Skip to comments.God, the Gospel, and the Gay Challenge -- A Response to Matthew Vines
Posted on 04/24/2014 6:06:22 AM PDT by xzins
Evangelical Christians in the United States now face an inevitable moment of decision. While Christians in other movements and in other nations face similar questions, the question of homosexuality now presents evangelicals in the United States with a decision that cannot be avoided. Within a very short time, we will know where everyone stands on this question. There will be no place to hide, and there will be no way to remain silent. To be silent will answer the question.
The question is whether evangelicals will remain true to the teachings of Scripture and the unbroken teaching of the Christian church for over two thousand years on the morality of same-sex acts and the institution of marriage.
The world is pressing this question upon us, but so are a number of voices from within the larger evangelical circle voices that are calling for a radical revision of the churchs understanding of the Bible, sexual morality, and the meaning of marriage. We are living in the midst of a massive revolution in morality, and sexual morality is at the center of this revolution. But the question of same-sex relationships and sexuality is at the very center of the debate over sexual morality, and our answer to this question will both determine or reveal what we understand about everything the Bible reveals and everything the church teaches even the gospel itself.
Others are watching, and they see the moment of decision at hand. Anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann of Stanford University has remarked that it is clear to an observer like me that evangelical Christianity is at a crossroad. What is that crossroad? The question of whether gay Christians should be married within the church. Journalist Terry Mattingly sees the same issue looming on the evangelical horizon There is no way to avoid the showdown that is coming.
Into this context now comes God and the Gay Christian, a book by Matthew Vines. Just a couple of years ago Vines made waves with the video of a lecture in which he attempted to argue that being a gay Christian in a committed same-sex relationship (and eventual marriage) is compatible with biblical Christianity. His video went viral. Even though Matthew Vines did not make new arguments, the young Harvard student synthesized arguments made by revisionist Bible scholars and presented a very winsome case for overthrowing the churchs moral teachings on same-sex relationships.
His new book flows from that startling ambition to overthrow two millennia of Christian moral wisdom and biblical understanding.
Given the audacity of that ambition, why does this book deserve close attention? The most important reason lies outside the book itself. There are a great host of people, considered to be within the larger evangelical movement, who are desperately seeking a way to make peace with the moral revolution and endorse the acceptance of openly-gay individuals and couples within the life of the church. Given the excruciating pressures now exerted on evangelical Christianity, many people including some high-profile leaders are desperately seeking an argument they can claim as both persuasive and biblical. The seams in the evangelical fabric are beginning to break and Matthew Vines now comes along with a book that he claims will make the argument so many have been seeking.
In God and the Gay Christian Vines argues that Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships. He announces that, once his argument is accepted: The fiercest objections to LGBT equality those based on religious beliefs can begin to fall away. The tremendous pain endured by LGBT youth in many Christian homes can become a relic of the past. Christianitys reputation in much of the Western world can begin to rebound. Together we can reclaim our light (3).
That promise drives Viness work from beginning to end. He identifies himself as both gay and Christian and claims to hold to a high view of the Bible. That means, he says, I believe all of Scripture is inspired by God and authoritative for my life (2).
Well, that is exactly what we would hope for a Christian believer to say about the Bible. And who could fault the ambition of any young and thoughtful Christian who seeks to recover the reputation of Christianity in the Western world. If Matthew Vines were to be truly successful in simultaneously making his case and remaining true to the Scriptures, we would indeed have to overturn two thousand years of the churchs teaching on sex and marriage and apologize for the horrible embarrassment of being wrong for so long.
Readers of his book who are looking for an off-ramp from the current cultural predicament will no doubt try to accept his argument. But the real question is whether what Vines claims is true and faithful to the Bible as the Word of God. But his argument is neither true nor faithful to Scripture. It is, nonetheless, a prototype of the kind of argument we can now expect.
What Does the Bible Really Say?
