Few issues cause more handwringing among Christians in our day than that of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. For some, it’s not a lack of clarity on what they believe, but about how to express it without being accused of being bigots, homophobes or hate mongers. So many in this group, because they are uncertain of how to speak winsomely, say nothing.
For others, the issue itself is extremely cloudy. They don’t really know or aren’t really sure what, if anything, the Bible says about the issue, and how to interpret what’s there. So when they read the arguments of affirming or revisionist authors, they have no idea how to respond or what to think. And because they aren’t grounded, they risk falling into serious error.
You can see why pastor and author Kevin DeYoung would be compelled to write a book on the subject then, can’t you? Which is why What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? exists. In this book, he wants to bolster the faith of those who know what they believe, but are unsure of how to communicate. He wants to bring clarity to those for whom the situation seems murky. And he wants to challenge those who, flying under the banner of Christ, would seek to revise what the Bible really says about homosexuality.
Where you start affects what you ask
Divided into two parts, DeYoung begins by first examining the texts which directly speak to humanity’s design and homosexual practice: Genesis 1-2, Genesis 19, Leviticus 18, 20, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1. The inclusion of Genesis 1-2 might surprise some, since it is the creation account, but including it makes complete sense. After all, we can’t truly understand what the Bible says about homosexuality without first understanding how God created human beings.
For the Christian, there is nothing more basic than this: humans were created unique in all of creation—the man and the woman were made in the image and likeness of God. They were made to be something like him, as unity in diversity. And this is repeated referenced all throughout the Bible. It is the foundation and framework of marriage in Ephesians 5, and in Jesus’ own teaching on divorce in Matthew 19:4-6. It is a picture of the gospel, and a type of the marriage that is to come in the new heavens and new earth (Revelation 19). Thus, DeYoung writes,
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 women were interchangeable in the marriage relationship, he not only gave us the wrong creation narrative; he gave us the wrong metanarrative. (32)
DeYoung’s point here is pretty simple: how you view the male-female relationship is inevitably going to influence whether the validity of same-sex marriage is even a question in your mind. If you function, as some Christians do, within the complementarian framework of gender—that is, each gender is uniquely designed to perform separate, but complementary functions—honestly, you’re probably not asking any questions about whether or not homosexual practice is compatible with Christian belief. In this framework, the two are not interchangeable, and therefore homosexual practice cannot be compatible with Christian belief. The conversation, therefore, shifts more toward answering the challenge winsomely.
For the egalitarian, however, the challenge is significantly different. If you believe that gender distinctions fundamentally have no bearing on your role and responsibility, you’re more than likely having to deal first with the compatibility issue. I don’t say this to disparage those who do hold this viewpoint, but merely to show that what we believe about male-female relationships may have drastic affects on our starting point on this issue (and potentially our end point).
What’s the fruit we’re talking about?
Part two of the book focuses on answering the common objections to the historic orthodox view of homosexuality:
- the Bible’s limited discussion of homosexuality in general;
- the cultural distance argument (that is, the kind of homosexuality the Bible talks about isn’t the kind revisionists advocate the inclusion of);
- our lack of condemnation of sins such as gluttony and divorce outside of the biblically permissible reasons;
- the church being a safe place for broken people and sinners;
- being on the wrong side of history;
- the fairness of encouraging same-sex attracted Christians to commit to life-long celibacy; and
- love as the overriding attribute and characteristic of God.
Each topic, as should be expected, is handled very carefully, though DeYoung is not afraid to be a little jabby in places. On this point, it’s important to remember that DeYoung is not being hostile toward those who experience same-sex attraction, nor is he particularly hostile toward revisionist authors. What troubles him greatly—and shines through on every page of this book—is his overriding concern about the seemingly blind acceptance of false teaching in our midst, and the diminishment of the authority of Scripture as a result.
This is especially apparent when DeYoung writes on the fairness issue, countering the oft-cited “good fruit/bad fruit” claims of of Matthew Vines and other authors who ask, “If embracing their sexuality were really a step away from God… why are so many ‘gay Christians’ spiritually flourishing?” (116) In other words, how can it be wrong if it’s yielding “good fruit”?
The problem, DeYoung argues, is that the definition of “good fruit” proposed is wrong. In revisionist writing, experience has a tendency to trump the what Scripture says. Thus, the good fruit is fulfillment, satisfaction or personal happiness. It is a feeling. This is necessary for us to remember in a culture driven by experience—what we feel is not unimportant, but we cannot escape the fact that as fallen human beings with hearts and minds corrupted by sin, our feelings will lie to us. “The heart wants what the heart wants” is true enough; however, what the heart wants is not always what the heart needs. Tim Keller said it well in a recent conference message, when the heart wants something, the mind will find it reasonable and the emotions find desirable. Thus, we should probably be a little more clear about fruit is, biblically.
Instead of a feeling, Matthew 7:21 reminds us, good fruit is obedience. One only bears fruit when doing the will of the Father. Thus, if one is doing something contrary to the will of God, it is bad fruit, regardless of what we feel. We must remember “there are no genuinely healthy trees apart from obedience to Christ and the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-24)” (118).
Falling on deaf ears
As true as this is, and as beneficial as it is to be reminded of it, the reality is, as much as we might want them to, the revisionists aren’t likely to heed the warning DeYoung issues in this book. As I read the book, I kept thinking of how they might attempt to refute his claims. To be sure, those who hold the affirming position of same-sex relationships will almost certainly stand against it’s message, but those who do will be doing so on a shaky foundation.
The place I could see those standing in opposition to this book’s message appealing to most readily is experience.Because DeYoung doesn’t deal with same-sex attraction personally, one could argue, he doesn’t have a basis for writing this book. It’s a desperate argument, and a poor one, but one could still attempt to make the case. However, we should always remember that experience does not trump the Bible. Experience, as I said earlier, doesn’t supersede truth. And one does not need firsthand experience of something to be able to speak intelligently about it. Do we really expect pastors to develop a porn addiction before they can speak out against it? Or get divorced? Or become a drunkard?
And even if the argument were valid, one could just as easily point to Sam Allberry’s excellent book, Is God anti-gay?, which largely makes the same case as What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?—but he does so as a man who experiences same-sex attraction. Nevertheless, no matter how winsomely communicated, and no matter how rigorously defended, revisionists will likely remain entrenched in their position, despite its intellectual and theological dishonesty.
Pastoral responses and an urgent plea
Whether they are uncertain of what to believe, or simply struggle to effective communicate the truth, this book will be a great help to its readers. What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? offers clarity on disputed texts, pastoral responses to the common arguments, and most importantly, an urgent plea to hold fast to the truth in the face of mounting pressure to compromise. Lord willing, we will all carefully consider what DeYoung has to say in this book.
Title: What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?
Author: Kevin DeYoung
Publisher: Crossway (2015)