A new series of short books published by the Good Book Company in partnership with OCCA has been hitting the shelves – and Sam Allberry’s contribution is this one. Engaging with a question that relates to a huge area of discussion within and without the Church, Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With? is a brilliant introduction to what Christians should think about sex, and engages carefully and firmly with range of objections.
Core to this book’s appeal and strength of argument is it’s valuing of everyone as being made in the Image of God. This thread runs through the whole book, that “sex matters to God because people do.” This is particularly obvious in the way that Sam carefully and graciously engages with the difficult topic of sexual assault. As Sam notes, “If #MeToo has shown us anything, it is that our sexuality matters profoundly.” Indeed, well aware of the ‘church too’ phenomenon, and non-sexual abuse cases, I entirely agree that:
“As more and more historic and present-day accusations are proved, it is very clear that many Christian institutions have been places of horrific abuse. In any context, these facts would be appalling. But it’s the Christian context that makes them all the more reprehensible. We all know that sexual assault is wrong; no one group or religion has a monopoly on that conviction. But Christians have more reason than perhaps anyone else to know that.
Jesus of Nazareth, the founder of Christianity, was known for his care for the marginalised, for the overlooked and for the vulnerable. It was said of him, “A bruised reed he will not break” (Matthew 12 v 20); he was someone who was naturally tender towards the wounded and hurting. There is something particularly incongruous, therefore, about those who purport to follow Jesus who contradict his teaching and example on this point.“
This is a book that takes the Bible seriously, and because of that it takes seriously what the Bible says. With this in mind, it is refreshing to see a simple and compelling engagement with the cultural issues and alleged anachronisms of Jesus and his view. Sam notes that “Jesus says what he says about sex in the Sermon on the Mount not because he has a low view of sex but a very high view of human sexuality“, and that “Christian sexual ethics have been countercultural in every culture.” The way of the cross is radical – and it always has been.
On the timely topic of abuse, Sam is fearless in engaging with the story of Bathsheba and David:
“This is often portrayed as a sordid affair, which would be bad enough given Bathsheba is married to a member of David’s army who is at that very moment fighting in one of his wars.
But it is far worse even than that. David is the king, and she is a subject. There is an enormous power differential here; and no indication in the text that her consent was a factor.“
Thank you, Sam, for naming what is really going on here. Echoing the complex call of the Church when it comes to questions of abuse (for which see Mez McConnell’s The Creaking on the Stairs), he helps us to make sense of the inclusion of the rapist in the canon of Scripture, noting that “We seem to live in an era of “non-apology” apologies. We’re used to public figures “apologising” for how their words or actions made someone feel, or were interpreted, without them actually acknowledging any wrongdoing. David doesn’t do that. We’ve already seen that he admits what he has done is sinful“. Sam goes on, linking this story to the teaching of Jesus:
“any sexual assault is a violation of sacred space. To mistreat someone is to mistreat something God has made. Other people are not some irrelevant third party: they are people whom God decided to make and cares deeply about. An abuse of them is an affront to him.
This belief gives us a basis for saying that sexual assault is objectively and universally wrong, because it locates the reason in who the victims are to God. He made them. Their personal and sexual integrity matters to him. You mess with them, and you end up picking a fight with God himself. This is what Jesus himself is warning us about in his teaching against adultery.“
Why do I quote so extensively from this section? Partly because it touches so powerfully on one of the great issues of the day. And partly because this book, with it’s high view of humanity, a high view of sin, and a high view of grace, is a book that is well-placed to challenge the conversation about sex.
Two other strengths of this book are it’s emphasis on the value of boundaries and the meaning of love. As Sam notes, “a moment’s reflection shows us that all of us believe in some form of sexual restriction“. When we say ‘Love Means Love’ or ‘Love is Love’, no-one actually means it. Sam goes on; “we don’t believe in unfettered sexual freedom as much as we sometimes claim to. The issue is not whether there should be restrictions on what someone can do sexually but what those restrictions are“. Some may argue that “It is easy to dismiss the Christian view of sexuality by saying it is anti-love. But that is also a very shallow way to think. Love is too important to leave to simplistic soundbites. It matters, and so we need to understand it“. Sam is counter cultural even as he appears to affirm and celebrate the stories about love that our culture tells us: “A life with no love is no life at all“. The theological truth is rather more exciting: “God is all about love. This is what he wants from us. We are designed to live lives of love. Ultimate reality is not grounded in cold submission to an authoritarian deity but in heartfelt response to the God who wants his universe pulsating with love“. For those skimming this review to see what Sam thinks about sex outside of marriage, it is worth noting that his observations on ‘Love May Need to Wait’ are very helpful, and hard to misunderstand.
Readers can probably tell that I enjoyed this book. I think it rightly answers the question posed in the title – and does in a human, winsome, and engaging way. I would warmly recommend it to anyone thinking about these things. I’ll close my review with the invitation that Sam offers:
“To make sexual freedom our ultimate good is to think that sex and romance is simply an end in itself.
But if we realise that our fascination with romance is actually a memory-trace of a deeper story—an echo of a greater tune, a signpost to the ultimate destination—then we will find the reality that can transcend even the most intimate of relationships we can experience.“
I’m grateful to The Good Book Company for sending me a review copy, though I didn’t have to like it! You may also be interested in the following.
Sam’s book Is God Anti-Gay? is another short and helpful one.
The Holcomb’s book Rid of My Disgrace is a powerful read about sexual assault.
Sam engages with the question of what sex is for, but I’d also recommend Todd Wilson’s Mere Sexuality for a non-apologetic take on the issues raised.