Friday, July 19, 2024

Review: Greg Johnson’s Still Time to Care

by Ben Hein
408 views 8 minute read

“A path to care requires believers and especially Christian leaders to identify closely with their same-sex oriented members… The path of care cannot flourish until the emotional abuse comes to an end and those who fostered the abuse humble themselves and learn instead to love.”

Our family joined the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in January 2017. Within 6 months I was in my first pastorate, and by April 2018 I was ordained.

We chose to join the PCA in part because of its confessional standards and robust theological vision. We believed these commitments made the PCA a denomination that could readily endure disagreements or pressures that might otherwise tear apart other churches and denominations with less rigorous standards.

It wouldn’t be long, however, before we started hearing rumblings of a threat that would shred our once faithful denomination.

The threat? A theological view that supposedly both celebrated homosexual identity and affirmed the goodness of same-sex attraction. This view, it was said, would quickly lead to blessing same-sex marriages and ordaining practicing gay ministers unless it was stopped.

At the center of these rumors and whispers was the Revoice conference. One man stood out as the greatest threat of all: Rev. Dr. Greg Johnson, a PCA pastor in St. Louis who had been quite vocal about his own same-sex orientation and attraction, and whose church hosted the first Revoice conference in 2018.

In response to this emerging threat, many pastors and leaders in the PCA issued a call to arms to fight for the faithfulness of the PCA. Blogs were written. Conferences were held. Investigations began, and complaints were filed. The battle lines were drawn, and a clear threat solidified: Rev. Johnson and “Revoice Theology” must be stopped at all costs.

As this looming threat grew, I knew I needed to spend time figuring out just what was going on. What I found disturbed me – but not for the reasons you might expect.

I had been led to believe that this Revoice conference was advocating for a position which blessed homosexual practice and relationships. But as I explored the Revoice Statement of Faith and their position on Sexual Ethics, I found clearly articulated beliefs which not only recognized same-sex sexual desire as a result of sin and the fall, but also articulated the need for churches to better care for and minister to sexual minorities in their midst.

As I investigated Rev. Johnson further, I discovered a man who was not only confessionally orthodox, but whose faithfulness as a celibate man in his mid-40’s and whose commitment to the biblical sexual ethic deeply ministered to my own faith and walk with the Lord.

I was troubled. Was it possible that nearly everything I’d been told about Revoice and Greg Johnson was a lie? Could it be that the real threat to the PCA wasn’t “Revoice Theology”, the “gay agenda,” or liberalism, but instead that it was a toxic fundamentalism only trying to preserve the status quo through legalism and fear of homosexuality?

If this were true, then the uncomfortable reality was that I would need to be confronted by my own apathy which made space for such toxic beliefs and behavior to grow. I would have to repent of my own lack of understanding, care, and compassion for gay people in my life and spheres of influence.

I know you came here for a book review, and this introduction has already gone on too long. I share this background at length primarily for this reason: to give you context for the faithfulness, endurance, and love for Christ’s church that Rev. Dr. Greg Johnson has. Somehow, amidst years of debates, accusations, investigations, and slander – all well within the public eye of a global denomination – Greg has found time and energy to gift us with a new book.

And what a gift it is friends.

Still Time to Care: What We Can Learn From the Church’s Failed Attempt to Cure Homosexuality is a spectacular book that I want to put in the hands of every church leader and member I know. Still Time to Care should be foundational reading for any church that desires to better care for sexual minorities, whether within their own congregation, or from among those in LGBTQ+ communities.

In four parts, Greg lays out for us both a history of how the American church has cared for (or failed to care for) sexual minorities as well as a path forward for congregations who want to better love their same-sex attracted brothers and sisters today. As each of these sections covers related subject matter that nevertheless varies in scope, I thought it best to briefly review each in turn.

Greg has loved us enough to put his heart into this book. Christian charity and humility demand we listen.

Part 1: The Paradigm of Care

Still Time to Care begins with Greg’s story and a note on the terminology we use to describe same-sex orientation/attraction/experience. The latter is a theme the author returns to throughout the book, and frankly this small section is one of the highlights of the entire work. With succinct words and humorous quips, Rev. Johnson explains why any term we use for same-sex orientation and experience is fraught with challenges.

The first full section of the book gives us a window into views of four 20th-century Evangelical leaders and their posture toward homosexuality: C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Billy Graham, and John Stott. Rev. Johnson clues us into the purpose of this brief survey; that is to “see the beginnings of a positive and biblically orthodox vision for gay people who follow the call of Jesus Christ” (pg. 4).

The insights learned over these four chapters will likely be new to anyone who is remotely familiar from these four men. They certainly were to me. Whether Lewis’ love for his “most intimate friend” – a gay man named Arthur Greeves, Graham’s compassion for a gay man caught in a national scandal, or Stott’s concern for gay persons and prophetic rebukes for an unloving Church, we have much to learn from these leaders who are admired by largely everyone across the Evangelical spectrum of belief.

Part 2:  The Paradigm of Cure

If part one is meant to inspire us with hope for what is possible in our Churches, part two will humble and grieve us over how the American Church has largely failed gay people. Over 9 chapters Greg expertly (and painfully) surveys the history of the ex-gay movement, which is most associated with Exodus International and its affiliated ministries. The work of these ministries was largely centered on reparative and conversion therapies which sought to definitively change the sexual orientation of gay women and men.

