Book review: Unclobber, by Colby MartinPosted: January 21, 2017
The central theme to this 2016 book, is how the author wanted to feel in “alignment”. He tends to use this term to refer to the tension between how his heart felt that any exclusion of gay people was wrong, while this initially contradicted what his head told him, based on Scripture. Basically, the book records his journey, from supposed lack of alignment between his head and heart, through to reinterpreting Scripture to align with his heart. He argues that it’s healthy to be in alignment, but seems to not see that his new-found alignment with his heart, takes him out of alignment with God, as per Jeremiah 17:9.
The author (left in the picture here, with his wife) describes himself as “a straight, white, formerly conservative evangelical pastor … who now leads a progressive (sic) Christian church” (p. XVI). The book is kinda two books entwined into one, with the even numbered chapters of the book focusing on theology and the odd numbered chapters being a chronology of key points in his life when he responded to things GLBT. The even chapters are very much theological rhetoric as the author focuses on one or two verses at a time, attempting to make a case that the Bible does not oppose homosexual practice. The odd chapters, detailing his timeline, are tinged with loss much of the time, as he details how his unorthodox theology cost him his house and job as pastor at one point, only to then loose the next job as pastor, too. He opens chapter 7, by remarking that he expected that his newfound “alignment” would make him feel better, but instead he felt demoralized and like he was going to the dentist. He spent 2 months not going to church or praying. He even had a tantrum with tears. But “I’d sought integrity” he cries. Not Scriptural integrity though, sadly.
The author says he stands behind 2 Tim. 3:16-17 that all Scripture is God breathed, but he claims that it’s been misinterpreted by traditional Christians. In many ways this book is a product of its time. Martin is obviously a bit of a reader, and he indicates that he draws his doctrines from (liberal) sources such as Brian McLaren, Matthew Vines and even video productions such as For The Bible Tells Me So. The rear cover includes a review by the notorious Rob Bell.
Like Vines, Martin’s overall logic is flawed. IE he writes in chapter 10 “…Im convinced that it is impossible to argue that the Bible … divinely prohibits two people of the same sex from experiencing a loving … relationship.” And we know from elsewhere in the Book that this includes a sexual relationship between them. Yet Martin fails to substantiate that conclusion, even though he tries to. Like Vines, the formula for his logic seems to be “maybe + maybe = definitely”. He tries to undermine the readers’ confidence in popular translations of the Bible, telling them that experts dont know the meaning of particular words in the original languages, and that we cant know that certain terms refer to
homosexuality, despite popular Bible translations being translated that way. Yet he then builds on these claims of uncertainty, to argue that although we dont entirely know what the original words mean, we can conclude that they dont refer to loving forms of homosexuality. Huh? We cant be certain what they mean, yet we can be certain they dont refer to something in particular? You cant have it both ways, Mr.. Do we know what they mean, or dont we? If we partially know what they mean, how can we be certain what they dont mean? You cant build a case for certainty, from an argument of uncertainty. In chapter 8, he admits; “I invite you to read this chapter and expect that some parts of it might feel like a stretch to you. Some parts might feel uncomfortable or absurd, and you may be tempted to check out.” Yes indeed, some of his claims do sound like quite a stretch.
The author doesnt like ignoring Scripture, but he does seem comfortable with explaining certain passages away, if he doesnt like them. When envisioning establishing a new church, in chapter 9, Martin’s liberal side is revealed as he asks many (often leftist) questions, including “What would it look like to create a church that was uniquely Christian, but not exclusively? Where we … dont pretend that Christianity is the sole arbiter of truth …?” Crumbs. In reminiscing about the decision to found a church, he writes of a desire “to provide a space where people can connect in meaningful ways that will lead them to love, life and peace. This is what our life must be about, investing in relationships, in people.” Yes, investing in God, seems to be a lesser motivation for him these days.
Some of Martin’s arguments are the standard ones promoted by gay activists, such as taking an approach of obfuscation for Greek terms used in the New Testament. But other arguments that Martin employs, seem to me to be fairly obscure, for example his examination of Hebrew phrasing in Leviticus. Although Martin seeks to explain his reasoning, in some cases the reader lacks sufficient detail from Martin, or lacks the resources to judge the validity of argument. And so in those cases, ultimately the reader has little choice but to choose whether to trust Martin, in terms of believing whether his argument is sound. At other points, Martin makes claims that seem somewhat unsubstantiated, such as in chapter 10, when he claims that St Paul wrote of “activities like keeping young boys as sex slaves …” (p. 165).
At several points, it seemed to me that he simply omitted key arguments that run counter to his preferred conclusions. EG I didnt notice him raise the heteronormativity of Genesis 2. And when discussing Sodom & Gomorrah, I didnt notice him reference Jude 7. If you are going to write an entire book about this subject, I think it’s poor form to exclude such relevant scriptures. In chapter 6, Martin writes that “Some scholars maintain that Leviticus applied only to men of the priestly tribe of Levi. Other scholars maintain that these Clobber Passages applied only to Jewish men living in the Holy Land.” But Martin fails to point out that other scholars state that there’s good reason to conclude that Leviticus applied to all.
At times, Martin employs exaggeration and rhetoric rather than sound reasoning, to make his case. When discussing Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, he writes “I cannot, in good conscience (or in good scholarship), see how these two verses, which were written to help a liberated group of slaves understand how they were to be a uniquely called-out nation in the world, can offer any words of condemnation against the GLBTQ community.” Maybe his interpretation is part of the problem. Condemnation was probably not the point. The main point was probably to dissuade people from engaging in homosexual relations. But notice how he frames the point of the laws, as being to help people understand. Really, Colby? The laws were to help people understand? No, even he doesnt really believe that is what Leviticus was all about. We know this because later in the chapter, he writes “Sure, Levitical Law did much to help humanity move forward in terms of raising human consciousness and creating a more just and generous world, …” In chapter 7, he writes of people who are considering that “they have misused the Bible to condemn an entire people-group, denying them access to the grace of God.” Denying them access? That’s silly. But he footnotes this comment, writing “I use this phrase provocatively. I dont think its possible to “deny access to the grace of God.””. Oh so he writes things he doesnt mean? I see…
Another key flaw in the reasoning, in my opinion, is Martin’s claim that it’s anachronistic to use the term ‘homosexual’ in Scripture, because Martin says it’s a modern term based on modern understanding. His attitude on this is adamant, and he writes in chapter 10; “The words homosexuals and homosexuality have zero business being in the Bible.” This too is a common claim from gay activists. But it’s an overstatement. Logically, homosexual attraction has existed throughout history, as historical records attest, and a basic grasp of homosexual attraction is not beyond the average uneducated person. And to be consistent, given that modern marriage differs from Biblical times, is it anachronistic to use the word ‘marriage’ in Scripture? And what about the confusion between early American slavery, and slavery in Biblical times – does this mean the word ‘slavery’ shouldnt be in the Bible? My point is that yes there are nuances of difference in understanding between Biblical times and now, but contemporary words are still adequate to attempt to communicate what the Bible says, especially if footnotes are used. I think that to discard the term ‘homosexual’ is to obfuscate rather than clarify. Martin is right, when he points out that to say “homosexuality is sinful” is a claim that is open to various interpretations, and that some Bible translations have been sloppy in this regard. But it seems to me, that to follow his advice and to conclude that homosexual relationships are not sinful, is sloppy too – just in the opposite direction.
Additional material that illustrates Martin’s theology can be found at: