Matthew Vines has written a book titled God and the Gay Christian in which he argues that “Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationship” (Page 3). Al Mohler and the faculty at Southern Seminary has published a book-length response titled God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines, which they have made available as a free e-book. In their responses Al Mohler, James Hamilton, Denny Burk, Owen Strachan, and Heath Lambert addressed the biblical, theological, historical, and pastoral issues raised by Vines’s best-selling book.
Matthew Vines’ research for his book was not done in a vaccum. Throughout the book Vines reveal the precommitments he had before he began his research. It is important to address the core arguments that Vines has presented (and Christians have already done so such as the faculty in Southern Seminary) but I also think there is an important role in considering Vines’ problematic pre-commitments since these pre-commitments shapes his theological method which then lead to his conclusion that “Scripture affirm same-sex relationships.”
Here in this post I want to address Vines’ pre-commitment concerning his meta-ethics. Specifically I want to argue that Vines holds on to a humanistic consequentialist view of ethics that is seriously deficient.
Vines In His Own Words
Unlike other gay theology literature Vines professes to have a high view of the Scriptures:
In my view, the Bible can’t be reduced to a collection of great literature, stories, and poetry It’s God’s written revelation to humanity, as the accounts of Jesus’s life and ministry in the Gospel make clearer to me than anything else. Jesus said that ‘Scripture cannot be set aside’ (John 10:35), and since childhood, I’ve made discerning God’s will through prayerful study of Scripture a priority” (Page 11).
But when it comes to his view of the foundation of ethics, even God’s revealed rules within Scripture is not as highly regarded by Vines as much as his ethical theory. In fact, the Bible’s ethical norm is subject to the scrutiny of the higher court of his meta-ethics and we see that with how he approached the Bible’s condemnation of same-sex relationship on page 12 :
I had a second reason for losing confidence in the belief that same-sex relationship are sinful: it no longer made sense to me.
My mom taught her Sunday school students that sin was ‘missing the mark’ of God’s will for our lives. But while the Bible helps us understand God’s will, neither my parents nor my church referred only to the Bible when I asked questions about morality. They also explained why something was right or wrong, and why the Bible said what it did. By understanding the reasons behind Scripture’s teachings, I could apply its principles to all circumstances in my life, including those it didn’t directly addressed.
But as I became more aware of same-sex relationships, I couldn’t understand why they were supposed to be sinful, or why the Bible apparently condemned them. With most sins, it wasn’t hard to pinpoint the damage they cause. Adultery violates a commitment to your spouse. Lust objectifies others. Gossip degrades people. But committed same-sex relationships didn’t fit this pattern. Not only were they not harmful to anyone, they were characterized by positive motives and traits instead, like faithfulness, commitment, mutual love, and self-sacrifice. What other sin look like that?”
It is important to keep in mind that according to the previous page before this block quote (page 11) Vines described how his ethical outlook led to his struggle with the case against same-sex relations before he came out as gay and before he started researching for his book. His evaluation of Scripture according to his ethical theory fundamentally tipped the scale of his research towards the direction that same sex relationship ought not to be condemned. Seeing how important his ethical theory is, we should analyze more closely his ethical theory as it is expressed above.
Vines’ Ethical theory Humanistic and Consequentialist
Is Vines’ Ethical theory Humanistic?
Vines’ ethical theory is certainly humanistic, that is, it is man-centered. As seen in the above quote, Vines’ rejection of traditional view on same sex relationship is because “it no longer made sense to me.” There is a sense in which Biblical Christianity will not be fully grasped by finite man; we expect some aspect of mystery with true Christian doctrines if it is genuinely from the Word of God. Ultimately what determines truth for the God-centered Christian is not how much it “makes sense to me” (that is, conforming to one’s previous pattern of thought) but whether or not the doctrines are genuinely taught in Scripture even if one might have unanswered questions.
A man-centered or humanistic theological approach on the other hand is very different. It would have man as the final arbitration of what is right and wrong and according to what makes “sense to me.” The fundamental question being asked is not whether the teaching is in the Bible; even if there is a teaching from the Bible the crucial question is whether it makes “sense to me.” Therefore what one cannot make sense of according to one’s finite mind and presuppositions ought to be rejected.
The man-centered nature of Vines’ ethical system is further evidenced above when Vines talked about “reasons behind Scripture’s teachings.” Of course there are times one can see that there are good reasons for Scripture’s moral teaching. However Vines goes further when he explains the pattern of his mother and church that it’s not enough to be satisfied with going “only to the Bible when I asked questions about morality.” Vines goes on to say “They also explained why something was right or wrong, and why the Bible said what it did” with the implication that one ought to know why the Bible said what it said. So when one doesn’t know the reason behind the Bible’s command and prohibition Vines then find that there are then good “reason for losing confidence” in that belief as it was with the case of prohibiting same-sex relationship: “I couldn’t understand why they were supposed to be sinful, or why the Bible apparently condemned them.”
