Skip to main content
pride book by Matthew Roberts

Review "Pride: identity and the worship of self” by Matthew Roberts

"Pride" is a book that was recommended by my Crosslands tutor for helping to clarify both the meaning of ‘concupiscence’ and the current issues surrounding it. I’m studying on their seminary programme, children’s and youth ministry track. When it came time to write my essay on ‘The Image of God’, I realised this book that was sitting on my shelf might be quite helpful! "Pride" is a book all about identity and how this gets distorted. It’s about worship and idolatry, and how we can end up worshipping ourselves (hence the name "Pride") instead of God. It also covers a lot of issues around sexual identity, which are tangled up in worship, identity and idolatry.

Take the good you can… filter out the unhelpful advice

We are made in His image

I’d heard mixed views on its contents, so my critical goggles were on. I was surprised by how helpful it was in many ways, particularly for understanding the doctrine of the image of God and identity. This is a fundamental issue for young people, as well as to those who experience same-sex feelings. Humanity, having been made in, the image of God has been distorted in the Fall. Yet we mustn’t define ourselves by these distortions as Roberts reminds us that our true identity is in Christ (not in a trite way!). Worshipping God is part of how he designed us to flourish as humans. Roberts helped my understanding of worship, particularly the idea of reflecting God’s glory back to Him in song and adoration. He makes it clear that the reason sin is so offensive to God is because we are made in His image and so are defiling His image when we go against His Word. He also offers the certain hope that we and all our desires will be restored through Christ, and this restoration has already begun through the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, and will be complete in eternity.

Resisting temptation

My tutor was right in that it did clarify the issue of concupiscence. Concupiscence is all about the desire for sinful things, and the issue is “Is sinful desire itself sinful?” However, I’m still unsure on whether I agree with all of Roberts’ conclusions or not. Before opening this book, I had understood that facing temptation in itself can’t be sinful, because Jesus faced temptation, and yet was without sin. I also understood the biblical teaching that lust is sinful,  but it’s possible to be tempted without indulging in lustful thoughts and fantasies. The whole area of desire and why it is sinful or not was the confusion that I wanted clarifying. Despite his precision over words in most places, there are a few instances where Roberts appears to use the terms “lust” and “desire” interchangeably (p80, p103, p120, pp148-151), and as the whole concupiscence issue rests on these distinctions, it didn’t help. What did help me understand the issue better was when Roberts made it clear that there is a difference between the cause of Jesus’ temptations and the cause of our temptations. He states that Jesus’ temptation came from outside Himself. He was never tempted from within. Because of the Fall, we are all corrupted and the desires in our hearts that provoke temptation within us are often sinful.


Roberts’ call to not define ourselves by our desires is good, but I think that he takes this too far in certain places. He criticises Living Out for using the terms ‘same-sex attracted’ or ‘gay’ and for people treating these words as an identity marker. Although it is true that a person could adopt this language as part of a gay identity, these words are intrinsically just shared language to describe a common pattern of temptation, such as sexual temptation to those of  the same sex. To do away with those terms altogether would make communication rather difficult. It would be even harder for non-Christian friends and neighbours to understand what those with same-sex attraction are struggling with. On pp148-150, it appears as though Roberts conflates the concepts of attraction, desire and lust – this mixing up of words feeds into his critique of Living Out and Ed Shaw in particular.

Pastorally sensitive

In some places, Roberts can be pastorally very helpful, such as where he wants to see young people “…learning to think of themselves as young men and women, made in God’s image, and processing their emerging sexual feelings in line with those truths” (p121), rather than being taught to define themselves by their sexual feelings and so seek satisfaction and fulfilment from indulging those desires. This is fantastic advice I long for young people to heed. He also speaks positively about sexual desires stating that “sexual desires are in a way one of the most godlike attributes about us. The strength of longing for marriage and for bodily union within it speak of the strength of the love of Christ for his Church, and hers for Him” (p98).

In other places, however, his pastoral care comes across rather bluntly, thoughtlessly and even harmfully. For example, his suggestion on p105 that “…there is no reason at all why such a man [who desires homosexual encounters] may not court or marry a godly woman and, God willing, become a father.” For some who experience same-sex attraction, a godly marriage may be possible, but for many this isn’t the case. In conceding, later, that there may be instances where a man is physically incapable of consummating a marriage, no thought is given to the woman and her experience of marriage to a man who has no sexual desire for her. Roberts makes his point pedantically and loses the sensitive communication needed in caring for real people.

Pastorally insensitive

His use of language in several places, whilst technically accurate, comes across as unnecessarily offensive (e.g. the terms “sodomy”, “grotesque” and “perversion”). I would certainly not recommend this approach to pastoral care either, as it is alienating and hurtful.

In summary, there is a lot we can learn from in "Pride". Take the good you can from Roberts’ study to help you reflect God’s glory back to Him and live out your identity as one lovingly made in God’s image, and redeemed in Christ. Filter out the unhelpful advice, especially when speaking to others, and go and have a read of books and articles of those he criticises for yourself.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2024 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.

Download the Summer 2024 edition of Ascend