Jonathan Merritt hosted a “conversation” between Albert Mohler and Matthew Vines, but it wasn’t really a conversation. Mohler and Vines answered questions Merritt posed. Merritt gives the last word to Vines, awarding him the Proverbs 18:17 advantage, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”
Matthew Vines seems winsome: his words scratch just where today’s ears itch. But what a convenient thing to have the opportunity to turn Proverbs 18:17 back on him here. Let’s examine his talking points.
Addressing whether the controversy will bring division, Vines writes, “By focusing firmly on Scripture from an evangelical theological framework, I’m doing my best to help repair the existing divides rather than exacerbate them.”
This turns the whole situation on its head! Vines is causing division, not repairing it. Vines is exacerbating disunity rather than healing it.
Followers of Jesus want a unity that would please Jesus. Since Jesus gave instructions about calling sinners to repentance (Matt 18:15–18), and since he prayed for his followers to be sanctified by the truth of God’s word (John 17:17), we know that the unity that would please Jesus is the kind of unity that results from his followers accepting what the Bible says, obeying it, and repenting when they transgress.
In our response to his book, and in the other ways we have engaged him, we are calling Matthew Vines to return to Jesus. We want him to experience the mouth-stopping mercy there for all who repent of sin. We want him to stop causing division and embrace the unity of the church in the truth of the Scriptures. God’s forgiveness is big enough for those with same-sex desires.
To overcome the idea that his view would reverse 2,ooo years of church history, Vines trots out the example of Galileo (failing to appreciate what that episode really teaches) to support his claim that the biblical authors weren’t addressing sexual orientation, as though a new consensus on sexual orientation has brought about a new copernican revolution. As Heath Lambert shows in his chapter, however, an orientation is defined by the APA as “an enduring pattern . . . of attractions . . .” How does the Bible not address that? The definition Lambert cites, by the way, is more of a definition than Vines ever offers. Vines assumes that his view of orientation is obvious and correct, while Lambert shows the development of this concept and notes that the APA modestly confesses that there is much about “orientation” not yet known or understood. How can Vines speak of a consensus on this issue?
One further point on this matter: Vines writes as though the fact of a sexual orientation justifies the legitimacy of acting in accordance with that orientation. Remarkably, however, a recent feature on NPR dealt with the way that those oriented toward pedophilia recognize that they cannot allow themselves to act on their orientation. Why should some orientations be embraced if others must be repudiated? There must be some moral standard used to answer this question, and in the history of humanity a traditional understanding of marriage has prevailed. For Christians, the Bible stands as God’s revelation of his absolute moral standard.
Merritt asks whether the death penalty prescribed in the Old Testament reflects the heart of God then or now. Vines comments on how many Old Testament punishments seem harsh to us today, suggesting that the harsh conditions of life back then made tribal unity more necessary. To Vines, and to Merritt, the answer to the question is simple. The author of Hebrews writes, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31), and the same author later explains, “for our God is a consuming fire” (12:29). This does not mean that the New Testament reiterates the Old Testament’s death penalties for particular sins; it does not. It does mean that the heart of God is passionate to uphold his own holiness. God built the world, and he has the right to give commands and prohibitions. The heart of God is to be true to what he himself has said. We may not keep our word, but God keeps his. All sinners stand under his judgment, and that is what makes the mercy of God in Christ so precious. All sinners who turn from sin to trust Jesus will receive that mercy. Sinners who refuse to turn from sin and try to have Jesus too have in fact chosen their sin. We want Matthew Vines to have mercy, and that’s why we’re engaging him and his book.
On what Paul wrote in Romans 1, Vines claims that Paul was not addressing sexual orientation. Denny Burk’s critique of Vines on this point is devastating. It can be found on pages 46–49 in the response book. Vines is wrong about Paul not addressing orientation (see above, and see the essays by Lambert and Burk), and he is wrong about Romans 1:26–27, as will be obvious to anyone who reads the verses, which defend themselves:
“God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Rom 1:26–27).
On whether churches should welcome those who commit this sin and do not repent, Vines says, “Of course.” Then he goes on to suggest that churches have not been willing to listen to those struggling with these issues. What Vines does not seem to understand is that the New Testament is clear that churches are to accept all who repent and trust Christ. I know many Christians, and I say with confidence that Christians will listen for as long as any sinner wants to go on talking. I also know many churches, and the doors of those churches are open to all sinners to come and hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news that he has paid the penalty for sin so that all who repent and believe will be saved. Those who believe the Bible, however, will maintain that all sinners must repent of their sin to be saved.
As a parting word, Vines asks us to listen, to turn down the volume, and to respect and value one another’s faith. In response, I say this: we are listening, and we have read and are reading. What I have heard is bad exegesis riddled with logical and rhetorical fallacies that give rise to sentimental appeals to emotion that call us abandon the only hope any sinner has of being saved–the hope in the good news that if we repent and believe God will accept us in Christ.
Our rejection of your failed argumentation does not mean we are not listening.
Are you listening?
Are you willing to reconsider your interpretation of the Bible?
Are you willing to acknowledge the errors in your arguments?
We want you to embrace the truth and be saved. For that to happen you must reject the errors in your thinking and turn from your sin and trust wholly in Christ.