Atheists Have Doubts Too

Doubt is an inherent part of having faith. Faith, the Bible tells us, is having convictions about things which you cannot see (Hebrews 11:1). This extends to things which cannot be empirically proven through scientific method. If you can see something and prove it, there is no need for faith. Doubt therefore, is not how faith ends, but is the occasion where faith and trust begin.

But it is not only “believers” who have doubts. Studies have shown that professing atheists also have doubts about whether they are right.

CS Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity said, “When I was an atheist, I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.”

A recent poll from Newman University and YouGov found that one in five British atheists and over a third of Canadian atheists agreed with the statement: “Evolutionary processes cannot explain the existence of human consciousness.” [1]

In his book The Reason for God, Timothy Keller challenges those who doubt to “doubt their doubts,” i.e. to consider to the faith and beliefs (the assumptions which cannot be empirically proven) that underly their doubts, and to honestly question whether they actually stand on firm ground. His conclusion is that faith is God is actually more plausible than the alternative.

This week in our Sermon Extra, Pastor Mike and I discussed the role of doubt in faith, the fact that atheists have doubts too, and what we should do with our doubts. Check it out here:

In this week's sermon extra, Pastors Nick Cady and Michael Payne discuss reasons why people doubt Christianity and what the Bible says about it.   I Could Never Believe in a God Who… https://whitefieldschurch.com/media/series/i-could-never-believe-in-a-god-who/  The Trouble Is… https://whitefieldschurch.com/media/series/the-trouble-is/  To listen to Sunday's sermon: https://whitefieldschurch.com/sermon/from-doubt-to-belief/ — Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/whitefieldschurch/support

Jerks for Jesus?

Sometimes you spend hours preparing for Sunday’s sermon, but the one thing you say that gets remembered most was something you said off the cuff, that wasn’t in the notes. That happened to me this past Sunday.

I was teaching a message called “Thriving in Exile” in which I was looking at Daniel and Jeremiah and what it took for the people of God to live faithfully in the Babylonian exile, especially since the Apostle Peter states that the Israelites in exile in Babylon is a perfect picture of what it means for us to be Christians in the world today.

During a section in which I was pointing out that the exiles needed to have conviction in order to live faithfully in exile, I pointed out that Daniel and the others with him were also very courteous towards those in Babylon who didn’t believe what they believed, which is notable since it seems that some people think that to be a person of conviction means to be a “Jerk for Jesus.”

In contrast to that, the example we have throughout the Scriptures and from Jesus, Paul, and Peter specifically is that rather than an adversarial approach, we are to take a missionary approach to those who believe and think differently than we do, so that we might be used by God to help bring his light, love, and truth into their lives.

The fact is, it’s pretty hard, if not impossible, to influence people who can tell that you despise them. Those bombastic people who think they are dropping “truth bombs” tend to only embolden those who already agree with them and further alienate those who don’t – rather than wooing them to consider the beauty of the gospel.

Below you can listen to the podcast of this discussion and/or watch the video of it.

Here is a link to the book Mike and I discussed, in which I heard the phrase “Jerks for Jesus:” Accidental Pharisees: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith by Larry Osborne. I recommend this book. In it, Larry Osborne points out how the pharisees never set out to become “pharisees” – they started out as people who cared about truth and following God whole-heartedly, but this devolved into pride, exclusivity, and creating rules which God never ordained, as well as fences which God never put in place. For those of us who truly care about truth and walking with God, this should be a warning to us lest we accidentally become pharisees ourselves. The book of course goes into much more detail and explanation. I especially appreciated what he had to say about Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and the “secret disciples” mentioned in the gospels. It’s definitely worth a read.

