God And The Gay Christian – the Matthew Vines bookPosted: April 11, 2014
The introduction and first chapter were made available online, as was an outline of the contents. Ive read a few reviews of it, and found the conflicting responses to be perhaps reflective of the book’s controversial nature. On one hand the (later non-evangelical) Rachel Held Evans was fawning in the preface, offering;
Matthew Vines emerges as one of my generation’s most important Christian leaders, … on what it means to follow Jesus with … humility, …
Yet on the other hand the gay-sex-affirming Terence Weldon wrote in his book review;
I was also somewhat irritated by what comes across at times as a degree of youthful arrogance.
So is he humble or arrogant? Arent those characteristics opposites?! In his introduction, he seems to me to lean more towards humility. But I did find in the video that he morphed as the video progressed, from sounding reasonable, to less reasonable, and I guess he varies a bit in the book too. According to Christopher Yuan, the tone of the book differs from the video. Yuan wrote in Christianity Today –
In Vines’s 2012 video, he presents himself with a gentle and winsome demeanor. The tone of God and the Gay Christian is quite different. Unlike others who advocate respectful dialogue on this divisive issue, Vines charges that those who do not affirm same-sex relationships are sinning by distorting the image of God and are essentially responsible for the suicides of many gay Christians. Insinuations like this do not help to foster respectful dialogue on this already divisive issue.
Much of what I read in the introduction and chapter 1, was covered in the youtube clip. But in the book he added in details of coming to see himself as gay, and of coming out and the responses of those around him. One review highlighted in that in the book he takes a broader approach in terms of defending non-heterosexual sexuality, eg transgenderism, with Vines employing the term ‘LGBT’ 30 times.
The theology he details in the intro and first chapter, is nothing new for Vines. It is the same old stretching and massaging of Scriptures to make them mean what he wants them to mean. He still stretches Matthew 7:15–20, applying it to teachings rather than to prophets. And although he’s correct in pointing out that some reputable figures have done the same for centuries, an old heresy is still a heresy, even if adhered to by nice people.
Alluding more to the fundamentals of his doctrinal position, he writes –
Jesus said that “Scripture cannot be set aside” (John 10:35)
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).
But in my opinion, these words, for him, remain effectively empty. Interestingly, his default translation of the Bible, in this book, is the New International Version. The above verses, in that translation, begin with the words “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, …” And there, I suggest, lies the point of difference between him and most evangelicals. Most evangelicals believe that the Bible verses that are often rendered or interpreted to refer to homosexual practise, are “God-breathed and is useful for teaching”. But it’s a stretch for Matthew to believe that. He may claim to believe it in some sense. But in reality, he believes that verses such as key elements in Romans 1, are not useful for teaching us how to live as Christians today. He believes they merely reflect an understanding of the time in which they were written, and so do not apply to our modern era of supposedly greater understandings of sexuality. IE his perception of the Bible is as a rather flawed document, compared to the perception of a standard evangelical, as has been noted by gay Catholic commentator Andrew Sullivan, and others. Vines writes that he wants to see an end to –
“… the divide between more progressive Christians who support marriage equality and conservative Christians who oppose it”
and he says this change is possible for conservative Christians;
“—without undermining their commitment to the authority of the Bible.”
Yet, as Ive pointed out above, he does undermine a commitment to the authority of the Bible. As Christianity Today reported –
One of the main weaknesses of God and the Gay Christian is that Vines’s methodology of biblical interpretation clashes with the high view of the Bible he claims to hold.
We can see further evidence of this in the excerpt printed in Salon, where his supposed “high view” of the Bible looks even more double-minded. In that excerpt, Vines veers from the content of his video presentation and builds on the gender perspectives recently shared by his friend Brownson, to argue against St Paul’s hierarchical distinction between husband and wife, in Ephesians 5. Vines’ motivation in this particular line of reasoning would seem to be to invalidate St Paul’s portrayal of the gender role components in Christian marriage, so that same-sex ‘marriage’ appears more Biblically compliant. No doubt the only reason the secular Salon were willing to publish this theological piece was because it promoted non-differentiation of gender. I suggest that its doubtful whether the same article would be welcome in a conservative evangelical publication, given it’s encouragement to reject the words of St Paul. Reviewer Andrew Walker wrote that “Vines’ re-interpretation of Ephesians 5 is disjointed bordering on dishonest.”
Much of Vines’ arguments in the book revolve around the theory that people of the 1st century did not perceive same-sex relations as an orientation, but rather as an excess of lust that anyone might experience. And he provides citations from historical figures who do seem to express such a belief. He suggests that because of this, Scriptures which portray same-sex relations as sinful, are merely references to straight people having gay sex, and do not apply to gay people. He has in fact so convinced himself by this theory that he sums up one chapter by putting words into the mouth of the author of Romans, dogmatically writing “Paul viewed same-sex relations as stemming from excessive sexual desire and lust, not as the loving expression of a sexual orientation.” He goes on to acknowledge that the Bible consistently portrays same-sex relations negatively, and yet because of the above theory, he claims that a monogamous gay relationship could still be consistent with a biblical marital covenant and would therefore be blessed by God.
