Baxter and his tomahawk

Baxter and his tomahawk

This is my quick take on Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor.

Everybody says it’s great. I’m not sure how many of those people have actually read it. Baxter was a Puritan who died in 1691. He spends most of the book explaining that you’re a failure and a loser if you don’t completely dedicate yourself to pastoral ministry. That’s fine so far as it goes, but Baxter likes to make sure you get his point.

He has this gem I’ll never forget (p. 127):

Consider that it is of your own voluntary undertaking and engagement that all this work is laid upon you. No man forced you to be overseers of the Church.

Thanks, Dick. I needed that.

Guilt trips make up perhaps 80% of the book. They’re helpful for the first 20%. Then, they get annoying. Then, they make you feel worthless. Then, you begin to REALLY dislike Baxter.

The last 15% of the book are detailed instructions about how to catechize a parish of mostly unregenerate people, which is largely inapplicable in a context where you believe the New Covenant is only for actual believers.

So, what do I think about Baxter? I think he’s a depressing guy. Comes across as self-righteous, but earnest. Book was a disappointment, and I’ll never read it again. Some guys know how to encourage. Baxter knew how to take a tomahawk to your skull and tell you he’s there to help.

This is the Cliff-Notes version of the 1,500 word review I’ll be writing for my DMin class. I’m gonna keep that line about Baxter’s tomahawk …

Review of a Really Bad Book

Akin and Pace have a simple goal – to use theological categories to examine the role, requirements and responsibilities of a pastor.[1] They believe ministry will fall victim to a host of errors if it is not grounded in objective, scriptural truth.[2] To that end, they consider (1) the trinitarian foundations of ministry, (2) the doctrinal foundations, and (3) the practical considerations. They are both professors at Southern Baptist institutions, and approach their task from that perspective.

Theological foundations

In Chapter 2, the authors use God’s holiness as a pattern to describe pastoral requirements and calling. “Our personal holiness derives from God’s essence and his expectations.”[3] Next, they explore Christology as a “incarnational” model for pastoral identity and a philosophy of ministry. “A philosophy of ministry that lovingly engages people where they are, humbly sacrifices to meet their needs, and intentionally delivers the gospel, can be described as ‘incarnational.’”[4] In Chapter 4, the authors stress that the Holy Spirit works through pastors as they minister, primarily by compelling their service.

Doctrinal foundations

Chapter 5 surveys the doctrine of man as a foil to help pastors. “As pastors we must recognize the principal role of grace in our own lives, while also extending grace to others and encouraging them to grow in it.”[5] The next chapter discusses ecclesiology and emphasizes that God has a covenant people. However, “the New Testament provides the authoritative basis and instruction regarding God’s church.”[6] Akin and Pace then unpack the implications.

Chapter 7 discusses the great commission. “[I]t is clear that often we do not allow the Scriptures to drive our methods of evangelism, missions, discipleship, church growth, and church planting. We find ourselves speaking loudly about inerrancy, while undermining that same conviction by our practices.”[7]

Practical facilitation

Chapter 8 examines the role of a pastor through use of Christological metaphors. “Daily ministerial tasks find their basis in the doctrinal truths we have explored: the identity of our Shepherd/King, his example as our Shepherd/Keeper, the nature of his sheep, and the invitation to serve as his undershepherds.”[8] The next chapter presents a study of several texts to develop a philosophy of the preaching ministry. Chapter 10 is about the doctrines of marriage and family, to help the pastor balance his responsibilities.

Evaluation

Pace and Akin produced a book that has no heart and no passion. The prose is overly formal and ponderous. The precepts they draw from the doctrinal studies are obvious and unhelpful to any seasoned pastor, and thus unworthy of the reading time it took to reach them. The entire manuscript is alliterated in a distracting and artificial manner, from the section divisions in the table of contents down to the third level sub-headings within the chapters. In short, if another text is unavailable, this book would be an adequate doctrinal introduction for a freshman undergraduate taking a pastoral studies major at a Christian university.

Insofar as they provide doctrinal bases for pastoral ministry, Akin and Pace succeed in their goal. However, the book’s flaws are so spectacular that they manage to entomb the author’s modest accomplishments under an avalanche of stodgy execution.  

