Is God anti-gay? by Sam Allberry

If you are like me, I am sure you have read many articles, blogs, etc. that argue for the adoption of various views by Christians on the subject of homosexuality.  There are seemingly few legitimate, non-inflammatory resources for evangelicals pastors to use and point their people to on the subject.  This year at Together For the Gospel one of the free books I received was a timely new work from Sam Allberry entitled Is God anti-gay?: And other questions about homosexuality, the Bible and same-sex attraction.  Sam Allberry is the associate pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Maidenhead, UK and he writes as a pastor who struggles with same sex attraction and as a pastor embracing singleness.

At the outset, let me just say this is the most pastoral and gentle book that I have read on the topic of homosexuality, the Bible, and the church.  Sam not only stands firmly on Biblical prohibitions against illicit sexuality of all types, but also stands firmly on the Bible’s call to engage and love people caught in all different kinds of sin.  Sam does not see homosexuality or a struggle with same sex attraction (SSA) out of bounds for God’s redeeming love.

Allberry’s book is short, only 85 pages of text, but that is part of what makes this such a great resource.  Allberry builds his whole discussion on homosexuality and same sex attraction on a Biblical theology of marriage.  Sam argues for traditional gender distinctions, gender roles, and the complementary nature of the male/female relationship in marriage.  It is in marriage that humanity is given a way by God “to reflect the unity and diversity that is seen in the Trinity” (20-21).  It is the fundamental relationship between a man and a woman reflecting the relationship of the Trinity that forms the foundation for Sam’s case against homosexuality.  Not only does the marriage relationship reflect the character of the Trinity but it becomes the Biblical imagery of the church’s union with Christ.  Sam’s brief, yet powerful, Biblical theology of marriage drives him to say, “a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, cannot reflect the union of Christ and the church, instead only reflecting Christ and Christ or church and church” (23).  Because Sam roots sex within the confines of marriage it is easy for him to show why the Bible speaks of all sexual immorality (porneia in the Greek) as being outside of marriage.

Allberry moves from his foundation of Biblical marriage and sexuality to a very strong and sensitive discussion on the Bible and homosexuality.  Allberry opens this chapter by stating that “the Bible is not fixated on homosexuality…it is not what it is all about” (25).  This is a great reminder given the rabble of the day that wants our individual sexuality to equal the whole of our identity.  He says that “it’s easy to get these feelings [same sex attraction] out of proportion…to think they represent the sum total of our identity…we are encouraged to think that to experience homosexual feelings means that you are, at your most fundamental core, a homosexual” (46).  While at Together for the Gospel during a panel discussion Sam reiterated this point with Dr. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as it applies to all sexuality.  Sam argued that any time we elevate our sexuality to the level of identity we are setting ourselves up for a fall whether straight or gay.  It is important that as believers we find our identity in Christ and relegate sexuality to its right place.

Allberry continues his discussion of homosexuality as he works through each of the normal passages (Genesis 19:1-38, Jude 7, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:18-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 1 Timothy 1:8-10) from the Bible that deal with homosexuality giving fresh interpretation and careful insight.  Allberry’s conclusion is:

In each instance where the Bible directly addresses homosexual behavior it is to condemn it.  The consistent teaching of the Bible is clear: God forbids homosexual activity.  Given what the Bible says about God’s purpose of sex and marriage this should not surprise us (38).

For readers that would not agree with Allberry’s conclusion above, he has several excursuses that deal with typical questions people ask.  He deals with questions like: “Aren’t we just picking and choosing which Old Testament laws apply?” (59-62), “Can’t Christians just agree to differ on this?” (71-72), “Surely a same-sex partnership is OK if it’s committed and faithful?” (39-40), “But Jesus never mentions homosexuality, so how can it be wrong?” (40-42).  Sam’s use of these question and answer segments really help the reader explore what God has to say about the issue as Sam makes his case.

