Ask Sam Allberry (March 16-20, 2020)

Hello, @Interested_In_Ask_RZIM fam!
The Q&A forum featuring Sam Allberry is now open, so reply below with any burning questions.

Sam is a global speaker with RZIM. He is the author of a numerous books, including Why Bother With Church?, James For You, the bestselling Is God Anti-Gay?, 7 Myths About Singleness, and his newest, Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With?

Sam studied theology at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford, before going on to work at St. Ebbe’s Church in Oxford where he oversaw the ministry to university students. He then worked at St. Mary’s Church in Maidenhead for several years. He is an ordained minister in the Church of England and has served on its governing body, the General Synod. Sam is a consulting editor for The Gospel Coalition.

Sam speaks widely on issues of sexuality and identity and continues to minister as a Bible teacher and pastor. In his spare time Sam enjoys hiking, American history, and slowly perfecting his recipe for Thai green curry.

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I get this question whenever this topic comes up, including my children. Why is marriage the antidote to having sex in God’s eyes? If someone is in a committed, monogamous and loving relationship why do they need to be married?

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Wow, what an honor this is to be able to ask questions directly to Sam. I have used his videos and have learned a lot from him.

Sam one of my best friends is gay. During the Science elective I reached out to him to interview him and tried to share the gospeI with him. It became apparant that he did not like the God of the Bible and it has damaged our friendship.

Any advice for reaching our gay friends would be very helpful. Thank you!

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Is there any hope for the US to change its position on marriage?

How can I help my friend see her true worth in being made in God’s image and in being loved by Him rather than seeing her worth and her happiness in getting married? The balance between emphasizing the goodness of marriage and yet that it’s not ultimate is really hard…

Thank you for the opportunity! God bless you.

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Hi Sam,
Thank you for this opportunity. I really enjoy listening to you. I am hoping you can give your perspective on the Masterpiece Cakeshop and Arlene’s Flower shop cases/decisions.

Dear Mary,

Thank you for such a poignant question. Understanding our true worth is something every person wrestles with to some extent, and for various reasons. We’re all prone to measure it in the wrong ways, and sometimes the church unwittingly contributes to this. Our (right) desire to honour marriage can sometimes unfortunately lead us to somewhat idolise it. Some Christians are left feeling that they’re not really fully mature, grown-up Christians unless and until they marry. Sometimes Christian women are left feeling that their womanhood isn’t fulfilled if they’re not married with children.

So it helps to have a more balanced and nuanced understanding of marriage. It matters far more than we often tend to think. God means it to be a signpost to the love he shows his people in Christ. Earthly marriage is meant to point to the ultimate heavenly marriage between Jesus and his bride, the church. But for the very same reason it also means marriage matters less than we often tend to think –– it can’t be the ‘be all and end all’ of life if, in fact, it points to the ‘be all and end all’ of life. If our relationship with Jesus is what is finally ultimate, then marriage – for all its glory – is penultimate. We don’t need to be married to be a full and whole Christian believer –– Christ is what makes us that.

More generally, we need to know that our worth is intrinsically grounded in having been made by God in his image. We’re fallen humans, but that doesn’t mean we’re sub-human, or merely potentially human. This is significant. A previous generation were (generally) moralistic and needed to be shown they were sinners. Gospel presentations tended to major on what the fall meant, and somewhat take the doctrine of being made in God’s image for granted. This generation is (generally) anxious and needs to know it has worth. So our gospel presentations need to start in Genesis 1, not Genesis 3.

God made every one of us, and meant to. He came up with the idea of each and every one of us in the first place –– and was having a good day when he did. None of us is a mistake, None of us isn’t meant to be here. That doesn’t mean we’re everything we’re meant to be. But it does mean we don’t need to look to achievements like marital status to find our worth.

I hope that helps in some way :slight_smile:
Sam

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Thanks Brian –– it is an honour for me to engage with you all in this way!

I’m glad to hear your friend has a Christian close to them who wants them to know Jesus. We’re told in Acts 17:26 that God is behind when and were we live, so it is no accident this friend is part of your life.

There are all sorts of reasons he might not like the God of the Bible, reasons which may be understandable to some extent, even if they are not correct. It may be he has an incomplete or skewed understanding of who God is. Many people see the God of the Bible as sovereign and demanding, but not as good.

So I always like to find out what people think of Jesus, and to ask them (1) if they can fully account for who Jesus is in merely human terms, and (2) whether Jesus is exactly what they would want God to be like if God existed. ‘The God of the Bible’ can be nebulous and unwieldy as a topic for discussion; Jesus can be more focussed and accessible a topic.

