Tim Keller Reviews “God and the Gay Christian” and Says Matthew Vines Is Wrong on Several ‘Main Points’

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The relationship of homosexuality to Christianity is one of the main topics of discussion in our culture today. In the fall of 2013 I wrote a review of books by Wesley Hill and Sam Allberry that take the historic Christian view, in Hill’s words, that “homosexuality was not God’s original creative intention for humanity . . . and therefore that homosexual practice goes against God’s express will for all human beings, especially those who trust in Christ.”

There are a number of other books that take the opposite view, namely that the Bible either allows for or supports same-sex relationships. Over the last year or so I (and other pastors at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City) have been regularly asked for responses to their arguments. The two most-read volumes taking this position seem to be those by Matthew Vines and Ken Wilson. The review of these two books will be longer than usual because the topic is so contested today and, while I disagree with the authors’ theses, a too-brief review can’t avoid appearing cursory and dismissive. Hence the length.

I see five basic arguments that these books and others like them make.

1. Knowing Gay People Personally

Vines and Wilson relate stories of people who were sure the Bible condemns homosexuality. However, they were brought to a change of mind through getting to know gay people personally. It is certainly important for Christians who are not gay to hear the hearts and stories of people attracted to the same sex.

And when I see people discarding their older beliefs that homosexuality is sinful after engaging with loving, wise, gay people, I’m inclined to agree that those earlier views were likely defective. In fact, they must have been essentially a form of bigotry. They could not have been based on theological or ethical principles, or on an understanding of historical biblical teaching. They must have been grounded instead on a stereotype of gay people as worse sinners than others (which is itself a shallow theology of sin). So I say good riddance to bigotry. However, the reality of bigotry cannot itself prove the Bible never forbids homosexuality. We have to look to the text to determine that.

2. Consulting Historical Scholarship

Vines and Wilson claim scholarly research into the historical background show that biblical authors were not forbidding all same-sex relationships, but only exploitative ones—pederasty, prostitution, and rape. Their argument is that Paul and other biblical writers had no concept of an innate homosexual orientation, that they only knew of exploitative homosexual practices, and therefore they had no concept of mutual, loving, same-sex relationships.

These arguments were first asserted in the 1980s by John Boswell and Robin Scroggs. Vines, Wilson, and others are essentially repopularizing them. However, they do not seem to be aware that the great preponderance of the best historical scholarship since the 1980s—by the full spectrum of secular, liberal, and conservative researchers—has rejected that assertion. Here are two examples.

Bernadette Brooten and William Loader have presented strong evidence that homosexual orientation was known in antiquity. Aristophanes’s speech in Plato’s Symposium, for example, tells a story about how Zeus split the original human beings in half, creating both heterosexual and homosexual humans, each of which was seeking to be reunited to “lost halves”—heterosexuals seeking the opposite sex and homosexuals the same sex. Whether Aristophanes believed this myth literally is not the point. It was an explanation of a phenomenon the ancients could definitely see—that some people are inherently attracted to the same sex rather than the opposite sex.

Contra Vines, and others, the ancients also knew about mutual, non-exploitative same-sex relationships. In Romans 1, Paul describes homosexuality as men burning with passion “for one another” (v. 27). That is mutuality. Such a term could not represent rape, nor prostitution, nor pederasty (man/boy relationships). Paul could have used terms in Romans 1 that specifically designated those practices, but he did not. He categorically condemns all sexual relations between people of the same sex, both men and women. Paul knew about mutual same-sex relationships, and the ancients knew of homosexual orientation. Nonetheless, Loader observes, “Nothing indicates that Paul is exempting some same-sex intercourse as acceptable” (Making Sense of Sex [Eerdmans, 2013], 137).

I urge readers to familiarize themselves with this research. A good place to start is Loader’s Sexuality in the New Testament (Westminster John Knox, 2010) or his much larger The New Testament on Sexuality (Eerdmans, 2012). Loader is the most prominent expert on ancient and biblical views of sexuality, having written five large and two small volumes in his lifetime. It’s worth noting that Loader himself doesn’t personally see anything wrong with homosexual relationships; he just—rightly and definitively—proves that you can’t get the Bible itself to give them any support.

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SOURCE: The Gospel Coalition
Tim Keller