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.

Pray for Christians in China

The Chinese government continues to persecute religious groups, including Muslims and Christians. This is largely a policy by China’s President, Xi Jinping, who is attempting to construct a cult of personality around himself not seen since the days of Mao. Organized religion is an obvious roadblock to this goal; thus the systematic persecution. If you have a New York Times subscription (or some free articles remaining), see these background article on China’s attempts build a civil religion centered on the State: https://nyti.ms/2SCC5cO

An evangelical Chinese pastor was recently sentenced to nine years in prison for his refusal to lead his church to bow to persecution. For a latter-day example of Acts 4:23-31 in action, see the church’s statement on its pastor’s sentence, which includes the following:

Praise God for the faithful witness of our brother in Christ, whose reward is now great in heaven. May the Lord use Pastor Wang Yi’s imprisonment to draw many to himself and to bring glory to his name.

China’s mass imprisonment of Muslims in the Western portion of the country is likely the largest mass incarceration and round-up of an ethnic group since the Holocaust. For some context on the crackdown on Muslims, see https://bit.ly/2SQf4n9, and especially:

For news about the Christian persecution, see the articles here: https://bit.ly/39nOGqm.

Pray for the Christians in China!

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.  

Already Gone?

Roger Olson is a moderate evangelical Baptist scholar who teaches at Baylor. He recently wrote a sweet retrospective on how church was when he was a kid. Here are some excerpts, with a few comments.

They were conservative, evangelical, moderately Pentecostal, and strict. They were, like many American evangelical churches then, “high demand.” Members were expected to believe and live a certain way and that way was separated from all worldliness. That way also included placing church at the center of one’s life only after family. Or, to put it another way, church was one’s extended family—even more than one’s extended biological family. And placing church at the center of one’s life was the main way of placing God at the center of one’s life—a distinction but not much difference.

What a sweet description. Your congregation as your extended family! This warms my heart.

He continues:

We eschewed all “worldliness” which included anything and everything that was conceivably sexually arousing.

What great advice. This can always descend into legalism, and there are movements that have ended up here. But, isn’t the principle so … right? Speaking for myself, I have no problem watching Bruce Willis slowly picking off terrorists at Nakatomi Plaza, but I would never watch any film with sex in it. You could argue this is a big inconsistency, and you’re probably right. But, for me, I’m not tempted to grab a pistol and stalk terrorists through a skyscraper if I watch Die Hard. But I, and any other man, cannot say the same about watching a film with sex.

Olson went on:

We had televisions in our homes but what was watched was carefully monitored and at church, anyway, talk about secular television shows was rarely heard. The same went for sports; our people could participate in some sports (especially the church softball league) but talking about sports at church was frowned on. So what did we talk about at church? What God was doing in the world, on the mission field, among us, in our lives. Conversation centered around Jesus who was talked about as a personal but invisible presence in our homes, with us at school and work, and in the church.

Yes, yes and yes. This could seem idealic and a bit utopian. But, it doesn’t have to be.

But, and here is a difference from similar churches today (if there are any), we did NOT celebrate America except for freedom of worship. We were not nationalists. In fact, when I was a child we were pacifists, but the Korean War was changing that. There was no talk of politics in the church. Sometimes my parents talked about politics at home, but mostly with regard to which parties and which candidates would protect our freedom of worship.

This is a distinction all evangelical churches in America should think about. Partisan politics is a poison, and it doesn’t belong in the pews. I have written reviews on two books recently that touch on this issue, and I’ll likely post them here in the near future.

So, what I want to know is this. What ever happened to that form of religious life? It seems to be gone forever—except in Latin America, Africa and Asia! My students from those continents and regions describe their churches as much like the ones I grew up in as a child and youth. Intense. Supernatural. Passionate about Jesus. The church as their extended family. Church discipline. Separation from worldliness. Where does that exist in America today outside of “Amish country?”

These are good questions. I’m not yet sure if the whole package Olson describes is (1) a model for a healthy church, or (2) a nostalgic yearning for a slice of mid-century Christian Americana that will never come back. Probably both.

But, you can’t deny that there are so many good things in Olson’s article. So many healthy things. So much that ought to warm our souls and make us look to our own congregations with a kind-hearted, reforming gaze. So much to inspire us, not with a hyper-critical eye, but with a vision of how to perhaps make a good thing better.

You should read Olson’s entire piece. It’s good stuff.

Book Review: "Transforming Homosexuality"

Denny Burk and and Heath Lambert have produced the most valuable book on the homosexual issue available.

