Matthew Vines

Book Review: God and the Gay Christian

*The following book review will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Southwestern Journal of Theology. Published here with permission of the editor.

God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. By Matthew Vines. New York: Convergent, 2014. 213 pages. Hardcover, $22.99.

Same-sex marriage, gay rights, and alternative sexual lifestyles seem to dominate the public consciousness today. From professional sports players coming out as gay to judges overturning marriage laws to allow same-sex marriage, the conversation regarding homosexuality is constantly around us. In most of these instances, the conversation pits Christianity against a secular worldview hoping to affirm homosexual identity. However, a highly anticipated book recently changed the focus of the conversation from “Christians against the world” to an in-house discussion among self-proclaimed evangelicals. In God and the Gay Christian, Matthew Vines attempts to reform the historic teaching of Christianity on the issue of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

Vines proposes that “Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships” (3). In order to support his thesis, the author sets out to debunk the traditional interpretation of the six main biblical passages that have been used to condemn homosexuality. In addition, he seeks to show that celibacy for the person struggling with homosexual desires is a damaging state that undermines their expression of the image of God. Finally, he desires to show that committed, monogamous same-sex relationships are on par with traditional heterosexual marriage and should be supported by the church.

In order to make his argument, Vines works from a few key assumptions. First, he assumes that suffering is inherently evil. In his opening chapter, Vines draws on Jesus’ parable in Matthew 7:15–20 regarding a tree and its fruit. He compares any pain or suffering brought to homosexuals through the condemnation of their sexual activities to be bad fruit brought forth by a bad tree. By contrast, he considers the affirmation of homosexual activity to be good fruit produced by a good tree.

Vines’ second assumption is that Scripture and its authors know nothing of sexual orientation. As a result, none of the traditional interpretations of Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Romans 1:26–27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and 1 Timothy 1:10 are valid for contemporary discussions of sexuality. He believes that modern understandings of sexuality as immutable and unchosen dismiss any interpretation that condemns homosexual behavior for any reason other than gross excess.

The author also assumes that biological difference and role complementarity have nothing to do with marriage and sexuality. Vines believes that Scripture does not speak of biological difference as valid for sexual expression. He also holds that any discussion of role complementarity is grounded in a cultural hierarchy that understands women to be less than fully valuable. As a result, he builds a vision of sexual expression and marriage on commitment and covenant-keeping.

Using these assumptions, Vines builds his case that Christian teachings need to be modified in order to support same-sex relationships. In modifying these teachings, Vines embarks on a dangerous hermeneutical path that leaves some questions unanswered and creates some problems that he does not foresee.

First, Vines elevates his personal experience above Scripture as a source of authority. This is not a critique of which he is unaware. In fact, he says he was confronted by a church member early on with this exact critique (13). Even though he claims not to do so, he in fact affirms this very thing. He states, “I had a second reason for losing confidence in the belief that same-sex relationships are sinful: it no longer made sense to me” (12). His own experience of trying to affirm his lifestyle with the text of Scripture led him on a journey to reinterpret the Bible in light of his own experience. We see this throughout the book from his basic desire to have same-sex relationships no longer be called a sin to his condemnation of expecting celibacy from Christians who struggle with same-sex desires. His personal experience and desires do not fit that biblical expectation, so he believes it must be wrong.

Second, Vines fails to defend his position that committed, monogamous same-sex relationships are equal to marriage. The biggest failure in his argument is that he does not explain why such relationships have to be monogamous. He dismisses the idea of the potentiality for procreation as a key aspect of marriage (137–141); thus, he can no longer claim any natural extension of parenting as a reason to limit marriage to only two people. He considers the key element of marriage to be covenant-keeping, yet he fails to provide an argument why this would limit marriage to two people. As a result, he assumes marriage is monogamous but provides no real reason for such a limitation. His choice of monogamy is arbitrary in light of his definition of marriage.

Finally, Vines neglects to realize that his claims regarding homosexuality open the door for misunderstanding the Christ-Church relationship. While discussing the text of Ephesians 5 and its implications for marriage, Vines argues that the authority and submission structure in the text is built on ancient patriarchy. He notes the connection to slaves and masters in Ephesians 6 as evidence that we can no longer justify role complementarity since we do not affirm the institution of slavery. However, there are two serious failings of his argumentation. First, he ignores the fact that parents and children are also mentioned in Ephesians 6. The authority of parents over children, and the subsequent submission of children to parents, would also have to be overturned by Vines’ argumentation; however, he does not even mention those verses. In addition, Vines’ argumentation requires elevating the church to be equal with Christ. In doing so, one steps into the realm of heresy since Scripture states that the church is in submission to Christ. Vines’ cultural hermeneutic fails to protect against this logical conclusion to his own argument.

