In this special release, Sean joins John Stonestreet, president of The Chuck Colson Center, and co-host of the BreakPoint Podcast, to discuss the Bible and homosexuality. John interviews Sean about his recent public dialogue with one of the leading “Gay Christian” voices in America.
More About Our Guest
John Stonestreet is President of the Colson Center and co-host (with Eric Metaxas) of the Breakpoint daily radio program. He is the author of five books on culture and a Christian worldview.
Sean McDowell: Hello, and welcome to the "Think Biblically" podcast. I am one of your hosts, Sean McDowell. Today, we're releasing a special episode where I had a chance to be a guest with John Stonestreet, president of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview on his podcast, which he has called BreakPoint. He asked me to come on and talk about a recent dialogue I had with Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian, on the topic of the Bible on homosexuality. This is a conversation that I had with Matthew that's posted on YouTube. You are welcome to take a look at it, really looking at the question, what does the Bible say about this pressing topic? And shortly after the discussion with Matthew, John had me on to discuss it. I think you'll find it interesting, challenging, and I hope you'll maybe go back and even consider watching the dialogue in itself.
Thank you for tuning in. Enjoy the special release of the "Think Biblically" podcast.
John Stonestreet: Well, l I'm happy to welcome my friend, Sean McDowell, to the podcast. Sean and I are co-authors of a book called Same-Sex Marriage, which was written back in 2013. Sean, we wrote that before the Obergefell decision that gave same-sex marriage to America, and we're gonna talk about same-sex marriage, in particular a conversation that you had ... Not really a debate, but a conversation; a point/counterpoint on what the Bible says about same-sex marriage with Matthew Vines, and we'll get you to talk about who Matthew is and why he's such an important figure in that debate.
And we got a lot of things to talk about, but I think the most important question to launch out with is, if you and I had a three-point contest, who would win? I'm pretty sure it's gonna be me.
Sean McDowell: You know what John, I would happily concede you could take me on threes, but you add defense in, penetration, passing ... Man, from one little [inaudible 00:01:51] to the next, I think I could maybe take you.
John Stonestreet: Man, so you're saying in pretty much every other aspect of the game of basketball you could ... I'd say in physical condition you'd take me too, so we'll have to move on.
So listen, we're gonna talk about same-sex marriage. A few weeks ago in California at a church, you had a conversation with Matthew Vines over what the Bible actually says about same-sex marriage, and we're gonna link to that. If you visit our website, Breakpoint.org, we'll link to that conversation. You can actually watch it live; it's posted on YouTube and other places, and we'll provide that link at Breakpoint.org.
But before we get into that, I want to start with this, because this whole conversation right now is really progressing or really has progressed along the lines of historical inevitability. In other words that, you know, the evangelical church is moving on this issue like they've moved on so many other issues before, like race and other things, and that this is really the same thing; that the younger generation is for same-sex marriage, they're not bigots and hateful and intolerant like the older generation, and that this is really the way this thing is moving. How do you respond to ... Before we kind of get into why this conversation ... The nature of your conversation with Matthew, it's kind of like why does this conversation even matter if this is the way things are inevitably going? Do you see it that way?
Sean McDowell: Well I think there is some truth that this younger generation is moving that direction or may well be moving that direction. I've been reading the book by Jean Twenge of iGeneration, she calls it iGen, and she says there's just more and more of this tolerance view, and not by classical tolerance but just a refusal to judge amongst this younger generation. So how much that is or how widespread it is, I'm not sure, but we certainly haven't seen the massive exodus that was predicted when it comes after the Obergefell ruling; that we would just see churches and massive amounts of people adopting the same-sex marriage. It hasn't happened overnight, so I'm a little bit mixed.
I think it's gonna happen, not the church as a whole, but there's a lot of people right now that are looking for permission to believe certain things about same-sex unions and that's because a lot of people aren't deeply developing their convictions from Scripture. They know people who have same-sex attraction, they have family members, they want to be loving, they want to be kind, and don't really understand what the Scripture teaches and why, so they're kinda looking for permission to adopt these revisionists views.
So I'm hopeful the church is gonna stand strong, but there definitely are some signs that people are moving that direction, I think at least in smaller ways.
John Stonestreet: Okay, well good, Sean. Well first of all, you had a conversation with Matthew Vines; talk a little bit about who Matthew Vines is, and why he's such an important player in this conversation of the church and issues of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
Sean McDowell: So Matthew Vines has probably become the most recognizable quote "gay Christian," and by "gay Christian," I mean someone who embraces revisionist theology, who makes room for man and a man or a woman and a woman in what he calls covenant relationship being consistent with Scripture. Now his story's actually really interesting; he grew up in a conservative home, Bible-believing home, in Kansas, left, went to Harvard, and dropped out the spring semester of his sophomore year because he had really came to grips with his same-sex attraction and couldn't get the help that he was looking for there at Harvard. Came back home, and just started living with his parents, reading every single book he could get his hands on related to the Bible and homosexuality.
To make a long story short, he changes his views from the historic Christian view to adopt what's called the affirming position or kinda this revisionist theology that really when the Bible condemns same-sex relationships, they're all these unequal kinds of relationships such as master and slave or pederastic relationship, but are not the kind of what he calls loving covenantal relationships that are monogamous that we see today. Well he does a YouTube video on this, it totally goes viral, like a 45-minute lecture gets a million hits, writes a book called God and the Gay Christian, and it sells a ton of copies, starts this national project called The Reformation Project. And I went to his opening in Washington D.C., you see there was about 400 people there, and I went with my friend Alan Shlemon from Stand to Reason, not to picket or protest; I know the [inaudible 00:06:32] has met Matthew, but just to see what this was about.
