Matthew Vine’s book, God and the Gay Christian, faces in a very straightforward manner an important issue in the Church and in our culture today that simply will not go away. Whether we like it or not, many states in the USA and our nation as a whole are changing course on the issue of gay marriage. As we all know, even many Christian denominations have come to embrace the LGBT community in one way or another. What Vine’s book does is to deal with the issue of homosexuality from a biblical perspective, while at the same time giving a biblical argument for same-sex marriage. Whether the reader agrees in the end with Vine’s argument, I believe every reflective Christian needs to hear both sides of this story. Many, if not all evangelical Christians today, have heard the biblical argument against homosexual practice and same-sex marriage in particular. Now we have the opportunity to hear the other side, from a winsome young gay man, who also happens to be an evangelical Christian.
Reading the endnotes alone should prove to any reader that Vines has done his homework. I have been reading both scholarly and popular works on this subject for a number of years, and Vines leaves virtually no stone unturned. He certainly brings the necessary intellectual equipment to this vital discussion, having initially taken a year off from his classes at Harvard to study the issue.
However, many great minds have tackled this subject from various vantage points in the past. So what makes Vines’ book different? Perhaps it is the fact that he skillfully weaves his own story into a detailed scholarly argument for Christian gay marriage and presents the whole in a way that is most accessible to the average reader.
Vines is nothing if not honest. He begins the book by sharing his own story of coming to terms with his sexual orientation and how this made him want to re-examine what the Bible has to say about same-sex relationships. Vines takes an entire chapter to explore how the Church has been wrong in the past on certain issues: the earth as the center of the universe, and slavery, to name two. Vines outlines how these issues caused the Church to re-evaluate what she believed the Bible was saying, then he delicately invites the reader to do the same with the issue of homosexuality.
The position of most evangelicals on this issue in the past has been to say that if a person with homosexual tendencies cannot change their sexual orientation, then they should remain celibate. Vines takes an entire chapter to address this advice and he reveals how the idea of enforced celibacy, apart from a calling of God to the single life, is simply not a fair or biblical way to treat LGBT Christians.
Next, Vines spends four chapters examining the six Scripture passages that seem to deal most directly with homosexuality. This is the part of this book that I believe every Christian needs to consider in detail. Vine’s conclusion is:
The Bible doesn't directly address the issue of same-sex orientation—or the expression of that orientation. While its six references to same-sex behavior are negative, the concept of same-sex behavior in the Bible is sexual excess, not sexual orientation. What’s more, the main reason that non-affirming Christians believe the Bible’s statements should apply to all same-sex relationships—men and women’s anatomical complementarity—is not mentioned in any of the texts.
However, Vines does not stop there. He goes on to spend an entire chapter outlining a biblical argument for same-sex marriage.
A number of people attempting to make a similar argument to that of Vines in the past have focused, as Vines does, on the six Scriptures that address this issue directly. However, some authors addressing this issue in the past have also avoided the overall picture that the Bible paints of human sexuality in general. Vines does not fall into this trap. He even spends an entire chapter talking about God’s creation as outlined in Genesis, the meaning of the image of God in humanity, and how all of this applies to the LGBT community.
Vines ends the book with a plea for a new reformation to take place in the Church on this issue. He, very helpfully, gives some practical examples of the seeds of this new reformation that he sees being planted in our world today.
Matthew Vines will certainly not have the last word on this topic. Those whom he calls “non-affirming” Christians will no doubt point out in reviews, articles and even books where they think Vines is wrong. Christians who are already affirming of the idea of Christian same-sex marriage will applaud Vines’ work. However, there may also be no small number of people, especially evangelicals, who will change their minds on this issue because of reading this book, and resorting to further study of the vast amount of literature that Vines cites.
For my own part, while I choose not to take sides on this issue, at least in this review, I do wish to heartily applaud Matthew Vines for his courage. The Christian community owes Vines a debt of gratitude for not only facing this issue in his own life forthrightly, but for taking the time to thoroughly research what the Bible has to say about same-sex relationships, and for sharing the fruit of his life and research so effectively with the world through this book.
(Disclaimer: the publisher, Convergent Books, provided me with an advanced reader's copy of this book.)