Pace and Akin offer not one unique or valuable insight for the experienced pastor. Not one. Everything they have to say has been said better and more concisely by others. 

The book’s structure is clumsy and laborious. Each chapter follows the pattern (1) introduction, (2) theological premise,[9] (3) biblical precepts, (4) pastoral principles, (5) conclusion.[10] Pace and Akin do not just state the premise; they set out to prove it. Then, they pivot to explain the precepts from the premise – most of which were obvious from the discussion of the premise.

Afterwards, Pace and Akin distill some principles from these precepts. However, because “precept” and “principle” are virtual synonyms,[11] the distinction is artificial and frustrating. Indeed, one suspects their fondness for alliteration drove the chapter structure more than common sense; an irony that only grows stronger in their discussion on grammatical-historical homiletics.

The result is that the prize at the end of the chapter is never worth the effort the reader expends to get there. For example, consider a representative selection of precepts and principles from the discussion on homiletics.

After surveying several texts, Akin and Pace produce precepts for pastors, and declare they must (note the alliteration, italicized for emphasis):

  1. Have the spiritual precedent to preach (Neh 8)
  2. Have the spiritual passion to preach (Ezra 7)
  3. Have a sincere prayer for preaching (1 Cor 2:1-5), and
  4. Enjoy the sacred privilege of preaching (2 Tim 3:16-4:5)

This is rather thin gruel for approximately eight pages of exposition.[12] However, that is not all. In perhaps the most unfortunate discussion in an already unfortunate book, Akin and Pace list the following principles to help pastors prepare a sermon:[13]

  1. A text-driven sermon reviews the selection of the text.
  2. A text-driven sermon requires the study of the text.
  3. A text-driven sermon reveals the substance of the text.
  4. A text-driven sermon relays the significance of the text.
  5. A text-driven sermon reflects the structure of the text.

These are shallow insights. Indeed, the thin gruel is now gone, and we are left with ditch water. No seasoned pastor will find anything of value in this guidance. A very specific philosophy of preaching, Akin and Pace declare, drives this approach:[14]

  1. God has given us the mandate to preach.
  2. God has given us the message to proclaim.
  3. God has given us the method to practice.

The entire text proceeds in this fashion. The alliteration is distracting and artificial, yet it saturates every column inch of the text. This contrived approach, like a dead cockroach in your mother’s chocolate-chip cookie dough, negates any helpful insights Akin and Pace may otherwise offer. Even their section headings of (1) theological foundation, (2) doctrinal formulation, and (3) practical facilitation are contrived. Trinitarian considerations aredoctrinal, and categories of systematic doctrine are also foundational, so the dichotomy in section headings is puzzling. If the goal was cute alliteration, however, then the puzzle is solved.

Akin and Pace, when they discuss a pastor’s calling, squander an opportunity to help ministers. They describe the calling as high, humble and holy. This is obvious and unhelpful. But, how to know if one is called to the ministry? The authors retreat to alliteration once again, and explain the calling must be authentic, must have authority, and it must be affirmed.

No faithful minister on earth would disagree with this. But, what does it mean? They explain that, in order for a pastoral call to be authentic, it “must be confirmed as God’s will for our lives through spiritual discernment within the context of our personal relationship with Christ.”[15] This is a sentence that communicates nothing.

They go on to anchor the call in a lack of fulfillment doing anything else; “if it is impossible to find true satisfaction and contentment in any other career, and the biblical criteria are met, then a pastoral call may be confirmed.”[16] This may be accurate, but it hardly helpful to anybody but a undergraduate student.

Akin and Pace’s conclusions are always commonplace and unremarkable. This does not mean they are wrong; merely that they are obvious. It is as if one read a dense tome on all the inner workings of the internal combustion engine; a work intended to help drivers operate their vehicles better. Now, pretend the book concluded with these remarks:

  1. Get into the seat.
  2. Buckle yourself securely.
  3. Insert the key into the ignition and turn clockwise slowly.
  4. Shift to “drive” safely.
  5. Check for traffic approaching your blind spot surreptitiously.
  6. Press the accelerator and ease into traffic sedately.