This movement would die as quickly as it was born. As Rev. Johnson explains, there are several reasons for the quick death of this movement. There is very little evidence (if any) that anyone’s orientation truly changed. The movement ultimately died because it was built on theologically weak foundations and did not honor the Lord Jesus.

Instead of accomplishing its stated purposes, the ex-gay movement largely produced heightened homophobia, shame, and emotional abuse. New and immature believers were set up for moral and personal failure when they were fast-tracked into leadership positions simply because they propagated the “ex-gay script.” Same-sex attracted persons were turned into objects and pawns for culture wars being fought in local churches. Pain and trauma abounded as these image bearers were often crushed under unrealistic and unbiblical theologies of sin and sanctification.

Having grown up outside of Evangelical spaces, this is a history that I have largely been ignorant of until now. As a member and leader in said spaces today, it is a history I need to know so that I can repent of it and seek to correct the damage done so that the love of Jesus can be made available for all – no matter their sexual orientation.

Part 3: The Rising Challenge to a Historical Ethic

Out of the wreckage of shame and abuse toward gay persons created by the ex-gay movement, various revisionist readings of Scripture and the biblical sexual ethic have rose to prominence. These readings claim that same-sex sexual behavior is not inherently sinful and can be blessed by God when pursued in a loving, covenantal same-sex marriage. Rev. Johnson clearly and powerfully argues against such positions, including those that redefine various words in the Apostle Paul’s vocabulary which we now associate with homosexuality (porneia, arsenokoitai, malakoi), or say that first-century Christians had no conception of committed homosexual relationships (an argument from cultural distance).

Greg’s academic and intellectual rigor are on full display in this section. Having studied this subject matter in depth in seminary, I still came away with plenty of new insights and historical context I did not know before. These three chapters easily rise to the top of the accessible literature available to us which tackles these modern arguments from the historic Christian and biblical perspective.

Dr. Johnson packages these arguments with his pastoral heart; the heart of a shepherd who knows the temptations and challenges of the sheep. Such a heart is evident in Greg’s closing argument against revisionist readings:

The reality is this. I am convinced that for me to engage in a loving, nonabusive, mutual, long-term sexual relationship with another man – for me to grab hold of his hand – I would have to let go of Jesus’ hand. There is not a man on the planet who’s worth that” (pg. 178).

Thank you, Greg, for reminding all of us – gay or straight – that holding on to Jesus’ hand is absolutely worth it.

Part 4: A Path Forward

In my reading of Still Time to Care, this final section burned like a fire, fueled by the content and arguments of the first three sections. In these last four chapters, Rev. Johnson lays out a path for the American church to move forward in a way that is centered on Jesus and powered by his gospel.

This path will not be easy. It must begin with a willingness to confront where the influence of ex-gay ministries is still alive and well today. It must involve a deep repentance on the part of leaders and church members who propagated or made space for abuse done in the name of Jesus.

One of the ways emotional and spiritual abuse toward sexual minorities continues in Christian churches is because of our focus on “policing the ex-gay script.” As Rev. Johnson clearly shows, no term used to describe same-sex attraction and experience is perfect. A truly Jesus-centered church will stop “weaponizing people’s testimonies and shunning people for making word choices we disagree with” (pg. 208) and will instead focus on “communicating honestly in love” (pg. 209). This recurring theme of terminology and word choice in local churches was one of the most pastorally helpful elements of the entire book.

I was especially appreciative of Greg’s attention to the role shame plays in the life of sexual minorities. While I cannot relate to shame over same-sex attraction, I am certainly familiar with shame that comes from other places – not least of which being my own sexual sin. Greg’s reminder that I don’t need to make myself lovable, but instead that I simply need to hear and know that I am loved by Jesus, was a balm to my soul.

Church members and leaders will come away with many insights to carry into their own churches to steward the work toward caring for (not curing) our gay brothers and sisters.

Final Thoughts

In 1958 Dr. King gave a powerful sermon titled “A Knock at Midnight.” This message contained a charge for Christian churches to rise up and remain a friend to those who are lost at midnight; to proclaim hope and forgiveness in Jesus to those who are lost and wounded from the uncertainties of life, their confusion, and their wanderings through ethical relativism and idolatry of self-expression. While the church has often failed such persons, they nevertheless continue to knock on our doors, just hoping they might get a glimpse and taste of Jesus through his people.

Rev. Greg Johnson’s call to us in Still Time to Care is to love sexual minorities all around us who are lost at midnight. The sad truth is that many gay and same-sex oriented persons have become lost at midnight – and subsequently wounded – because of the way they’ve been treated by churches and Christians. The path forward begins with repentance and a fresh experience of the love of Jesus through his gospel.

My hope is that many people will read this wonderful book and find Jesus leading them toward a deeper love for all people, including those who for too long have been ignored, hurt, and abused by Christians in his name.

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Lisa Gardner December 8, 2021 - 2:35 pm

You make me want to read this book. I will put it at the top of my list. Thank you for your review. So far, your review has only 3 views. I hope you get a lot more than that!

Resources for 2022 PCA General Assembly (and Presbytery Overture Votes) – Chris Accardy January 15, 2022 - 10:54 pm

[…] Hein. Review: Greg Johnson’s Still Time to Care. December 6, […]


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