Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Gay Debate: Critique of Matthew Vines

This post is an objective critique of Matthew Vines presentation on March 8, 2012 on "The Bible and Homosexuality" that has been posted on YouTube. Let me say first of all, that the critique is not meant to be derogatory or out of rash responsiveness. We have had too much of that kind of response from the non-homosexual community. So, I write out of Christian concern and love, but also concern for the veracity and authority of Scripture on the subject. Readers can listen to Matthew's presentation at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezQjNJUSraY&feature=player_embedded.

First, this is a well-constructed and seemingly persuasive argument for loving, caring and faithful homosexual relationships in a Christian context. Matthew appeals to caring for God's creation, and part of that is to respect and honor one another, including faithful, committed homosexuals and their relationships. He maintains that the few selective passages in the Bible that specifically address homosexual, or supposed homosexual, behavior have not been understood in context or biblical theological honesty. He appeals to the Christian community to take another look at homosexuality from a positive and affirming perspective.

But he makes a presumptive argument here that can be debated. He assumes that homosexual orientation is God-given and always good. He never critiques or questions homosexual orientation, but affirms it as part of God's intended purpose and creation. He buttresses this assumption with the argument that since "aloneness" is not "good" (from Genesis), and Jesus wants what is "good" for us (from Mathew 7), that "forcing" homosexuals to be "alone" deprives them of what God and Jesus want for them and for all human beings. He would also say that heterosexuals don't "understand" this "good" orientation and thus cannot appreciate it as a "natural" orientation, just like their heterosexual orientation. However, has homosexuality been proven or demonstrated to be a normal orientation? What is normalcy in sexuality? And, it is gratuitous to assume I can simply affirm my orientation as part of God's "good" creation.

This is especially the case in bestiality. If I am "naturally" sexually attracted to dogs, and after all a dog is man's best friend, then having sex with my dog is "good!" Few people would say so. But I could argue that I am committed and faithful to my dog, that my dog fulfills me and cures my loneliness, that I am committed to only this one dog and not others. And, that I cannot help myself since that is my "natural" orientation. Do we really want to go there??!

The other problem here is the definition of "goodness" in God's sight. What is "good" to me may not be good to God. God's goodness is built on His character, His definitions, His revelation of goodness in the Bible. Just assuming or saying something is "good" does not make it so to God. For instance, many people assume humankind is essentially "good" and that is their natural or normal state. Sin comes into being when they violate that natural state of goodness. But that is not what the Bible proclaims or describes. Humankind is essentially flawed, essentially sinful and depraved. It needs redeemed and delivered, and that is what Jesus came to do. This teaching or doctrine of "total depravity" is biblically pervasive and must not be ignored in the discussion of homosexuality. This is not to say that homosexuals are by nature and desire "bad" because of their homosexuality. EVERYONE is by nature, temperament and desire essentially bad. It is only by God's restraining grace or redeeming grace that any "good" can come from us.

So, to argue from what is "good" is to assume a whole lot about human nature and God that Matthew Vines does, incorrectly, I believe.

Second, to say that the Old Testament (OT) passages in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 do not apply to anyone, especially believers in Christ today is a bit premature. It is declaring that the Old Testament no longer applies to Christians today, especially the legal code of the OT. If so, then the ten commandments should no longer apply. And, scholars have noted that the ten basic commandments really give the basis for all of the OT law code. So, the commandment not to commit adultery applies across the board to all sorts of sexual sin, not merely the narrow act of adultery by a spouse of a heterosexual couple. Is sex before marriage O.K. because I am in a loving, committed, faithful relationship? No it is not O.K.

True, there are many portions of the Levitical law code that do not apply today, but the PRINCIPLES behind that code certainly do apply for all time. Or, maybe Vines would say God made a mistake with the people of Israel and gave them restrictive and extraneous laws to subjugate them and their "natural" and normal sexual orientation, which must have included homosexuality?? To say that Christ fulfilled the Law and we are free from the Law is a blanket statement that must be qualified biblically. Older commentators have noted the threefold use of the Law in the OT--ceremonial, civil and moral. Matthew Vines has not taken this into account at all.

Third, his understanding of Romans 1-3 is flawed, I believe. Paul IS talking about the universality of sin in these chapters, not just about idolatry, unless we broaden the concept of idolatry to define the essence of sin. It is a unique interpretation to say that Rom. 1:18ff refer to select people who willfully choose idolatry and thus engage in unnatural sexual relationships, AS IF he is not referring to ALL humanity in their rejection of God as God. ALL humans choose idolatry in some form apart from God's grace in the gospel in Christ. This is a condemnation of all people without Jesus Christ, and thus the great need of Romans 3 and 4 and redemption in Christ for those who live by faith.

Fourth, his treatment of what is commonly translated "homosexuality" in 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:9-10 as "economic exploitation through sexual coercion" is wanting. It is not a done deal exegetically or linguistically. Just looking at the massive literature on the terminology Paul uses does not at all rule out what we would consider normal, homosexual behavior. "Whatever the specific meaning of [the term] in 1 Tim 1:10, it denotes a type of illicit sexual activity that breaks the seventh commandment" and "homosexuality was especially common in Ephesus." (Word Biblical Commentary, William Mounce) The point is that the modern translation of "homosexual offenders" or "perverts" is not out of line linguistically, biblically or theologically. To say, as Vines does, that this does not refer to "loving, committed, faithful homosexual relationships" cannot be sustained. It is his opinion against many substantial New Testament scholars and writers.

I do feel saddened by those who experience rejection by the Christian community, no matter what their sin may be. This should not be among those who claim the love of God and the power of the gospel in their midst. However, to move into a blanket affirmation of homosexuality as a "normal" or "natural" practice and habit for those "so oriented" goes beyond the Scriptures. It becomes a humanistic argument, feelings based, human-centered and not God-centered.