Book Review: "A Study of 7 References to Homosexuality in the Bible"

John Dwyer is a gay Episcopal priest. Dwyer’s book is a valuable survey of the revisionist interpretations of Genesis 19, Judges 19, Leviticus 18 and 20, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1. Dwyer makes no original contributions and produces his survey of the texts on a five-step process:

  1. The biblical authors know nothing of loving, monogamous same-sex relationships. Rather, sex was about power, lust and violence that stemmed from a society that devalued women.
  2. Sexual relationships in the 21st century are different.
  3. The biblical authors cannot have a Jewish worldview informed by the Tanakh, they are influenced by secular culture.
  4. In the passage’s context, the text is really about something else. This is typically done by only a cursory examination of the Scripture.
  5. Therefore, these passages are inapplicable for loving, monogamous same-sex relationships today.

Rather than provide a detailed look at how Dwyer handles each text, I’ll examine at how he handles Genesis 19. His behavior here is a representative sample of what he does with each text. Dwyer says the following:

  • Abraham’s hospitality to the angelic visitors is a deliberate contrast with that of Lot and especially the townspeople[1]
  • The townspeople’s goal was rape, not sex[2]
  • The townspeople’s sin was inhospitality[3]
  • The idea that the sin is homosexuality is a “minority view” in commentaries[4]
  • No references to Sodom and Gomorrah in the entire Bible have to do with homosexuality (Isa 1.9; Isa 13.19; Jer 23.14; Jer 49.18; Amos 4.11; Zeph 2.9; Ezek 16.46; Deut 29.23; Deut 32.32).[5] “These other biblical passages focus on a societal expectation that widows, orphans, strangers, the poor are cared for and treated accordingly.”[6]

Is this last statement true? Let’s examine the texts Dwyer cites:

  • Isa 1:9; 13:19; Jer 49:18; Amos 4:11; Zeph 2:9; Deut 29:23; Mt 10:15; Lk 17:29. In these cases, Sodom is used as a watchword for utter destruction. They say nothing about homosexuality or any sin at all. That was not their purpose.
  • Jeremiah 23:14. The reference gives the sense of  “beyond the pale” or “irredeemable”
  • Ezek 16:46f. This is a reference to sexual sin. Not only did Judah copy Sodom and Samaria’s ways “according to their abominations” (the word toevah is used here), she shortly became “more corrupt,” (Ezek 16:47). This “abomination” was sexual sin. Indeed, Judah exceeded Sodom in her sin (Ezek 16:48). Sodom was full of pride; “[t]hey were haughty and did an abomination [toevah] before me. So I removed them, when I saw it,” (Ezek 16:50). Context, and the use of toevah to match the prohibitions in Leviticus 18 and 20, indicate this was homosexual behavior.
  • Deut 32:32: a rejection of God is the vine the produced Sodom’s sin (cf. Romans 1)

Therefore Dwyer is wrong. This is typical of him; he never walks through a text in the entire book. He assumes you will believe his summaries. For example:

“In Zephaniah 2 and Ezekiel 16 the prophets warn Israel’s enemies against pride and arrogance, and their ignoring of the poor and needy, and prophesy their destruction like Sodom and Gomorrah.”[7]

This is false. In Zephaniah 2:9f there is no condemnation for ignoring the poor and needy. Rather, there is judgment on Moab because of her pride manifested by taunting God’s people and, thus, Yahweh and His character. Ezekiel 16 is directed at Judah for spiritual adultery, not for pride and arrogance!

Dwyer believes sex in the age of Abraham wasn’t about relationships; it was about power. He argues our preconditions for sex, masculinity and femininity must be modified. “The alignment of male and female, or male and male was not in the gender construction/orientation of ‘relationships,’ the alignment was about power in those relationships.”[8] He explains, “[t]hese stories are all about power, who has it, and how that power is utilized.”[9]

For support, Dwyer only cites one secular classicist[10] who wrote about Greco-Roman culture, not Ancient Near-Eastern culture![11] Dwyer not only asks us to believe Moses was controlled by a secular worldview when he wrote Genesis 19. He also asks us to believe Moses was controlled by a secular Greco-Roman worldview, too …

In sum, Dwyer says Genesis 19 (and Judges 19) teach us how God’s people ought not to act. “These passages are not about mutual sexual relations, but are about the inappropriate activity on the part of humans in the wrongful taking, rape, of another and focus on power, and the abuse of power.”[12]

Here is a summary of what this hermeneutic looks like regarding each passage

  1. Genesis 19 and Judges 19. “These stories are all about power, who has it, and how that power is utilized.”[13] They teach us how to not show love and righteousness.[14]
  2. Leviticus 18 and 20. The texts are about patriarchy and how to keep it.[15] The world is different now, so these passages do not apply.[16] Again, he cites as support a scholarly work about Greco-Roman culture and its impact on early Christianity,[17] then exports it back into Moses’ mind and demands we understand that as Moses’ worldview. The biblical author cannot define his terms; he must be defined by secular culture – even if it’s a culture over 1000 years in the future …
  3. Romans 1. The text is about how to honor God, with a rhetorical trap for the reader. It is not about loving relationships. Dwyer’s point is unclear. He both (1) claims Paul is influenced by a culture of power and patriarchy,[18] and (2) says Paul is writing against the misuse of power in one’s relationship with God.[19]
  4. 1 Corinthians 6. The passage is about litigation, not sex.[20] Loving same-sexual relationships were unknown to Paul, so the passage is inapplicable.[21]
  5. 1 Timothy 1:10. The passage is about lawbreakers; exploitative homosexuality is just an example. Loving same-sexual relationships were unknown to Paul, and the culture viewed sex as about power, lust and violence, so the passage is inapplicable.[22]

