Worth a Read: God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines

While his theology of atonement and his gender identifications of God could use some tune-up, Matthew Vines, a young Christian gay man who has successfully weathered a challenging personal struggle with his own sexuality, has done Christians an admirable service in this easy to digest, yet challenging reading of Scripture presented from his Evangelical point of view.

In his comment on the book, Pulitzer prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts writes – and it’s hard to say it better – “Matthew Vines lives at an intersection of identities: a committed, theologically conservative Christian, who also happens to be an out gay man. In offering both a scholarly and profoundly personal reconciliation of a duality often depicted as hopelessly at odds, he performs a public service that is valiant, hopeful, and long overdue. He points the way forward for all those still stranded at the intersection.”

Amen. And I wish, of course, that Vines was Anglican instead of Presbyterian, but that’s rather provincial of me, I know!

The subtitle of the book is “The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships”.  And it is a moving and thoughtful case, worthy of our serious study as we turn to the Scriptures to witness a strong reading of Biblical texts that considered in context do not condemn same-sex relationships, but are rather reflective of very real and often ignored cultural contexts that existed when the Biblical texts were written.

Vines presents the reader with an in-depth look at Biblical versus traditional notions of celibacy as a chosen life style, explicates the “Sin of  Sodom” for what it essentially was, invites us to reconsider the use of the word rendered in English “abominations” in Leviticus, points us toward a comprehensive view of Paul’s views expressed in Romans 1 by putting them in the context of Hellenistic thinking of the time, places gay people in the context of humanity being created in God’s own image, and argues that there is a reasonable Biblical argument for marriage equality. A tall order, indeed.

Vines puts forth thesis after thesis based on principles of Biblical interpretation while weaving in his own moving personal story. As Mark Achtemeier, Presbyterian theologian  and author of his own book on same-sex marriage, remarks — “Matthew Vines brings within reach of non-specialists the rich store of scholarly work on what Scripture does and does not say about same-sex relationships. Coupled with his poignant descriptions of the damage done by traditional exclusionary interpretations, his book is an essential resource for all who seek to find their bearings in the current debate over the Bible’s teachings for gay people.”

I’m certainly not giving anything away by quoting from Vines’ last chapter. This statement challenges all of us: “As we seek to discern right from wrong, we have no better guide than God’s character as revealed in Scripture. Based on our discussion in this chapter, same-sex orientation is in keeping with God’s relational, covenant-keeping character. That means we should understand it as a created characteristic — not as a distortion caused by the fall. By branding same-sex orientation broken, we are wrongly rejecting a good part of God’s creation. And with awful consequences we are tarnishing the image of God….”

Have a read. You won’t regret it.

Vines, Matthew. God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. Convergent Books, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-60142-516-4

 

Steve Bailey is a deacon at St. Laurence, Coquitlam, and a blogmaster at NW Anglican Blog. If you’ve read any good books lately that shed light on important issues in contemporary Christianity, why not share a review on NW Anglican Blog? And a happy and Holy Spirit filled Pentecost to all!

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15 Responses to Worth a Read: God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines

  1. tonyh16 says:

    This man is a revisionist along side guys like Brian McLaren and others in the misguided Emergent church.Their theology is poor to nonexistent. The bible is clear on its declaration that homosexuality is a sin no matter how you translate it .He is not clearing the waters on the subject but muddying them trying to make them say what they do not say .He is trying to line the churches thinking with that of the world but it won’t work .Gods truth remains the same now then and forever. Here is a small part of a critique of this book that is helpful:
    “What follows are abbreviated points on why pastors should be aware and ready for this book to spark conversations amongst their members.
    -The book subverts how Lordship and sexuality are inextricably bound.
    – It casts a shadow on the clarity and rationality of the Bible’s teaching on sexuality.
    – The authority Vines insists upon casts a shadow over the heroic testimonies of those who have gone above and beyond their sexual desires.
    – For saying he has a high authority of Scripture, Vines has marshaled evidence from authors and volumes that do not.
    -Vines does not clarify that while not all individuals may be called to a life of celibacy, all individuals without a spouse are called to exercise sexual chastity.
    -The book drives a wedge between our design and desire. According to a biblical template, our sexual desires should be oriented to how God intends human sexuality to function. A sentiment underneath Vines’ argument is this: “If it feels good, do it.” Vines makes the claim that an expectation of celibacy has evidence of bearing “bad fruit,” and thus, cannot be accepted. The problem, however, is that this idea assumes any innate attraction or desire must be acted upon in accordance with a person’s will. A proper evaluation, however, would understand that “innateness” is not a normative ethical category worthy of adoption.”
    Here is a site that will help the conversation http://www.livingout.org/

