Review: "Why does God care who I sleep with?" by Sam Allberry
Sam Allberry has written a short book explaining the meaning of God’s boundaries for sexual morality. In a culture increasingly at odds with the Bible’s teaching on this subject, we need more than just to know what the Bible’s rules are. Rather, we need to be aligned with God’s heart on this matter, so that our hearts and minds can be convinced that, “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” (Psalm 16:6).
Allberry starts by showing us the common ground we have with our secular culture on sexual morality – sexual abuse is wrong and non-consensual sex is wrong. He then goes on to suggest that everyone knows deep down that sex has more meaning than just a physical act. The Bible explains that the “one flesh” union between two people profoundly and permanently changes their relationship – so sex needs to be stewarded very carefully within the right setting. Allberry brings us the analogy of fire: it warms us wonderfully within a fireplace (its proper setting) but, when we play around with fire and ignore the rules of fire safety, then it can leave behind great destruction. And so it is with sex. Sadly, our society has lowered our view of sex to a mere commodity – something we are entitled to – rather than what it should be: the giving of the whole of oneself within the lifelong marriage of one man and one woman. Outside of this God-given context, the whole gift cannot be fully given and so falls short of God’s intention.
In case this leaves us thinking that this teaching is rather old-fashioned, Allberry very helpfully sets out what a positive and transforming message the Christian teaching of sexual morality was in New Testament times. It highlighted the importance of dignity, mutuality and consent to a Roman culture that often dismissed such values. Christian sexual morality has never been fashionable and will always be revolutionary.
There is a helpful pastoral chapter in the middle of the book (“What if I’ve really messed up?”) that uses David’s prayer of repentance (Psalm 51) as a model for deep penitence. This brings us daily hope that through such repentance our hearts can be transformed from desiring sin into having a greater desire for God.
My favourite part of the book was chapter 9 (“Isn’t love enough?”). This turns the secular argument of #lovemeanslove on its head. Allberry shows us that our culture’s elevation of love is correct as far as it goes, but also profoundly superficial in its contraction of the true meaning of love. Yes, we need to display love in all that we do (1 Cor 13:1-3), but we have massively underestimated what true love is. Our culture has turned to fickle Hollywood sentimentality rather than learning about true costly love from the One who personifies love (1 John 4:7-8). When we measure ourselves against the biblical standard of love, we all fall well short. The surprising truth is that by ordering our love in God’s ways (which means sometimes saying ‘no’ to our strong desires) we always end up loving other people more:
“Obedience to [God] will never mean we end up loving people less. We might [be] wanting to love someone in the wrong kind of way, and God isn’t so much calling us to love them less as to love them differently, which will really mean loving them more” (p.114)
Indeed, when he explains the Great Commandment (Mark 12:29-31), Allberry argues that we can only truly love other people (12:31) when we are first loving God wholeheartedly (12:30). In this, he answers the titular question (“Why does God care who I sleep with?”) by showing how the two elements of the Great Commandment belong inextricably together:
“God cares who we sleep with because he cares that we really do love each other well, and that might mean loving in a different way to how we feel... God also cares that we know his love. Just as our love for one another is bound up with our love for him, so too human sexuality is designed to be bound up with God’s love for us. In fact, it’s meant to be a signpost to it.” (p.120)
In the final two chapters, Allberry describes the story of who God is and his involvement in this world as a galactic romance. Jesus is the bridegroom and we are his bride. Marriage and romantic fulfilment can easily be mistaken for the greater reality it is meant to point us toward:
“Christian marriage has a purpose for and benefit to the husband and wife, but it also has the wider purpose and public benefit of being a shadow and foretaste of what God is offering to all people in Jesus.” (p.134)
The same-sex attracted reader is left waiting until the last page of the book to read a brief testimonial from the author about his own same-sex attractions and his commitment to costly celibate singleness.
This book asks some very relevant questions for our day and presents some profound answers from the Bible. It is short and easy-to-read, which I always love in a book. However, I would advise any reader to be wary of motoring through it in a couple of hours and moving on. This book contains genuinely countercultural ideas that will not be easily absorbed by hearts and minds steeped in the values of our surrounding culture. I certainly benefitted from it more on my second reading than the first, and it would be a good book to study and pray through in a small group.
Why does God care who I sleep with? by Sam Allberry
(The Good Book Company, 2020) 128 pages
£7.99 paperback, £6.91 Kindle
This book review was originally published in the Summer 2020 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the Summer 2020 edition of Ascend