Dwyer’s value for the traditionalist perspective is that we see the fruits of a redemptive-movement hermeneutic unshackled from any fidelity to the text. Dwyer argues, “The living and breathing words of God that live in these pages argue for a radical and complete love of all people, the inclusion of all people, and a protection of those who are abused, used, utilized, taken.”[23]

In other words, Dwyer argues for a trajectory that goes beyond the text. Once you go that way, it is difficult to justify an objective place to stop. William Webb tries to place reasonable and commonsense guardrails on this movement in his redemptive-movement approach.[24] Dwyer is what happens when pragmatism and subjectivity are the guardrails.

I emailed Dwyer, quoted his statements that sex in Ancient Near-Eastern and Greco-Roman times was all about power, lust and violence, and asked:

how does Song of Solomon play into your view? Is this not a book that exalts traditional marriage based on a healthy and blessed sexual relationship? Where is the power, domination and strength? Where is the violence?  Of course, I’m not certain about your views on the Song’s authorship or its date, but regardless – is it not a book from the Tanakh that exalts a tender, loving sexual relationship? How does this book impact your views of Biblical sexual ethics, and their implications for these seven references?

He did not respond.


[1] “The story of Lot and Sodom is sandwiched in the middle of the Abraham story. This allows the reader to more fully understand: Abraham’s journey of faith; to highlight the manner in which Abraham treats guests; and to emphasis God’s keeping of the covenant promise made to Abraham,” (John Dwyer, Those 7 References: A Study of 7 References to Homosexuality in the Bible [CreateSpace, 2007; Kindle ed.], pg. 6).

[2] “Although by referring to the demands of the townspeople as ‘sex’ or ‘sport’ is not accurate either, as rape is not sex in the mutual connotation of the word. Rape is something far different,” (Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 7).

[3] “Many commentators agree that the ‘sin’ of Sodom is that the townspeople were guilty of the social sin of inappropriate conduct to other human beings,” (Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 8).

[4] Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 7.

[5] Dwyer provides the list in footnote 12 (7 References, pg. 8).

[6] Dwyer, 7 References, pgs. 8-9.

[7] Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 8. 

[8] Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 18. 

[9] Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 19. 

[10] See the biography for Dr. Craig Williams at https://classics.illinois.edu/directory/profile/cawllms.

[11] See fn. 43-44 (Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 18), which cite Craig A. Williams, Roman Homosexuality: Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiquity, 1st ed. (New York: OUP, 1999).

[12] Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 20.  

[13] Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 19. 

[14] “Genesis 19 and Judges 19 are about living into God’s covenant through the lens of a negative storyline: of living into righteousness and justice. Genesis 19 and Judges 19 are focused on examples of humans not living into God’s covenant but who instead are degrading others,” (Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 20).

[15] “The prohibitions in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 were not about sex and sexual relations as we understand them in the 21st Century. These prohibitions had to do with keeping a rigid and male-dominated society distinct from that which surrounded it: to clearly delineate roles and societal rules,” (Dwyer, 7 References, pgs. 39-40). 

[16] “Much of sex and sexual relations as we understand them in the 21st Century are different from what was experienced and understood when Leviticus was written. Much of the sexual conduct was about taking, power, and what we would consider, in most instances today, rape. To utilize these verses as weapons of condemnation against people who have been made in God’s image is a disservice to the text, a misuse of the Torah and an insult to God’s word as it is made known to us. God’s word is not meant to be frozen in time, but heard anew today and looked at with fresh perspective and understanding based on the world that is hearing these words anew,” (Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 40).

[17] See fn. 110 (Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 38). He cites Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988). This is a curious resource to cite to help us understand Moses’ mindset in an Ancient Near Eastern culture …

[18] “The kind of sexual activity that existed at the time Paul was writing was from a patriarchal, male dominated viewpoint in a society severely stratified by class and role and status. Those in the lower strata of society were treated unequally and abusively: physically, psychologically and sexually. This cultural overlay is an important lens through which understanding this text must be viewed. The loving natures of relationships that exist and underpin current understanding of relationships between people today, whether heterosexual or homosexual, were not unknown to Paul, but there existed a mindset that tolerated a taking of another individual, of what we would consider rape and abusive misuse of others,” (Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 57). Emphases added.

[19] “By taking this rhetorical device of Paul’s, the only direct reference in Romans to what we think of as same sex sexual relations, but to Paul was something different, and utilizing this literary device as a categorical and divine denunciation of homosexuality, we fall into the same rhetorical trap Paul set for the initial reader. Paul’s particular selection of the word chresis (‘to use,’ ‘utilization’) proves the point that Paul is making a rhetorical stab at the heart of the community: they must worship God appropriately, not “use” each other in a sexual or other inappropriate way. Paul is not talking about mutuality or love in chapter 1 of Romans. Paul is talking about use, and misuse, of power and authority, and how that impacts one’s relationship with God. He is talking about violence and a wrongful taking, and how those impact one’s relationship with God. Paul is pointing his readers to a proper relationship with God demanding they put away false idols that can and do corrupt that relationship,” (Dwyer, 7 References, pgs. 57-58). Emphasis added.

