Kevin DeYoung’s New Book on Homosexuality: A Critical Review (Part 1)

*I’ve updated this blog on 5/6/2015. After re-reading the blog, I felt that some things sounded condescending and I apologize to Kevin and everyone else who may have been put off by my previous tone. My intention wasn’t to belittle Kevin or make myself look superior; however, there were some things that I said that were immature and unhelpful. I hope this updated review will honor Kevin much more than the previous one did.

 

Kevin DeYoung has written a clear and accessible book, which defends a traditional view regarding same-sex relations and the Bible. Let me say up front that I’ve never read anything by Kevin DeYoung, except maybe bits of a blog here deyoungand there. Hands down, this is one of the best books I’ve ever read on what the Bible says about same-sex relations. If I ever meet Kevin in person, I’m going to buy him a beer and thank for his work in this book. And since he’s Reformed, I’m pretty sure he’ll accept my offer.

Kevin’s book is very well-written and should be read by every Christian (affirming and non) who’s interested in what the Bible really says about same-sex relations. In other words, it should be read by every Christian. I do have some critiques. Some big ones, actually. But I don’t want my critiques to pacify my enthusiasm for this book. It is quite simply the best lay-level defense of the traditional view that’s on the market.

So let me begin with the good stuff.

 

The GOOD

1. Writing style

I was very impressed with how well-written this book is. Lucid, creative, fast-paced—it kept my interest even when Netflix was calling my name. This book is hard to put down.

2. Bridging the gap

I was impressed at how well-read Kevin is in this debate. He didn’t settle for older books that have since been refuted, and he didn’t just stick to writers whom he already agrees with. He even showed some evidence of digging into the original Greco-Roman and Jewish sources that are often brought into the discussion, though as we’ll see, I think he could use a little more work here.

All in all, Kevin has digested the scholarly material and made it accessible for the average person. And this ain’t easy.

3. Intellectually compelling

I was consistently impressed with so many well-throughout statements and arguments in the book. Some of you may have noticed that I was Tweeting like a mad-man as I was reading the book: there were so many brilliant one-liners and powerful statements that I think I developed arthritis in my thumbs. And not just fluffy, unthoughtful statements, but pithy lines that capture profound truths. Don’t let the size of the book fool you. This book is jammed packed with hard-to-refute evidence for the traditional view, and he addresses almost all the pushbacks that are lobbed at traditionalists these days.

For everything that’s good and holy: Read. This. Book!

 

The QUESTIONABLE

By “questionable” I simply mean things that aren’t necessarily inaccurate, but stuff that made me scratch my head and say, “Hmmmm…I don’t know…”

1. The subtitle: “homosexuality?”

Is this book really about “homosexuality?” You may say, of course. But “homosexuality” is such a broad and complex concept—because people are complex. Kevin’s book is really about the 6 or so passages that prohibit same-sex intercourse, and all the pushbacks against a traditional understanding of these passages. It doesn’t (admittedly) navigate the pastoral questions that are germane to the umbrella topic of “homosexuality.” Again, Kevin admits this up front, and I admire him for doing so. But I still say, “Hmmmmm…I don’t know…” when a book about “homosexuality” zeros in on what gay and lesbian people do in bed. I fear—and I really hope my fear is unfounded—that my gay and lesbian friends will feel that their complex and intricate stories will be reduced to what they do or don’t do with their genitals. I hope I’m wrong here.

2. “Defending” the traditional view

Kevin’s book is not an exploration about what the Bible says, but a defense of the traditional view. And he admits this up front (see pgs. 15, 19). In other words, as far as I can tell, Kevin began his study already committed to the traditional view, and then he studied what the Bible says about homosexuality with the correct view already solidified in his mind. Maybe there’s a place for this—defending a traditional…anything. But it does raise hermeneutical questions in my mind about how fairly one can treat the opposing view, when they already believe it’s wrong straight out of the gate. As we’ll see below, I think that Kevin’s pre-commitments may have skewed his exegesis in some places.

3. Sex is for procreation?

In arguing against same-sex relations, Kevin says that marriage has a “procreative purpose” where “children can be conceived.” Again:

“marriage—by nature, by design, and by aim—is a covenant between two persons whose one-flesh commitment is the sort of union which produces offspring” (pg. 29).

Or more thoroughly:

“While it would be wrong to say procreation is the sole purpose in marriage or that sexual intimacy is given only as a means to some reproductive end, it would also be wrong to think marriage can be properly defined without any reference to the offspring that should (and normally does) result from the one-flesh union of a husband and wife.” (pg. 30).

Maybe it’s me, but it feels like Kevin dances around a really tough question: Is sex validated by its procreative potential or not? Kevin says it’s not “the sole purpose in marriage” but then says marriage can’t “be properly defined without any reference to the offspring that should (and normally does) result” from sex. This naturally opens up questions related to sex in old age, condoms, vasectomies, and other ways in which heterosexual couples work against the purposes of sex.  If the ability to produce children is a significant validation of sex and marriage, then does this mean that contraceptives work against one of the purposes of marriage? After all, children can’t be conceived if you get snipped and therefore hinder the production of offspring—or that’s the intention at least. This would be like going deer hunting with blanks in your rifle. If you’re not at least trying to bag a buck, it’s not actually hunting; it’s simply armed hiking.