Also embedded below is the video I mention about Ray Comfort, the Kiwi evangelist. I watched this film with my kids, and it was so inspiring. He speaks with so much compassion and empathy, and is a good example of how to not water down the truth, but still be courteous – and how many doors that opens for effective gospel ministry. The movie is called The Fool

Sermon Extra: How Do You Know That You Are Being Led by the Holy Spirit? White Fields Community Church | A Christian Church in Longmont, Colorado

In this week's sermon extra, Pastors Nick Cady and Michael Payne discuss how we can know that we are actually being led by the Holy Spirit or if we are being deluded or just making excuses for our own self-centered decisions.   — Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/whitefieldschurch/support
  1. Sermon Extra: How Do You Know That You Are Being Led by the Holy Spirit?
  2. Walking In the Spirit
  3. Sermon Extra: Sermon Extra: How Does the Holy Spirit Transform Us Practically?
  4. The Work of the Holy Spirit in the Life of a Believer
  5. Sermon Extra: Is there a "Second Blessing"?

My Top 10 Books of 2020

I read 35 books in 2020 (including the Bible!). Here are a few of my favorites (other than the Bible), in no particular order:

  1. A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture, Mark Thompson

I read this book as part of my research for my Masters dissertation, which was on the topic of the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture, and whether belief in this concept was novel to the Reformation period, or if it had precedent in the patristic period as well.

2. The Bible in America: Essays in Cultural History, Nathan Hatch

Great short essays about the history of thinking about the Bible in America, particularly in regard to radical individualism and the rejection of tradition and the church in the interpretive process. Sadly, it is out of print, but used copies are available to order.

3. On Christian Doctrine, Augustine of Hippo

A true classic, written between 397 and 426 AD. The main topic of this book is about how to interpret and teach the Bible.

4. Fire Road: The Napalm Girl’s Journey through the Horrors of War to Faith, Forgiveness, and Peace, Kim Phuc Phan Thi

The autobiography of the woman from the famous photo of a girl burning in napalm in Vietnam, and how she became a Christian.

5. The Burning Edge: Travels Through Irradiated Belarus, Arthur Chichester

An engaging travel log through the area hit by the fallout of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster by one of my favorite YouTubers.

6. On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts, James K.A. Smith

Theologian James K.A. Smith gives a biography of Saint Augustine while retracing his steps from North Africa to Italy and back.

7. Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture, Mark Yarhouse

Mark Yarhouse teaches at Wheaton College, an evangelical divinity school in Illinois. This book gives and important framework for understanding the issues related to gender dysphoria from a Christian perspective, including much of the research that has been done on the topic, and advice for parents and those who seek to minister to people and families.

8. Taking God At His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me, Kevin DeYoung

An accessible study of what the Bible teaches about the Bible.

9. How to (Not) Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, James K.A. Smith

This is a thinking person’s book about culture in our postmodern age. Smith uses terms like “epistemic pelagianism” to describe the idea that people can figure out everything on their own without the help of God. He discusses Charles Taylor’s idea of the “imminent frame,” i.e. the present world, and its shortcomings. So many important thoughts in this book, although it’s not the easiest read.

See also: What is Epistemic Pelagianism?

10. Légy Jó Mindhalálig, Móricz Zsigmond

A few years ago I decided to read the required reading for Hungarian secondary students. This is a classic novel about a student in Debrecen, Hungary, a city where I lived for over 3 years.

Reader Questions: End Times and Bible Translation

Last year I added a page on this site where readers can submit questions or suggest topics (click here for that page). Recently I received the following questions:

How Do I Watch Your Church Services Live Online?

To livestream services from White Fields Church, the best option is to subscribe to our YouTube channel: White Fields Church YouTube channel. Two of our services are livestreamed, at 9:30 & 11:00 AM on Sundays, and if you click the bell to receive notifications, it will alert you when we go live.

Which Bible Translation is Closest to the Original Biblical Writings, and Why?

Specifically this reader asked me to rank the New Living Translation, English Standard Version, New International Version, & New King James Version.