The reader would likely believe the effort was not worth the reward. Indeed, he did not have to read the book at all if the conclusions were as tedious as all that.

This entire book could have been a pamphlet, but its practical value for advanced students would still be meager. They simply do not have anything meaningful to say to seasoned pastors.


[1] Daniel Akin and R. Scott Pace, Pastoral Theology (Nashville: B&H, 2017; Kindle ed.), KL 480. 

[2] “When we lose sight of how theological truth forms the foundation for ministry philosophy and practice, we run the risk of several ministerial pitfalls: pragmatism, moralism, egotism, and cynicism,” (Pastoral Theology, KL 340).

[3] Pastoral Theology, KL 665.     

[4] Pastoral Theology, KL1533. 

[5] Pastoral Theology, KL 2289. 

[6] Pastoral Theology, KL 2572. 

[7] Pastoral Theology, KL 3059. 

[8] Pastoral Theology, KL 3798. 

[9] The plural of “premise” is “premises.” Akin and Pace always conclude this section with more than one premise, so this chapter sub-heading is grammatically incorrect throughout the text. 

[10] Note the alliteration in #2-4, which I will address shortly. 

[11] The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, 3rd ed., compiled Christine Lindberg (New York: OUP, 2012)offers “principle” as a direct synonym for “precept,” (s.v. “precept,” 683). According to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed. (Springfield: Merriam-Webster, 2003),precept means “a command or principle intended esp. as a general rule of action” (s.v. “precept,” n, 1), while principle means “a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine or assumption,” (s.v. “principle,” n, 1a).

[12] Pastoral Theology, KL 4174 – 4283.

[13] Pastoral Theology, KL 4344 – 4384.

[14] Pastoral Theology, KL 4283 – 4384.

[15] Pastoral Theology, KL 948. 

[16] Pastoral Theology, KL 1013.

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).

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).

Book Review: “God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines

Matthew Vines’s book release in 2015 was a watershed event in conservative-ish Christian circles. He effectively popularizes the scholarly arguments for unrepentant, monogamous, same-sex Christian relationships. He has 10 arguments. Here is a representative sample:

  1. A tree and its fruit. Vines argues, based on Mt 7:15-20, for an “experience-based test” that evaluates truthfulness on whether it makes him feel bad.[1] This is narcissism and the fruit of moral, therapeutic deism.
  2. Bad traditions and sexual orientation. The Church was wrong about the earth being the center of the universe, and it is likewise wrong about homosexual orientation. New information about “orientation” gives the church a new lens through which to interpret the Bible.[2] Vines claims ancient sexual preferences were fluid and homosexuality was due to excess passion. He engages no Biblical texts and assumes Scripture is heavily shaped by secular culture, but does not demonstrate this assertion.[3]
  3. Gift of celibacy. Not all homosexual Christians have the gift of celibacy,[4] so Christians must decide which teaching to modify – homosexuality or celibacy. Vines suggests homosexuality, because the traditional view produces “bad fruit” in individuals. This is a version of the prosperity gospel, because Vines refuses to accept mortification of sin as a component of repentance.[5] 
  4. Real Sin of Sodom. Christians only began to interpret this sin as homosexuality until the Greco-Roman era, because of an over-emphasis on ascetism.[6]

The pattern is clear. Vines is largely a popularizer. He is to James Brownson what Kevin DeYoung is to Robert Gagnon. For example, Vines concludes (or, rather, he echoes a scholar who has concluded) that malakoi in 1 Cor 6:9 really means a lack of self-control.[7] What does a word study tell us? The word appears six times in the New Testament and the LXX:[8]

  • Proverbs 25:15 (“gentle”): the sense is gentleness
  • Proverbs 26:22 (“soft”): the sense is pleasant, perhaps tasty
  • Matthew 11:8 [x2] (“soft”): the literal sense is fancy or dressy, but Jesus’ point is something like soft or white-collar in a figurative sense
  • Luke 7:25 (“soft”): identical to above

The sense, then, is “softness.” Words can be literal or figurative. In 1 Corinthians 6, the word is in list of other vices that exclude one from the Kingdom. Is having a gentle or soft character grounds for damnation? Clearly, the word must have a figurative meaning. Because the term is between “adulterers” and “active partners” in a homosexual act, it seems logical to understand it to mean “soft” in the sense of a sexual role. Indeed, this is precisely what lexicons such as BDAG (“pert. to being passive in a same-sex relationship”), Louw-Nida, Friberg, Gingrich, Danker and even Thayer conclude. Which sexual act excludes one from God’s family? Homosexuality. Vines is incorrect, and he can only appeal to revisionist scholars for support.

