Christianity,  Theology/Bible

Is Reparative Therapy a Valid Approach?

Reparative therapy has become quite the hot potato in our national conversation about homosexuality. It is a therapy that focuses on orientation change for homosexuals, and many people view it as the Christian approach to homosexuality. But is that true? Right now there are at least two perspectives on this question among conservative evangelicals. Some believe it is a valid aid in discipleship and sanctification. Others do not. Who is right?

A group of evangelical thinkers will gather next week to debate and answer that question at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Atlanta, Georgia. Robert Gagnon, the author of the most comprehensive work defending a biblical view of homosexuality, will be making the case for reparative therapy. Heath Lambert, professor and writer from Southern Seminary, will be making the case against reparative therapy. Yours truly will be weighing-in against reparative therapy as well. Then the three of us will have a panel discussion to hash out our differences.

If you plan to be in Atlanta next week for the conference, we would love to see you there at our session, which is titled “Reparative Therapy: Is It a Valid Approach to Helping Homosexuals?” We will be meeting in Room 202 at the Atlanta Hilton from 2:00-5:10pm, Tuesday, November 17. The schedule will go like this:

2:00-2:40 PM Robert Gagnon, “Why Christians Should Not Throw Reparative Therapy under the Bus”

2:50-3:30 PM Heath Lambert, “Why Reparative Therapy Is Not an Evangelical Option”

3:40-4:20 PM Denny Burk, “An Anthropological Perspective on Sin, Desire, and Sexuality”

4:30-5:10 PM Panel Discussion (moderated by Owen Strachan)

Hope to see you there.


  • Alistair Robertson

    That’s exciting Denny. I’m a little disappointed that there are not an equal number of people on each side of the debate, but it’s still a good conversation to have.

    Will recordings be available? An international plane ticket is a bit beyond my resources.

  • Don Johnson

    I hope Denny is aware that Gagnon is considered by many believers to be a toxic debater in the homosexuality debates and many simply refuse to share the stage with him. I have also seen online forums blow up when he gets involved, so that the conversation had had to be removed. I have no idea how he will behave in this debate, but this may be a factor in others declining to participate.

    • Don Johnson

      By toxic, I mean that he can come across as claiming that any who do not agree with his analysis that any and all homosexual acts are a sin are X, where X is one of many derogatory terms such as not really a believer, a false teacher, a heretic, does not accept the authority of Scripture, etc. when what is actually the case is that they interpret Scripture differently than he does. In other words, it can be hard to debate this subject with him and so many who do not believe all homosexual acts are a sin simply decline to get on the stage with him.

      If one agrees with his position, then he may not come across as toxic; rather he is simply being emphatic. It does seem that the debate in this case will only have people that believe Scripture teaches that any and all homosexual acts are a sin and the question is whether reparative therapy is a valid option.

  • Jay R. Walker

    Denny, I think a good bit of time ought to be spent initially in defining reparative therapy from each side’s viewpoint. Much of the RT model is non-biblical (but has a lot of support from evangelicals because of the high view of heterosexual marriage). You noted this in your book – that transforming homosexuality need not be change from homosexual relationships to heterosexual marriage. BUT I think sometimes, nouthetic based counselors totally miss the fact that nurture does play a role in how people develop their patterns of desire. The fact that our society is so very fatherless and disfunctional in terms of sibling and peer relationships does play a large role in people’s development of patterned feels and desires.

    Counselors cannot ignore the nurture/root issues if we are going to call people to deal with their disordered desires.
    I’m glad Gagnon is going to be there. He is very supportive of people who belong to the Biblical mindset that Such Were Some of You.

  • Aaron Shafovaloff

    I have seen only admirable conduct and dignity with Robert Gagnon in his debates and interactions. I thank God for his work!

  • Charlene E Hios "JD"

    I am always curious about those who have not been there talking about it. Meaning, most who write books on homosexuality have not lived the life. Forgive me, I am just hearing about your book. I will add it to my list of books to read. Most books written by those who have not lived the life of a gay identifying person have, it seems, read what others have written, studied the topic, then wrote their opinion . . .

  • David Booth

    Yes, clarification on Dr Robert Gagnon being ‘toxic’ would be welcome. I have viewed numerous presentations by Dr Gagnon and have not found him in any way ‘toxic’ – as I understand the word to be commonly used in a pejorative sense. yes, he is forthright in his critique and arguments, but have not found him rude or stoop to ad hominem argumentation. A good example is his recent dialogue with Dr Daniel Kirk. Some may which to frame the debate less stringently or forcefully than he seems to do so, but ‘toxic’ seems to unnecessarily malign his character and Godly intent.

  • bobstith

    I’m with Charlene. Also, one big problem with this latest evangelical trend to throw reparative therapy under the bus is (a) a lack of clear definition – or at least one with which most therapists who use some form of RT would agree and (b) a lack of awareness that for the most part Gay activists lump all forms of help – including biblical discipleship – into the RT or “conversion” therapy camp. So when we summarily dismiss RT, we are giving ammunition to those who oppose any form of help for SSA strugglers. We really need to start listening to those who have long experience in ministry in this field – and ministry in many cases from personal experience.

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