There are two main factors that go into determining which Bible translation would be closest to the original Biblical writings:

  1. Source documents
  2. Accurate translation of the text

For this reason my ranking would be the following:

  1. English Standard Version (ESV)
  2. New International Version (NIV)
  3. New King James Version (NKJV)
  4. New Living Translation (NLT)

This is not a matter of readability, or preference about the use of language. The ESV, NIV, and NLT all use the same source documents, which use older manuscripts and more manuscripts than those used in the NKJV. The NKJV is mostly the King James Version updated for modern English vernacular, but it uses the same source documents. Those source documents are based on a set of manuscripts compiled in the 1500’s. Since that time, we have been able to gather more and older source documents, which means greater accuracy towards the original text.

The other issue with translation is the literal versus vernacular continuum, and the New Living Translation looses much of the literal meaning of the text in its attempt to be readable in modern English, in my opinion.

I have gone into more detail on Bible translation in a mini-series I did on this blog a few years ago, and I would refer you to that for further reading. In this series I addressed how translation works, the controversial 2011 NIV translation, and the question of whether new translations remove verses:

  1. Making Sense of Different Bible Translations – Part 1
  2. Making Sense of Different Bible Translations – Part 2: the King James Bible
  3. Making Sense of Different Bible Translations – Part 3: Gender-Inclusive Language and the NIV

Is the “Rapture” Biblical?

The “rapture” is the belief that believers, who are alive at some point in time when it takes place, will be “caught up” to God from Earth while still alive.

This is a Biblical teaching, taught by Jesus in Matthew 24:

Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 

Matthew 24:40-41

And by the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4

For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

1 Thessalonians 4:15-17

Furthermore, I believe that in Revelation 4, what John experienced was a “preview” of the rapture:

After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. 

Revelation 4:1-2

The question is not so much if the rapture is Biblical, but when it will take place. Will it take place before the “Great Tribulation” (the time of great trouble described in Revelation and elsewhere where God will bring judgment upon the Earth, with the opportunity for people to still repent and be saved), whether it will happen in the middle, or whether it will happen at the end, or that the rapture and the Second Coming of Jesus will happen at the same time.

My view is that the rapture will take place prior to the wrath of God being poured out in temporal judgment on the Earth, in other words: before the tribulation. The reason for this is because there is a pattern throughout the Bible showing that when God brings judgment upon the Earth, he removes the righteous.

Before God judged the world in Noah’s time (which the coming judgment is compared to 1 Peter 3), God spared righteous Noah from the flood. When God judged Sodom and Gomorrah, he removed “righteous” Lot. When God judged Egypt, he made a way for the Israelites to be spared from the judgment.

Far be it from you to do such a thing–to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! 

Genesis 18:25

If we have been declared righteous through faith in the completed work of Jesus on our behalf, then we are counted in this category, not because of any merit of our own, but by Christ’s merit accounted to us.

This assumes, by the way, a futurist view of Revelation, which I can address later on if you’d like.

Can you Recommend a “Down to Earth” End Times Study?

I would recommend Chuck Smith’s The Final Act. Pastor Chuck has a great way of making things simple and clear, which is helpful on a topic like this.

Thank you for the questions! 

For any further questions or topics you’d like me to address, fill out the form on this page: Ask a Question or Suggest a Topic.

Why It Matters What You Desire, Not Just What You Believe

A friend mine recently walked away from his family and the church he was leading. This friend had graduated from Bible College and had dedicated his life to serving the Lord. Thankfully, his story isn’t over yet.

Here’s the thing about my friend though: as he has made these choices, and as he walking this path which is destructive both to his family and his own soul, he has not ceased believing that the core truths of Christianity are true.

In other words: it is possible to believe the right things, and yet not do the right things.

In 1 Kings 18, we see an example of this with both King Ahab and the people of Israel. They knew what God wanted them to do, yet they didn’t do it. Why not? There were several reasons, including fear and pride, but underlying these things is a question about what you truly love and desire.

You can watch or listen here to my message on 1 Kings 18:1-21: “The Cure for Your Limp”.

I have enjoyed the insights of James K.A. Smith over the past few years, particularly his books Desiring the Kingdom and You are What You Love. Smith is particularly influenced by Augustine of Hippo, the church father who wrote Confessions, City of God, and On Christian Doctrine to name a few of his works.