This, in sum, is how Vines argues. He never does source language word studies, he never exegetes a text, he assumes secular culture had a controlling influence on the Biblical authors, and he appeals to empathy from a place of narcissism.

Vines’ book is infinitely dangerous for the believing Christian, and every Christian leader must understand how the other side argues. This book is the best work a pastor can find to review the revisionist arguments at a popular level.


[1] “Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:13, ‘[God] will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.’ But mandatory celibacy for gay Christians is more than many of them can bear. It produces bad fruit in many of their lives, and for some, it fuels despair to the point of suicide. Such outcomes made it difficult for my dad to see how the church’s rejection of same-sex relationships could qualify as a good tree that, according to Jesus, produces good fruit,” (Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships [New York: Convergent, 2014; Kindle ed.], pg. 19).

[2] “Here’s what I want you to notice for our discussion about sexual orientation: Christians did not change their minds about the solar system because they lost respect for their Christian forebears or for the authority of Scripture. They changed their minds because they were confronted with evidence their predecessors had never considered. The traditional interpretation of Psalm 93:1; Joshua 10:12–14; and other passages made sense when it was first formulated. But the invention of the telescope offered a new lens to use in interpreting those verses, opening the door to a more accurate interpretation. The telescope didn’t lead Christians to reject Scripture. It simply led them to clarify their understanding of Scripture,” (Vines, Gay Christian, pg. 24).

[3] “Christians made remarkable shifts in their understanding regarding Gentiles, slaves, and the place of the earth in relation to the sun. And as we are about to see, the new information we have about sexual orientation actually requires us to reinterpret Scripture no matter what stance we take on same-sex relationships,” (Vines, Gay Christian, pg. 42).

[4] “But Jesus’s teaching does not support mandatory celibacy for people to whom celibacy has not been given. If even some gay Christians lack the gift of celibacy, we have reason to doubt interpretations that force celibacy upon them,” (Vines, Gay Christian, pg. 48)

[5] Vines Gay Christian, 43-44. 

[6]  “Christians were influenced by their ascetic environment to interpret Scripture in ways that explicitly condemned taboo practices. In later Christian thought, same-sex relations were thought to be ‘unnatural’ in the same way as masturbation, contraception, and non-procreative heterosexual sex. Each of those practices was understood as going beyond nature’s basic requirement of engaging in sex for the sake of having children,” (Vines, Gay Christian, 74-76).

[7] “New Testament scholar David Fredrickson has argued that malakoi in 1 Corinthians 6:9 be translated as ‘those who lack self-control.’ Based on the evidence, that translation stands on firmer footing than any interpretation that defines the word as a specific reference to same-sex behavior. As we’ve seen, malakoi doesn’t refer to merely a single act. It encompasses an entire disposition toward immoderation,” (Vines, Gay Christian, 122).

[8] The quotations which follow from the LXX are from the Lexham English Septuagint.

Book Review: “What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?”

Kevin DeYoung has produced an outstanding book that is essentially a layman’s translation of Robert Gagnon. He organizes his book by first covering key texts, then interacting with common objections.[1]

He takes a traditional, conservative approach to all texts and covers the issues well. Some comments:

  • Genesis 1-2: He provides five reasons why the text shows gender complementarity in creation. DeYoung goes his own way by suggesting complementarity is hardwired into the Bible’s metanarrative of Christ’s union with the church.[2]
  • Genesis 19: DeYoung’s discussion on Ezekiel 16 and the implications for the sin of Sodom is better than Gagnon’s (by drawing attention to Ezekiel 16:47, not just v. 49) and is considerably shorter.
  • Leviticus: He provides six good reasons why Leviticus is still binding today, but does not explain the nature of the Christian’s relationship to the Law.[3]
  • Romans: DeYoung provides a good, conservative overview of the text. He remarks that word studies are unnecessary; “[t]he context gives us all the clues we need.”[4]
  • 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy: He frames his discussion around word studies of malakoi and arsenokoitai,[5] which may not be the most valuable use of paper or electronic real estate in a book like this. The implications for conceptual covenant identity and ethics would have been a more profitable discussion.

