Book Review: Generous Spaciousness by Wendy VanderWal-Gritter
Author: Wendy VanderWal-Gritter
Publisher: Brazos Press
Reading Level: Moderate
“This book has never been about trying to convince you of a particular position on the matter of committed same-sex relationships. The intention throughout these pages has been to model a posture that invites generous spaciousness into our own hearts, into our relationships, and into our churches and Christian organizations.” (272-273)
It is incredibly difficult to review a book such as Generous Spaciousness by Wendy VanderWal-Gritter. The thesis of Generous Spaciousness does not promote a specific position/viewpoint on homosexuality and Christianity. Instead it is a thesis that demands grace throughout discussions, questions, hermeneutics, and particular texts when they occur within the church. For many within the conservative community any argument endorsing questions is frowned upon. VanderWal-Gritter’s idea that homosexuality is “A Disputable Matter” (chapter 11) is certainly not typical church potluck conversation.
It is within this context that a traditionalist like me discovers an internal struggle (much like author VanderWal-Gritter describes in her introduction). I affirm that even committed same-sex relationships are against Biblical teaching (offending the gay-affirming community) while agreeing with much of Generous Spaciousness‘s call for honest dialogue (offending the conservative community). [Note: deeper personal reflection can be read here] VanderWal-Gritter’s criticism stems primarily from her affiliation and familiarity with “ex-gay” ministries (the focus of chapter 1) as well as against it. “Ex-gay” ministries promote a strong doctrine of regeneration that teaches same-sex attraction is inconsistent within a believer. Introducing the subject, VaderWal-Gritter does an excellent job describing four influential views on homosexuality: rebellion, illness/addiction, brokenness, and difference (66-70). Since the conservative church disagrees with the liberal conclusion (“homosexuality is a difference”), it remains to be shown that the conservative church has leaned too easily toward the “it's a choice”/”rebellion-illness” perspective. Generous Spaciousness provides examples of how egregious sins of destructive varieties can stem from the church not providing sufficient grace (chapter 2-7). With many examples and stories (the emphasis of chapter 3) Generous Spaciousness is littered with the sins of the overly zealous evangelical community. The conclusion: the “homosexuality is the worst sin” attitude needs to be removed from the church.
Despite agreeing that “radical reorientation at any attraction level is not the typical experience” (14), I struggle to affirm some of the finer, more expressive, points of Generous Spaciousness. I can nod greedily with “it was an intoxicating fantasy to live in a world where, as long as we acted biblically and trusted in him, God more or less guaranteed success in everything” (105). “Ex-gay” ministries should cease to exist. However, I strongly disagree with large sections of VanderWal-Gritter’s discussion of Biblical passages. Though she does not attempt to prove a position, the simple laying out of “can we dispute this interpretation” is rather unhelpful. A spirit of tough questions permeates discussion of the consensus conservative interpretation of the Scriptures (emphasis in chapter 10). One example of this occasionally antagonistic stance is the denigrating of “use[ing] the Scripture to tell us how to live” (considered a conservative approach) despite its similarity to what VanderWal-Gritter endorse, “allow[ing] the Scripture to form us” (132).
I cannot communicate the entirety of my split response to Gracious Spaciousness. At one moment I am dumb founded at the presumptive lack of Pauline understanding of sexuality (173) only to respond with affirmative questions about “brother and sisters [who] share in the essentials of our faith—believing in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ; and his atonement for us to be reconciled” (178).
In conclusion, Gracious Spaciousness is a valuable read for conservative pastors. Let me be frank, I think more grievous sins abound in pastoral counseling sessions than anything found on the local drag or “gay quarter.” The church is behind by decades on faithful responses in the realm of pastoral theology. To help move in the right direction Gracious Spaciousness demands encountering heterosexual privilege in society and culture (emphasized on pg. 214-215). VanderWal-Gritter’s denunciation of ecclesiological “don’t ask, don't tell” (191-192) is incredibly helpful despite my strong disagreement with the lack of respect she exhibits for Christians who respond by conviction to sin as they see it (228). Gracious Spaciousness is a necessary book during this time for evangelicals because it will undermine our conservative culture’s rejection of homosexuality and force us back to the Scriptures. Is this book the final word on this subject? I certainly hope not (and I can’t imagine Wendy VanderWal-Gritter thinks so either). Yet, this is a crucial volume at a crucial time for conservative advocates (chapter 13) and those willing to face criticism while asking difficult questions.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.