[20] “Faithful attention to these 12 verses of chapter 6 will show that it is inappropriate to use this text to condemn one or two of the ‘sinners’ listed in Paul’s vice list, when the focus of the passage is on litigation and greed, and not sex,” (Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 61).

[21] “There is no concept of mutuality, or love, or monogamy in what Paul is describing. It is about power and violence and the satisfaction of sexual desire in any available manner, by a person in a higher stratum of society as against a person in a lower stratum. The type and kind of same sex relationship that is mutual, loving, monogamous and entered into freely based upon mutuality, respect and love is not Paul’s focus. This passage, and the list of vices that illustrate a mindset of cruelty and abuse, cannot be utilized, in all good conscience, as against same sex relationships as they exist and are understood in the 21st Century,” (Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 70).

[22] “This passage is not a condemnation of gay and lesbian people in the 21st Century, but rather is a further example of a condemnation of a type of behavior gay and lesbian people, as well as any civilized individual today, would condemn: violence, rape, the unwanted sexual taking of another person. These actions are not homosexuality as it is understood today. The behaviors which are included on the vice list are ones emblematic of a stratified, paternalistic society where power, and sex, and one’s station in life, were intricately intertwined. This passage has nothing to do with a mutually agreed upon, loving relationship between adults, and to use it as such is a misuse of the text that perpetuates an unneeded harm,” (Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 80).

[23] Dwyer, 7 References, pg. 84.  

[24] William J. Webb, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis (Downers Grove: IVP, 2001; Kindle ed.).  

Book Review: "When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment" by Ryan Anderson

Ryan Anderson is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation who holds a PhD in Political Philosophy from Notre Dame. He has written an excellent book surveying the landscape on transgender issues as of 2019. He does not agree with the transgender ideology, and writes a persuasive and winsome case for pushing back against this new secular orthodoxy.

He explains that trans culture is being increasingly normalized in culture,[1] in laws and executive orders,[2] and in the medical field.[3] Advocates seek to silence all opposition, even from respected medical experts who advocate treatment for transgender individuals.[4]

Anderson’s most frightening chapter is where he surveys what activists themselves say. He makes three claims; (1) activists continually expand their demands, (2) they are closed off to contrary evidence, and (3) they incline towards coercion to enforce their creed.[5] The most significant point, as with homosexuality, is one of identity. However, the argument has now advanced one step further – people do not merely see themselves as transgender; society must acknowledge them as transgender. A subjective sense of identity has given way an objective orthodoxy. A “trans man” is a man. Period.[6]

They attempt to ground this in science and medicine,[7] a move perfectly in keeping with the worldview of “scientism.”[8] Sex is not determined by biology; rather, it is determined by one’s gender identity or “internal sense.” This ideology is being taught to young children through infographics such as the “gender unicorn.” At the State agency where I work, the “gender unicorn” was prominently displayed and promoted this past Summer. This unicorn is deliberately sexually androgynous. Indeed, even gender-neutral Barbie dolls are now available. In a news release accompanying the product launch, a Mattel representative explained,

Through research, we heard that kids don’t want their toys dictated by gender norms. This line allows all kids to express themselves freely which is why it resonates so strongly with them. We’re hopeful Creatable World will encourage people to think more broadly about how all kids can benefit from doll play.[9]

This worldview is resulting in a revolution in transgender medicine and policy.[10] Attempts to redirect children towards their biological sex are often deemed unethical. Some activist organizations recommend public schools keep a child’s transgender status from unsupportive parents, and effectively provide schools with guidance to mount a campaign of subversion against such parents.[11]  

Anderson believes sex is determined by reproductive function. He cites one such proponent saying that he cannot find any other definition for sex other than what is promoted in social policy literature.[12] The discussion of treatment for gender dysphoria is one of the most horrifying and depressing things I have read.[13]

Anderson rightly concludes that “[w]hat’s at stake in the transgender moment is the human person.”[14] He suggests a comprehensive approach involving, (1) not stigmatizing those who suffer from gender dysphoria, (2) building a network of clinicians who do not agree with transgender ideology, (3) engaging the culture winsomely, particularly with former transgender individuals, (4) and lawyer and public policy experts working together to combat this ideology.[15]

This book’s value is that is accurately captures a snapshot of our cultural moment. It is not a religious book, and Anderson offers no theological insights. Every well-read Christian who pays attention to culture knows where we are headed, but Anderson gives one an invaluable and sobering guided tour through an otherwise familiar neighborhood.


[1] Ryan T. Anderson, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment (reprint; New York: Encounter Books, 2019; Kindle ed.), pgs. 9-11.  

[2] Anderson, Harry Became Sally, pgs. 12-15.  

[3] Anderson, Harry Became Sally, pgs. 15-20.  

[4] Anderson, Harry Became Sally, pg. 20-25. One wonders how Mark Yarhouse would recommend responding to the idea of a transgender “identity”!? Perhaps here.

[5] Anderson, Harry Became Sally, pg. 28.  

[6] “At the heart of the transgender moment are radical ideas about the human person—in particular, that people are what they claim to be, regardless of contrary evidence. A transgender boy is a boy, not merely a girl who identifies as a boy. It’s understandable why activists make these claims. An argument about transgender identities will be much more persuasive if it concerns who someone is, not merely how someone identifies. And so the rhetoric of the transgender moment drips with ontological assertions: people are the gender they prefer to be. That’s the claim,” (Anderson, Harry Became Sally, pg. 29).