They begin with a valuable discussion about “sexual orientation.” They use a secular definition,[1] not because they agree, but because this is how the term is used in everyday conversation. The APA has three triggers for “sexual orientation;” (1) sexual attraction, (2) emotional attraction and (3) self-identity. Burk and Lambert say the Scriptures only support the first of these, and the other two are illegitimate categories for the Christian.[2]

They have a first-rate discussion about whether desire is sinful. They discuss Mt 5:27-28, and answer in the affirmative. The Levitical system prescribed atonement for unintentional sins, which suggests there is no moral distinction between accidental and intentional desire.[3] The moral freight lies in what you wish to do, not how fervently you want to do it.[4] They conclude that the only valid sex desire is within the marriage covenant.[5]

There is an excellent discussion of Christology and incarnation. Jesus did not take on a sinful human nature, thus He was never tempted from within.[6] Too many pastors have a deficient Christology and do not understand this vital distinction.

Burk and Lambert discuss some common myths. They emphasize ethics are not enough; pastors must give people hope about change.[7] Change is not impossible. Change can be harmful, but it is because of the issue at hand, not the attempted treatment. Very importantly, they stress the goal is not heterosexuality, but purity. “The biblical goal of purity, in its manifestations of marriage for some and celibacy for others, replaces the unbiblical goal of heterosexual desire for all people.”[8] Change cannot happen without repentance; a framework quite different from reparative therapy which offers a psychological explanation for homosexual behavior.

Their discussion on change is unfocused and disappointing. The chapter headings are vague and abstract. For example, “repent of covetousness” really means “repent of sexual immorality.” Likewise, “repent of sinful presumption” means “stop living in unrepentant sin while claiming to be a Christian.” They suggest the same sex attracted (“SSA”) Christian “repent of sinful concealing” and find an accountability partner. They also suggest, curiously, singing to Jesus. This is all good advice, but the pastor will find little of substance to grab hold of, here. The best resource on biblical change is still How to Help People Change, by Jay Adams.[9]

The book closes with a discussion on how evangelicals can change to a more fruitful approach. The authors repeatedly emphasize that a focus on ethics is not enough, and here they flesh this out.[10] They offer 10 suggestions, and any congregation that internalizes these will be the better for it.Burk and Lambert’s work is most practical, accessible and substantive brief work available today. It is suitable for any interested Christian and for the busy pastor who needs some straight thinking on a topic that is not, in and of itself, very complicated but has become complicated because of our cultural moment.


[1] From the American Psychological Association’s (“APA”).

[2] Pgs. 26-38.  

[3] Pg. 44.  

[4] “Sin is conceived when desire fixes on evil,” (pg. 56).  

[5] “The only sex desire that glorifies God is that desire that is ordered to the covenant of marriage. When sexual desire or attraction fixes on any kind of non-marital erotic activity, it falls short of the glory of God and is, by definition, sinful,” (pg. 48).

[6] Pgs. 48-56.  

[7] “But we are also concerned that focusing on ethics to the exclusion of the ministry of change both reflects and provides an inaccurate picture that the Bible is all about ethical behavior and not much about how behavior can change,” (pg. 81).

[8] Pg. 76.  

[9] Jay Adams, How to Help People Change: The Four-step Biblical Process (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986).  

[10] They recount a sermon by W.A. Criswell from 1986 that focused exclusively on ethics and offered no hope or grace to SSA individuals (ch. 3, fn. 1).  

Books!

These are the books I got for Christmas:

All but two I purchased on Kindle. I have gone all-in on Kindle books. I probably won’t “read” any of these. Instead, I’ll play them via the “text-to-speech” feature on my Kindle Fire while I drive to and from work each day. It doesn’t have the polish of a professional audiobook narrator, of course, but it’s good enough. I bought a Kindle Fire on sale for $29.99, and it’s only purpose is to be an audiobook player.

A word or two on the books …

  • Systematic Theology by Robert Lethem. I bought a physical copy. I’m looking forward to referencing this new book by a well-respected Reformed scholar. I have many systematic theology texts. My go-to systematic is written by Millard Erickson, who I respect profoundly.
  • The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark. Looks to be a fascinating book by a Christian sociologist.
  • Impossible People by Os Guinness. Guinness is always worth reading, and is perhaps the most astute Christian thinker alive today on the practical intersections between the Church and culture.
  • Lord Jesus Christ by Larry Hurtado. The magnum opus of a legendary New Testament scholar on my favorite topic – Christology.
  • Who is an Evangelical? by Thomas Kidd. Looks to be a fascinating book. It continues a trend I began earlier this year of reading books about the evangelical movement.
  • Retro Christianity by Michael Svigel. I read this a few years ago. I want to read it again. It’s a warm exhortation to reclaiming a conservative, Catholic view of church. It challenges me to go far beyond my own fundamentalist training in a conservative, more irenic direction that appreciates the larger traditions of the Church.
  • Openness Unhindered by Rosaria Butterfield. Anything Butterfield writes is excellent.
  • Christ and Culture Revisited by D.A. Carson. Carson wrote it. Need I write more?
  • Adopted by Kelley Nikondema. An interesting-looking book on the concept of adoption by God in salvation.
  • The Care of Souls by Harold Senkbeil. Looks to be a very helpful book. I’ve seen a lot of buzz about it.