Book Review: A War of Loves

“To survive, you must tell stories.”

Umberto Eco

I love reading. Books have been a safe haven where I can explore bold stories from the comfort of my bedroom. Long before I felt safe enough to start speaking openly about my sexuality with people, I was devouring books that introduced me to stories of other people like me. People who were Christian and attracted to the same sex. People who had grappled with the same confusion and fear and wonder and tenderness of pleading with God to help us understand our experience.

Only ten years ago there were very few decent books published in this area. Most of these books were written either by straight men or by Christians portraying some dramatic past life where they were a “former lesbian” before seeing the light and somehow no longer being lesbian or gay. I couldn’t relate to that, because I—and every gay Christian I know—have experienced ongoing same-sex attraction the whole time I’ve been a Christian. I’m not ex-gay. I’m not straight. Where were the books with stories like mine?

Most of the books available were also impersonal theological discussions. Now I love theological and philosophical ideas, but sometimes I just crave a story. As a teenager who lacked role models I could relate to, a book that told stories of gay Christians faithfully following Jesus would have been incredibly powerful for me. Something to connect me to a real person experiencing real emotions that resonated deep within me. Someone who knew the complex practical questions of how to follow Jesus that I’d wrestled with for years. I needed a story that took these questions of following Jesus far beyond lifeless reiterations of the ‘clobber passages’ beginning with “thou shalt not” prohibitions, and painted a new picture of Christian flourishing for the gay person.

So it was a game-changer to read books like A War of Loves by David Bennett that brought these stories to life. I want to commend this book to you because a) it’s brilliant, and also b) it’s currently on sale for the bargain price of $2.99 so you have no excuse not to read it immediately.

Let me tell you some of the things I loved about A War of Loves.

I love that it’s a story written as a story. There are enough theological textbooks and commentaries out there already, so I loved that this was a powerful narrative that showed me the real person behind the book. David’s story is full of crazy and unlikely turns that are so unexpected that no one could make this stuff up. It reminds me of Mark Twain’s quote: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

I love the way David speaks so personally and experientially about his relationship with God. Most evangelical Christians prefer to speak about God abstractly, but David is unapologetically raw and real in describing his conversations with God. Even if this book never addressed issues of sexuality, it would be worth reading purely for the faith-inspiring stories of God answering prayer visibly and working actual miracles over and over. I think I sometimes forget that God can and does work miracles, so this book helped me rediscover the power and presence of God.

I love that just by reading this narrative, you somehow end up accidentally learning lots about theology and philosophy. Despite being told as an unfolding story, the book cleverly invites you into David’s mind at each point of the story, as though you were exploring ideas with him as he seeks answers. David is a very intelligent man with an incredible mind and you feel like a way smarter person for reading the book, yet it never feels like lifeless disembodied concepts because you experience those thoughts in the context of a real story with real emotions. Whether it’s questions of epistemology or the aetiology of sexual orientation, David gently brings the reader along with him without ever condescending.

In fact, it’s so accessible that I recently sent a copy to a 12-year-old who had just come out as gay (and who is not a Christian). He had never read a non-fiction book before and I initially feared some of the long words might go over his head, but he devoured six chapters in the first day and said “It’s my new favourite book and I relate to every word.” I wish I’d read stories like this at his age, but I’m so glad this book exists now!

I love that this story breaks the mould of being either ‘perfect Christian poster boy who does all the right things’ or ‘smug former lesbian/gay who saw the light.’ David shows a refreshing sincerity; he is secure enough in God’s grace that he can vulnerably share embarrassing (but relatable!) details and embrace a new identity in Christ without turning his back on the LGBTIQ+ community that he loves so deeply.

I also love that David is an Aussie. I didn’t realise how powerful that would be until I started reading, but there was something special about hearing stories take place in the same parts of Sydney that I grew up in: knowing that we’d seen the same landmarks and walked the same paths (literally and metaphorically). It highlighted the fact that David was a real person, not just words on a page, and that this real person wasn’t so different from me. It made me realise how much we need stories from our own people, not just public figures on a different continent, and that’s a big part of why I decided to share my own story on this blog.

This is one of the very few books that I would recommend equally to Christians and non-Christians, gay people and straight people. David’s story is so gripping and thoughtfully presented that it would be a perfect starting point for someone wanting to gain deeper empathy in these areas.

So. You should read this book. I paid $20 for my copy but because of some crazy discount you can get the eBook right now for $2.99 on Amazon. Maybe you could even consider making the most of this bargain price and buying an extra copy to gift to a friend so you can read it together.

Umberto Eco said, “To survive, you must tell stories.” I would add, “To love, you must listen to those stories.”

This is a great story to start with.

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