    • I’m sorry, Tonyh16, your analysis here is quite flawed. Vines follows well established principles of Biblical exegesis and does a wonderful job of social / cultural contextual study of Holy Scripture. There certainly is not, as you state, ” any “clarity and rationality of the Bible’s teaching on sexuality”. The Scriptures do not work like that, and Anglicans as well as a great majority of Christians working to establish the Kingdom of God in this world (See Douglas Todd’s excellent article in the Vancouver Sun on Saturday, June 8) have a higher view of Scripture than you express here. Vines’s argument most definitely is not based on “if it feels good, do it.” There is no indication of that in any part of his work. I ask you to keep thinking, keep reading, and keep praying. We differ greatly on this issue. I hope it does not affect your fellowship with people in the Body of Christ. On this Pentecost, I hope we can all affirm “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.” God bless.

      • tonyh16 says:

        The teaching in scripture is clear on the subject of sexuality if we are open to hear what it is saying ,the problem is that we want it to say something that it is not saying I have read and listen to people whose exegesis I trust( J I Packer ,R C Sproul ,John Stott Tim Keller,Don Carson,etc) and through their exegesis they come to the same conclusion that I have come to ,homosexual activity is a sin that God finds abhorrent.It is the pro homosexual lobby that has twisted or nullified scripture to make it say what does not and what i have found in listening to the proponents of this point of view is that there are many other christian doctrines that they also do not believe ,such as Virgin Birth ,divinity of Christ Bodily resurrection,the exclusivity of Jesus (the Only way to God) ,etc. Have you looked at the site I put in the comment You hear from people who live with same-sex attraction all the time but continue to follow the standard God has put out for sexual activity. Jesus ,himself preach against fornication ,which is ALL sexual activity outside the institution of marriage ,and marriage is as he said only between a man and a woman.
        My opinion does not effect my fellowship with the Body of Christ but we can not be in the body of Christ on our own terms and believing what ever appeals to us.We come in on His term and what He has clearly set forth in His word. This comes with a warning “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

  2. Ste says:

    Thanks for the review, Steve. This book is seen by many as a critical addition to the conversation among evangelicals, not least by the Southern Baptists who felt so threatened by the success of Vines’ viral video on this topic that they released a rebuttal of his book the same day it was published! Meek and mild Matthew Vines has the conservatives fuming. And it’s little wonder — no prophet is welcome in his own hometown.

    Vines is, after all, an evangelical, and like the best evangelical scholars he puts a very strong emphasis on exegesis, exploring what the text meant to its original writer and audience. He differs from traditionalists, however — people like Dr. Gagnon and Dr. Packer, for example — in his hermeneutics, in his comparison of the original context to the contemporary, Gagnon describes the historical context in copious detail and then, incongruously, sees in it a perfect picture of same-sex relationships today. In contrast, Vines covers the same historical ground but also notes how very different it is from the contemporary context, a point that is increasingly obvious to evangelicals as they get to know more gay people. Where Gagnon establishes the historicity of the text only to ignore it, Vines is MORE conservative — he is unwilling to stretch the Bible’s condemnation of homosexual gang rape, prostitution, and idolatry to same-sex relationships of love and commitment, ‘life situations’ which are wholly different in intent and expressed values..

    As Walter Wink, said, it isn’t that the Bible isn’t authoritative — for Vines and the traditionalists agree on this point — but that the Bible in these passages does not address the same issue as the church is discussing today. Vines makes this point abundantly clear, an argument many evangelicals are finding increasingly persuasive. Thus the anxiety about Matthew Vines’ new book among traditionalists..

