butterfield’s walking out of homosexuality vs Jim’s stay in it, this point just seems glaring.
This quote by Michael Ramsden is especially relevant here to finish off this thought:
“Christ did not simply come to give us a new system of thinking, even though there can be nothing more profound than knowing Him. Christ did not come to give us a new feeling of God, even though there is nothing more life changing than meeting Him. Christ did not come to simply tell us how to live, even though we are told we should be known for the things we do. Christianity is ultimately rooted ontologically, in being.
b) the absence of corporate accountability. This is perhaps the Thomistic influence, backed by my experience with Open Brethren (and sister churches that stemmed from them), comes into play. Ed Feser, in The Last Superstition, made the charge that Ockham’s particularism coupled with the Reformation resulting into a very individualistic sort of Protestant Christian faith. I agree. While salvation certainly is individualistic, we are also called into a new body (Romans 12:5). But because of the radically individualistic nature of modern evangelicals, one of the interesting things I have consistently noticed is the lack of corporate involvement in addressing persistent sin problem.
Take the problem of pornography addiction. Statisically, the number of Christians who are pornography addicts mirror that of national statistic. Scientifically, we know pornography addiction is not very different from drug/substance abuse. Yet how often do we here some sort of discipleship programme that stand with people in their walk out of sexual behaviours as such? How often do we hear people in the ministry fall to sexual behaviour and temptations? When you look at passages like James 5:6, Galatians 6:1, etc. there is this feeling that somehow some sins are one that will require the corporate to continually watch over you at your weakest moment, something not too different than the AA – and this is something that I have repeatedly heard or observed from within the (Open) Brethren or Brethren-affiliated churches, one that doesn’t condemn you but at the same time stand with you in saying that there is a problem. Yet how many churches actually openly foster this? And if this was the sort of environment that is necessary for people to walk out of the homosexual lifestyle, how many churches are actually prepared to do this?
In closing of this post, do I recommend Jim’s book? I think if you have $ to spare, and if you have read Rozariah Butterfield’s book, sure. But on its own, it is a book that will provide you with plenty of food-for-thought… and a stern warning of what happens, when the role of apologetics and loving God with your mind is lacking in the church.