Another approach that is very helpful is to make sure your gay friends see how the teaching of Jesus on sexuality lands on all of us, not just on gay people. Jesus challenges everyone on this, just as he also dignifies everyone on this. Gay people often feel singled out by Christians, and it can be because they’ve only heard what the Bible says about homosexuality, and not what it says about the universal fallenness of all of us in our sexuality. (An example of me attempting to do this in a short evangelistic talk is here). So I often find myself thinking “don’t say to someone what you can’t say to everyone” when it comes to this kind of discussion. Show how all of us are broken and fallen in our sexuality, and that can then be a context in which (and over time) a gay friend might begin to understand their own brokenness in this.

Thanks again Brian. Blessings,
Sam

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Thank you Abby –– great to have you engaging and posting.

I think that is a question many people have, and it is one I have certainly wrestled with myself over the years. It can feel somewhat counter-intuitive, even arbitrary, for God to insist on marriage for sexual activity.

But there is a significant rationale in the Bible for why this is so. When we see what sex is designed for – what it is designed to do – I think it makes sense of why the marriage covenant is necessary pre-requisite. Sex (in the Bible) is intended to be a means by which someone gives themselves fully, exclusively, and permanently to another person (I’m borrowing some of this language from Tim Keller’s book on marriage). ‘Fully’ means sex can’t be separated from the others ways in which we gives ourselves to someone – it is meant to involve the whole person, not an aspect of them. ‘Exclusively’ means this union is not designed to be spread across multiple partners. It is one whole person giving all that they are to one other person. ‘Permanently’ means this union is not designed to be broken without profound pain. All this means we need to know we really are in a situation where it is wise to give ourselves in this way to someone else. Marriage is designed to be a way of a man and a woman making a public commitment to one another such that this union is then fitting and safe. I guess I’d ask why two people in a committed, monogamous, loving relationship are hesitant to make that public by getting married.

This is a huge topic, of course. I cover it a little more in my book. But I hope that’s a bit of a help.
Thanks again for asking a great question!

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Hi, Sam

I am a person with SSA and I can’t help but feel that homosexuality is the worst sexual sin, because it feels like I am distorted to my core. Yes, straight people can sin sexually but the sin is in what they do, not in how they connect with the other person. What I’m trying to put into words is that, most of the time I feel that because I can only have romantic/sexual feelings for a person of the same sex, I am corrupted to my inner being and thus is not that I (do) sin but that I am sin. (Since my sexuality hasn’t changed miraculously when I believed in Christ).

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Dear Deahn, great to have you here and thanks for asking about this.

I can’t speak to the specifics of those two cases as I don’t know enough of the details, but I’m happy to offer my own perspective in general on these sorts of issues. I’m sure different Christians will land in slightly different places on some of this, but these are my thoughts. I’d love to hear what others think:

  1. I don’t think it is right for Christians to withhold custom or services based simply on someone’s orientation (by which I mean their general pattern of sexual attraction). In other words, simply because someone is attracted to someone of the same sex shouldn’t mean they don’t get served.

  2. Orientation (in this context) can be distinguished from behaviour. There may be some reasons in certain contexts why someone’s behaviour disqualifies them. One example would be a church not wanting to employ someone who is in a same-sex relationship in a role where Christian obedience to Scripture is a requirement. In this instance, the person is not disqualified because of their orientation, but because of how they respond to that.

  3. There is a difference between free speech and compelled speech. This seems to be determinative to the sorts of cases you have cited. Baking a cake is one thing; being asked to create a specific message is another. I don’t believe it is just for anyone to be compelled to compose a message that goes against their conscience. Strictly speaking, a Christian baker is not ‘refusing to bake a cake’ for a gay wedding –– they would be happy to bake a cake –– they are refusing to create a particular message that offends their sensibilities and (I believe) should be allowed to by law.

  4. There is a difference between providing services for a wedding (say) that are morally neutral and services that are not. Providing chairs for a gay wedding would (I think) belong to the former; arranging the flowers or decorating the cake would belong to the latter. The difference is that the latter are creative acts specifically intended to glorify the wedding in a way that the former is not. So I can well understand Christians feeling in conscience that they would not want to do this kind of act.

I hope that is a help. As I say, different Christians may land in different places on this. These are controversial matters. I am no expert. But those are some of my thoughts.