One important section (31-32) of Sam’s discussion focuses on the nature of same sex attraction.  Sam is very clear in pointing out that same sex attraction is Biblically unnatural and a result of the Fall.  As Sam says, “desires for things God has forbidden are a reflection of how sin has distorted [us], not how God has made [us]…and this is as true of a heterosexual person as of a homosexual person” (32).  What becomes tricky here is how we as Christians think about our illegitimate desires, temptation, and sin.  In another section of his book, Sam mentions, “it is not un-christian to experience same-sex attraction any more than it is un-christian to get sick.  What marks us out as Christians is not that we never experience such things, but how we respond to them when we do” (43).  Denny Burk in his article, “Is Homosexual Orientation Sinful?” deals quite well with the nuances of desire, temptation, and sin arguing that same sex attraction is not morally neutral at the level of desire and should be rooted out along with mindful indulgence.

Since Sam’s whole discussion of homosexuality and the Bible has centered on the Biblical picture of marriage, he sees two options for someone being redeemed from homosexuality; and he does believe that redemption is very possible.  Those options are heterosexual marriage or Biblical singleness.  Sam makes a compelling argument for singleness from Matthew 19:10-12 citing the only other option besides marriage that Jesus gave the Pharisees was a celibate, single life (51).  Sam goes on to talk about the benefits and ministry advantages that singleness does offer.  Sam’s push (and example in his own life) for singleness in the service to Christ is refreshing.

Sam’s book hits its mark, providing the Christian community with an insightful book that summarizes the Biblical position on homosexuality and gives good practical insight on what it looks like to live the Gospel out with Biblical convictions.  Sam’s work is clear and concise though I do have a few short critiques.  I did desire a clearer and more in-depth discussion of the relationship between the Old Testament Law and Christ concerning the issue of homosexuality.  Sam does deal with the popular rebuttal, that Christians are just picking and choosing which Old Testament laws to follow, but really any more discussion would have been beyond the scope of the book.  What Sam does provide is adequate and a great starting point for further study.  I would have also liked to see Allberry raise the issue of the rejection of Biblical authority when one disagrees with the Biblical condemnation of homosexual sin.  Kevin DeYoung does a great job in his article “Why is This Issue Different?” summarizing what the Christian is giving up when he decides to disagree with the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality.  Sam gets close to this discussion in his excurses on the question “Can’t Christians just agree to differ on this?”, but cases it in terms of a false teacher leading others into sin instead of the rejection of Biblical authority.  My only caution towards the book is in the answer Allberry gives to the title of his book.  Is God anti-gay? Allberry answers, “No” (12).  In context of his book Allberry is arguing that God loves and can save homosexuals.  He is not saying that God is ok with homosexuality. As described previously, Sam squarely shows the Biblical witness is against homosexuality.  Allberry balances his statement by saying in the very next sentence that God is against all who are by nature living apart from God for themselves (12).  While Allberry answer is meant to be thought provoking, highlighting God’s love to see all sinners redeemed from their sinful ways, it may seem misleading to some.

Finally, one of the best features of Sam’s book is how pastoral it is.  He gives multitudinous advice on how a church should relate to homosexuals, how Christians should respond to friends and family members that are struggling with same sex attraction or coming out, and how to share Christ with a gay friend.  Throughout the book is a constant tone of gentleness, sensitivity, and love.

Sam has given the church a well-balanced starting point for teaching on homosexuality.  He centers his writing on the Gospel, correctly understanding the importance of the issue by focusing on the Biblical image of marriage.  Sam effectively summarizes the Bible’s condemnation of same sex attraction, as well as all sexual immorality, and gives a way forward for loving those caught up in homosexuality while staying true to Biblical authority.  I strongly recommend this book to pastors who want to quickly think through the issue, as well as anyone who wants a balanced, gentle, and pastoral book on this important issue.  My hope is that evangelicals as a whole will learn to be as gentle, pastoral, and loving in their dealings with anyone caught in sin as Sam has demonstrated.

Allberry, Sam. Is God anti-gay?: And other questions about homosexuality, the Bible and same-sex attraction. UK: The Good Book Company, 2013, 2014. 96pp. $7.99
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