Some books I can read quickly and others I'm still working through. That's partly a matter of how much time I have, how much I am able to digest the material, and what else is going on in life. I currently have way to many books in progress to admit. I'm trying to finish one so I can write a review on Amazon, as promised. It's not a difficult book to read, but I keep putting it down because of life's responsibilities.
I say all this to say that I wasn't sure if I would even get to read Steve Harper's Holy Love: A Biblical Theology for Human Sexuality (2019) when it came this past week. It came and my husband Riley started looking at it. The next thing I know is that a couple of hours later, he was finished. Wow! Riley and books aren't in love as much as I am. So, that was huge. He said the book was good, informative, and spiritual. Since he was finished, it was my turn. I didn't finish it as quickly. It took me a couple of days because I had to put it down more often. But I was able to finish it. It has a total of 82 pages, including the notes and further reading.
This is a GREAT book!
First, I admire Steve Harper. He is a retired elder in the United Methodist Church, a former professor and administrator of Asbury Theological Seminary, and faculty of the 2 Year Academy. I know this because of his bio. I also know this because he was one of my faculty on one of the sessions in my 2 Year Academy and I did an Independent Study with him on discernment from that for seminary credit. I followed his writings on his Oboedire blog off and on after meeting him at the 2 Year Academy. Though I regret not having kept up more, I have reconnected recently and am reading his works again.
Second, this book is based on the Inductive Bible Study method by Traina, one I came to appreciate during my seminary days. We just recently used that method in the Holston Georgia Parish to work our way through the Gospel of Luke. It's a method that puts things in the broader context of the Scriptures, looks for interpretations, observations, correlations, etc.
Next, Holy Love comes from a Wesleyan view. I appreciate that. The via media, the middle way, is Wesleyan and something I've been drawn to over the years. Harper is able to articulate a compelling Wesleyan view in this book.
A few more things.
Harper shares his personal story. Where he was for so many years and how he got to where he is now. That was important for me to read. We all have a story. Sharing our stories is important. Sometimes we get to sit down face to face at the table. At other times, we read about them. I can relate to much of what he said, having taught at an evangelical Christian college for 12 years. I was a "safe" person that people came to. I didn't judge. We had good conversations. Yet, I still wrestled with what the Bible said. Yet, I really hadn't read any of it. I had just heard it said things and therefore, I believed what folks told me. It took me a long time to do my own studying. Life has a way of teaching and leading us to grow and change. Harper shares his personal story of growth and change and that was a gift.
There are resources in the book, some of which I am familiar with, some of which are new to me. I am grateful for both. The former encourage me and the latter are now on my "list".
Each chapter has discussion questions. I found them to be good, engaging questions that can be used individually or as a group. This book would make a good study book for a small group that already is seeking to know more on this topic or a group willing to dive into the topic.
Harper includes an Epilogue, two Appendices (one for LGBTQ folks and one for non-affirming Christians). There is also a Further Reading section at the end of the book, before the notes section.
A thread that runs through this book on covenant love is grace. That's another thing that makes it so appealing to me. It is grace filled for all.
I haven't asked for permission to share any quotes, but I will share one that I was going to share but haven't yet. I put the quote on the front of the book cover. "My heart was being strangely warmed...again. And in Lento of 2014, it burst into flame with respect to a theology of sexuality. [...] Simply put, I entered Lent of 2014 as a "welcoming but not affirming" Christian and emerged from it on Easter Monday as an "all means all" Christian. (7)
And, lastly, I will say that I agree with Steve Harper's statement when he says, "I still believe we would all be better off, and in a better place as the church, if we all rolled up our sleeves and did the much harder work of holy conferencing." (62) To that, I wrote underneath, "Amen."
There are good resources for holy conferencing and engaging in courageous conversations. It's a matter of whether we're willing to go there or not.
Thank you, Steve Harper, for taking your porch hermeneutic paper and expanding it into this book. Thank you for continuing to write, teach, speak, lead, and love. There are many of us who are grateful.
I hope those of you reading this "review" will check out the book Holy Love. You can find it on the Abingdon Press link in the previous sentence (by clicking on the book title) or through Cokesbury or Amazon. I hope you will get the book, read it, and engage others in conversation with it. If you get the book, read it, and want to dialogue with me, I welcome the conversation.
P.S. Here is a Crackers and Grape Juice podcast with Steve Harper, talking about the book. Episode 205 from May 3, 2019.