A new book’s “exceedingly dangerous” assertions that homosexual orientation and gay marriage are consistent with a high view of the Bible are refuted by president R. Albert Mohler Jr. and four of his colleagues at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in an e-book published April 22.
God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines released the same day as the official release of Vines’ volume, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, which has garnered significant attention.
An April 22 blog post by Mohler asserts that Vines’ interpretation of Scripture is driven by his experience as a homosexual rather than the normal rules for understanding written documents.
“When he begins his book, Matthew Vines argues that experience should not drive our interpretation of the Bible,” Mohler writes. “But it is his experience of what he calls a gay sexual orientation that drives every word of this book. It is this experiential issue that drives him to relativize text after text and to argue that the Bible really doesn’t speak directly to his sexual identity at all, since the inspired human authors of Scripture were ignorant of the modern gay experience.”
God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines, edited by R. Albert Mohler Jr., was released the same day as Vines’ book, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. A response to Vines was “absolutely necessary,” Mohler said.
A review of Vines’ book by Andrew Walker of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission argues that “Vines has compiled liberal biblical scholarship and popularized it for a non-technical audience.” Walker’s review, published on the ERLC’s Canon & Culture website, summarizes the book in detail and includes bulleted arguments for pastors to use as they discuss God and the Gay Christian with church members.
Vines, a 24-year-old former Harvard student, weaves with his treatment of Scripture his personal biography of growing up as an evangelical Christian and “coming out” as a homosexual to his parents and now former home church. In the process, Vines left Harvard in order to study the Bible’s claims about homosexuality, which later resulted in the publication of his book.
“Not every book deserves a response, but some books seem to appear at a time and context in which response is absolutely necessary,” Mohler told Southern Seminary News. “The kind of argument that is presented by Matthew Vines, if not confronted, can lead many people to believe that his case is persuasive and that his treatment of the Bible is legitimate. I think that it’s very important that evangelicals be reminded that the church has not misunderstood Scripture for 2,000 years.”
Published by SBTS Press, the 100-page critique of Vines is edited by Mohler, who also contributes a chapter. Other contributors are: James Hamilton, professor of biblical theology; Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies; Owen Strachan, assistant professor of Christian theology and church history; and Heath Lambert, assistant professor of biblical counseling. Burk, Strachan and Lambert teach primarily for Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Seminary.
Mohler’s chapter provides an overview critique of Vines’ argument, while Hamilton primarily addresses Old Testament claims, Burk deals with New Testament claims, Strachan looks at the church history assertions and Lambert answers the question of whether there is such a thing as a “gay Christian.”
Vines’ special contribution to the debate, Mohler said, is his claim to having a “high view” of Scripture, even while relying upon a “world of very liberal biblical scholarship” as his primary sources.
“Evangelical Christians have enough biblical instinct to trust only someone who comes with a high view of Scripture,” Mohler said. “But this is a warning to us that not all who claim a high view of Scripture actually operate by a high view of Scripture.”
Some evangelicals hope to avoid the “cultural pressure-cooker” surrounding homosexuality by finding a “convenient, persuasive off-ramp” from traditional biblical arguments, Mohler said. Vines’ book “could be for some of those wavering evangelicals the kind of off-ramp for which they’ve been searching. However, it’s a fatally flawed argument. And it will take them into a non-evangelical identity.”
Vines’ argument is “exceedingly dangerous,” Mohler said, “because if we do not know what the Bible teaches on homosexuality, and if the church has misunderstood that vital issue for two millennia, then what else has the church misunderstood about the gospel? If we can’t trust the Bible to tell us what sin is in order to tell us why Christ’s death was necessary, then we really don’t know what the gospel is. And if you can read the Bible the way Matthew Vines reads it, then biblical theology is impossible. I cannot imagine greater challenges facing the church than these.”
Also troubling, according to Mohler, is the fact that Vines’ publisher – Convergent Books – is closely related in organization and leadership to evangelical publisher WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.
“What is new is the packaging of the argument and the fact that this is being published – at least to some extent – within evangelicalism by an imprint associated with WaterBrook Multnomah that is targeting itself toward the evangelical community,” he said.
“It’s very distressing that the president of Multnomah, who is also the president of Convergent, is not only defending the publication of this book,” Mohler said, but the publisher also claims Vines believes in biblical inerrancy.
“That’s a very troubling assessment from someone who has major responsibility in evangelical publishing,” Mohler said.
Southern Seminary’s e-book – published as the first in a new “CONVERSANT” series from SBTS Press – is available for free as a PDF download on the seminary’s website. CONVERSANT titles are “designed to engage the current evangelical conversation with the full wealth of Christian conviction.” Soon, the seminary’s e-book will be available for order on digital platforms, including Kindle, Nook and iBook.
In his review of Vines’ book, ERLC’s Walker highlights in his review four main arguments that the author makes:
Christianity’s historic position against homosexuality leads to “bad fruit” in the lives of homosexuals.
The Bible does not address the modern and comprehensive concept of “sexual orientation.”
Biblical authors lacked knowledge of modern faithful, loving and committed same-sex relationships.
Scripture’s negative view of homosexuality can be explained by its “patriarchal context.”
All of these arguments are flawed, but they could play an important role in advancing the homosexual agenda, Walker states.
“If I were mapping a playbook for the gay rights movement, this book is an important point in the strategy,” Walker notes. “It has to be written in order to introduce confusion within the evangelical firmament, one of the last remaining constituencies in America that has not embraced homosexuality with gusto.”
“This book need not be 100 percent compelling or accurate in order to succeed. All that needs to happen for Vines to claim victory is for his readers to be confused and not necessarily convinced of his argument.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – James A. Smith Sr. is executive editor and chief spokesman at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Baptist Press chief national correspondent David Roach contributed to this report.)