[7] See J.P. Moreland, Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018).

[8] “Transgender activists don’t admit that this is a metaphysical claim. They don’t want to have the debate on the level of philosophy, so they dress it up as a scientific and medical claim. And they’ve co-opted many professional associations for their cause,” (Anderson, Harry Became Sally, pg. 29).

[9] Mattel Newsroom, “Mattel Launches Gender Inclusive Doll Line Inviting All Kids to Play.” 25 September 2019. Retrieved on 03 January 2020 from https://news.mattel.com/news/mattel-launches-gender-inclusive-doll-line-inviting-all-kids-to-play.

[10] Anderson, Harry Became Sally, pgs. 33-42.  

[11] Anderson, Harry Became Sally, pgs. 42-45.  

[12] Anderson, Harry Became Sally, pgs. 77-81.  

[13] Anderson, Harry Became Sally, pgs. 97-116.  

[14] Anderson, Harry Became Sally, pg. 212.  

[15] Anderson, Harry Became Sally, pg. 211.  

Book Review: "Homosexuality and the Christian" by Mark Yarhouse

Mark Yarhouse is a conservative Christian psychologist who is active and publishes regularly in his field. He takes a traditional conservative approach to the homosexual issue. Yarhouse published his book in 2010, and it is a wealth of keen insight.

He advances the discussion by examining the presuppositions that undergird the revisionist arguments for unrepentant, “gay” Christianity. Yarhouse organizes his book into three sections; (1) the big picture, (2) honest answers, and (3) questions for the church. His unique contributions largely come from the first section:

  • Sources of authority. Christians typically draw from four sources of authority; (1) Scripture, (2) Christian tradition, (3) reason, and (4) personal experience.[1] The latter two are increasingly where people place the greater emphasis. People elevate their sexual experiences to the level of self-identity.[2] It is this insight that so many authors seem to miss. Yarhouse pushes back against this hermeneutic of narcissism; “Although it contrasts sharply with a Western culture that focuses on felt needs and ‘self-actualization,’ Christians are called to say no to some experiences so that we can say yes to a life that is obedient to God’s revealed will.”[3]
  • Identity the key. Yarhouse follows up with a lengthy discussion on why sexual identity is the real heart of the matter.[4] He mitigates against the identity category by advocating a graduated, three-tier distinction along a spectrum of attraction, orientation and identity. He refers to individuals as “same-sex attracted,” and will not grant their homosexuality “identity” status at the outset.[5] His discussion of the “gay script,” whereby the homosexual movement offers a warm embrace and an affirmation of sexual identity, is spot on. He suggests the Church offer a competing positive script based on identity in Christ.[6] Yarhouse acknowledges homosexuality often is not sought, but people can make choices about what they do with these attractions.[7]
  • Cause and change aren’t the real issues. Yarhouse is not keen to argue these points. He concludes that the cause of homosexuality is unknown, and many factors likely play a role. Also, the record on “change” (which Yarhouse cautions can be defined many ways!) is mixed. But, he contends, causation is not the real issue nor is “conversion” to heterosexuality.[8]
  • “Our people.” Yarhouse challenges the Church to see “sincere strugglers” as “our people.” Instead, what these individuals often experience is profound shame and a sense of imminent rejection. Why cannot the Church vow to love these sincere strugglers, embrace them and help them in their struggles for holiness?[9]

Yarhouse also has a great deal of practical advice for spouses and parents dealing with sincere strugglers. But, his greatest value is in his emphasis on combatting the “identity” issue, his challenge to embrace sincere strugglers as brothers and sisters in community,[10] and his analogy of “flipping the script” by offering a better identity “in Christ” than the one the homosexual community is selling.

This is the perhaps the most helpful book on homosexuality available. It should be read with Burk and Lambert’s Transforming Homosexuality (see my review) for maximum effect.  


[1] Mark Yarhouse, Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Pastors, Parents and Friends (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010; Kindle ed.), pg. 18.

[2] “It is important to recognize that sexuality should be experienced as central to a person’s overall sense of identity. I think this was intended by God. We are inherently physical beings, and we are inherently sexual beings. So we don’t want to communicate that our sexuality is somehow removed from who we are. On the other hand, it is also important to recognize that when we ask what God thinks about homosexuality, we are likely to confuse the pattern of behavior with the person.

In other words, while we can acknowledge that some gay Christians say behavior and identity cannot be separated, other Christians who experience same-sex attraction do precisely that. They separate behavior and identity, seeing it as a necessary step in navigating their sexuality in light of their faith. When we instead ask what God thinks about homosexually oriented people, or what he thinks of people who experience same-sex attraction, we can answer without hesitation that God loves them,” (Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pg. 32).

[3] Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pg. 36.  

[4] Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pgs. 37-57.  

[5] Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pgs. 40-43.  

[6] Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pgs. 46-53. “What competing or alternative script can he expect from the church? When Chris looks to the church he hears very little, and what he does hear is usually an oversimplification of the causes of homosexuality, followed by the claim that it can easily be changed or healed through efforts or faith. Is this the only message the church wants to send Chris?” (Ibid, pgs. 49-50).

[7] “Same-sex attraction may be the ethnic aspect of identity, an unchosen characteristic that can contribute in some way to identity, but there are also civic aspects of identity, and people have choices to make regarding what they believe about sexuality, sexual identity, and sexual behavior. These choices will lead them to different communities that, in turn, confirm and consolidate a sense of this sexual identity into who they are,” (Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pgs. 53-54).