Thanks for engaging with RZIM, and God bless,
Sam

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Hi Sam! I really enjoy your talks on TGC and have been greatly ministered. Thanks for providing very true-to-reality and Biblically sound insights. :slight_smile:

I have a Christian friend who is SSA. I want to journey with him but am afraid to talk about this topic as he doesn’t really bring it up first, and isn’t openly SSA. I’ve only heard his views about it briefly twice, and from what I got, his main reason for continuing to pursue a same sex relationship is that he doesn’t see celibacy as a possible option because the church community is lacking/ doesn’t give him the social support/companionship he needs. Do you have any advice on how to talk about this lovingly, and how I can support him as his sister in Christ?

Thanks and God bless!

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The Bible says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” The first part of the verse causes great uneasiness in me. If our hope is in the Lord, He renews our strength and He gives us hope that doesnt disappoint… Yet, I went through a long season of feeling like God hurt my feelings. Divorce, loss of home, inpossible job, almost lost a kid, empty nester, poverty. All within a few short years. I had been following hard after the Lord for many years. I was disappointed, hurt and I was at a point where I felt I dare not hope. Although I am out of the wrecking season and into the healing season, I wonder why this verse says that and what it means, exactly. I had a sick heart for a long time. I continued to breath despite the fact that every breath bbreathed was against my own will. I figured I at least knew that God was pleased with my every breath. But this verse seems to go against the others. I know well enough that it doesnt and Im missing something but it sure did feel feel that way. What am I missing?

Thanks so much, Jesse.

I should say right at the outset that I’m British, not American, and that historically English people attempting to politically lead Americans hasn’t generally worked well… :wink:

I guess you’re referring to the legalisation of same-sex marriage. I’m not sure there is any sign that will change any time soon. There seems to be little appetite from either political party.

That said, I would want to suggest that the position on marriage that most troubles me is not that same-sex marriage has been legalised (though I disagree with that). The more troubling change in our culture’s view of marriage (and which meant same-sex marriage would become inevitable) was when marriage shifted from being covenantal to essentially being an expression of romantic fulfilment. Most people today see marriage as an opportunity to share their romantic fulfilment with the wider community, rather than as being a declaration of intent for the rest of their lives. It has gone from being about “I will” but “I do”; not about what is being promised for the future, but what us felt in the present. As long as this is our principle cultural way of viewing marriage, same-sex marriage will continue to be supported, possibly along with other definitions of marriage to follow.

I hope that helps. Thanks so much for engaging.
Sam

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Dear Avar

Welcome to RZIM Connect! Thank you so much for engaging with this and for sharing such a personal and profound question. It is an honour to us that you would share this with us.

You know, I hope, that you are not alone in wrestling with these issues. It has been a significant part of my own story, too.

I’d want to assure you of a couple of things. The first is that this sexual sin is actually not the worst thing about you. One of the things we see in Romans 1 is that the distortions in our sexuality stem from the deeper distortion in our hearts that cause us to turn from God and to worship idols. In her own story of coming to Christ from a lesbian (recounted in her book "The Secret Thoughts Of An Unlikely Convert) Rosaria Butterfield talks about how she came to realise that she didn’t need to repent of being a lesbian, she needed to repent of being an unbeliever. That is the real issue in every single one of us. Our distorted desires all flow from that fallen nature. So it is not your sexual feelings that have made you a sinner, it is the fact that (along with all who come from Adam) you were born a sinner.

The good news of that is that, having come to Christ, what is most fundamentally wrong with you (unbelief) has already been dealt with. You now have a new nature. You now worship God, and have turned from idols. The sinful nature remains, but it is no longer what is most fundamental to who you are. You are new in Christ (see Gal 2:20).

This also means that what you have described about being corrupted to your inner being is something that certainly was true of you –– and of everyone else. It is akin to what David confessed about himself in Psalm 51. But it is no longer true. Your inner being, and who you are, has now been made new by Jesus. Your heart has changed. So you may continue experience ongoing deep desires, but that is not to say you haven’t changed in a fundamental way. There has not just been a change in you; there has been a change of you.

You also need to know just how deep and distorting heterosexual sin can be. A dear Christian friend confessed to me just last week that, even though he has been a christian for decades, he still feels himself sexualising women that he meets. Many others have confessed similar things to me. That is the nature of sin, it is deeply pervasive and internal. You are not alone in experiencing this. Not everything about homosexuality is the same as heterosexuality, but you need to see that your sin is not unique. Each of us has a deeply distorted heart and affections. Each of us needs new birth in Christ. And when it comes, each of us continues to wrestle with sinful inclinations.

I hope that helps –– feel free to write back.
Sam

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Dear Shari,

Thank you so much for being with us at RZIM Connect. I am so sorry to hear of thus long season of suffering. Thank you for being so open with us about that.