    • Thank you for your helpful comment, schuhs@live. The conversation continues. This morning I discovered another just-published book entitled “The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage: An Evangelical’s Change of Heart” by Mark Achtemeier (2014: Westminster John Know Press). The publisher’s synopsis states that Achtemeier has been engaged in prolonged Biblical exposition demonstrating how reading snippets of Scripture out of context has led to false and misleading interpretations of the Bible’s message about LGBT persons. He shows how a careful reading of the whole of Scripture reveals God’s good news about love, marriage, and sexuality for gay and straight people alike. Together with Vines’ book, we might have the basis for a serious and informed Bible study series for a parish or deanery group in order to further this on-going conversation.

      • Steve Schuh says:

        Dr. Achtemeier was actually the theologian who penned the policy prohibiting clergy from same-sex relationships in the Presbyterian Church USA in the 90s. He then met some gay Christians who confounded his traditionalist theology, prompting him to re-examine the Scriptures. His study led to a change of mind and this new book. Adding Achtemeier and Vines to James Brownson’s ‘Bible Gender Sexuality’ – considered by some a direct counterpoint to Gagnon – evangelicals have a lot of new reading to challenge traditional views on this subject. Thanks for the discussion, Steve.

      • tonyh16 says:

        Steve ,Just because you may find someone sincere and amicable does not justify their behavior. I have found Atheists that are compassionate and moral and “good ” people but they are outside of the will of god and stand condemned. God word does not change even if our does .Have we treated Homosexuals poorly,Yes .Have we done enough to help them with same sex attraction,..No .But does this mean that we ignore what his word says or to twist it till it fits our biases,no. I believe that the next ones the discrimination cross hairs will be those who hold to the Biblical view of Homosexuality and they will not be happy til they have wiped them out ..So be it.I know in whom and what I have trusted and it NEVER changes. Jesus said “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ (repetition indicates a relationship of some sort) twill enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’ “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.

    • tonyh16 says:

      Dr. Packer exegesis and hermeneutics prowess is not comparable to Mr.Vine , and then there are men like Mohler, Sproul, Carson ,Riddlebarger, Piper, Keller,Spergeon, Athenagoras of Athens, Tertullian,Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas,etc who all agree in the depravity of homosexual behavior .You have to wonder at someones conclusions when they differ with that many scholarly men. One can twist fact to make them say what he wants them to say to so that he can support his own agenda. But when you are into biblical deconstruction and revisionism you can basically come with and conclusion your heart desires ,but that does not make it true. There is no anxiety among the traditionalists. Our position does not change on the winds of a fickle societal norm. Mr. vine has the dubious task to try to keep up with the ever changing standards of the world while Gods truth is a constant standard which is a sure foundation “On Christ (and his truth ) the solid rock it stand all other ground is sinking sand , ALL other ground in sinking sand”
      We will all have to answer to God and how we treated his word

      • Steve Schuh says:

        Dr. Packer once neatly summarized the pro-gay argument about Romans 1 this way: “What Paul is condemning is not my sort of same-sex union.” He obviously disagreed; he, like Gagnon, saw in Paul’s idolatrous monsters a perfect reflection of gay Christians today. Such a gross equivalence does not suggest “hermeneutical prowess,” but it does highlight the important question behind Dr. Packer’s summary: Are the homosexual acts condemned in the Bible sufficiently similar to same-sex marriages today that we can confidently apply the old condemnation to the new situation?

        This is not a question the early church fathers can answer, they being long dead and far removed from our contemporary life situation. But like them we wrestle with Scripture and received tradition to discern God’s purpose for our unique time and place. Our hope in Christ is sure, even as we discover – as one of Dr. Packer’s Puritan forbearers put it – “There is more light and truth yet to break forth from God’s Holy word.”

  3. stasisonline says:

    Those who want a balanced perspective on this topic, are best to read Vines book in tandem with at least one analysis from the conservative side, EG “God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines”. Many a person has reviewed material from Vines, nodding their head in affirmation of what he says, not noticing the flaws and errors, even in his misrepresentations of familiar Scripture, until someone more knowledgeable points them out.

