I received a copy of this book from The Good Book Company in exchange for an honest review. I hope that doesn’t cloud my reading!
Of the making of many books about the conversation and interaction between Christianity and sexuality there is no end in sight – though this one is somewhat unique in that it is written by a woman. It’s also got a foreword by Sam Allberry, who is a pioneer in this space (and recently wrote the brilliant Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With?), and has been commended by some people I really respect.
Naturally, I didn’t want to like it.
Rachel starts firmly and clearly, though, relating her own experience of being attracted to other women. The way that she weaves her story in is really nicely done – not overblown or underdone, but just right. The title – and it’s nod to a Lady Gaga song and the deeper magic of rebirth – is explained thus:
“Our culture sings that we’re ‘born this way’, as if that settles the matter. But I’m born again. My life has told a different story than what society expects for me and what I expected for myself, because God himself has written his own twists and turns into the narrative: unexpected blessings that are more powerful, more lovely, than anything I could have imagined in my former life. This is my story. It’s just one amongst many, and it’s not intended to be weaponized against anyone else or used as a pawn“.
So what makes Born Again This Way worth reading in a crowded genre?
Firstly, Rachel understands the challenge. As someone from an irreligious background, her appraoch to Jesus is radically different from others – and she is deeply aware of the twists and turns. As she notes early on, “in my eyes Christianity was not only stupid but cruel“. That is how a lot of people feel. How can we engage with that kind of caricature? Wrapping our heads around Rachel’s story might help. Further, as she admits, there is a simplicity to the worlds way: “My heart fully embraced the ‘love is love’ narrative – the logical move from ‘God is love’ to ‘People fall in love’ seemed to validate all consensual romantic adult relationships. Weren’t they all potential expressions of this higher reality? This seemed elegant and obvious.I wasn’t craving murder or theft, but love, intimacy, and companionship!” By naming the ‘love means love‘ idol of our culture, Rachel begins to show us the deeper beauty of reality lying just below the surface. Her calm, personal and compassionate engagement with culture – rather than a caricature – is a real strength of this book.
Secondly, whilst this book is ostensibly about sexuality, it isn’t really. Or, at least, not exclusively. A bit like Nancy Pearcey’s longer Love Thy Body, Rachel shows us that creation itself offers us lessons, and the Bible’s vision for humanity is better than any secular story. This goes all the way down, as it were, to what it means to be human: “God could have created three sexes or one sex, but he made two. So even in the smallest community of humans ever -these first two persons – diversity was present. And not only that, but there was unity because of diversity, noti n spite of it“. And shortly after this Rachel rightly looks beyond past creation or our present circumstances to our future hope as Christians; “There is hope in Christ for you – if you have felt alienated from your sex or have wrestled with the challenges of intersex, you will someday recieve a new glorious body, and peace with it, having your tears wiped away. That doesn’t mean present trouble will disappear, but Christ is very near to us in it while we wait for that day and look for help now“. As someone with scars on his body, as someone who is occasionally unhappy with the way my ankles bend, or the lack of muscle, this promise is not just for those Rachel is addressing. It is vital for Christians now to remember and rejoice in this often-overlooked future hope, not yet, to be sure, but certain because of Jesus. But I digress. Another eschatological/hope filled observation she makes is that “Single Christians communicate that a truer marriage is coming and that they are willing to bet their life on it“. Amen!
Thirdly and finally, this is a very honest book. You might think/hope that would be obvious based on Rachel’s story, but it goes deeper than this. Reading this as a married man, I was reminded again of the vital truth that marriage is not the goal of the Christian: “Marriage is not the goal of the Christian life or its promised rest. Jesus is the goal; Jesus is our rest“. Amen! Indeed, marriage might even be more sexually complex than singleness – “I have several female friends who are in marriages where they desire sex more frequently than their husbands…“, let alone the possibilities of a mixed-orientation marriage. On that last part of that sentence, Rachel’s honesty is particularly powerful in that she challenges perceptions of what it means to be same-sex attracted, and also to be married, throughout her book.
You can probably tell by this twilight point in the review that I enjoyed this book thoroughly. It takes something special to rouse me out of my readers malaise on books on this subject – and in this case Rachel’s sensitivity, honesty, and focus on Jesus is refreshing and infectious. I think this book would be a good one to give to younger people and students in churches – whether wrestling with their own identity or with the way Jesus is calling them. I hope it will be widely read, and I’ll be recommending it widely.