Reviewing Matthew Vines’s new book, God And The Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, Randy Potts explains why it could shift the conversation among conservative evangelicals:
Thus far, most attempts to ask conservative Christians to reconsider their beliefs regarding same-sex couples have appealed either to the heart, on the progressive end, or the mind, on the academic end, but both approaches fail to understand how change in the conservative Christian church occurs. Appeals to the heart, however deeply expressed, often fall on deaf ears because bearing the cross is seen as a difficult task: any tale of hardship regarding an attempt to follow Scripture will often only buttresses the importance of the struggle itself. Appeals to the mind can also fail because conservative Christians do not come to their faith primarily through intellect nor do they approach the Bible as a book that can be put under a microscope and dissected with reason and logic. At the end of the day, the Bible and the experience of Christianity for conservatives is a walk of faith borne out in testimony, prayer, fellowship, and service: tribalism, at its most basic.
This is where all previous attempts have failed to sway conservative Christians: gay apologetics have been written from the outside of this tribe looking in and the writers have been open to attack for their “lifestyle,” the focus of character assassination rather than argument. Vines is open to no such attacks and fundamentalists are already getting the memo – aside from the usual reviews, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has already published a 100-page ebook rebuttal. The difficulty here is that if they are too strident or crude in their attacks they will alienate younger evangelicals already sympathetic to Vines’ project. If character assassination won’t work and the theological debate comes across as splitting hairs, Vines wins by default, resetting the debate as a member of the tribe – as a voice from within, not from without.
The book is a depth charge against religious homophobia. Greg Garrett unpacks how Vines ask evangelicals to read Scripture:
What Matthew Vines does so well in his new book is to help fellow evangelicals move from “transparency” (the commonly-held belief that the Bible “says what it means and means what it says”) to a rubric in which tradition, logic, Spirit, and our communities help us discern what scripture ought to mean for us today.
This approach is not—and Vines is clear about this—de-centering scripture. It is an approach that says we should read, revere, and follow the Bible. But we need to read the Bible better. We need to understand that the sin of Sodom was not homosexuality, but a failure to love and welcome the stranger, that the proscription in Leviticus against a male having sex with another male must be interpreted as bound up in the Hebrews’ patriarchal revulsion of men behaving like women, and so on.
Vines reads—and writes—about the Bible as a good evangelical does. Every position is supported from the scriptures, and his close readings of these problematic texts demonstrate proper reference to contemporary scholarship and proper deference to the belief that the Bible is our greatest source of information about who God is and what God wants.
In an interview about his book, Vines elaborates on how the Bible figures in the arguments he makes:
In denominational debates about this issue over the past several decades, the key fault line between Christians hasn’t actually been whether they support or oppose same-sex relationships. From the viewpoint of theologically conservative Christians, disagreements over this issue are merely symptomatic of a deeper disagreement: Is the Bible authoritative for Christians, or not?
If you argue that we are free to agree or disagree with parts of the Bible we may not like, then supporting same-sex relationships is easy: just say that the biblical authors were wrong and move on. But that isn’t how I see the Bible, and it isn’t how most evangelicals see it either. When I say I have a high view of Scripture, what I mean is that I don’t feel free to set aside parts of the Bible that may make me uncomfortable. Instead, I have to seriously grapple with Scripture, daily striving to submit my will to the Bible rather than submitting the Bible to my will. For Christians who share that understanding of Scripture, biblical interpretation on same-sex relationships is far more consequential in determining our beliefs.