The relationship of homosexuality to Christianity is without doubt one of the main subjects of cultural conversation today. If you are a Christian in New York City, it is nearly impossible to talk about your faith without this subject being raised. Although it is not central to the gospel message at the heart of Christianity, right now the cultural moment requires that we be prepared to address this issue whenever we are publicly identified as Christians.
A sign of this cultural moment is the wave of new books—from very divergent points of view—that have come out recently treating this topic. So over the next few months I will be reviewing several of these books. It’s my way as a pastor to point people to those volumes that both fit in with biblical teaching and are pastorally wise and sensitive, as well as those books that, for all their good intentions, are mistaken and unhelpful.
The first two books I’ll review are both written by authors who hold two things in common. In Sam Allberry's Is God Anti-Gay? Questions Christians Ask and Wesley Hill's Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality, both authors relate that they are sexually attracted to the same gender, but at the same time, in the words of Hill, they testify:
“to the truth of the position the Christian church has held with almost total unanimity throughout the centuries—namely, that homosexuality was not God’s original creative intention for humanity…and therefore that homosexual practice goes against God’s express will for all human beings, especially those who trust in Christ.”
It says something about the clarity of the Bible’s teaching that neither of them can find any loopholes in the traditional Christian position, but affirm it completely. Hill, who is a New Testament scholar, sums up the biblical material nicely (and briefly) in his first chapter.
Allberry’s book does so as well and, though it is a shorter book overall, he gives the biblical teaching more sustained attention. There are two basic parts to it. First, every place the Bible directly addresses sexual relations between people of the same gender, it is always unambiguously forbidden. This is not only true in the Old Testament (Leviticus 18:22) but also in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 6:9,10; 1 Timothy 1:8-11; Romans 1:18-32).
Allberry says the more he looks at the Bible the more he is convinced that what it says about homosexuality “makes most sense in light of what it says in general about sex and marriage.” I would add that the Bible’s prohibitions are not motivated by animosity toward people with same sex attraction. Rather, they are there because homosexual practice doesn’t fit with God’s wonderful purposeful design for sexuality in our lives. Even the design of male and female bodies testifies to this design.
This purposeful design is made clear in at least three ways. First, sex was given to men and women to enable whole life covenant bonding. God made sex to be a commitment-deepener—a way to say to someone else “I belong completely to you.” Therefore it is only for use inside marriage, where it is designed to operate as a way to constantly renew, remake and re-energize your covenant with love and joy so it does not grow old or cold.
Second, the purpose of sex and marriage is the reunion of the complementary but separate genders. Men and women each have distinct glories and we need one another. Marriage is the primary (though not only) place where those glories are blended and we are profoundly enriched.
The third purpose of sex is the participation in life creation. Because of the brokenness of creation, not every couple can have children, but only heterosexual marriage holds the possibility of creating life. It also provides children with the close, life-long exposure to both male and female humanity that they need to be fully integrated.
While homosexuality is not mentioned all that often, the biblical vision for the union of the different genders in marriage is one of its main themes. It is everywhere. The book of Genesis (1-3) along with Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce (e.g. Matthew 19:3-9) presents marriage between a man and a woman as the only divinely designed place for sexual relations. And throughout the Bible heterosexual marriage is the human construct most often used to reveal truths about God’s relationship to his people. (As in Ephesians 5:23-32.) The Bible begins with a wedding between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:22-25) and ends with one (Revelation 19:9; 21:1-9).
I said Hill and Allberry’s books have two things in common. The first is that they accept that this biblical evidence is overwhelming that homosexual practice is not God’s will. The second is that they, as men attracted to other males, believe that the biblical view of homosexuality makes great sense and is even liberating when viewed from within joyful belief of the gospel story. Hill uses this example. He observes how a parent’s warning (“be home before 11:00 p.m.”) can seem confining and senseless if the child fails to see the bigger picture of reality within which the rule makes perfect sense. It is only much later, perhaps when they are parents themselves, that they are able to see that a prohibition that looked senseless was actually quite reasonable.
Because our culture teaches us that the meaning of life is found primarily in sexual fulfillment and satisfaction, within that view of life the biblical prohibitions on homosexuality may seem harsh and cruel. Indeed, God’s will in Scripture often seems to frustrate many of our deepest longings (not just sexual ones). But if we are faithful to his Word, we find that each divine demand is really a summons into a transformative process in which we discover deeper levels of peace, joy, and fulfillment in God and in Christian love than we could otherwise have known. As Allberry says, despite the difficulty of living according to the Bible in the short run, as time goes on we get a “sense of living along the grain of who we really are.”
I have only pointed out the ways in which the two authors agree because I think they are the most important messages from the books. I should note that there is disagreement in one area. Wes Hill will call himself a “gay Christian” while Sam Allberry would refrain from that and say only that he’s a Christian with same-sex attraction. Despite the fact that both men interpret the Bible the same way and call Christians to the same path, they differ here and each makes a credible case why they speak about themselves as they do. Allberry thinks that calling oneself “gay” hints that homosexual desires are one’s essential identity, rather than who you are in Christ. Hill, I think, doesn’t want to give the impression to either people inside or outside the church that the feelings are superficial or will just go away on their own. Both make good points, though ultimately I think Allberry’s approach is probably better.
But even with this disagreement, I’m glad to see the beginning of something crucial here. These two writers are beginning to describe a particular pathway of Christian discipleship. A literature is going to get started. Others who share their experience and stance are beginning to write about it, too. But this ‘movement’ is still very embryonic. Ironically, we live in a time in which it takes more courage for authors to publicly take this position than it is now to embrace homosexual practice as compatible with Christianity.
These are books written by men who are not experiencing their lives as impoverished or sub-human. Their commitment to chastity within the lives God has given them is one of finding fulfillment and identity in their relationship to Christ.
As you can tell, I’m quite glad to recommend both these books.
This article was originally posted at Redeemer.com.