[8] “Let me say it plainly one more time: The traditional Christian sexual ethic does not hinge on the causes of sexual attraction or orientation. Also: The traditional Christian sexual ethic does not hinge on whether or not sexual orientation can change,” (Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pgs. 163-164).

[9] “It got me thinking about why the church doesn’t lead with the thought and attitude that Christians who struggle with homosexuality are our people. Think about that for a second: Sexual minorities in the church, by which I mean believers who experience same-sex attraction, are our people. Framing the issue this way can lead to greater compassion as the church tries to find ways to provide support and encouragement to those in our own communities who would benefit from it,” (Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pgs. 157-158).

[10] “What the Christian community can offer the Christian sexual minority is a vision for what it means to be Christlike. That vision places the Christian sexual minority squarely in the middle of the Christian community. They become us. We are all supposed to be working toward the same goal. Whether we experience same-sex attraction or not, we are all to move toward Christlikeness,” (Yarhouse, Homosexuality, pg. 165).

What I Read in 2019

Here is my annual list of the non-fiction books I read last year. 12 of these are for a Doctor of Ministry class I was prepping for; this accounts for the unusually high total book count.

I had great fun reading this year. About half of these I actually listened to on digital audiobook, and never read. It’s a great way to redeem the time you spend in your daily commute. Who knows what books 2020 will bring …

1: God in Three Persons: A Contemporary Interpretation of the Trinity by Millard Erickson

An excellent book; the most helpful work on the Trinity I’ve read, along with Carl Beckwith’s The Holy Trinity. I reflected on some lessons Erickson’s book taught me about what to emphasize when I teach about the Trinity in a systematic, comprehensive fashion … if I ever manage to do it!

2: Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Great book. Franklin was truly a genius, blessed by God with many talents and abilities. It’s a shame his enlightenment context prevented him from seeing his need for salvation through Jesus Christ.

3: Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? by John Fea

I’ve never appreciated revisionist or partisan attempts to re-frame history to suit a particular narrative. Christians are very guilty of this crime. John Fea, a Christian historian at an undergraduate liberal arts institution, does an excellent job of analyzing this question from many different angles. The answer is “it depends,” and he spends the book explaining why.

This book’s chief value to me, besides the analysis of a complicated historical question, are the numerous titles in the footnotes that will lead me to further reading.

4: The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America by John Fea

The title says it all. John Fea uses Fithian, a Revolutionary War-era Presbyterian minister from rural Pennsylvania, as a foil to discuss how the enlightenment impacted educated colonists in rural America. Good book.

5: Who’s Tampering With the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordination Debate by Millard Erickson

This is only one of three books, that I’m aware of, that contends that the eternal functional subordinationist position with regards to Christ is a dangerous teaching. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It’s a watershed look at a very dangerous teaching. Erickson, in his trademark way, examines the other side fairly and objectively, then presents his own analysis. He does a masterful job. Indeed, this is perhaps the last great work from one of the best conservative theologians of the 20th century.

6: American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham

I gave up this book halfway through. I didn’t enjoy the detailed discussions about the gossipy intrigues of Jackson’s extended family. I understand it was part of the context of Jackson’s presidency, but I still didn’t want to hear about it. I’d have preferred to read a history about Jackson “the man,” and an analysis of his accomplishments and missteps as President. If I wanted a soap opera, I’d have turned on When Calls the Heart – at least that show always has a happy ending.

7: Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life by William Deresiewicz

8: No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington by Condoleeza Rice

9: Jesus and Pharisees by A.T. Robertson

10: The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America by Frances Fitzgerald.

Good book. See my review.

11: Sketches of the Life and Character of the Rev. Lemuel Haynes, A. M.: For Many Years Pastor of a Church in Rutland, Vt., and Late in Granville, New-York by Timothy Cooley

12: A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre

13: Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

14: John Adams by David McCullough

15: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer

16: The Korean War by Max Hastings

17: Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield

18: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

19: The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

20: Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Geesen

21: God the Father Almighty: A Contemporary Exploration of the Divine Attributes by Millard Erickson

22: The End of White Christian America by Robert Jones

Great book; see my review.

23: Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon

24: The Confessions by Augustine

25: Leading in Prayer: A Workbook for Ministers by Hughes Oliphant Old

26: Gathering: A Theology and Spirituality of Worship in the Free Church Tradition by Christopher J. Ellis

27: Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings

28: One in Hope and Doctrine: Origins of Baptist Fundamentalism 1870 – 1950 by Kevin Bauder and Robert Delnay.

Read this one a few years ago. Read it again, and absorbed much more. Northern Baptists need to read this book and understand their history – especially my brethren in the GARBC or one of its regional associations.

29: To the Praise of His Glory: B. Myron and Thelma M. Cederholm by Larry Oats

A short, breezy biography of the founder of Maranatha Baptist Bible College, now University. I attended Seminary here, and will forever be glad for the precious theological education I received.

For me, this book’s value was not in gaining insight into Cederholm, who I never knew and whose legacy had no impact on me. Rather, it helped augment the story of northern Baptist fundamentalism in my mind, as I’d just finished Bauder and Delnay’s One in Hope and Doctrine. That story ended in 1950, and Cederholm entered from stage right with the Conservative Baptist movement in 1947. If you view Cederholm as a foil to tell the story of the Conservative Baptists, then this book is very helpful and very nice. Truth be told, I’d likely have gone with the so-called “soft core” Conservative Baptists in the big split in the early 1960s.

