God and the Gay Christian – a round up of critiques

This month on the Patheos book club a new book by Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian has been featured.  A number of Patheos bloggers here have responded very positively to the book (see the book club page for links).

There was also a web chat where this book was welcomed as an important contribution to the current debate on how Christians should view homosexuality.

As an example of how some bloggers are viewing this, here is one of the book’s endorsements:

“God and the Gay Christian is a game changer. Winsome, accessible, and carefully researched, every page is brought to life by the author’s clear love for Scripture and deep, persistent faith. With this book, Matthew Vines emerges as one of my generation’s most important Christian leaders, not only on matters of sexuality but also on what it means to follow Jesus with wisdom, humility, and grace.  Prepare to be challenged and enlightened, provoked and inspired. Read with an open heart and mind, and you are bound to be changed.”
— Rachel Held Evans

Right now due to some personal commitments I really don’t have time to read Vine’s book myself. But, I thought that to balance up the coverage I would excerpt and point to some of the several critical reviews that have been published elsewhere around the web. For there has certainly been a lot of controversy. Indeed, the publisher of Vine’s book has found itself in a position where it needed to resign from the NRB over the issue.

Background Articles

Michael Brown writing for Charisma  called the publishing of Vines’ book “A Shameful day in Evangelical Publishing” and quoted his own recent book on the subject saying,

…there are “no new textual, archeological, sociological, anthropological, or philological discoveries [that] have been made in the last fifty years that would cause us to read any of these biblical texts differently. Put another way, it is not that we have gained some new insights into what the biblical text means based on the study of the Hebrew and Greek texts. Instead, people’s interaction with the LGBT community has caused them to understand the biblical text differently.” From Can you be Gay and Christian? By Michael Brown

Andrew Walker also strongly criticises Vines’ book but concludes with a clear desire to strike a conciliatory tone:

It is likely that Matthew Vines will read this review. As I wrote it, I thought to myself, what would I tell Matthew if we were to sit down over coffee and discuss his book?

First, I would tell him that I love him, and that he’s deserving of dignity and respect as an image bearer of God. I would apologize to him for what I can only assume are the countless insensitivities and insults he’s experienced as a same-sex attracted person. I would also apologize to Matthew for the pat, unhelpful answers and rejection he’s received from Christians who don’t know how to speak about homosexuality.

Secondly, I would give him a copy of Wesley Hill’s book. I would point him toward the testimony and work of my friend Sam Allberry’s book and heroic ministry, Living Out. I would tell him of Rosaria Butterfield, whose testimony is a witness to the power of the gospel. I would be honest and tell him that these ministries provide more hopeful, and holistic narratives.

Third, because I love and respect him, I would be compelled to tell him that he’s deceived. He’s believed the lie that homosexuality will prosper his life. Fourth, I would implore Matthew to repent of a book designed to cast a shadow of suspicion and doubt about the Scripture’s teaching on sexuality. Fifth, I would exhort him to a path of discipleship with incalculable unknowns—unknown difficulties I will not experience and can only sympathize with. But I will commend him to set his desires before the cross, knowing that Jesus is better than any desire we think needs satisfied; that Jesus is better than marriage, than children, than sexual fulfillment itself. I would tell him about costly obedience. I would tell him about radical self-abandonment, something I imperfectly attempt each day. I would tell him the story of the Rich Young Ruler, reprised for today, and reframed around the issue of sexuality. I would tell him that the gospel subverts the very points at which we say, “Yes, Lord, but…”  Read the rest

Walker mentions my friend Sam Allberry, who experiences exclusively same-sex attraction as a Conservative Evangelical Minister. I interviewed Sam about his own book in my post,  Does God hate gay people?  Sam has also now written a review of Vines’ book for the Gospel Coalition:

We in the West find ourselves amid a culture that increasingly encourages us to seek ultimate human meaning in sexual fulfilment. Our core human identity is found in our sexuality, which in turn is defined by our desires and attractions . . . And so to deny someone full expression of his sexuality is tantamount to causing him to hate his very self. Indeed, Vines goes as far as to say it makes them less human and less like God (166).

But this is not a biblical understanding of what it means to be human. My sexuality is not to be found in my feelings but in God having created me male; it is not primarily psychological but bodily. So I am not to read my core identity off my sexual desires, but to receive the sexual identity God has already granted me as a male as a good gift to be lived out and enjoyed. My sexual desires are part of what I feel, but they are not who I am.