DeYoung discusses some objections to Church’s traditional position on homosexuality:

  • Hardly mentioned. He give six reasons why this objection is irrelevant. Jesus believed sexual immorality, in its broadest interpretation, is sinful (Mk 7:21).[6] Sexual sin is always very serious, and it must remain so.[7]
  • Loving and monogamous. DeYoung is quite right to point out that this is an argument from silence.[8] He is rightly skeptical of the idea that most sexual relationships in antiquity were predicated on power, wanton lust and violence[9] – something Dwyer advocates.[10]
  • Gluttony and divorce. This chapter is an unfortunate distraction. DeYoung is reacting to allegations of hypocrisy and selective focus. A discussion of the “you’re picking and choosing from the Old Testament” accusation would have been more profitable.
  • Church is for broken people. He argues against free grace by emphasizing repentance. In a wishy-washy evangelical culture, this discussion is unfortunately necessary.
  • Wrong side of history. This is an unfocused and awkward chapter. DeYoung explains that a progressive view of history is false, and often contains strawmen and falsehoods about Christian positions. He discusses Galileo and slavery. He essentially argues it’s the pinnacle of arrogance to suggest the Church (in a Catholic sense) has always been wrong.[11]
  • It’s not fair! This is perhaps DeYoung’s best chapter because it attacks the idea that your sexuality is your identity.[12]
  • God of love. The attribute of love is often elevated to gives shape to all others, and DeYoung corrects this.[13]

Like Burk and Lambert, DeYoung closes with an excellent list of “ten commitments” for churches.[14] This book is an excellent resource for any Christian, and can credibly be referred to as Gagnon-lite.


[1]  Gen 1-2, 19; Lev 18, 20; Rom 1; 1 Cor 6, 1 Tim 1.

[2] “The meaning of marriage is more than mutual sacrifice and covenantal commitment. Marriage, by its very nature, requires complementarity. The mystical union of Christ and the church— each ‘part’ belonging to the other but neither interchangeable— cannot be pictured in marital union without the differentiation of male and female. If God wanted us to conclude that men and woman were interchangeable in the marriage relationship, he not only gave us the wrong creation narrative; he gave us the wrong metanarrative,” (Kevin DeYoung, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality [Wheaton: Crossway, 2015; Kindle ed.], pg. 32).

[3] Pg. 48.  

[4] Pg. 54.  

[5] Pgs. 59-68.  

[6] Pg. 74.  

[7] “Far from treating sexual deviance as a lesser ethical issue, the New Testament sees it as a matter for excommunication (1 Corinthians 5), separation (2 Cor. 6: 12– 20), and a temptation for perverse compromise (Jude 3– 16),” (pg. 78).

[8] Pgs. 79-82.  

[9] “It seems demeaning to suggest that until very recently in the history of the world there were no examples of warm, loving, committed homosexual relationships,” (pg. 82).

[10] John Dwyer, Those 7 References: A Study of 7 References to Homosexuality in the Bible (self-published, 2007, Kindle ed.).

[11] “As Christians we ought to fear being on the wrong side of the holy, apostolic, and universal church more than we fear being on the wrong side of discredited assumptions about progress and enlightenment,” (pg. 108).

[12] “But if the summum bonum of human existence is defined by something other than sex, the hard things the Bible has to say to those with same-sex desires is not materially different from the hard things it has to say to everyone else,” (pg. 120).

[13] “No halfway responsible parent would ever think that loving her child means affirming his every desire and finding ways to fulfill whatever wishes he deems important,” (pg. 120).

[14] Pgs. 148-150.