Augustine argued that the things which defines a person more than anything else, is not merely what they believe to be true (as important as this certainly is), but what they love and desire. Sin, he explained, can be understood as “disordered love,” and the way to change a person, therefore, is to change what they love.

The good news, is that you can cultivate love and desire for things through the practice of forming habits and doing actions. This is the role of spiritual disciplines in our lives. See: The Role of Habits in Transformation.

In this video, Mike and I discuss this and other ideas related to the importance of desires, not just beliefs, in our spiritual life and walk with God:

In this video we discuss the role of how our desires, not only our beliefs, direct our actions and our lives.

Writing Faithful Sermons Faster: Discussion with Ryan Huguley

114_RyanHuguley.jpg
Click this image to listen to the episode

It was the day after Thanksgiving in 2017, and we were in San Diego, where my wife Rosemary is from. The next day, Saturday, we were driving back to Colorado, so I could make it back for church on Sunday, which meant that I had one day to prepare my sermon for that Sunday.

Rosemary and the kids decided to go to the zoo, which gave me 12 hours to prepare. At this point, I usually spent 20-25 hours preparing each sermon, so this was a daunting task.

8 Hours or Less: Writing faithful sermons faster by [Huguley, Ryan]

After they left our AirBnB for the day, I was scrolling Instagram (instead of studying!), and came across a post of someone holding a copy of the book: 8 Hours or Less: Writing Faithful Sermons Faster by Ryan Huguley.

I immediately did the math in my head: If this book could really help me do what the title claimed, then that would give me 3.5 hours to read the book, and 8 hours to write my sermon! I purchased the book on Amazon, read it, wrote my sermon, and made it back to Colorado on time for church that Sunday. That sermon can be found here: 5 Solas: Soli Deo Gloria (Colossians 3:16-24)

Since that time, I have implemented Ryan’s process, and shared about my growth in this area at the Expositors Collective training weekends.

Related post: How Much Time Should a Pastor Spend Preparing a Sermon?

Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Ryan over Zoom about doing ministry in Salt Lake City, his method for sermon preparation, and what advice he has for those who teach and preach.

The recording of that conversation was just released on the Expositors Collective Podcast. You can listen to it here: Expositors Collective Podcast: Writing Faithful Sermons Faster – Ryan Huguley, or click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Check it out, and I’d love to hear your feedback on in the comments!

Where Does Our Sense of Morality Come From?

Is morality something that people intuitively know, or is it something we need to be told or instructed about?

Why is it that what is considered moral changes over time in different societies?

Pastor Mike and I discuss these questions in this week’s Sermon Extra video, in which we look at 1 Timothy 1:8-9: “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners”

The book we reference about people who considered murder and lying to not be wrong and treachery to be a virtue is Peace Child by Don Richardson, which I highly recommend.

We also discuss the question of how much of a Christian’s self-understanding should be determined by the recognition of their sinfulness versus their having been redeemed by Jesus.

Augustine on Ambition

Should Christians be “ambitious”? Is “ambition” the opposite of humility?

Augustine of Hippo, the African bishop from the 4th and 5th Century has a take on ambition which might surprise you.

The Opposite of Ambition is Not Humility

According to Augustine, “the opposite of ambition is not humility, it is sloth, passivity, timidity, and complacency.”

We sometimes like to comfort ourselves by imagining that the ambitious are prideful and arrogant so that those of us who never wish and never aspire, who never launch out into the deep, get to wear the moralizing mantle of humility, but this is just a thin cover for a lack of courage, even laziness.

James K.A. Smith, On the Road with Saint Augustine

Interestingly, Augustine’s view on ambition is that “playing it safe” and not taking risks is not actually an expression of humility like many may assume, but is often based in pride and a fear of other people thinking less of you if you were to fail.

In James K.A. Smith‘s recent book, On the Road with Saint Augustine, he tells the story of Augustine’s journey from provincial North Africa to Carthage, and from there to Rome and Milan, originally as a rhetoric teacher, not as a priest. It was Augustine’s ambition which originally led him from his birthplace to these places, but in Milan his friendship with Ambrose, bishop of Milan, changed his life and led him to pursue a relationship with God which led to him stepping into vocational ministry for the rest of his life.

