There have been a lot of books considering the question of same-sex attraction/LGBT Issues, and the church. There have been books arguing that this is a disputable issue, that God is not anti-gay, that love is the primary orientation. This book doesn’t do that. In a similar vein to Ed Shaw’s excellent ‘The Plausibility Problem’, which deals with the possibility of a life without sex, this book is written by two same-sex attracted Christians. Jonathan Berry and Rob Wood use that label to describe part of themselves. Incidentally, they work for the True Freedom Trust, and run a brilliant blog over at ‘Satisfied in Christ‘. But this is a book review.
This is a personal book. The authors write with raw and honest vulnerability, not pulling punches or sparing details that are relevant. This isn’t a book that shies away from the difficult questions of what it looks like to live as a same-sex attracted Christian in a world that says something different from God. This isn’t a book written by two straight men about what LGBT* people should or shouldn’t do. This is a book written by two Christians who have each been previously involved in gay relationships (not with each other, if you were wondering). This is also a book written by two Christians who are different ages, with Jonathan being in his 40’s and Rob in his 20’s. The authors are conviced, as am I and millions of people, ‘that ultimate satisfaction is found in and through a relationship with Christ‘. Amen! This is the starting point for a book written provocatively into a culture that believes something opposite and a Church which occasionally wonders if this could be true.
This is a book of two parts. Part One is titled in a way that perhaps encourages the reader to skip ahead to dessert; ‘Finding the Narrow Road to Abundant Life’. But there is real meat here. It is in this section of the book that the authors explain why, using the language of same-sex attraction, they choose not to act on their sexuality and sexual desires. This is, in a close interweaving, an ‘argument’ that draws together individual and universal ideas, with some powerful testimony tied to biblical theology. I was struck, as someone who is married, by the force of the realisation at the opening of this book;
“Sitting there in the minister’s office, it suddenly hit me. ‘The one’ I’d been relentlessly searching for since childhood wasn’t a special friend or a perfect lover.
It was God himself.
He was the only one capable of giving me a genuine ‘hope and a future’. He was the one I should be seeking with all my heart“
The way that this book, and this hard-hitting section in particular, thread together the promises and commands of Scripture with the lived and personal experience of two people made in the Image of God and seeking his will, is incredibly powerful. At the heart of this, echoing the evangelical zeal of the authors, is a beautiful description of the Cross, demonstrating the hope of the Gospel for all:
“So God sent his very own Son to empty himself so that you and I can experience life to the full.
Such a glorious exchange demands a very serious response from those of us who call ourselves disciples of Jesus“
The turning point of this book comes in Chapter 6, ‘Gripped by grace’, where the tight focus of this book is suddenly expanded out gloriously. The description of the Church here is beautiful, and serves as a really helpful reminder and challenge to the kind of Christians who think that homosexual behaviour is worse than any other kind of sin:
“It’s important always to remember that the church is made up not of good people but of rescued sinners. An authentic gospel church will be full of people who used to live in a whole variety of sinful ways, but who are now being transformed by the Holy Spirit to live in new and godly ways“
The second part of this book is where it becomes immensely practical. Having established the premise and the promse of ‘Satisfaction Guaranteed’, Berry and Wood describe ‘Living the abundant life on the narrow road’. The focus on Christ is fundamental, with a chapter on being living sacrifices, and the idea of service being helpfully and carefully explored in chapter 9, ‘Useful to the Master’. We are then walked through what it looks like for people to be intimate, with God and with each other, and what an unmarried life might look like.
I was personally struck by the calm way that the authors explored this last – particularly given their very helpful, if brief, discussion of being made in the Image of God. In contrast to the inadequate Image offered by Matthew Vines, Berry and Wood celebrate a biblical understanding of what it means to be human, to be image-bearers of God in the world:
“there are many other implications of you and me being made in God’s image. Not least that we’re made as relational creatures. We have an inbuilt capacity, and a need, to relate and work together. Together with God, and also with other people too“
Readers will rightly challenge me, though, as someone privileged to be married. That is all well and good, comes the response, but what about the people taking this book seriously and personally? Fortunately, I didn’t write this book. Jonathan and Rob did. And they talk bluntly, personally, and practically about what it means to be intimate – particularly with God. The four principles they explore – being single minded, worshipping with reality, revelling in the goodness of God, and listening attentively – are not exclusive to same-sex attracted Christians. But the way that Jonathan and Rob write about them is challenging and inspiring.
I could go on. This is an important book. It is practical and theological, challenging and hopeful, realistic and ultimately about Jesus. The endorsements offer a special picture, too, with UCCF’s Richard Cunningham, Living Out/St Mellitus’s Sean Doherty, and Bishop Wallace Benn being just three. This is a book that interweaves, crosses boundaries, and ultimately points to Jesus. Read this book if you are grappling with how talk about being gay and Christian. Read this book if you love LGBT* people and wonder what Jesus can offer them. If you are a church leader, please read this book to understand the importance of listening to peoples stories and the wonderful satisfaction that comes from the big story of Jesus. You can get a copy from IVP’s website, or elsewhere, and I really hope you do.