Sam Allberry. Is God Anti-Gay? And Other Questions about Homosexuality, the Bible, and Same-Sex Attraction. Purcellville, VA: The Good Book Company, 2013. 88 pp. $7.99.
In this brief but important book, Sam Allberry combines pastoral wisdom, authentic autobiography, and sound exegesis to provide Christians with a helpful introduction to the topic of homosexuality.
From the first few pages, it’s clear the greatest strength of the book is its simple readability. Despite the complexity of the subject matter, Allberry, associate pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Maidenhead, England, distills the most important points of his discussion into five short chapters. Together with an autobiographical introduction and conclusion, these chapters provide a wise way forward for Christians to be a faithful and compassionate witness to the gospel in our society. What truly makes this book remarkable are the aforementioned autobiographical elements Allberry scatters throughout the book. Allberry is a young Christian pastor who experiences same-sex attraction (SSA) and is committed to a biblical vision for sexuality. The introduction, conclusion, and various other autobiographical anecdotes within the book provide a glimpse into the soul of a godly gospel minister for whom homosexuality is a deeply personal issue. In the end, Allberry gives us a coherent account of SSA that resonates both with the clear teaching of Scripture and also with our collective experience as members of a fallen humanity.
The shape of Allberry’s discussion is simple. Before addressing homosexuality specifically, he spends an entire chapter describing a biblical understanding of marriage and sex. Then he provides a brief overview of the various texts throughout Scripture that directly address homosexual behavior. Finally, in the last three chapters, Allberry takes a look at the issue of SSA itself from three perspectives: the individual Christian who experiences SSA; the church at large and its ministry to people with SSA; and the world, where Christians are called to be a compelling witness to those outside the church with SSA.
In the chapter on homosexuality and the Bible, Allberry surprises the reader at the outset with a clear warning: “What the Bible says about homosexuality does not represent everything God wants to say to homosexual people” (23). It can be hard to understand or explain SSA in light of the gospel because we sometimes take a “Strong’s concordance” approach to ethics, assuming the most relevant texts are the ones that directly mention the issue we’re trying to explain. However, Allberry’s warning reminds us that, particularly when talking to gay people, it’s often best to assume they already know what we believe about their sexuality.
Although the first two chapters are helpful in their own right, the final three represent the real meat of the book. A foundation by itself—without walls, a ceiling, or furniture—doesn’t qualify as a home. Likewise, sound doctrinal foundations with a sound, biblical sexual ethic are fundamental to an accurate understanding of the challenge of homosexuality. And yet, if our response fails to incorporate concrete examples of gospel grace and truth, then there’s little truly Christian about it.
Allberry’s examination of homosexuality can be described as gospel-centered because the gospel is always a third-party dialogue partner in his discussion.
For people who struggle with SSA, the issue of gender identity is an enormous source of anxiety. The existential heart-cry deep within the soul of these individuals is, “What kind of a man (or woman) am I if I experience same-sex attraction?” The temptation to provide a creaturely answer to this question in the form of a culturally derived gender identity (such as “gay” or “lesbian”) can be strong. Yet Allberry rightfully insists we stick to the truths of the gospel when attempting to navigate the murky waters of gender identity.
Besides the broader issue of gender identity, Allberry describes how the gospel addresses other specific sources of confusion and anxiety that often plague those who experience SSA. For example, many Christians who experience SSA will remain single for the rest of their lives. Allberry helpfully reminds us that both marriage and also singleness point to our relationship with Jesus Christ, and that neither is a more blessed state than the other. As he writes, “Union with Christ forever is what the earthly states of both marriage and singleness actually point to” (74).
Allberry also addresses the tendency to equate “change” with orientation change. On this point, he helpfully cautions: “I believe change is possible, but a complete change of sexual orientation is never promised in the Bible” (46). In this way, Allberry notes, SSA is similar to other besetting sins Christians face. For some, SSA may be a serious but temporary temptation; for others, however, it will be a lifelong struggle. In both scenarios, we must remember our God is gracious and merciful.
Perhaps the most valuable chapter of the book is the one on the church’s response. The advice here is worth the price of the book. Allberry covers topics like what to do when a gay couple visits your church, as well as specific and practical suggestions that pastors and church leaders would do well to implement as they seek to be proactive in supporting saints in their congregations with SSA.
The only aspect of Is God Anti-Gay? that may actually end up confusing some people is the title itself. To be fair, at the end of his conclusion, Allberry does provide a direct (though brief) answer to the question posed by the title. But even if he hadn’t, it’s not completely far-fetched to suggest the entire book provides a compelling framework to answer this question accurately.
At the same time, we should probably also recognize we live in a society where the church is routinely accused of being hateful toward gays. In a recent book by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons titled unChristian, they claim that as many as 80 percent of young people (ages 16 to 29) within the church use “anti-homosexual” to describe Christianity. If this is true, then the question “Is God anti-gay?” deserves a direct, full-on response.
Despite a potentially unhelpful title, I strongly recommend pastors, church leaders, and all believers add this book to their library. It is a valuable resource about an increasingly relevant and volatile topic in our society. Even more, it provides Christians and churches with a thoughtful, gospel-grounded perspective that is often too hard to find.