See also: Book Review: On the Road with Saint Augustine

Smith argues that Augustine never stopped being ambition after giving his life to the Lord. What changed was his goal, the aim of his ambition.

The Ultimate Ambition

According to Smith, the Augustinian question when it comes to ambition is: “Whom and what do I love when I am being ambitious?”

The goal, he would argue, is not to be devoid of ambition, but rather to live a life which has “friendship with God” as its supreme ambition.

This is the only ambition, Smith points out, which comes with a guarantee of success and ultimate security! (“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” James 4:8)

Solomon and the True End of Ambition

Augustine challenges us to ask, What if buried in your ambition to succeed in business, academics, sports, and other pursuits, is a desire for something else, something more – which is found in God himself?

Currently at White Fields we are studying through the life of Solomon in 1 Kings. Solomon was an ambitious person; he asked God for wisdom so that he could govern the nation well, and he succeeded both in making the nation wealthy and powerful, but also in becoming wealthy and powerful himself.

In the Book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon tells the story of his ambition; he acquired many lovers, much money, incredible power, extensive knowledge, as well as exotic animals, parties and entertainment. And yet, in the end, he found all of it to be empty and ultimately unfulfilling. None of it did for him what he had expected it would.

In the end, Solomon comes to the realization that buried in his ambition was ultimately the desire for God himself, and what could only God can give.

Solomon’s conclusion at the end of Ecclesiastes is a cliff-hanger, because Solomon says that the chief end of humanity is to keep God’s commandments (in order to be in relationship with Him). The only problem of course, is that Solomon failed to keep God’s commandments — and so have we! What is needed therefore, is one who can reconcile us to God by somehow bridging the gap created by our shortcomings and sins. The good news of the gospel is that this person has come, and his name is Jesus!

Because of Jesus, our ambition can find its ultimate desire, and can be redirected into areas which are secure and eternally meaningful: relationship with God, and participation in His mission to bring the truth of his love and grace to the world!

May God help us to avoid the false humility which is based in fear and pride, and be ambitious for Him!

Reader Questions: Book Recommendation on Marital Intimacy & Responding to Christian Perfectionism

There is a feature here on the site where you can Ask a Question or Suggest a Topic.

Here are some recent questions that came in:

Book Recommendation on Marital Intimacy

Is there a book or message series you can recommend to help rebuild sexual intimacy in marriage?

I’m sure there are other resources out there, but the one I am familiar with and can recommend is Sheet Music: Uncovering the Secrets of Sexual Intimacy in Marriage

Responding to Christian Perfectionism

I have a Christian forum at my place of employment. One employee regularly posts statements in line with a ‘sinless perfection’ doctrine and encourages others to listen to Jesse Peterson (which I know nothing about.)  

Essentially, this employee constantly insists that if we are still sinning we are hypocrites and is adamant we shouldn’t listen to others or read the Bible but should just ‘know’ God, we should ‘just be’ (insert confused emoji here), and sin is hate, the only way to receive eternal life is to forgive. I dismiss his theology – he makes no sense – and despite support from the Word of God, he continues his posts – because he doesn’t value the word of God.  

Do you have any thoughts on how I can redirect his skewed theology, while helping the other members of this group also dismiss this line of thinking?

One way to respond might be to point out how this kind of theology has been dismissed and rejected by Christians throughout history. John Wesley, for example, who taught a form of Christian perfectionism at one point (unsurprisingly, when he was younger), later changed his position on the topic.

My guess is that other people on the site probably see the wackiness of what he’s writing and aren’t swayed by it. A smart, simple response will be gladly received by most people in the group therefore, but don’t let the group get focused on responding to everything he says. Don’t let the squeaky wheel get all the grease, in other words. You’ve got bigger fish to fry. Sorry for piling on the idioms!