While this book has been highly touted by a number of pastors and theologians, the arguments fall short of making a biblical case. Instead, Vines sets out to make Scripture align with his own desires rather than conforming himself to the truth of Scripture (Romans 12:2).

Can a Christian Be Gay?: The New Question in Evangelicalism

There is a new book making waves in evangelicalism with its release today. God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships by Matthew Vines sets out to change 2,000 years of church history (and thousands more of Jewish history) regarding Scriptural teaching on homosexuality.

The promotional material for the book claims that it provides a way to interpret key biblical texts related to homosexuality that “honors those who are different and the authority of Scripture.” The unique feature of this book is that Vines claims to hold that Scripture is authoritative on this issue. He writes, “Like most theologically conservative Christians, I hold what is often called a ‘high view’ of the Bible. That means I believe all of Scripture is inspired by God and authoritative for my life. While some parts of the Bible address cultural norms that do not directly apply to modern societies, all of Scripture is ‘useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness’ (2 Timothy 3:16–17, NRSV)” (p. 2).

Vines first reached popularity when the video of his teaching in a church went viral. From that point forward, he has been the “go-to man” for affirming homosexuality within the text of Scripture.

As others have noted, Vines has not actually presented any new arguments for interpreting Scripture in support of homosexuality. Most of his arguments come from well-established books on this issue by John Boswell, Robin Scroggs, and others. The difference, however, is that he claims to believe the inspiration and authority of Scripture—unlike previous authors.

In contrast to what Vines claims, this book has the potential to do great damage to people’s faith in the authority and veracity of Scripture. Vines applies a cultural hermeneutic to the text of the Bible, interpreting God’s Word through the lens of the gay rights movement. In addition, he elevates personal experience—specifically his own story—to a place of authority over the text. If Scripture and experience come into tension, he believes that experience must win out.

I have interacted with Vines’ work before in a series of articles that can be found here. While I believe that Vines is wrong on the interpretation of Scripture, we cannot simply ignore his work. He stands to be a major voice for people who want to remove the tension between Scripture and homosexuality.

At the end of the day, however, I am always drawn back to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:9–11. He writes, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

I deal with the terms “effeminate” and “homosexuals” in other articles, but I want to note what Paul says at the end of this passage. After listing a number of sins that are condemned in Scripture, he states, “Such were some of you. . . .” We see here that members of the church in Corinth were former fornicators, former idolaters, former adulterers, former homosexuals, etc. The reason they are no longer these things is that they were washed, sanctified, and justified “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” These are no longer the behaviors of people who claim to be Christians. This is not where they find their identity anymore. The power of Christ can overcome these sins—including homosexuality.

Below are resources from me responding to Matthew Vines’ views on homosexuality and the Bible.

Is Being Alone a Sin?: Answering Matthew Vines Part 1

Are Homosexual Relationships “Unnatural”?: Answering Matthew Vines Part 2

Does the Denial of Same-Sex Marriage Inflict Undue Pain?: Answering Matthew Vines Part 3

What Did Jesus Teach about Homosexuality?: Answering Matthew Vines Part 4

Lillian Kwon, “Theologians Find Vines’ ‘Homosexuality Is Not a Sin’ Thesis Not Persuasive,” The Christian Post, September 28, 2012. (Quoted throughout article)

Radio Interview Audio Available: “Gay Christian Agenda Exposed”

The audio from today’s interview on Knowing the Truth radio program is available here.

I would like to thank Pastor Kevin Boling for hosting me today and leading us in a Bible-centered discussion of this issue. As Kevin mentioned, the church is being attacked by those who seek to normalize homosexuality, not only in our culture but also in the church. As Matthew Vines has stated, his organization “seeks to reform church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity.” The only way to combat this in the church is to go back to the Scriptures.

I pray that this interview will be beneficial to you and will glorify God by taking the focus off our own happiness and back to the truth of God’s Word.

You can find out more about Knowing the Truth radio program and Kevin Boling at www.knowingthetruth.org.

Radio Interview Tuesday April 2

For those of you in the Greenville, SC area, I will be on the Knowing the Truth radio program Tuesday, April 2 from 11:00 am until 12:00 noon (EDT). Pastor Kevin Boling is the host of the program, and it is a live, call-in radio show. The main part of our discussion will be a response to Matthew Vines and his attempt to make a biblical argument supporting homosexuality.

I was interviewed by The Christian Post back in the fall for an article on this issue. I also published on series of articles on my website expanding my answers to Mr. Vines. In recent days, Vines has launched the Reformation Project, which is a “Bible-based, Christian non-profit organization that seeks to reform church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity.” I take issue with Vines’ description of his organization as “Bible-based,” and this will be part of my discussion with Pastor Boling tomorrow.