The most important sections of Viness book deal with the Bible itself and with what he identifies as the six passages in the Bible that have stood in the way of countless gay people who long for acceptance from their Christian parents, friends, and churches (11). Those six passages (Genesis 19:5; Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; and 1 Timothy 1:10) are indeed key and crucial passages for understanding Gods expressed and revealed message on the question of same-sex acts, desires, and relationships, but they are hardly the whole story.
The most radical proposal Vines actually makes is to sever each of these passages from the flow of the biblical narrative and the Bibles most fundamental revelation about what it means to be human, both male and female. He does not do this merely by omission, but by the explicit argument that the church has misunderstood the doctrine of creation as much as the question of human sexuality. He specifically seeks to argue that the basic sexual complementarity of the human male and the female each made in Gods image is neither essential to Genesis chapters 1 and 2 or to any biblical text that follows.
In other words, he argues that same-sex sexuality can be part of the goodness of Gods original creation, and that when God declared that it is not good for man to be alone, the answer to mans isolation could be a sexual relationship with someone of either sex. But that massive misrepresentation of Genesis 1 and 2 a misinterpretation with virtually unlimited theological consequences actually becomes Viness way of relativizing the meaning of the six passages he primarily considers.
His main argument is that the Bible simply has no category of sexual orientation. Thus, when the Bible condemns same-sex acts, it is actually condemning sexual excess, hierarchy, oppression, or abuse not the possibility of permanent, monogamous, same-sex unions.
In addressing the passages in Genesis and Leviticus, Vines argues that the sin of Sodom was primarily inhospitality, not same-sex love or sexuality. The law of Moses condemns same-sex acts in so far as they violate social status or a holiness code, not in and of themselves, he asserts. His argument with regard to Leviticus is especially contorted, since he has to argue that the texts explicit condemnation of male-male intercourse as an abomination is neither categorical or related to sinfulness. He allows that abomination is a negative word, but insists that it doesnt necessarily correspond to Christian views of sin (85).
Finally, he argues that, even if the Levitical condemnations are categorical, this would not mean that the law remains binding on believers today.
In dealing with the most significant single passage in the Bible on same-sex acts and desire, Romans 1:26-27, Vines actually argues that the passage is not of central importance to Pauls message in Romans. Instead, Vines argues that the passage is used by Paul only as a brief example to drive home a point he was making about idolatry. Nevertheless, Pauls words on same-sex acts are, he admits, starkly negative (96).
There is no question that Romans 1:26-27 is the most significant biblical passage in this debate, Vines acknowledges (96). In order to relativize it, he makes this case: Pauls description of same-sex behavior in this passage is indisputably negative. But he also explicitly described the behavior he condemned as lustful. He made no mention of love, fidelity, monogamy, or commitment. So how should we understand Pauls words? Do they apply to all same-sex relationships? Or only to lustful, fleeting ones? (99).
In asking these questions, Vines makes his case that Paul is merely ignorant of the reality of sexual orientation. He had no idea that some people are naturally attracted to people of the same sex. Therefore, Paul misunderstands what today would be considered culturally normative in many highly-developed nations that some persons are naturally attracted to others of the same sex and it would be therefore unnatural for them to be attracted sexually to anyone else.
Astonishingly, Vines then argues that the very notion of against nature as used by Paul in Romans 1 is tied to patriarchy, not sexual complementarity. Same-sex relationships, Vines argues, disrupted a social order that required a strict hierarchy between the sexes (109).
But to get anywhere near to Viness argument one has to sever Romans 1 from any natural reading of the text, from the flow of the Bibles message from Genesis 1 forward, from the basic structure of sexual complementarity, and from the churchs faithful reading of the Bible for two millennia. Furthermore, his argument provides direct evidence of that Paul warns of in this very chapter, suppressing the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18).
Finally, the actual language of Romans 1, specifically dealing with male same-sex desire, speaks of men consumed with passion for one another (Romans 1:27). This directly contradicts Viness claim that only oppressive, pederastic, or socially mixed same-sex acts are condemned. Paul describes men consumed with passion for one another not merely the abuse of the powerless by the powerful. In other words, in Romans 1:26-27 Paul condemns same-sex acts by both men and women, and he condemns the sexual desires described as unnatural passions as well.
