My friend Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian is hitting bookshelves tomorrow, and some reviewers have already predicted that it might be one of the more popular, if controversial, Christian books this year. I received an advance copy for review, and I would second these predictions. Matthew’s book is fascinating, compelling, and contributes significantly to the conversation in the church about same sex relationships.
I am also flattered to say that I have a couple of cameo appearences in the book, and some of my work from Sacred Tension is quoted. I also know Matthew personally, so I admit from the start that my review might be just a little biased. Despite that, I found it a compelling, fascinating read, and recommend it to readers on both side of the debate.
Here are a few reasons you should pick up Matthew’s book God and the Gay Christian.
It challenges us to engage with real people.
A great deal of conversation in the church about the gay issue exists in something of an experintial vacuum, totally divorced from the real lives, hearts, and struggles of gay people. A conversation without context, no matter how theologically informed, will ultimately fall short or even be destructive to those it is about. This book attempts to change that by challenging us to consider the implications of our beliefs in the lives of real gay people. It asks some deeply troubling questions, like whether our beliefs are fundamentally damaging to the lives and well-being of gay people. Most powerfully, perhaps, the book challenges us to re-examine the mandate to lifelong celibacy for gay people, asking readers to consider if such a mandate isn’t just deadly, but also contrary to the traditions of the Church and core Christian doctrines.
Regardless of where one falls on the theological spectrum, this challenge to engage more deeply with the lives of gay people and to consider the implications of our beliefs will be valuable and redemptive.
It Takes the Bible Seriously.
Matthew Vines takes the Bible very, very seriously, and this book is a testimony to that fact. Some who affirm gay relationships see the Bible as an outdated manuscript with little relevance or authority beyond general themes of love, charity, and justice. Matthew, on the other hand, believes that scripture is God-breathed revelation with very real, very immediate consequences for the world and our lives. In my personal conversations with Matthew, I can attest to his deep love of Scripture, and his commitment to discerning its meaning.
God and the gay Christian expresses this adoration and honoring of Scripture profoundly. You should take this book seriously because Matthew takes the Bible seriously.
It is Elegant and Accessible.
The real power in Matthew’s book is that it is short, elegant, and accessible to the average reader, while still conveying complex and sometimes befuddling theological and historical questions and themes. His understanding of Church history and theology is powerful (he is also one of the most terrifyingly well read people I have ever met) but he manages to convey his knowledge in elegant, simple language that everyone can understand.
There has simply never been a book like this in the church before. Matthew builds his arguments on those who have come before him – scholars and theologians who have often been missed by the theologically untrained. The power – and the ingenuity – of Matthew’s book is that it makes the arguements and ideas about homosexuality and Christianity accessible in a way that many theologians before him didn’t. It is a new step the conversation, and I hope it will bring the Church as a whole closer to a more peaceful and honest discussion.
It should be said that its elegance and simplicity do mean that some aspects of the debate could not be examined as thorougly as some readers might hope. Some readers may be left with questions about gender complimentarity, about whether or not sexual orientation is merely a modern social construct, or about whether homosexual orientation really is fixed and immutable. Matthew does engage all of these questions, but perhaps not to the degree that some readers would hope. I expect that a great deal of the discusion about the book will center around Matthew’s treatment of these themes. It is also important to see God and the Gay Christian as just one voice in a wider conversation, among books like Justin Lee’s Torn, and James Brownson’s Bible, Gender, Sexuality, that help to fill in the subjects that Matthew could not examine as thoroughly here.
It is a Conversation Starter.
Ultimately, this book is not the final word on the subject. It is, instead, a powerful conversation starter. It is another piece of the dialogue. Not everyone will find it theologically compelling, but I am convinced that the diaolgue and criticism born out of this book, both positive and negative, will be valuable for the church. My hope is that Christians of all different persuasions and convictions will read and seriously engage with this book, continuing to do the difficult work of trying to discern the Scriptures in relation to gay people with compassion, with humility, and in cooperation with the Holy Spirit.