This is incredibly significant. If my sexual feelings are who I am at my core, then they must be fulfilled in order for me to even begin to feel complete and whole as a human. My sense of fulfilment is cast upon my sexual fortunes, and everything seems to depend on it. But being a Christian gives me a different perspective. My sexual desires are not insignificant; they are deeply personal. But they are not defining or central, and so fulfilling them is not the key to fullness of life. I suspect our culture’s near-hysterical insistence that your sexuality is your identity has far more to do with the prevalence of torment, self-loathing, and destruction than we have begun to realize. . .

What of those of us who experience same-sex attraction and yet are committed to the traditional understanding that the Bible prohibits homosexual behaviour? Many of us who have found the evangelical church to be a place of open-armed acceptance, support, and encouragement; Scripture to be sometimes hard but always good; singleness to be both costly and positive; and Christ to be our fundamental and everlasting joy.  Read the rest

Jonathan Merritt hosted a conversation involving Al Mohler and Matthew Vines. Each were asked a series of questions and replied separately to them. There was no interaction between them but nonetheless the conversation reflects a clear presentation of differing perspectives. For example, early on in the conversation Mohler said:

One of the key insights of the Reformation is that the church must always be reformed by the Scriptures. We must test everything by the teachings of the Bible, and correct our beliefs and practices when these are found to conflict with what the Bible teaches. The Christian church has had to do this regularly, on matters great and small. But I am confident that the church has not misread the Bible for 2,000 years on this question, and that the normalization of same-sex sexuality and same-sex marriage cannot be justified in any way by an honest reading of the Scriptures. – Read the rest

In reply to the same question Vines said:

I think the most instructive analogy from the Christian tradition on this issue is the question of heliocentrism. For the first 1,600 years of church history, every major theologian and church leader believed both that the earth stood at the center of the universe and that the Bible taught this. With the advent of the telescope, Galileo and others obtained new information, which ultimately led Christians to reinterpret Scripture’s statements about it. I think we’re in a similar situation regarding sexual orientation. Until the past 50 years, Christians didn’t think about homosexuality in terms of orientation. They thought about it simply in terms of excess—along the lines of gluttony and drunkenness. Consequently, there really is no Christian tradition on the specific issue we face today: gay Christians and their committed relationships. Just as with heliocentrism, we don’t need to degrade the wisdom of our predecessors. We simply need to acknowledge that we are in a new interpretive environment, faced with an issue our forefathers were not faced with, and that fact requires us to look at Scripture anew. – Read the rest

Speaking of Mohler, he has also been one of the authors of a free ebook criticising Vines.  In introducing his response book he acknowledges the emotional draw of Vines work, but argues strongly for its rejection:

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. . .

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 Church’s 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 God’s most precious gifts and as a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church.  Read the rest

In the ebook itself Mohler summarises Vine’s arguments as follows:

The most important sections of Vines’s 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”. 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 God’s expressed and revealed message on the question of same-sex acts, desires and relationships, but they are hardly the whole story. . .

He specifically seeks to argue that the basic sexual complementarity of the human male and female — each made in God’s 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 God’s original creation, and that when God declared that it is not good for man to be alone, the answer to man’s isolation could be a sexual relationship with someone of either sex. But this massive misrepresentation of Genesis 1 and 2 — a misinterpretation with virtually unlimited theological consequences – read the rest

Mohler goes on to critique Vine’s arguments about the general thrust of the Bible and the specific passages. James Hamilton writes the second chapter of this ebook and begins as follows:

Matthew Vines doesn’t throw his knockout punch at the beginning of his book but at the end: “As more believers are coming to realize, [affirming same-sex relations as moral] is, in fact, a requirement of Christian faithfulness” (178).

With these words, Vines hopes to send to the mat, down for the count, the view held by the people of God ever since God made them male and female and said “the two shall become one flesh” (Matt 19:4–5; cf. Gen 2:24 LXX). The Law of Moses clearly prohibits same-sex relations (Lev 18:22; 20:13), and that prohibition is reinforced in the New Testament (Rom 1:26–27; 1 Cor 6:9–10; 1 Tim 1:10). V

Vines employs an old, subtle strategy, asking “Did God actually say?” (Gen 3:1). Calling for a re-examination of the Bible’s teaching, Vines doesn’t come out swing- ing but wooing. He wins sympathy by telling his own heart-wrenching story of not wanting to admit his own same-sex attraction. His father even told him the day he “came out” was the worst day of his life. With readers softened up by sentiment and compassion, Vines asks them to reconsider the Bible’s teaching.