Is Vines’ Ethical theory Consequentialist?
Vines’ ethical theory is not only humanistic, it is a humanistic consequentialism. That is, for Vines knowing the consequences of one’s conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness or wrongness of that conduct. Vines believed that something is wrong and sinful only when it causes damage. So if it doesn’t cause any damages that a human being can know of, it is not sinful. Vines presupposes this when he said “With most sins, it wasn’t hard to pinpoint the damage they cause.” He followed this with some examples and then concluded “But committed same-sex relationships didn’t fit this pattern.”
The Problem with Vines’ Ethical Theory
Here is my response:
- Vines stresses more than once in the book that he has a high view of God’s Word like any other Evangelical including those not affirming of Same-sex relationships. If he does believes in a high view of Scripture then he must have his humanistic ethical consequentialism be subject to the scrutiny of God’s Word rather than vice versa as he has done.
- If Vines operate with the theological method that a proposition must be rejected when “it no longer made sense to me” what would remain of his Christianity?
- Our study of every largely-accepted true doctrine in the Bible will always run into some aspect of mystery in which we don’t have an answer for. Does that mean we must reject every Christian doctrines?
- For instance, 1 Timothy 3:16 admits there is mystery of godliness does that mean that one should reject godliness?
- While at times Scripture does discuss how certain sinful behavior causes damages to oneself and others, Vines have become reductionistic to think this is the only criteria of measuring whether something is right and wrong.
- Nowhere in Scripture does the Bible say that what is sinful is only measured by whether something causes damages to others.
- If consequences is the only way to measure what’s right and wrong in God’s eyes then it is surprising that Scripture doesn’t always give a cause-and-effect explanation for why everything that is a sin is wrong.
- Scripture doesn’t exclusively present a purpose or result driven measure of right and wrong conduct. Scripture’s discussion of ethics also acknowledges the deontological aspect of ethics (good acts include those as a proper response to duty for the sake of the duty even against one’s own and others well being) and existential aspect of ethics (focus on the internal character of a person that determines what is good). A good resource on this is John Frame’s discussion of Triperspectivalism in his Doctrine of the Christian Life.
- Surprisingly Vines himself is inconsistent with his belief that damages to oneself or others is the only basis to measure right and wrong when it comes to his view on Self-sacrifice.
- Self-sacrifice (putting duty first before one’s well being) is a dentological virtue that goes against the grain that damages to a person per se is sinful. According to Vines ethical system, self-sacrifice ought to be a sin.
- We expect Vines to be against self-sacrifice and yet in the block quote above Vines listed “self-sacrifice” among the virtues of those in committed same-sex relationships.
- If Vines see self-sacrifice as a virtue then it is not merely something that he sees is personally good for himself alone but this is a character trait that is good for others to have. Thus by believing its a virtue Vines invite others to follow one’s duty even if it is “damaging” to oneself, an act that involves “damaging” others.
- For the sake of the argument even if there is always a consequentialist reason behind all of God’s prohibition and command that doesn’t mean as Bible believing Christians one can disregard these rules when it is “hard to pinpoint the damage they cause.”
- In all things, don’t forget we are finite and God is infinite!
- The Lesson from the Garden of Eden
- Remember: “God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” (Genesis 3:3b)
- Adam and Eve might not be able to pinpoint exactly the damage disobedience to this might cause yet that doesn’t mean they should disobey God’s Law!
- Furthermore, people today might still not know or discern the reasons why that tree was in the Garden in the first place but that doesn’t mean Adam and Eve or us can disobey God.
- An illustration: A toddler might find it hard to pinpoint the damage that disobeying his father’s prohibition not to run on the streets might cause. But that doesn’t mean it is right nor rational for the toddler to disobey his loving father’s prohibition!
- This illustration is fitting for our context given that we are like the toddler in our finite knowledge compared to God’s vastly superior wisdom and knowledge.
- Vines believe same-sex relationship is “not harmful to anyone” but fail to consider God in his belief that same-sex relationship is not harmful.
- First, it is negatively against God.
- Remember Vines’ examples of the damages of sins: “Adultery violates a commitment to your spouse. Lust objectifies others. Gossip degrades people.”
- If violating a commitment, objectifying others and degrading a person is bad because it is “harmful to others,” what are those advocating same-sex relationships doing when they are violating God’s prohibition of same-sex relationship, degrading God as less than God in their disobedience to His Divine prohibitions and objectifying God as something less than God when they go against His Word?
- Secondly, it is negative against the participants of same-sex relationships.
- Remember the way of a Sinner is hard!
- 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 reveal the eternal consequences for such sinners: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor[a]effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.“
- First, it is negatively against God.
- Vines believe same-sex relationship is “not harmful to anyone” but fail to consider studies considering the negative impact of same-sex relationships
- Time doesn’t allow me to go into more details as it’s worth being another message.
- Remember, we are not dependent upon the statistics to make our case in light of all our discussion above concerning consequentialists ethics.