Larry Oats, the former Dean of Maranatha Baptist Seminary, wrote the book and the University published it. So, it isn’t surprising to see that it’s rather hagiographic. This is not a critical look at Cederholm or the Conservative Baptist movement. It’s a light, insider view of a man who played a pivotal role in northern Baptist fundamentalism for many decades.

30: Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology by J.P. Moreland

31: Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea by Edmund S. Morgan

32: Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends by Mark Yarhouse

One of the best books on the homosexual issue from a traditional perspective. See my review.

33: Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis by William J. Webb

Excellent and insightful. See my review.

34: Those 7 References: A Study of 7 References to Homosexuality in the Bible by John Dwyer

Dwyer is a gay Episcopal priest who argues that the Biblical authors didn’t have a Biblical worldview, that all sexual relations in the ancient world were about power, lust and violence, and that all homosexual references in the Bible aren’t really saying what we think.

I emailed Dwyer about his “sex in ancient world = lust, power and violence” thesis, and asked whether Song of Solomon hurt his thesis. He didn’t respond. I wonder why …

35: Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry

No, He’s anti sin. A good book. See my review.

36: God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships by Matthew Vines

A very dangerous and very important work. A prototype of how to misinterpret and twist the Scriptures for narcissistic ends. See my review.

37: The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics by Robert Gagnon

38: What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung

Gagnon-lite. See my review.

39: Transforming Homosexuality: What the Bible Says about Sexual Orientation and Change by Denny Burk and Heath Lambert

Perhaps the best book available on this topic. See my review.

40: Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian by Wesley Hill

An important book from a same-sex attracted Christian committed to celibacy. See my review.

41: Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate: A Complementarian Response to the Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic by Benjamin Reaoch

One of the most frustrating and disappointing books I’ve ever read. See my review.

42: God and the Gay Christian?: A Response to Matthew Vines ed. Albert Mohler

See my review.

43: When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment by Ryan Anderson

Horrifying; see my review.

44: Onward! by Russell Moore

45: Letters to My Students: Volume 1: On Preaching by Jason Allen

Very basic. Probably won’t buy the next volume.

46: Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow

Probably the most enjoyable book I read last year.

Book Review: "A Response to Matthew Vines" ed. Albert Mohler

Mohler and a merry band of contributors have produced a very short, punchy and substantive 62-page rebuttal to Matthew Vines’ book (see my review of Vines’ work). There are five chapters which discuss, in turn, (1) an overview of Vines’ position and the dangers it presents, (2) Vines and the Old Testament, (3) Vines and the New Testament, (4) Vines and Christian history, and (5) Vines and the Gospel.

This book is remarkable because it is so substantive, yet so short. The contributors each manage to accurately distill Vines’ arguments and highlight the dangers to orthodoxy:

  • Mohler. Vines has severed the relevant texts from the meta-narrative of Scripture, particularly Genesis 1-2, and thus erased any definition of what it means to be human. This hermeneutical decapitation allows Vines to “relativize” the meaning to suit his purposes.[1] Indeed, Mohler argues, Vines allows experience to drive nearly everything he says.[2] Mohler invokes a boogeyman argument by suggesting that a repudiation of gender complementarity[3] will lead, inevitably, to a capitulation of sexual complementarity. This does not logically follow.[4]
  • Hamilton. The author generally echoes Mohler. Vines allows experience to guide his thinking, isolates texts from the meta-narrative and assumes the Biblical authors wrote from a secular worldview.[5] Vines’ work “is a study in sophistry.”[6] His analogy to an eyewitness description of a plane crash (“the witness never said gravity caused it to fall to the ground”) to illustrate Vines’ approach is excellent.[7]
  • Burk. The author largely summarizes some of his arguments from Transforming Homosexuality. Like other contributors, he realizes Vines will not allow the text to have a Scriptural worldview. “Vines has an undue fascination with Paul’s Greco-Roman context to the near exclusion of his Jewish identity.”[8]
  • Strachan. This section was less convincing, but this is not Strachan’s fault. It is rarely convincing to watch two authors toss historical quotations back and forth like dueling wizards. Strachan does a good job, but it is unlikely many readers will be helped. At best, Strachan’s effort will allow Christians to see Vines’ framing of the history is inaccurate.
  • Lambert. Like Burk before him, Lambert echoes and summarizes his own work from Transforming Homosexuality and discusses whether being an unrepentant “gay Christian” is compatible with the Gospel.

The book would have been strengthened by a short chapter each on identity and a “me-centered” hermeneutic. Each author makes references to these, but never directly engages. Vines does make his “gayness” his controlling badge of self-identity. He does have a hermeneutic of winsome narcissism; Vines even opens the book with his ridiculous “bad fruit” discussion. These are the controlling presuppositions that make Christians want the hermeneutic Vines is selling. A rebuttal of Vines’ position that does not attack these false presuppositions is incomplete.

Nonetheless, this is an accessible and substantive response to Vines and every church should provide it as a downloadable resource. It and several other ebooks are available free of charge at the SBTS website.


[1]  Albert Mohler, ed., God and the Gay Christian?: A Response to Matthew Vines (Louisville: SBTS Press, 2014; Kindle ed.), KL 58-70.