A key difficulty with this though, is that as Tim Keller and others have pointed out, his theory has evidence to the contrary. Vines’ is honest enough to acknowledge this, writing “There are even examples in ancient writings of men who expressed interest only in women or only in males (although the latter group was extremely rare).” He notes that “Experts have debated similar ideas for years, and they have not all come to the same conclusions.” Yet Vines is willing to dismiss this lack of consensus and the evidence to the contrary, to imply hopefully that St Paul wouldnt have been aware of it. No, Vines prefers that St Paul was a victim of limited understanding, and was deluded about homosexuality. It’s something of an odd view, if you believe that Scripture was God breathed.
It’s an interesting theory isnt it – that the main writer of the New Testament didnt know what he was writing about.
Then in contrast, on p. 141 of the book, Vines writes “In Jesus’s [sic] understanding of marriage, covenantal commitment is foundational.” To me, it feels wierd reading Vines pointing to a comment from Jesus as being authoritive. So much of his book seems to be about explaining away why he doesnt take various scriptures at face value. EG Jesus cited Genesis 2, which illustrates Christian marriage model as being inherently heterosexual, and Vines is very willing to dismiss that foundational principle. He picks and chooses doctrines from the Bible according to his preferences. On p. 146 Vines refers to the concept of ‘one-flesh’ and says “The meaning of the phrase doesnt require gender difference.” Perhaps, but the context does. He comes across as manipulative of Scripture.
I find it perplexing how Vines seems to be continuing to promote most of the points raised in his video, eg here. We know from sources such as this website, that Vines has been cognisant of his critics. So after so many of his points have been refuted, why does he continue to make the same claims? The fairly detailed review by Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, infers that much of the remainder of Vine’s book matches the content of his video. EG as we saw on screen, Mohler notes that in his book, Vines’ main argument is that the Bible does not recognise the notion of sexual orientation, and that when it makes reference to same-sex relations it is not condemning such relations per se, but rather is condemning other factors such as sexual excess. Mohler adds that Vines;
specifically seeks to argue that the basic sexual complementarity of the human male and the female — each made in God’s image — is neither essential to Genesis chapters 1 and 2 or to any biblical text that follows.
This suggests that Vines has now also fundamentally incorporated into his position, the input of his TRP co-worker James Brownson. We have critiqued Brownson in another post on this blog.
Mohler exposes the increasingly promoted myth that Vines and ideologically like-minded revisionists delve deeper in their theological bible-culture insights than those who subscribe to more traditional readings of Scripture on this topic. In reference to 1 Corinthians 6:9, Mohler writes in his review that;
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 Paul’s Jewish context — but that would make Paul incomprehensible.
Christopher Yuan, has also pointed out fundamental flaws Vines’ approach, writing –
This is another example of bias and an inconsistent use of background information.
Mohler’s colleagues have likewise taken a dim view of Vines’ approach, with professor of biblical studies Denny Burk writing at one point that;
… Vines’s myopic focus on two words and their Greco-Roman context leads him to miss this point entirely.
One of the key problems with taking Vine’s video as conforming to the high standards of a scholarly work, was it’s lack of references to back the statements that were offered. And of course this tends to be the nature of a verbal presentation, as it was. But now that Vines seems to have converted the video to book form, he is able to add those references with ease. However, Mohler points out that this exposes another flaw. Vines himself may claim to take a high view of Scripture, but he says his conclusions are actually based on the work of those more learned than him. The problem with this though, is that Vines’ sources dont tend to take a high view of Scripture. Mohler explains, “most of his cited scholars are from the far left of modern biblical scholarship or on the fringes of the evangelical world.”
Mohler worries that evangelicals who are tired of the pressures from the world to go with the flow, will use Vine’s reasoning as an excuse to acquiesce and take the easy road (Matt. 7:13-14) rather than standing for Biblical principles. His seminary have now released this ebook in reply to Vines’ book. I dont agree with everything it states though, EG the claim (p. 19) that “The modern notion of sexual orientation is … a concept without any definitive meaning.” That claim seems undermined in the ebook itself (p. 21). I also take issue with Heath Lambert simplistically jumping from “patterns of desire”, ie orientation, to simply “desire” (p. 81) as though they are the same thing.
Andrew T Walker has also released a detailed response for downloading, and a critique by Joe Dallas also contains some good insight, as do the Gospel Coalition, Tim Keller and as does a review by Julie Rogers, who offers both disagreement and praise as a same-sex attracted woman. Various churches and ministries have released online sermons (EG2) and training materials in response. One evangelical has expressed concern that Vines book unintentionally portrays God as somewhat anti-women. Given how younger people tend to be more embracing of homosexuality, it’s interesting to see skepticism of Vines claims from some at Vines’ alma marta (Harvard). I also note that several sources, including First Things, have raised the point that the book tends to imply that Jesus, by portraying that Christian marriage as simply heterosexual, is not omniscient – quite a slap in the face to Jesus’ divinity. And Dr James White has released comment with Dr Michael Brown –
Meanwhile, some evangelicals expressed dismay that it was a publishing house that has published books written by well respected evangelical authors, that have dropped their standards to also publish the book by Vines. In response, the publisher released an ‘explanation‘. I entered a comment at the bottom of that webpage, but Convergent have elected to censor me. However, the publishers of the book have subsequently resigned their membership of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), after the NRB complained that they were “producing unbiblical material” by printing the Vines book. Vines later noted that his former church likewise regarded the book as unbiblical.
Other interesting reviews of the book:
A one page Presbyterian response