His attempt to convince readers that they should con- done what God has condemned is a study in sophistry. Sadly, those who lack a firm foundation in the Scriptures, those who do not take up the Berean task of examining the Scriptures for themselves (cf. Acts 17:11) and those who do not examine the logic of Vines’s arguments (to say nothing of those who want Vines to be right) might think the traditional view of marriage has been floored, like Mike Tyson at the hands of Buster Douglas.

But has it?

Read the rest for Hamilton’s answer to that question

Other contributors to the ebook were Denny Burk, Owen Strachen, and Heath Lambert.

Finally, Preston Sprinkle said,

A major thread throughout his book is that “the concept of same-sex orientation didn’t exist in the ancient world” (pg. 104; cf. chapter 2), and this is a serious and necessary claim. Think about it. Paul’s language in Romans 1 could be taken to refer to straight people having gay sex—they exchanged the natural function of the male/female. And if Paul didn’t know what we know now, that some people are simply born gay, then perhaps he wouldn’t have said what he did. Or, put differently, since same-sex orientation didn’t exist in the ancient world (the cornerstone of his argument), then Paul could not have such people in mind. Paul was only condemning straight people who got bored with heterosexual sex and ventured into new, same-sex territory to satisfy their hyper-lustful urges. . .

Houston, we still have a problem: Ancient concepts of same-sex orientation did exist in Paul’s world.

I’m not sure if Vines ignored or simply did not come across the piles and piles of historical evidence that works against his thesis. Only God knows. In any case, if you’re genuinely interested in this discussion, you need to know that the ancients did in fact have beliefs about what we now know as “same-sex orientation.”

vines 3

. . . Bernadette Brooten—an affirming scholar, by the way . . . concludes: “Contrary to the view that the idea of sexual orientation did not develop until the nineteenth century, the astrological sources demonstrate the existence in the Roman world of the concept of a lifelong erotic orientation.”

. . . When Paul therefore says that “men…gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another” (Rom 1:27), he is not revealing ignorance about sexual orientation.

There’s no reason—no good historical reason—to believe that Paul was unaware of same-sex orientation.   Read the Rest

As you can see there are a number of critiques by evangelicals of Vines’ book been published online, and I am sure that I have missed out many of them. For some more favourable reviews expressing the other side of this debate see some of the links at the Patheos Book Club.

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  • Utar Efson

    The ‘the church was wrong about X therefore it’s wrong about Y’ is a persistent, yet thoroughly wrong argument that Utar rarely sees challenged. If sequential flips of a coin are independent events how more so are decisions and dogmas that span aeons and generations.

    Of course the subtext of the sexuality revisionists is the rightness of their thesis; closer to the truth is that their sincerely held belief could equally be the generational folly of the contemporary church.


  • Jason

    Hi Mr. Warnock, I would also include in any critique of same sex marriage and “gay” christianity, the work of Robert Gagnon. He is a foremost expert on homosexuality and the Bible. His work very well researched. He, to me, concludes rightly that homosexual practice is sinful and those who practice it need confession and repentance.

  • Gregory Peterson

    Dr. Brown and Dr. Gagnon project modern era social constructs backwards into ancient times, which is why they sound a lot like the segregationists of my youth, who did the same.

    “Homosexuality” is a much abused, modern era social construct with a lot of long discredited scientific baggage…much like “race” in that regard.

    Kathy of Canyonwalker has an insightful review of Dr. Brown’s “A Queer Thing Happened to America | And what a long, strange trip it’s been.”


    I think that everyone, Mr. Vines included, discounts the historical context of idolatry and ancient politics of identity in their interpretations of the “clobber texts.” Don’t do as the ancient Egyptians and Canaanites did…or the pagan Romans either.

    I think that it’s the sociology and psychology of identity which is why “homosexuality” is not sufficient as scientific theory. Sexual orientations is better in that regard, I think.

    You can reject a sexual and social identity which incorporates your minority sexual orientation, but that doesn’t make it go away.