In his attempt to relativize 1 Corinthians 6: 9, Vines actually undermines more of his argument. Pauls careful use of language (perhaps even inventing a term by combining two words from Leviticus 18) is specifically intended to deny what Vines proposes that the text really does not condemn consensual same-sex acts by individuals with a same-sex sexual orientation. Paul so carefully argues his case that he makes the point that both the active and the passive participants in male intercourse will not inherit the kingdom of God. Desperate to argue his case nonetheless, Vines asserts that, once again, it is exploitative sex that Paul condemns. But this requires that Paul be severed from his Jewish identify and from his own obedience to Scripture. Vines must attempt to marshal evidence that the primary background issue is the Greco-Roman cultural context rather than Pauls Jewish context but that would make Paul incomprehensible.
One other aspect of Viness consideration of the Bible should be noted. He acknowledges that he is not a biblical scholar, but he claims to have relied on the work of scholars whose expertise is far greater than my own. But the scholars upon whom he relies do not operate on the assumption that all of Scripture is inspired by God and authoritative for my life. To the contrary, most of his cited scholars are from the far left of modern biblical scholarship or on the fringes of the evangelical world. He does not reveal their deeper understandings of Scripture and its authority.
The Authority of Scripture and the Question of Sexual Orientation
Again and again, Vines comes back to sexual orientation as the key issue. The Bible doesnt directly address the issue of same-sexorientation, he insists. The concept of sexual orientation didnt exist in the ancient world. Amazingly, he then concedes that the Bibles six references to same-sex behavior are negative, but insists, again, that the concept of same-sex behavior in the Bible is sexual excess, not sexual orientation.
Here we face the most tragic aspect of Matthew Viness argument. If the modern concept of sexual orientation is to be taken as a brute fact, then the Bible simply cannot be trusted to understand what it means to be human, to reveal what God intends for us sexually, or to define sin in any coherent manner. The modern notion of sexual orientation is, as a matter of fact, exceedingly modern. it is also a concept without any definitive meaning. Effectively, it is used now both culturally and morally to argue about sexual attraction and desire. As a matter of fact, attraction and desire are the only indicators upon which the modern notion of sexual orientation are premised.
When he begins his book, Matthew Vines argues that experience should not drive our interpretation of the Bible. But it is his experience of what he calls a gay sexual orientation that drives every word of this book. It is this experiential issue that drives him to relativize text after text and to argue that the Bible really doesnt speak directly to his sexual identity at all, since the inspired human authors of Scripture were ignorant of the modern gay experience.
Of what else were they ignorant? Vines claims to hold to a high view of the Bible and to believe that all of Scripture is inspired by God and authoritative for my life, but the modern concept of sexual orientation functions as a much higher authority in his thinking and in his argument.
This leads to a haunting question. What else does the Bible not know about what it means to be human? If the Bible cannot be trusted to reveal the truth about us in every respect, how can we trust it to reveal our salvation?
This points to the greater issue at stake here the Gospel. Matthew Viness argument does not merely relativize the Bibles authority, it leaves us without any authoritative revelation of what sin is. And without an authoritative (and clearly understandable) revelation of human sin, we cannot know why we need a Savior, or why Christ died. Furthermore, to tell someone that what the Bible reveals as sin is notsin, we tell them that they do not need Christ for that. Is that not exactly what Paul was determined not to do when he wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11? Could the stakes be any higher than that? This controversy is not merely about sex, it is about salvation.
Matthew Viness Wedge Argument Gender and the Bible
There is another really interesting and revealing aspect of Matthew Vines argument yet to come. In terms of how his argument is likely to be received within the evangelical world, Vines clearly has a strategy, and that strategy is to persuade those who have rejected gender complementarity to take the next logical step and deny sexual complementarity as well.
