A while ago, I wrote a post arguing why Matthew Vines can’t win the evangelical gay marriage debate.
Today, I’m here to admit that maybe I was wrong. Why?
Because of Lee Strobel.
Lee Strobel was a reporter. He was an atheist because atheism made sense. He met Christians. He started digging. Eventually, he converted to Christianity.
I saw a Lee Strobel video where he told his story and what arguments convinced him that Christianity made sense. The arguments and the reasons he shared were entirely unconvincing. He interviewed Biblical scholars – all of whom were Evangelical Christians – to find out why they believed and what evidence they thought there was. This methodology isn’t wrong; it merely exposes Strobel’s bias: He wanted to be a Christian but needed evidence that it was true.
His friends were Christians, and they were nice. His wife was a Christian and his atheism/agnosticism was creating challenges in their relationships. As a result, he started compiling evidence that it was true. Strobel found the evidence he was looking for specifically because he was looking for it. Whether that evidence was sufficient evidence compared to other evidence to the contrary was not as relevant as the fact that there was evidence to be had, and Strobel snatched it up.
This process, of course, took a long time, but in the end, Strobel managed to keep his brain intact and his sense that he was making the most reasonable and rational decision available intact, while also embracing Christianity, something that his social circle was encouraging him to do.
Which brings us to gay marriage.
There are a great many Christians who believe above everything else that the Bible is the literal, inerrant, inspired word of God. The Bible seems clear in its six or so passages that indicate how God feels about gay sex.
People like me are over here shouting that people shouldn’t read the Bible literally. We talk about the Bible being authoritative but not in the way that Jesus is authoritative. But not everybody is comfortable with this. In fact, I would argue that most evangelical Christians are not comfortable with changing how they read the Bible.
How to read the Bible and understand the Bible is, for conservative Christians, a key part of their faith. Ask a conservative Christian to drop inerrancy? You may as well tell a scientist that the scientific method doesn’t work. It’s the framework for how many Christians live their entire lives.
Meanwhile, conservative Christians are meeting more and more and more gay people. Children are coming out to their parents – as being LGBTQ+, or as being supportive of them. This creates tension. Things change. Hearts change.
And what is Matthew Vines’ book?
It’s a bridge.
People want to believe God loves their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ just as much as they do, but the Bible keeps getting in the way. It looks for all the world like they will have to choose between the Bible and their friends or children or friends’ children.
But then along comes Matthew Vines.
He makes arguments that appear compelling because they salvage the evangelical and fundamentalist way of reading scripture while allowing people to believe what they want to believe: Jesus loves gays.
I think maybe we believe what we want to believe, regardless of what we say or how rational we think we are. We just need a reason. It doesn’t have to be perfectly logical; we just have to convince ourselves the reason is worth believing.
And that’s why God and the Gay Christian may prove to be a catalyst for many who want to keep what conservatives describe as a “high view of the Bible” and still approve of same-sex marriage.
I think maybe, just maybe, Matthew Vines’ book and others like it are going to be incredibly popular and convince people… who already deeply want to be convinced.
Boring historical context:
Thornton Stringfellow (1788-1869) was an anti-abolitionist southern theologian. He wrote extensive pro-slavery missives rooted firmly in scripture and scholarship. Show Thornton Stringfellow an abolitionist, and he’ll show you someone who’s thrown away their Bible. Have the nerve to say biblical slavery was better than southern American slavery, and he will set you straight. (By contrast, John Wesley’s writings against slavery used very little scripture).
But Stringfellow is dead. His writings are consigned to the trash heap of history, curiosities that moderns occasionally read to ponder how he could’ve gotten things quite so wrong. Today’s Christians know deep down in their bones that slavery is a sin without parallel. Christians who take the Bible just as seriously as Stringfellow did (perhaps more so!) would likely read Stringfellow’s 150-page essay with horror and revulsion.
Why is he wrong? Not because he’s not biblical. Not because he’s not well-researched. Not because he isn’t Very Clever. Because he is arguing for the wrong conclusion.
Though I would like to see a new paradigm of biblical interpretation that can disagree with scripture, I don’t think it’s coming. I think what is coming is a new paradigm of interpretation that keeps literalism and uses Matthew Vines’ arguments to explain the clobber passages into nonexistence.
Are Vines’ arguments as carefully-researched as that of, say, Dr. Robert Gagnon, who wrote the conservative magnum opus on “biblical sexual ethics,” called The Bible and Homosexual Practice? No. I imagine that if Vines and Gagnon got into a debate, Gagnon could clobber him.
And in a hundred years, I suspect it won’t matter.
The Bible and Homosexual Practice is researched. It’s thorough. It’s over 500 pages long. And in very little time at all, (I hope and pray) it will be little more than a curiosity that people from the future will occasionally read to ponder how he could’ve gotten things quite so wrong.