Pro-gay book, publisher face more criticism
NASHVILLE (BP) -- New criticisms of Matthew Vines' "God and the Gay Christian" have emerged in the week since its April 22 release. Among the critics are a Southern Baptist seminary professor, a popular blogger and a noted defender of young earth creationism.
Vines' book argues that monogamous homosexual relationships are compatible with biblical Christianity.
The publisher, Convergent Books, also has drawn criticism for billing Vines as "evangelical" and releasing his book alongside traditional evangelical titles by sister imprints in the Crown Publishing Group. Among the authors under Crown's Multnomah imprint are David Jeremiah, David Platt, John Piper and Chuck Swindoll.
Evan Lenow, assistant professor of ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote on the seminary's Theological Matters blog that Vines is among the first authors to advocate a pro-gay reading of the Bible while claiming to believe in "the inspiration and authority of Scripture."
Because of Vines' purported "high view" of Scripture, "this book has the potential to do great damage to people's faith in the authority and veracity of Scripture," Lenow wrote, even though "Vines has not actually presented any new arguments for interpreting Scripture in support of homosexuality."
Vines is "interpreting God's Word through the lens of the gay rights movement," Lenow wrote. Employing a "cultural hermeneutic," Vines grants more authority to his own homosexual experience than to Scripture, deciding truth by experience when the two conflict, Lenow said.
Christians "simply cannot ignore" this book because Vines "stands to be a major voice for people who want to remove the tension between Scripture and homosexuality," said Lenow, who wrote a series of articles refuting Vines two years ago when Vines posted an Internet video arguing homosexuality was compatible with the Bible.
In light of 1 Corinthians 6 -- where Paul said some of the Corinthians engaged in homosexuality before they placed their faith in Jesus -- Lenow expressed hope that Vines and others struggling with homosexuality will be transformed by Christ.
Homosexual acts "are no longer the behaviors of people who claim to be Christians," he said. "This is not where they find their identity anymore. The power of Christ can overcome these sins."
Justin Taylor, a blogger for The Gospel Coalition and an executive at Crossway publishers, commended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professors who published an e-book refuting Vines, titled "God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines."
"Responses like this can help to sway those who are uncomfortable with the revisionist proposal but do not know how to answer [it] adequately and carefully," Taylor wrote on The Gospel Coalition website. "This is not merely preaching to the choir, but the strengthening and equipping of the choir, as well as a timely word to those outside the choir who may be listening and unsure of what to think or how to respond. We should thank God for those who have the time, energy, gifts, and skills to assemble such a learned and thoughtful interaction with proposals that undermine the teaching of God's holy word."
Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis, said a misinterpretation of Genesis 1-2 is a key part of Vines' argument.
"In reading Vines's analysis of the creation account, it becomes evident that he has little regard for God's intention in making Adam and Eve male and female," Ham and AiG writer Steve Golden said in an online commentary. "Vines's agenda is clear: he must make room for same-sex relationships -- from the very beginning of Scripture."
For example, Vines argued that Adam's need for human companionship was more important than his need for a woman specifically. A sexual relationship with someone of either gender can fulfill humanity's relational need, Vines said.
Ham and Golden countered, "Despite what Matthew Vines claims, God explains what marriage between two humans looks like in His design: 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh' (Genesis 2:24). 'Father and mother,' 'man,' and 'wife' are all used intentionally -- there is no allowance for another arrangement, such as a man being joined to another man."
In a 2012 article responding to Vines' online video, First Things author Joshua Gonnerman critiqued Vines for a deficient view of church history. Though tradition is not authoritative, it is instructive that Christians for 2,000 years have condemned homosexual acts as sinful, Gonnerman said. Vines needs to balance the "prejudices, concerns, strengths, and weaknesses" of his own culture with "the weight of Christian tradition."
Gonnerman seemed to indicate that a person can self-identify as gay and still "uphold a traditional sexual ethic."
For Vines, "the [Holy Spirit] seems only to inspire Scripture and Matthew Vines' own interpretation of Scripture, which he must assume is Spirit-led," Gonnerman said. "But what of the ancient Christian tradition? Is it devoid of the presence of the Spirit? A robust [doctrine of the Holy Spirit] recognizes that the work of the Spirit is not limited to the inspiration of Scripture, but is seen in the living community of believers throughout the ages, and in the theological tradition which that community has handed down. The tradition is not infallible, but it does have a certain degree of normativity, which he ignores."
Meanwhile, Convergent Books drew criticism for departing from the orthodox tradition of its fellow Crown Publishing imprint Multnomah.
Matt Barber, a Christian attorney and associate dean for online programs at the Liberty University School of Law, charged Multnomah in an online commentary with "trying to cover up its fast-growing connection to sexual sin activism" by establishing Convergent.
Convergent chief publishing executive Stephen Cobb responded to criticism in a statement April 16.
"WaterBrook Press and Multnomah Books are sister imprints of Convergent Books, within the Crown Group, as is Image Books, a Catholic-interest imprint, all four of which I oversee. It is important to know that Waterbrook, Multnomah, Convergent, and Image each have their own distinct editorial guidelines and missions," Cobb said.
"Convergent's mission is to publish nonfiction for less traditional Christians and spiritual seekers who are drawn to an open, inclusive, and culturally engaged exploration of faith. As such, Matthew Vines' new book is appropriately positioned as a Convergent publication. God and the Gay Christian is not published by WaterBrook or by Multnomah -- nor would it be editorially appropriate for either," Cobb said.
Cobb classified Vines as "thoughtful" and "evangelical."
"Convergent Books is publishing God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines because we believe it offers a thoughtful examination of Scripture on the topic of same-sex relationships from a bold, young, evangelical writer whose first calling is to promote a civil, loving, and biblically based conversation on the subject," Cobb said.
Michael Brown, president of FIRE School of Ministry in Concord, N.C., said calling Vines evangelical "is to make the word 'evangelical' utterly meaningless." Brown, author of "Can You Be Gay and Christian? Responding With Love and Truth to Questions About Homosexuality," said it is "a sad and shameful day when a major Christian publisher releases such a book and claims that it is a solid evangelical publication."
"Those who want to revise biblical sexuality and morality have moved away from the Word of God," Brown said. "And if they have any sense of integrity, they need to renounce their claim to be evangelicals -- and that includes Mr. Cobb, if he personally claims to be one -- and say, 'We are liberal Christians who no longer hold to the authority of Scripture, because of which we embrace homosexual relationships.'"
Earlier Baptist Press coverage of "God and the Gay Christian" includes:
David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).