Gender complementarity is the belief that the Bibles teachings on gender and gender roles is to be understood in terms of the fact that men and women are equally made in Gods image (status) but different in terms of assignment (roles). This has been the belief and conviction of virtually all Christians throughout the centuries, and it is the view held by the vast majority of those identified as Christians in the world even today. But a denial of this conviction, hand in hand with the argument that sameness of role is necessary to affirm equality of status, has led some to argue that difference in gender roles must be rejected. The first impediment to making this argument is the fact that the Bible insists on a difference in roles. In order to overcome this impediment, biblical scholars and theologians committed to egalitarianism have made arguments that are hauntingly similar to those now made by Matthew Vines in favor of relativizing the Bibles texts on same-sex behaviors.
Matthew Vines knows this. He also knows that, at least until recently, most of those who have rejected gender complementarity have maintained an affirmation of sexual complementarity the belief that sexual behavior is to be limited to marriage as the union of a man and a woman. He sees this as his opening. At several points in the book, he makes this argument straightforwardly, even as he calls both gender complementarity and denies that the Bible requires or reveals it.
But we have to give Matthew Vines credit for seeing this wedge issue better than most egalitarians have seen it. He knows that the denial of gender complementarity is a huge step toward denying sexual complementarity. The evangelicals who have committed themselves to an egalitarian understanding of gender roles as revealed in the Bible are those who are most vulnerable to his argument. In effect, they must resist his argument more by force of will than by force of logic.
Same-Sex Marriage, Celibacy, and the Gospel
Matthew Vines writes with personal passion and he tells us much of his own story. Raised in an evangelical Presbyterian church by Christian parents, he came relatively late to understand his own sexual desires and pattern of attraction. He wants to be acknowledged as a faithful Christian, and he wants to be married to a man. He argues that the Bible simply has no concept of sexual orientation and that to deny him access to marriage is to deny him justice and happiness. He argues that celibacy cannot be mandated for same-sex individuals within the church, for this would be unjust and wrong. He argues that same-sex unions can fulfill the one-flesh promise of Genesis 2:24.
Thus, he argues that the Christian church should accept and celebrate same-sex marriage. He also argues, just like the Protestant liberals of the early twentieth century, that Christianity must revise its beliefs or face the massive loss of reputation before the watching world (meaning, we should note, the watching world of the secular West).
But the believing church is left with no option but to deny the revisionist and relativizing proposals Vines brings to the evangelical argument. The consequences of accepting his argument would include misleading people about their sin and about their need for Christ, about what obedience to Christ requires and what faithfulness to Christ demands.
Matthew Vines demands that we love him enough to give him what he desperately wants, and that would certainly be the path of least cultural resistance. If we accept his argument we can simply remove this controversy from our midst, apologize to the world, and move on. But we cannot do that without counting the cost, and that cost includes the loss of all confidence in the Bible, in the Churchs ability to understand and obey the Scriptures, and in the Gospel as good news to all sinners.
Biblical Christianity cannot endorse same-sex marriage nor accept the claim that a believer can be obedient to Christ and remain or persist in same-sex behaviors. The church is the assembly of the redeemed, saved from our sins and learning obedience in the School of Christ. Every single one of us is a sexual sinner in need of redemption, but we are called to holiness, to obedience, and to honoring marriage as one of Gods most precious gifts and as a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church.
God and the Gay Christian demands an answer, but Christ demands our obedience. We can only pray with fervent urgency that this moment of decision for evangelical Christianity will be answered with a firm assertion of biblical authority, respect for marriage as the union of a man and a woman, passion for the Gospel of Christ, and prayer for the faithfulness and health of Christs church.
I do not write this response as Matthew Viness moral superior, but as one who must be obedient to Scripture. And so, I must counter his argument with conviction and urgency. I am concerned for him, and for the thousands who struggle as he does. The church has often failed people with same-sex attractions, and failed them horribly. We must not fail them now by forfeiting the only message that leads to salvation, holiness, and faithfulness. That is the real question before us.
as one who must be obedient to Scripture. And so, I must counter his argument with conviction and urgency. I am concerned for him, and for the thousands who struggle as he does. The church has often failed people with same-sex attractions, and failed them horribly. We must not fail them now by forfeiting the only message that leads to salvation, holiness, and faithfulness. That is the real question before us.
> gay Christians
Lost me right there.
