Recently a friend asked me to read God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines. This book was originally published in 2014, and several helpful “response books” have been written since then. One is God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines edited by Albert Mohler. Another is What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality by Kevin DeYoung. Both of these resources present a biblical response to Vines, and I would recommend both to anyone wrestling with these issues.
To add my thoughts to the discussion, here are ten thoughts about Vines’ approach to the issue of homosexuality in his popular book God and the Gay Christian.
- Vines is not qualified to write a book like this. Of course, Vines is qualified to write a book about his personal experience and personal views. Nevertheless, he is not qualified to write a book about historical theology and biblical exegesis. He admits as much when he says, “I am not a biblical scholar,” and, “I am not a linguist.” (2, 117) The stakes are simply too high for second hand analysis.
- Vines oversimplifies the biblical perspective by focusing on and isolating six passages. Early on he writes, “Six passages in the Bible … have stood in the way of countless gay people who long for acceptance from their Christian parents, friends, and churches.” This idea is repeated throughout the book so that the reader is left wondering, “Can’t we just deal with these six passages and move on?” But the biblical perspective on marriage and sexuality cannot be reduced to six passages. Additionally, one wonders how many passages would convinces Vines? Seven? Twelve? Twenty four? Six hundred?
- Vines bases his argument on experiential epistemology. The first chapter explains how his personal experience sent him “back to the Bible,” and how his father eventually went through a similar experience of reinterpretation. Vines ends the book with more stories of personal experience. While these stories are emotionally powerful, they should not exercise authority over faithful exegesis. To be clear, if the traditional interpretation is in fact wrong, these experiences should move us to reinterpret the text. However, if the traditional interpretation is correct, our personal experiences have no right to challenge the authority of God’s Word.
- Vines assumes that persistent desires must be God given desires. On page 18 he writes, “While gay Christians can choose not to act on their sexual desires, they cannot eradicate their sexual desires altogether.” I don’t want to minimize anyone’s struggle against sin, but isn’t this statement true for all Christians? Isn’t it true that on this side of eternity we all struggle to eradicate our desires and our lusts? Don’t most of us continue to battle lust, pride, greed, and covetousness as long as we live on this side of eternity?
- Vines repeatedly misapplies Jesus’s words about “good fruit” and “bad fruit.” In Vines’ world, good fruit and bad fruit have nothing to do with obedience or disobedience, godliness or ungodliness. Rather, Vines seems to suggest that good fruit is feeling good about oneself, while bad fruit is depression, frustration, isolation, and even suicidal tendencies. Repeatedly he uses these phrases to describe the frustration and discouragement felt by those who try to resist their desires for homosexual intimacy. Using words Jesus spoke may seem to put Vines on Jesus’ side of the argument (or Jesus on Vines’ side of the argument), but in reality Vines is twisting the words of Jesus to fit his own position.
- Vines argues that ancient texts do not directly address modern society. Take Paul as an example. Since Paul didn’t know all the things we “know” about sexual orientation, we really can’t find guidance from anything Paul wrote about sexuality. After all, he didn’t know what we know today, therefore he wasn’t capable of answering the questions we’re asking today. This same foolish argument is made by those who insist the Reformers and the church fathers didn’t believe in inerrancy simply because they didn’t discuss the issue with 21st century terminology. In making this argument, Vines essentially trivializes the authority of Scripture.
- Vines uses emotional, manipulative language to make his case. For example, in chapter two Vines plays the roll of the victim to gain the sympathy of his reader. He writes, “Based on the traditional interpretation of Scripture, I am uniquely excluded from the possibility of romantic love and intimacy.” (29) Who said Vines was the only one excluded? Who said the Bible only had one prohibition for those seeking intimacy? The reality is quite different. The Bible speaks to and even forbids many different expressions of sexuality.
- Vines wrongly champions the notion that the biblical authors were only concerned about rape, pederasty, and human trafficking. Vines tries to make this argument in chapter two, and he comes back to this idea throughout the book. Kevin DeYoung offers a convincing counterargument to Vines in his book What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?
- Vines appeals to Jesus, but only selectively. In chapter five Vines acknowledges that Jesus made an important statement about God’s design in marriage. Vines admits, “Jesus described marriage as monogamous (see Matthew 19:1-12).” While he acknowledges that Jesus’ words have authority for the issue of monogamy, Vines refuses to acknowledge that Jesus’ words also have authority for heterosexual marriage (Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female? Matthew 19:4).
- Vines calls his approach a third way while only presenting two ways in the book. In the final chapter Vines claims, “I wrote this book to show that there is a third way.” (165) In Vines’ mind, there are three ways to deal with the issue of homosexual marriage: 1) affirm the authority of the Bible and reject same sex marriage, 2) affirm the authority of the Bible and embrace same sex marriage, 3) deny the authority of the Bible and embrace same sex marriage. In real life, however, there are only two “ways.” And throughout God and the Gay Christian, Vines only acknowledges two ways: affirming and non-affirming.