If you live in South Carolina, you can listen to the program on AM 660 or 92.9 FM. If you are not in the listening area of those stations, you can stream the audio live or download the recording at www.knowingthetruth.org.

What Did Jesus Teach About Homosexuality?: Answering Matthew Vines Part 4

This is part 4 in an ongoing series where I answer the arguments of 22-year-old Harvard University student, Matthew Vines. In the previous three parts, I addressed his interpretation of Genesis 2 and Romans 1 and his claim that denying marriage to homosexuals inflicts undue pain. In this post, I consider his omission of Jesus’ teaching on the issue. Follow the links for Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Throughout his argument, Matthew Vines attempts to contrast the supposedly legalistic teachings of the Old Testament and Paul with an ethic of love in the teachings of Jesus. His overall premise is that teaching cannot be good if it leads to “emotional and spiritual devastation” or “the loss of self-esteem and self-worth.” Vines claims that such concepts come from the teachings of Jesus, thus elevating the words of Jesus above any other teaching in Scripture.

He states:

Sacrifice and suffering were integral to the life of Christ, and as Christians, we’re called to deny ourselves, to take up our crosses, and to follow Him. This is true. But it assumes that there’s no doubt about the correctness of the traditional interpretation of Scripture on this subject, which I’m about to explore. And already, two major problems have presented themselves with that interpretation. The first problem is this: In Matthew 7, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns against false teachers, and he offers a principle that can be used to test good teaching from bad teaching. By their fruit, you will recognize them, he says. Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Good teachings, according to Jesus, have good consequences. That doesn’t mean that following Christian teaching will or should be easy, and in fact, many of Jesus’s commands are not easy at all – turning the other cheek, loving your enemies, laying down your life for your friends. But those are all profound acts of love that both reflect God’s love for us and that powerfully affirm the dignity and worth of human life and of human beings. Good teachings, even when they are very difficult, are not destructive to human dignity. They don’t lead to emotional and spiritual devastation, and to the loss of self-esteem and self-worth. But those have been the consequences for gay people of the traditional teaching on homosexuality. It has not borne good fruit in their lives, and it’s caused them incalculable pain and suffering. If we’re taking Jesus seriously that bad fruit cannot come from a good tree, then that should cause us to question whether the traditional teaching is correct.

This line of argumentation suffers from a couple of problems. First, it diminishes the inspiration and authority of Scripture by subjecting the Word of God to an artificial hierarchy. Vines considers the words of Jesus to be more authoritative than the rest of Scripture. While Jesus was certainly God incarnate walking this earth and teaching his followers, the rest of Scripture is also from the mouth of God. Second Timothy 2:16–17 reads, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Thus, the words of Paul in Romans 1 are just as inspired as the Sermon on the Mount.

However, this is not the only problem with Vines’ arguments from the teachings of Jesus. Vines simply ignores Jesus’ teaching on marriage, which is devastating to his larger discussion. In Matthew 19:3–12, Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees about marriage. While their question addresses the issue of divorce, Jesus answers them with his interpretation of God’s design for marriage—one man and one woman for life. In verses 4–6, Jesus responds, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” In this passage, Jesus affirms that God created male and female and that marriage is designed between one man and one woman. Those who say that Jesus never addressed the issue of same-sex marriage typically overlook this clear passage of Scripture. Biblical marriage and biblical sexuality are heterosexual in nature according to Jesus himself.

Based on his “love ethic,” Vines is missing a crucial part of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus declared that marriage is designed for one man and one woman. Even in his hierarchal hermeneutic, Vines must acknowledge Jesus’ words on this subject. Therefore, his condemnation of false teachers falls back on himself. Jesus made a clear statement about both gender and marriage. Any departure from that standard is a false teaching. Vines stands convicted by his own words on this issue.

It has been my hope in this series to provide reasonable answers to the arguments posed by Mr. Vines. Almost nothing about his argument is new; instead, he has repeated the same points that have been made by proponents of homosexuality for the last 40–50 years. While my counterpoints do not cover the entire scope of the discussion, I hope you can see that his logic is severely flawed.

This debate will most likely continue for years to come, especially in light of the push for legalizing same-sex marriage. I encourage you to study the Scriptures diligently and see how the consistent message of the Bible is that homosexuality is a sin. However, we must also remember that it is not the unpardonable sin. Paul declares, “Such were some of you; but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11). The key here is that some in the church at Corinth WERE homosexuals. They were redeemed by Christ, and he changed their lives. May we pray for the same for Mr. Vines and others struggling with this and any other sin.

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For the full text of article on The Christian Post, see Lillian Kwon, “Theologians Find Vines’ ‘Homosexuality Is Not a Sin’ Thesis Not Persuasive,” The Christian Post, September 28, 2012.

For the full text of Matthew Vines’ defense of homosexuality, see Matthew Vines, “The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality,” http://matthewvines.com.