[2] Mohler, Response, KL 125. “Vines claims to hold to a ‘high view’ of the Bible and to believe that ‘all of Scripture is inspired by God and authoritative for my life,’ but the modern concept of sexual orientation functions as a much higher authority in his thinking and in his argument.”

[3] I assume Mohler is referring to the complementarian/egalitarian debate.

[4] Mohler, Response, KL 125-150.

[5] Mohler, Response, KL 191.  

[6] Mohler, Response, KL 191.  

[7] Mohler, Response, KL 216-228.

[8] Mohler, Response, KL 483.  

Book Review: "Women, Slaves and the Gender Debate" by Benjamin Reaoch

Reaoch produced a frustrating book engaging William Webb’s work on redemptive-movement hermeneutics (see my review of Webb’s book). Unfortunately, Reaoch excels at missing the point. Webb writes as a systematician advocating a specific hermeneutical approach, whereas Reaoch writes as an exegete who atomizes texts and speaks of grammar and syntax. They frame their discussions differently, because they are writing for very different purposes.[1]

Reaoch begins by falsely claiming Webb believes the issue of gender roles are tied to slavery.[2] He then wastes 61 pages discussing the Bible’s teaching on slavery and gender. Webb wrote about hermeneutics using gender and slavery as a foil; a distinction Reaoch appears to miss. For example:

  • “ … if the New Testament simply regulates slavery and points toward its abolition, then the perceived need for the redemptive-movement hermeneutic evaporates.” [3] Reaoch misses Webb’s point; the text “points” forward along an implicit trajectory (i.e. redemptive-movement).
  • “In this way we should not assume that instructions to slaves are an implicit endorsement of slavery itself.”[4] Again, he misses the point. Greco-Roman culture did positively endorse slavery. The New Testament did not. There is an implicit movement away from the institution; a trajectory.
  • “The instructions to these individuals would have challenged the cultural norms of the day and if heeded, would radically transform the master-slave relationship.”[5] Yes, almost as if there is a redemptive movement toward an ethical good implicit in the text …

Reaoch’s approach is to argue against Webb’s applications of his criteria, while not explaining why the criteria itself is wrong. Indeed, nearly all his criticisms have to do with interpretations of individual texts:

  • He quibbles because Webb did not cite Jesus in a brief discussion on created order.[6]
  • He accuses Webb of over-simplifying a remark about the Sabbath, being wrong about similar examples of singleness and procreation.[7]
  • Reaoch then impugns Webb’s character and accuses him of making deliberately simplistic arguments for sinister reasons.[8]
  • He then criticizes another of Webb’s comments about created order related to homosexuality.[9]

The cycle repeats. Again, Reaoch wants to exegete, whereas Webb wrote a book to discuss hermeneutics. Their approaches are like water and oil, and Reaoch erred by not critiquing Webb’s framework. Instead, he contented himself with attacking one of Webb’s foils. In the end, Reaoch does not like the implications of Webb’s hermeneutic[10] and he sees Webb’s work as an attack on complementarianism.[11]

This is a frustrating book, because Reaoch refuses to engage Webb fairly. He exegetes Webb’s applications, then invalidates them and thus dismisses the criteria. Is it true the trajectory of Scripture nudges us in a certain direction, even if it is not explicit in the text? Is it true that, insofar as we can, we should not make results of the Fall transcultural? Is it true that New Covenant status and new creation texts have implications for social status and role, today? Reaoch does not answer these questions; he wants to discuss gender texts. Therefore, his book’s main value is as an example of how to miss the point.


[1]  Webb wrote his book to advocate a broad hermeneutical approach wherein one examines the pan-canonical drift of Scripture to discern movement (or lack thereof) along a trajectory, and carries that movement forward. Reaoch wrote his book to critique Webb’s position application of redemptive-movement hermeneutic to the gender issue.

[2] “Pivotal to Webb’s conclusions are the following assumptions: (1) the issue of gender roles is closely analogous to the slavery issue, and (2) patriarchy’s basis in original creation does not conclusively differentiate the two,” (Benjamin Reaoch, Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate: A Complementarian Response to the Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2012; Kindle ed.), pg. 8.   

However, Webb explained: “This book attempts to provide a collection, in one volume, of the various criteria that can be used in cultural analysis. In order to make the process more objective, I have attempted to establish each criterion from neutral examples before moving to two of today’s more debated topics— women and homosexuals. In this respect, the book has been designed as a tool for the application process in hermeneutics. Although my focus has been primarily on slaves, women and homosexuals, the various criteria may be used as a grid to explore any aspect of Scripture where one might suspect or question the impact of culture. I have used this material in a hermeneutics course for several years. My students have utilized these criteria, along with a redemptive-movement hermeneutic, to explore the question of cultural assessment in a wide variety of issues, for example, war, clothing taboos, government, circumcision, alcohol, child rearing practices, dancing, transvestism, polygamy, church offices, reproductive technologies, capital punishment, Sabbath and animal rights,” (William J. Webb, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis [Downers Grove: IVP, 2001; Kindle ed.], pgs. 197-298).

[3] Reaoch, Complementarian, pg. 11.  

[4] Reaoch, Complementarian, pg. 33.  

[5] Reaoch, Complementarian, pgs. 36-37.  

[6] Reaoch, Complementarian, pgs. 115-116.    

[7] Reaoch, Complementarian, pgs. 116-118.  

