I first heard of Matthew Vines a couple of years ago when I watched his presentation in which he argued that the Bible was okay with gay. He was a 21-year-old who had just spent two years (TWO. YEARS.) studying this issue. I thought it was compelling, but not convincing.
He recently came out with a book that’s infuriating evangelicals called God and the Gay Christian. He made some good arguments in the lecture, as I’m confident he did in his book (which I have not read), but I don’t think he has a particularly good shot at convincing evangelicals that gay is okay with God.
I like Matthew Vines, and I like what he’s trying to do, but reviewer Christopher Yuan pinpointed the problem in his review over at Christianity Today:
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. (emphasis mine)
My contention with Vines is that he starts with what Yuan describes as a “high view of scripture.
There are, I believe, two basic perspectives on scripture held by Christians today, but one is dominant in evangelicalism.
God wrote the Bible using human hands. This is also known as Verbal Plenary Inspiration. In this view, the words that God wanted (in their original autographs) were exactly the words that the writers wrote.
People inspired by God wrote the Bible. In this view, people most definitely wrote the Bible, but there’s a spark of inspiration that goes across everything. It’s more fuzzy, which I like.
Position A is what Yuan means by “a high view of scripture.”
Matthew Vines will never win because he is arguing from within the evangelical paradigm of Position A. In Yuan’s review of God and the Gay Christian, Yuan says,
Like Vines, I was looking for biblical justification and wanted to prove that the Bible blesses gay relationships. As I read Boswell’s book, the Bible was open next to it, and his assertions did not line up with Scripture. Eventually, I realized that I was wrong—that same-sex romantic relationships are a sin. …No matter how hard I tried to find biblical justification and no matter whether my same-sex temptations went away or not, God’s word did not change. (emphasis mine)
Vines’ and Yuan’s arguments are built upon the premise of Position A. Yuan was at one time able to convince himself that same-sex romantic relationships were fine because the Bible didn’t really mean what it pretty clearly said because of historical context and interpretation principles and blah blah blah.
Though I’ve argued in the past that those verses mean other things, whether they do or don’t isn’t a critical issue for me. The debate I run about what the Bible says or doesn’t say is a fine debate to have, and there’s more than enough fodder for it, but those arguments aren’t why I believe that God is okay with God’s kids being gay.
If you could convince me right now that the Bible said very clearly that God was not okay with same-sex attracted behavior, and that all those contextualizations and explanations around the passages were utter bullshit, I would still believe that God loves gays as much as God loves straights, and that God is quite okay with gays getting married to each other and having sex with each other.
If you could convince Matthew Vines that the Bible was clear on that issue, he would be devastated, and he would probably fall right back into the belief that his sexual orientation is inherently sinful. I hope he’s built up enough defenses against that, but his exegesis and interpretation is ultimately a leaning tower built right on top of the so-called clobber passages.
If that interpretive tower falls, then it crashes right down into being gay is a damnable sin.
If evangelicals ignore his interpretive tower, then being gay is still a sin.
And I promise you that has already happened and will continue to happen every single time evangelicals engage in conversation with him.
Evangelicals don’t want to believe that gay is okay with God. Evangelicals can find evidence in the Bible for their belief that gay is not okay with God. Matthew Vines is playing on Evangelical home turf, arguing from Position A which is set against him, from an ancient book that is both inspired by God and filled with weird stuff that came from men, and he’s doing it by evangelical rules that are biased against gay being okay.
I wish him luck, but I don’t think he has a shot at winning this one.
David M Schell
I am a doubter and a believer. I have a Master's in Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, but because faith grows and changes, I don't necessarily stand by everything I've ever written, so if you see something troubling further back, please ask! Read More.
6 thoughts on “Why Matthew Vines Can’t Win The Evangelical Gay Debate”
Here’s why I am more optimistic. His dad was an elder at the evangelical Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita. (I was married in that church.) He was able to convince his father despite being in the evangelical paradigm. His dad left Eastminster when they joined the more conservative EPC because “there are many churches but I have only one son.” Here’s the story from the Wichita Eagle:
I have just finished reading Matthew Vines book, and was rather impressed. It is the book to give your kind-hearted aunt who is overly concerned that her daughter is going to split hell wide open.
There are a few places I feel I can help Matthew out here. First of all, there is very little doubt that sexual orientation is biological. There are noticeable differences in the brains of gays and straights, and ample evidence that these variations are caused by alterations in uterine hormone levels. Second, animal models place the percentage of homosexual individuals at about 2-5% in many populations, except in cattle which are 98% bisexual.
If we look at the entire Romans passage, we see that Paul expressly stated that God makes people gay because they worship idols to cats (or something). We know this to be false. At any rate, the point of his passage seems to be about homosexuality during idolatry. Not something we generally are concerned with.
The Leviticus ban has three ties to homosexual sex during idol worship. 1)*Tovaeh* is most commonly used against idolatry. Abominations that are sexual in nature are generally labeled *zimmah*. 2) The term *zakhur* is translated as “male”, but is most correctly used for a male dedicated to a god. Which may be a Levite, a ram to be sacrificed, or a temple prostitute. And 3) the verse in question is grouped with a number of other pagan fertility practices, such as having sex with a woman during menses, having sex with the livestock, and offering of the first born child to Molech. We need only read the first 5-7 verses of Lev 20 to see what God thought of such carrying on.
Verses 26 and 27 of Romans 1 seem to say that homosexual sex is inherently shameful. IE shameful whether in the context of idolatry or not.
I think Mr. Vines makes a good argument for the acceptance of Gay people. As a BD (University of London), “Context is King” was a mantra. The “Reformation Project” do well to highlight this, e.g. in passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9, & the translation of “malakoi” & “arsenokoitai”. The 1946 RSV tranlates “homosexuals”. Tyndale (1526) recognised the 2 distinct words & translated “weaklings” & “abusars of them selves with the mankynde” (sic). The 2010 Catholic NABRE highlights context more with its “boy prostitutes” & “sodomites”. Cf. – the lurid pagan world reflected in works such as Petronius’ “Satyricon”, i.e. 2 pagan HETEROSEXUAL “Jack the lads” enjoying sexual depravity with women as well as with their boy slave “Giton”.