In a similar way, if marriage has a sort of “procreative purpose,” and that aim is deliberately capped (sometimes quite literally), then does this cap work against the purpose of marriage? I don’t raise this question because I have an answer. I only raise it because I don’t think Kevin has one either—even though the logic of his argument naturally raises the question.

While we’re on the procreation question, Kevin did a great job showing how the Old Testament promotes procreation; it’s a fundamental good of Israelite society. But he fails to mention the New Testament’s striking indifference toward procreation, even in the midst of passages where marriage is promoted (Eph 5, 1 Pet 3). I could see affirming Christians get agitated at the omission. “There’s a trajectory,” they will say “away from procreation and marriage in the Old Testament toward marriages where procreation is adiaphora—neither here nor there. If we ride this same trajectory, then the procreative potential argument against same-sex marriages doesn’t spring from the New Testament as it does from the Old.”

I’m not sure if you’ve heard this argument before. But get ready, you will.

4. Persuasive Rhetoric vs. Argumentation

Kevin has a rhetorically powerful presentation. He’s winsome, articulate, and sounds like an expert on just about everything he says. But sometimes—and I really do mean sometimes, not oftentimes—he says things so convincingly that the average reader won’t notice the striking lack of evidence. Sometimes Kevin says stuff that just isn’t substantiated.

For instance:

  • Regarding the same-sex prohibition in Leviticus 18:22, Kevin argues that “[t]he phrase ‘as with a woman’…calls to mind Genesis 2, where God made the first woman from the side of the man that she might be his helper and his unique complement” (pg. 41). Maybe this is true, or maybe it’s not. Either way, Kevin provides no evidence for a deliberate connection between Leviticus 18 and Genesis 1-2. In fact, the Hebrew term for woman in Leviticus 18:22 is ishah, while the rather unique, gender specific word for “female” in Genesis 1 (God made them “male and female”) is neqevah. If there’s a reason why Leviticus 18 recalls Genesis 1-2, Kevin doesn’t provide one.
  • Kevin declares that the Paul’s letter to the Romans is “the most important letter in the history of the world.” Martin Luther would certainly agree with this, but I don’t see anything in Paul or the Bible where Romans has such a special glass case around it. I love Romans. I did my dissertation on it. But there’s no actual evidence—other than a Reformed presupposition—that this is the most important letter in the history of the world. Kevin’s assumption, though, does set up a rather serious approach to Romans 1: homosexual sex is now the first sin described in the first chapter of the most important letter in the history of the world.
  • Regarding the background of Romans1, Kevin says: “much of homosexual practice in the ancient world was by men who also had sex with women, but this does not mean Paul had no concept of orientation or that the category would have altered his final conclusion. Even if Paul did not use our modern vocabulary, his judgment is still the same.” His statement, “this does not mean Paul had no concept of orientation,” is huge. If he could prove his inference, that Paul probably was aware of something called orientation, this would be a major contribution to his argument. But he doesn’t. Kevin doesn’t provide any evidence for this claim. (By the way, I actually agree with everything Kevin says here and I can provide evidence for his claim; I just feel that such a bold claim must be either backed up or left unstated.)
  • Regarding the phrase “against nature” (or “unnatural;” para physin) in Roman 1:26, Kevin admits that Paul uses the phrase “nature” elsewhere in ways that don’t really fit what he’s arguing for in Romans 1. Kevin writes:

“Even when Paul references nature (physis) in 1 Corinthians 11:14—a more difficult passage for the conservative to explain since it has to do with hair length and hairstyle—the meaning (if not the application) is nevertheless plain: there is a divine design to manhood and womanhood that should not be transgressed. The use of the phrase in Romans 11:24, where Paul says the Gentiles were grafted into the people of God ‘contrary to nature’ (para physin), is somewhat different, but still connotes divine order and design” (pg. 54).

Oh man, I have so many questions! So can men have long hair, or does this violate God’s “divine design to manhood?” Did God violate his own “divine order and design” when he grafted the Gentiles into the people of God “contrary to nature?” Kevin’s rhetoric seems powerful; it feels persuasive; if you’re already committed to a non-affirming view, you’ll be so caught up in your “amens” and “hallelujahs” that you’ll hardly notice the lack of evidence for his claim that 1 Corinthians 11:14 and Romans 11:24 (where “nature” is used) don’t alter his understanding of “against nature” in Romans. He’s only says it doesn’t.

There are a bunch of these claims scattered throughout the book, but for the sake of space, I’ll stop here. I have one more “questionable” thing I want to discuss, but it’s a big one. It’ll take a separate blog, so tune in tomorrow where I’ll interact with Kevin’s interpretation and application of the story of Sodom, which he believes is relevant for understanding and prohibiting contemporary, monogamous, consensual same-sex relations.

I do want to conclude by reiterating my enthusiasm for the book. I’ve read few books that I don’t have some criticism for, including (or especially) my own. So despite some of my critiques, I believe that this is quite simply the best lay-level book on what the Bible says about the Bible and same-sex intercourse. It’s not perfect; obviously I don’t think it is. But the positive parts of the book far outweigh the negative parts. And, for what it’s worth, I believe Kevin’s conclusion is the right one.

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