[8] “Webb has assumed unlikely and hermeneutically simplistic interpretations of the creation account in an attempt to heighten the perceived tension between original creation and today’s culture. In this way he has set up reductionistic arguments that are easily dismantled,” (Reaoch, Complementarian, pg. 118). Reaoch does this repeatedly.

[9] Reaoch, Complementarian, pgs. 122-124.  

[10] “We are happy to find movement when we compare the New Testament commands with the first-century culture, and we must recognize this to be ‘absolute movement,’ not ‘preliminary movement,’” (Reaoch, Complementarian, pg. 114).

[11] “The debate over gender roles has not diminished, and I do not see any end in sight. But we must not grow weary in defending the beautiful portrait of gender complementarity presented in the Bible,” (Reaoch, Complementarian, pg. 160).

Book Review: "Slaves, Women and Homosexuals" by William Webb

Webb’s book is a tour de force of individual insights that are somehow greater than the sum of their whole. He seeks to bring cultural analysis to bear on the Bible over against a “static” hermeneutic. Today, he argues, we must distinguish what is cultural and trans-cultural. That is, we must discern between cultural values and kingdom values.[1] The basic approach of his “redemptive-movement” hermeneutic is to:[2]

  1. imagine the factors X (original culture), Y (the Bible) and Z (contemporary culture),
  2. discern movement (or lack thereof) in the Scriptures along a particular trajectory
  3. and be willing to continue the movement beyond the isolated words of the text along that same redemptive trajectory  

Webb focuses on the spirit of the text.[3] He proposes a cumbersome 18 criteria for his hermeneutic, organized into four categories; (1) persuasive, (2) moderately persuasive, (3) inconclusive, and (4) extra-biblical considerations. He shows how this works by applying each criteria, in turn, to women in the church, slavery and homosexuality.

Webb has some truly remarkable big-picture insights, particularly on women, including:

  • Concept of movement. There are indications that Scripture moves in a particular direction through Biblical history (e.g. slaves and women). “On the whole, the biblical material is headed toward an elevation of women in status and rights.”[4] Must this movement stop at Revelation?
  • Patterns in original creation. Is gender hierarchy part of original creation, or the Fall? Webb argues the latter, and his explanation is convincing.[5] Should Christians seek to perpetuate a situation (e.g. Gen 3:16) that is arguably a result of the Fall, and not part of original creation?
  • Basis in new creation. What kind of status do women have in the New Covenant, what status do they have in eternity, and what are the implications for our relationships and roles in the church now, as New Covenant people?[6]

However, Webb’s work also has flaws:

  • Too much. His 18 criteria are cumbersome and redundant. The latter nine are arguably pointless and could have been condensed into a short “reminder” list in an appendix. An exegete with a theological framework already accounts for many of these criteria automatically.
  • Out of nowhere. Webb’s hermeneutical principles seemingly appear out of the ether. There are no overarching theological assumptions or framework; just a complicated series of seemingly random hermeneutical principles divorced from an interpretive grid.
  • Western. Webb’s focus on cultural translation has the potential to make PlayDough of the text. He argues for gender-role equality in the Church, in part, because primogeniture is not practiced in Western society.[7] What about other societies? Is meaning fluid depending on the receptor culture?
  • Stunted. This approach works best on texts with more concrete expression, such as narrative, law-codes and perhaps some wisdom literature. It is difficult to see Webb’s criteria being relevant for prophesy or poetry.

Webb has produced an outstanding book. His redemptive-movement approach has much to commend it, but some of his criteria for analysis are redundant for trained pastors, lack trans-culturality (ironically enough!), and are subjective. However, other criteria are extremely powerful and merit serious consideration.


[1] William J. Webb, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis (Downers Grove: IVP, 2001; Kindle ed.), pg. 36.  

[2] “A redemptive-movement hermeneutic is characterized by several key components. At the heart of such an approach to the application of Scripture is its focus on (1) redemptive movement, (2) a multilevel ethic, (3) a balanced perspective, (4) cultural/ transcultural assessment and (5) the underlying spirit within a text,” (Webb, Hermeneutics, pg. 49).

[3] “A static hermeneutic lacks power and relevance, while a secular or radical hermeneutic lacks direction. Only a view that utilizes the redemptive spirit within Scripture as its core can construct an enduring connection between the ancient and modern worlds. A redemptive-spirit approach honors the words of Scripture by not forcing them into modern molds that do not fit. The words of Scripture, as read against the ancient world, provide the Christian with an understanding of its spirit and direction. The redemptive spirit generates the power to invade a new generation; the words of Scripture as read within their broader social context provide the much-needed direction for guiding the invasion of that power within today’s world. Once upon modern soil, a redemptive-movement hermeneutic channels its renewing spirit into the modern world with power to change social structures and direction to guide the renewal process,” (Webb, Hermeneutics, pg. 74).

[4] Webb, Hermeneutics, pg. 103.  

[5] Webb, Hermeneutics, pgs. 147-159; 165-171.

[6] Dispensationalism, as a movement, has a tortured hermeneutical relationship with the New Covenant. I assume the Church is a full participant in the New Covenant.

[7] “One might ask if pragmatic factors like these should influence our cultural/ transcultural analysis of Scripture. In short, the answer is yes. The pragmatic factors that drove primogeniture customs were part of the ancient setting but they are no longer part of our world. Pragmatic factors tend to shape the formation of biblical text not so much at the upper abstracted levels of principle, but at the lower concrete expression of principle as it gets fleshed out within a particular cultural context,” (Webb, Hermeneutics, pg. 183).