If we allow them to use terminology such as “gay Christians”, then we have to allow for murderer Christinans, adulterer Christians, thieving Christians, drunkard Christians, lying Christians, etc.
1st Corinthians 6:9-11 puts this straight.
9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"
Those who understand this passage know that the serpent twisted what God had said in an effort to first confuse and then deceive. It worked then, it may work in some capacity now.
despite the protestations (and rightly so) from evangeclicals, mr vines will look you straight (more or less) in the eye and say he is being true to scripture, whether you agree with him or not..
aaaaah, the reformation and sole scriptura continue to bare fruit down to this very day....
This probably is, or is the forerunner to, the Great Apostasy of the end times.
So you're saying there are no gay groups pushing for acceptance in the Catholic church?
That is a lie! The Church has done the only responsible thing and denounced homosexual activity as the disordered acts that they are. It has consistently stated that these people have a disordered and disturbed mental process that causes them the unhealthy desire to act out sexually with a member of the same sex.
There is no equivocation in scripture or even any civil society in all of history that even thought of justifying same sex attraction through any form of legal contract prior to this century.
This is hardly enlightenment.
calling good evil and evil good
ping to the article
I disagree. It has failed them by NOT standing firm.
It hasn’t stood firm on marriage.
It hasn’t stood firm on divorce.
It hasn’t stood firm on holiness.
It hasn’t stood firm on evangelism.
It hasn’t stood firm on the Bible.
It hasn’t stood firm on unity.
I could go on and on.
The bottom line is that these wolves look at our hypocrisy and figure “why not try a BIG lie this time?”
I think this lie holds its basis in the Matthew Shepard deception and then further carried by the Fred Phelps/Westboro church actions. Again, lies used to smear the true church.
I have seen within churches so many who have chastised congregations for calling out homosexual activity as sin and morally equating this natural revulsion of sin as equal to the treatment of those with leprosy in Jesus’ day. This is a completely false comparison in my opinion.
Further, the squelching of congregational dissent over of the practice of homosexuality, I believe, led to the rise and the emboldenment of the gay mafia and the place where we are now in cultural acceptance of the practice of homosexuality and the acceptance of marginalizing anyone who disagrees. The Church stood silent or even condemned those who rose to speak up and now we see the consequences of the pervasiveness of this practice of sin.
Perhaps some Evangelical leaders are now at their moment of choosing between fame and fortune and the Word of God, but those who truly seek to follow Christ are at no such crossroad.
Concur. See my post #13.
>>Vines comes back to sexual orientation as the key issue. The Bible doesnt directly address the issue of same-sex orientation,
Matthew 19:4-6 (New King James Version)
Share on facebook Share on twitter Share on email
New King James Version (NKJV)
4 And He [Jesus] answered and said to them, Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female,’ 5 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? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.
Well, then, that was easy. There is no arguing around that.
Sorry. 2+2 will NEVER equal 5. It will ALWAYS and FOREVER equal 4.
These folks can’t change wrong to right by just saying so.
The Bible is clear regarding homosexuality; it DOES address it for what it is.
Hey, if you choose that lifestyle, more power to you. But the Bible states clearly that those who do will NOT see the Kingdom of Heaven. We can’t change that and God WON’T change it because some folks want Him to.
Move along, it is the standard Catholic answer to the reason for everything occurring outside their church (that also occurs in it).
Absolutely. The author of this article vehemently agrees with you.
It is one thing to be engaged in sin.
It is even worse, in my estimation, to say that God is wrong and that any sin He has identified is not a sin.
That is definitely the serpent telling Eve the fruit was good and not at all like God had said.
Essentially, what these apostates are doing is engaging in false prophesy. God has clearly spoken about homosexuality, and these apostates are calling God a liar, saying there’s nothing wrong with a behavior that God has condemned to hell, if not repented of.
Christ said false prophets such as these are damned:
Mat 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Mat 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
Mat 7:23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
They delusionally believe they’re children of God, and in response Christ will cast them into hell. False prophesy, calling God a liar, is a profoundly bad idea.