God and the Gay Christianby Matthew Vines
Length: Approximately 5 hours.
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Matthew Vines wants you to know that he is committed to the “full authority of Scripture.” He also wants you to know that he is gay. Vines wrote God and the Gay Christian to convince you that it is possible to hold to the full authority of the Bible while also affirming the goodness of committed, monogamous same-sex relationships.
Who should read this?
Those who want to understand why so many evangelicals have recently affirmed the goodness of committed, monogamous, same-sex relationships should read Vines’ book. However, if you simply want to know what the Bible says about homosexuality, stay clear of God and the Gay Christian.
Vines is a talented writer, and he presents his core argument on the third page of the book. He writes, “Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships.” To make this argument, Vines turns to first to personal experience, second to historical precedent, and third to biblical exegesis. His stories of personal experience are moving and emotionally appealing. However, his historical appeals are highly selective, and his biblical exegesis is seriously lacking.
The progression of Vine’s argument is fairly straightforward. Vines uses personal experience and selected voices from history to establish a central thesis of the book. Namely, that the ancient view of homosexuality was radically different than our modern view of homosexuality. With this thesis in place, Vines proceeds to identify and isolate “the six” biblical passages that speak to the issue of homosexuality. By treating each passage in a different chapter, he avoids using the analogy of faith, and he ignores the larger testimony of the Bible itself.
In the end, Vines argues for “marriage equality.” He insists that committed, monogamous same-sex relationships fit the biblical definition of marriage. He argues that the image of God requires us to accept committed, monogamous same-sex relationships. And he calls for a modern reformation on the issue of marriage equality.
I’m not the first to offer a crique of Vines’ wildly popular book. Those who want a detailed, scholarly response to Vines should turn to God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines edited by Albert Mohler. Those who want a counter perspective on homosexuality should turn to What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality by Kevin DeYoung. In no way do I presume to improve on either of these works. I do, however, want to highlight 10 issues with Vines’ arguments in God and the Gay Christian.
- Vines is not qualified to write a book like this. Of course, Vines is qualified to write a book about his personal experience and personal views. Nevertheless, he is not qualified to write a book about historical theology and biblical exegesis. He admits as much when he says, “I am not a biblical scholar,” and, “I am not a linguist.” (2, 117) The stakes are simply too high for second hand, amateur analysis.
- Vines oversimplifies the biblical perspective by focusing on and isolating six passages. Early on he writes, “Six passages in the Bible … have stood in the way of countless gay people who long for acceptance from their Christian parents, friends, and churches.” This idea is repeated throughout the book so that the reader is left wondering, “Can we just deal with these six passages and move on?” But the biblical perspective on marriage and sexuality cannot be reduced to six passages. Additionally, one wonders how many passages would convinces Vines? Seven? Twelve? Twenty four? Six hundred?
- Vines bases his argument on experiential epistemology. The first chapter explains how his personal experience sent him “back to the Bible,” and how his father eventually went through a similar experience of reinterpretation. Vines ends the book with more stories of personal experience. While these stories are emotionally powerful, they should not exercise authority over faithful exegesis. To be clear, if the traditional interpretation is in fact wrong, these experiences should move us to reinterpret the biblical text. However, if the traditional interpretation is correct, our personal experiences have no right to challenge the authority of God’s Word.
- Vines assumes that persistent desires must be God given desires. On page 18 he writes, “While gay Christians can choose not to act on their sexual desires, they cannot eradicate their sexual desires altogether.” I don’t want to minimize anyone’s struggle against sin, but isn’t this statement true for all Christians? Isn’t it true that on this side of eternity we all struggle to eradicate our desires and our lusts? Don’t most of us continue to battle lust, pride, greed, and covetousness as long as we live on this side of eternity?
- Vines repeatedly misapplies Jesus’s words about “good fruit” and “bad fruit.” In Vines’ world, good fruit and bad fruit have nothing to do with obedience or disobedience, godliness or ungodliness. Rather, Vines seems to suggest that good fruit is feeling good about oneself, while bad fruit is depression, frustration, isolation, and even suicidal tendencies. Repeatedly he uses these phrases to describe the frustration and discouragement felt by those who try to resist their desires for homosexual intimacy. Using words Jesus spoke may seem to put Vines on Jesus’ side of the argument (or Jesus on Vines’ side of the argument), but in reality Vines is twisting the words of Jesus to fit his own agenda.
- Vines argues that ancient texts do not directly address modern society. Take Paul as an example. Since Paul didn’t know all the things we “know” about sexual orientation, we really can’t find guidance from anything Paul wrote about sexuality. After all, he didn’t know what we know today, therefore he wasn’t capable of answering the questions we’re asking today. This same foolish argument is made by those who insist the Reformers and the church fathers didn’t believe in inerrancy simply because they didn’t discuss the issue with 21st century terminology. In making this argument, Vines essentially trivializes the authority of Scripture.
- Vines uses emotional, manipulative language to make his case. For example, in chapter two Vines plays the roll of the victim to gain the sympathy of his reader. He writes, “Based on the traditional interpretation of Scripture, I am uniquely excluded from the possibility of romantic love and intimacy.” (29) Who said Vines was the only one excluded? Who said the Bible only had one prohibition for those seeking intimacy? The reality is quite different. The Bible speaks to and even forbids many expressions of sexuality.
- Vines wrongly champions the notion that the biblical authors were only concerned about rape, pederasty, and human trafficking. Vines tries to make this argument in chapter two, and he comes back to this idea throughout the book. Kevin DeYoung offers a convincing counterargument to Vines in his book What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?
- Vines appeals to Jesus, but only selectively. In chapter five he acknowledges that Jesus made an important statement about God’s design in marriage. Vines admits, “Jesus described marriage as monogamous (see Matthew 19:1-12).” While he acknowledges that Jesus’ words have authority for the issue of monogamy, Vines refuses to acknowledge that Jesus’ words also have authority for heterosexual marriage.
- Vines calls his approach a third way while only presenting two ways in the book. In the final chapter Vines claims, “I wrote this book to show that there is a third way.” (165) In Vines’ mind, there are three ways: 1) affirm the authority of the Bible and reject same sex marriage, 2) affirm the authority of the Bible and embrace same sex marriage, 3) deny the authority of the Bible and embrace same sex marriage. In real life, however, there are only two “ways.” And throughout God and the Gay Christian, Vines only acknowledges two ways: affirming and non-affirming.
Vines is a talented writer who has taken a number of arguments from a variety of sources and used them to make the case for affirming same sex relationships. Some in the evangelical community will be convinced by his arguments. Others will find justification for their lifestyle in these very arguments. Still others will find Vines’ arguments unconvincing, inconsistent, and unbiblical. I fall into the last category.
My conclusion is that nothing in God and the Gay Christian warrants a change of convictions or an overturning of church history.