The most compelling Biblical arguments against Christian perfectionism I can think of are:

  • Romans 7
  • 1 John
  • 1 Timothy 1:15

Martin Luther famously stated that the Christian is Justus et pecator (both righteous and a sinner). We have been declared righteous in Jesus; his righteousness has been accounted to us by grace through faith – and yet, we still sin.

When the Bible talks about salvation, it is important to note that it speaks of it in comprehensive terms: it says that we have been saved (past tense), we are being saved (present continuous tense), and we will be saved (future tense).

We have been saved (think: “It is finished”) from the penalty of sin by what Jesus did for us in the past. We are being saved (sanctification) from the power of sin as we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling,” and yet “it is God who works in you to will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). And we will be saved, in the future, from the very presence of sin, when Jesus comes and saves us from the very presence of sin.

Romans 7

In Romans 7 Paul speaks about his experience of struggling with sin. Some in the Christian perfectionist circles will claim that Paul is writing about his life before his conversion, but that argument doesn’t hold much water because Paul speaks about his sin in the present tense.

1 John

In 1 John, John says things like, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8). 1 John is a favorite book, by the way, of Christian perfectionism advocates, because of its black-and-white language about righteousness, obedience, and sin. However, it is important to note that John is talking about a pattern of life, not about individual sins.

It’s about what you practice. Think about things you practice, and why you practice them: you practice the guitar, you practice your golf swing. Why? So you can do them better. A person who practices sin habitually and willfully truly needs to ask the question of if they are actually in the faith at all.

In Christ, we have become “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17). A sheep and a pig are two different creations. They both might fall in the mud on occasion, but the pig lives for the mud. The mud is what the pig dreams about, and the goal of its life is to get in that mud! A sheep, on the other hand, might fall in the mud, but that’s not where it wants to be. This is the essence of John’s point about sin and righteous living in 1 John.

I wrote something recently related to 1 John and the topic of Christian perfectionism. Check it out here.

1 Timothy 1:15

In 1 Timothy 1:15, Paul says: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

If you read through Paul’s descriptions of himself as he progressed in life and in relationship with Jesus, you’ll notice this:

  1. In Philippians 3, he wrote that according to the law, he was blameless.
  2. Later on, in 1 Corinthians 15:9, he describes himself as “the least of all the Apostles”
  3. Even later on in life, in 1 Timothy 1:15, he describes himself as the chief of all sinners.

As Paul progressed through life, he did not become more and more enamored with himself, but he actually saw himself as more and more of a sinner – yet one who was loved by God and a recipient of His grace.

The reason for this is because, the closer you get to God, the more you become aware of your shortcomings, much like how: the more light there is in the bathroom, the more clearly you see your blemishes in the mirror – and like how, the older you get and the more you learn, the more you realize how much you don’t know.

The point is not that Christian maturity means thinking less and less of yourself, but that as you become more aware of your flaws, you are more thrilled by the grace and love of God as you realize more and more how much you need it!

The Danger of Christian Perfectionism

The great danger of Christian perfectionism theology is that it places an unbearable burden on a person, and it leads to either pride or despair.

If you tell someone that if they are really in the faith that they won’t sin anymore, then when they are doing well, and not falling into temptation, they will be puffed up with pride and look down on those whom they observe sinning. Conversely, when they (inevitably) do commit some sin, they will immediately be forced to question their own salvation, and if they are even saved at all.

The good news of the gospel is that our salvation is the work of God! It is based on what He did for you, not on the things that you do or don’t do. Even if you slip, the good news of the gospel is that He is holding onto your hand, and He won’t let you go!

Submit a Question or Topic

Thanks for these questions. If you have a question or topic, fill out this form: Ask a Question or Suggest a Topic

Book Review: Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With?

Sam Allbery is an Anglican pastor from Maidenhead, England, who also works with Ravi Zacharias International Ministry (RZIM)Cedarville University, and writes for The Gospel Coalition. He is the author of a number of books, including Is God Anti-Gay?, and 7 Myths about Singleness.