Thank you for this question about Proverbs 13:12. It has an important insight for us about hope.

When the verse talks about hope deferred, it is talking about a hope for something that keeps being dashed. An example would be the date for something you had been really looking forward to keeps being pushed back –– maybe the delivery of something vital, or an event that is crucial to you. This sort of ongoing delay will take its toll on us. It is worth noting that “heart” in the Bible more often than not means our whole interiority, not just our feelings, so the toll is more than emotional.

This kind of deferred hope is in contrast to the hope God gives us. Paul writes that hope in Christ “does not put us to shame” (Rom. 5:5). We’re not going to end up being taken advantage of, or having egg on our faces (to use an expression that I hope works on both sides of the Atlantic!). Our hope is in what we do not presently see, but the hope itself is not being deferred: its object is fixed and certain; God is not moving the goalposts around.

So the hope Proverbs 13 is speaking of is the sort of hope that we often experience in this life –– where there is so little certainty, as we are especially seeing in these days. It is not talking about the hope God gives us.

In fact, it is the living hope of the risen Christ that can keep us and maintain us in a world where all other hope is deferred. God won’t let us down. He won’t make our hearts sick. The healing he has for us (and which I am so glad you are experiencing) is his hope working inside of us.

I hope (!) that answer helps. Thank you again for your openness and searching on this, both of which honour the Lord.
Sam

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Greetings Sam,

First off, I just wanted to take a moment and thank you for your work. Myself and friends of mine have especially benefited from your talk at RZIM in Atlanta back in 2019 on how we can know our gender. Not long after, a dear friend of mine came out as transgender. I approached the person with an attitude of wanting to hear and appreciate their story–it went very well. I’m incredibly thankful to have been in the audience for that presentation and for your hard work into these topics.

My question today involves a person who has SSA, (not pursuing a same sex relationship) but feels a call into ministry. Specifically, in regard to pastoral ministry, I see hesitation from fellow believers as Titus 1:6 and 1 Tim 3:2 appear to indicate you must be married to serve. I’m curious as to how you would answer these objections as someone who is in ministry.

With many thanks,
Karsten

Dear Hadassah,

Thank you for posting this –– great to have you joining us on Connect. And thank you for that encouragement.

The reasoning of your friend is not uncommon –– that celibacy is untenable. It is the pervasiveness of this way of thinking that led me to write 7 Myths About Singleness.

The problem with this way of thinking is that it is contradicted by the Bible in so many ways:

  1. Paul speaks with unbridled positivity about singleness. It is a gift (1 Cor. 7:7). It can be an advantage in ministry (1 Cor. 7:35).
  2. Jesus himself was single, and yet was the most complete human who ever lived. If we think being married or romantically fulfilled is intrinsic to being fulfilled as a human, we are saying that Jesus was not fully human.
  3. Marriage is not without its only difficulties and challenges (see 1 Cor. 7:27 –– “those who marry will have worldly troubles”!). We are often comparing the ups of marriage with the downs of singleness, without recognising that there are downs of marriage and ups and singleness.

That said, the church has far more work to do on being a place of deep community and social support. I take your friend’s point on that. But it can never be an excuse for sin.

The best thing you can do is to offer the sort of healthy, biblically appropriate intimacy yourself that the church should be providing –– to be a starting point at least for him on this. You will be living proof that there is an alternative to illicit intimacy.

I hope this helps. Thanks again for sharing with us.
Sam

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Karsten,

Thanks so much for being part of RZIM Connect. And thank you for that encouragement about the event we did here at RZIM on gender identity. Wonderful to see the Lord’s timing on that.

The hesitations about your friend going into pastoral ministry are ones I’ve seen raised before. I deal with this in more detail in a chapter of 7 Myths About Singleness that covers singleness and ministry.

For now, I would want to point out this: If we are using those texts to say that marriage is a requirement for being in pastoral ministry, then we need to realise the very same passages talk about the elder’s children. So if marriage is required, then so too is having children. So that would rule out someone who is married without kids, and indeed someone who is married but with only one child (since children, plural, are mentioned in Titus 1:6). By the same thinking, a pastor who’s wife died, or who lost their children, would be required to step down from ministry.

A better understanding, I think, is that Paul’s words show that he expected marriage to be normative, not compulsory. The married pastor is to be faithfully married, and the pastor who is a parent is to be a faithful parent. And let’s remember that Paul himself was single, and founded and pastored numerous churches.

Thanks for engaging!
Sam

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