    • When there are two opposing views on any subject they both can not be right .Just as there can not be interpretations of scripture that make scripture declare contradictory ideas. Matthew Vine did not come to this book with an open mind to let the scripture say what it says, but came with a predetermined agenda as he is quotes in a debate he had about this book “Lifelong celibacy is not acceptable to gays, so the Bible MUST be RE-interpreted to suit gays.” You can listen to the full debate here http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=l-bTqIJP2JI You said “not noticing the flaws and errors, even in his misrepresentations of familiar Scripture, until someone more knowledgeable points them out.”.I like that you call them “errors and misrepresentation” for that is truly what a lot of what he has to say about the subject in scripture is. He does a poor job of defending his case with Dr. Michael Brown ,who I would say is not even one of the top ten apologists in this area.
      The thing is if we do not like what the truth says we are just not going to believe it no matter how clearly it is presented .Jesus,who was the embodiment of the truth, was not believed when he proclaimed the truth and said “But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.” Social mores will change but Gods word and truth will never change even though we may try to twist it so that it line up with our way of thinking.
      Again I offer this site as help for those dealing with this http://www.livingout.org/

      • stasisonline says:

        Yes Vines avoids debate. One of the first to offer an in-depth critique of Vines’ theology was Dr James White, who has subsequently lamented that Vines refuses to dialogue with him at all.

  4. Steve, your statement by J I packer was taken out of context an misrepresents Dr. Packer .This puts it more into context “As one who assumes the full seriousness and sincerity of all who take part in today’s debates among Christians regarding homosexuality, both in New Westminster and elsewhere, I now must ask: how can anyone miss the force of what Paul says here? There are, I think, two ways in which this happens.
    One way, the easier one to deal with, is the way of special exegesis: I mean interpretations that, however possible, are artificial and not natural, but that allow one to say, “WHAT PAUL IS CONDEMNING is not my sort of same-sex union.” Whether a line of interpretation is artificial, so constituting misinterpretation, is, I grant, a matter of personal judgment. I do not, however, know how any reasonable person could read Robert A. J. Gagnon’s 500-page book, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Abingdon, 2001), and not conclude that any exegesis evading the clear meaning of Paul is evasive indeed. Nor from now on can I regard anyone as qualified to debate homosexuality who has not come to terms with Gagnon’s encyclopedic examination of all the relevant passages and all the exegetical hypotheses concerning them. I have not always agreed with James Barr, but when on the dust jacket he describes Gagnon’s treatise as “indispensable even for those who disagree with the author,” I think he is absolutely right. Here is the whole article http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/january/6.46.html?paging=off

    • Steve Schuh says:

      Tony, that is indeed the source of the Packer quote, though I heard him deliver it a few months before it appeared in CT. I don’t think I misrepresented his view above, though the whole paragraph you provide gives the fuller context.

      So again, Dr. Packer’s summary of my argument is essentially correct: What Paul condemns in Romans 1 is not the kind of same-sex behavior I think we’re talking about today. Dr. Packer disagreed, but I think the burden is on traditionalists to show that Paul’s condemnation of cultic prostitution is sufficiently similar to same-sex covenants of love and mutual commitment that the condemnation of the former carries over to the latter. That moral equivalence, it seems to me, is ‘artificial and unnatural.’

  5. Steve,the burden of proof still lies with those who endorse same sex physical relationships for all through the bible and the early Christian literature the practice is strongly condemned and no where in this literature is is promoted of even hinted as acceptable It is condemned in the Diache (written a few years later than Romans),Tertullian (he even said “The Christian confines himself to the female sex” ch.46 ,The Apology ), Aristides of Athens,Clement of Alexandria, Origen and on and on it goes. Most of them were living at a time when homosexual practices were accepted as normal. When the bible tells of activity being “contrary to nature “ it is not generally speaking of mans nature ,for that is based and debatched but nature in general and where you find homosexual activity in nature it is concidered not natural. The only way that those who endorse homosexual activity can justify it is to use the world as their standard ,for it is the world that defines the bible not the bible the world, and to do what Mathew Vine says “…so the Bible MUST be RE-interpreted to suit gays” in other words, twist the facts to fit the conclusion they want or just blatantly ignore those passages that offend them

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