I was introduced to Sam last year when he spoke at the Calvary Global Network conference. See: Sam Allbery on Sexual Ethics and Moral Intuition

One thing that is worth knowing about Sam is that by his own admonition, he has only ever had romantic desires and sexual attraction to other men, yet he has chosen to live a celibate life of devotion to God.

When I saw that Sam’s latest book “Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With?,” was being released, I preordered a copy. Upon my return from my recent trip to Europe, I was happy to see that the book had arrived while I was away, and I used the first week of my quarantine to read it from cover to cover.

The Supreme Human Right?

Sam begins his book by answering the question in the title of the book:

Just fifteen years ago Christians like me, who follow the teaching of the Bible, would have been thought of as old-fashioned for holding to the traditional Christian understanding of sex being exclusively for marriage, but now, increasingly, we are thought of as being dangerous to society.

Who we sleep with is seen as a supreme human right. Anything that seems to constrain our choice in this area is somehow viewed as an existential threat.

God cares who we sleep with because he cares deeply about the people who are doing the sleeping. He cares because sex was his idea, not ours. He cares because misusing sex can profoundly hurt and damage. He cares because he regards us as worthy of his care.

Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With?, pp. 9-10

Honoring Sacred Space

One of Allberry’s key points of argument is to show that the Bible does not take a low view of sex, seeing it as something dirty and unholy, but just the opposite: it takes a much higher view of our physical bodies and what we do with them than the secular world does, describing them as “temples” (1 Corinthians 6:19) and therefore sacred space.

It is precisely because of this high view of the physical body that God cares so much about sex, insisting that this powerful thing be used in the right ways, lest it cause pain and destruction.

He points out that when Jesus says that for a man to look lustfully at a woman is to break the commandment against adultery, Jesus is declaring that the sexuality of the person being looked at is precious and valuable: an integrity that deserves to be honored, and must not be violated, even in the privacy of another person’s mind, and to do so is to wrong that person.

Jesus’ teaching reflects something we see throughout the whole Bible: how we treat one another sexually matters a great deal to God.

Any sexual assault is a violation of sacred space.

The pain of sexual assault is not the pain of a grazed knee but the trauma of holy space being desecrated. Maybe our bodies are less like playthings and more like temples.

pp. 19, 20, 30

The reason our bodies matter so much is because of the Imago Dei (the Image of God) with which we are endowed uniquely as human beings. It is for this reason that we believe that all human life, regardless of physical ability or disability, income or education level, is equal in value.

There is something sacred about human life.

We [all] know that human life matters in a unique way. When someone treats a pet life a human, we think it a bit odd. But when someone treats a human being like an animal, we know deep down that it is terribly wrong.

When we fawn over a baby, we’re not coldly observing a mere organism. We’re beholding one who bears divine finger prints. And because a human being is the sacred product of sex, the sexual process by which that person is made is also sacred.

p. 35

Holy Fire

Sam Allberry describes the power of sex with the metaphor of fire: where you do it matters. In the fireplace of a house it can create heat and light which brings warmth and life. Lighting one elsewhere can be dangerous, destructive, and life-threatening. The context matters.

Furthermore, he points out that the purpose of sex is unification and giving. To use it in a way which does not serve these purposes is to take it out of the life-giving context.

Not Just Physical

God cares who we sleep with because God cares about us as people. Sex deeply affects the whole person: physically, emotionally, and psychologically.

When someone is sexually assaulted or when someone is sexually betrayed, it is not just their body that is attacked; they as a person are violated.

p. 51

Redemption

One of Sam Allberry’s emphases in this book is that while he wants to explain the biblical and theological reasoning behind the Bible’s sexual ethics, he also wants to communicate the Bible’s message of redemption for those who have fallen short.

He points out that not only are all of us sinners, all of us are sexual sinners – and the promise of the gospel is forgiveness, redemption, and new life in Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

This book is short, informative, and engaging. It answers several very commonly asked questions, which are only going to be asked more and more in the years to come, including questions about LGBTQ and co-habitation. Everyone would do well to educate themselves on the answers to these questions, and this book by Sam Allberry is an excellent resource for doing so.