So we went to this conference and there was about 400 people and there were lengthy, in-depth sessions for people to go back to their churches, their homes, and their schools to talk people out of their traditional views on sexuality. So I was rather alarmed. I remember sitting there thinking, "I don't think 95 percent of pastors could answer most of these questions, how sophisticated they are, and I don't think the church is really ready for this." So I've been writing, been speaking, and recently had a conversation with Matthew where I got to publicly push back on some of his ideas and really bring it back to the text and ask the question, what does the Scriptures really teach about this topic?
John Stonestreet: Well that was really the nature that the conversation went, and I really appreciated that. You did, I think, a very good job of keeping that question first and foremost, what does the Scripture actually teach, because it seems like the affirming position, the revisionist position, and for the record there may be some listeners who find that offensive, but really historically speaking, the church hasn't been up in the air on this one since the beginning. Is that an accurate way to put it?
Sean McDowell: I think that is accurate. From 500 years before the time of Christ to 500 years after, and probably a lot longer than that, there was unanimous view — not necessarily the practice, people don't always practice what they preach — but there was a unanimous view in the church that marriage was intended to be one man and one woman in a covenant relationship for life. So there was no debate about that. And you think about the things the Early Church debated, rather war or the role of women in the church or different kinds of activities and practice the church did, they debated a ton of things. There was no debate upon this issue.
John Stonestreet: Yeah, there was absolutely none. Now it seems like the crux of the affirming position really is two things: The first is that at the time when the Bible was written, that historical context, there wasn't the same knowledge of sexual orientation and even therefore, in a sense, the possibility of loving, committed same-sex relationships that we now know more about sexual orientation in the same way that we know more about cosmology or we know more about DNA or other things that we would know scientifically. So that seems to be one side of the affirming position, and that's kinda hinged on this idea the Bible never talks about same-sex marriage and the Bible never specifically talks about, and especially Jesus never talked specifically about loving homosexual relationships. That's the other part, that any time that there's a condemnation of homosexual behavior, and oftentimes these passages are called by the affirming position the clobber passages, that it has to do with these unequal relationships, right? It's an abusive, it's master/slave, pederasty as you said before.
So let's take those kind of one at a time. Those are two really robust sorts of ways to push back, and I think a lot of Christians would find themselves with their hands up going, "Well I never even heard that before." So how do we respond to it? Let's take the first one, that the Bible really doesn't know about loving, committed relationships, and in particular what we now know about sexual orientation.
Sean McDowell: Well, the key that Vines argues is exactly what you said, and many other people besides Vines will make this point, that the idea of sexual orientation and even the word homosexuality doesn't even come into our vernacular until like the late 1800s; there simply was not the science and the knowledge that this is a fixed, immutable characteristic of human nature. Therefore he writes in his book, on page 25 he says, "Does new information we have about homosexuality also warrant a reinterpretation of Scripture?" And of course his answer is yes.
Now in our conversation, I pushed back, and I say the question of orientation is irrelevant; it doesn't matter if, as he actually concedes in his book, the biblical condemnation of same-sex behavior is rooted in God's original design. Then something like orientation is irrelevant, and I think that's exactly what Scripture teaches in Genesis 1 and 2. Jesus affirms this when he talks about marriage in Matthew 19. So even if there is this new scientific discovery, it doesn't overturn God's creative design, which Jesus points back to as still being normative.
But second, on top of that what I would add, and I didn't get a chance to get into this in the conversation, is the idea that sexual orientation is immutable and fixed and permanent is simply false. And this isn't just me, Mr. Bible University Professor, saying this. I invite your readers to go to YouTube and do a search for "Lisa Diamond sexual fluidity." She is a lesbian activist who was quoted actually in a briefing put before the Obergefell ruling in 2015. She's a developmental psychologist and she begins her research by investigating the immutability of sexuality, and she said, "I started thinking this was totally the case." But then in her article, she writes and she says, "It's simply not true. The evidence doesn't support this. The idea of sexual orientation being mutable," as Matthew Vines argues, now she doesn't cite him, but making the point, "is simply not supported by the scientific evidence. We need to stop making this argument." And she actually says in that video, she says, "Gosh, I'm sure relived that this briefing did not come up in the Obergefell ruling, because if it had, it could've been used against us."
So there is huge scientific pushback even on the premise that sexual orientation quote "carves up the world at its joints." But even if it did, I think it's irrelevant to the biblical commandments that go back to God's design of us as male and female.
John Stonestreet: I want to hit that kind of immutability of orientation, because you and I wrote in our Same-Sex Marriage book, quoting a book called After the Ball, even all the way back in 1989, where they basically said that "born this way" mantra that drove the agenda and the language of the movement was really not true but it was really helpful; like it worked so they were gonna use it.
And I think the other thing, and I think this might have to do too with why the predictions of inevitability may have been a little quick; you might have seen the study just a couple weeks ago, Sean, where Americans' overall feelings towards the LGBT movement is not as positive as it was just two years ago. In other words, it went down. It didn't go way down, it just kinda went down a couple points and it was, you know, the cause for alarm by many activists and the subject of, I think, many fundraising letters, and of course they blamed it on Donald Trump because, you know, that's what you do these days is you blame that on Donald Trump. But part of that is the transgender movement really needs the immutability of kind of sexual orientation or the born this way narrative to not be true, right? I mean, it really conflicts with the T in the LGBT. And at least within the activists, there seems to be some real indications that some of those letters are not getting along really well, in particular, I think, the lesbian movement, oftentimes committed to feminism, with the transgender movement. I mean, this came out of the women's march in D.C. as well.
So that immutability thing, it really was one of those things that drove the movement, but it seems to really be a problem for the movement right now, doesn't it?
Sean McDowell: Well I think it is a problem and I'm amazed that more people aren't talking about it. Now I guess the reason they're not talking about it is because it completely undermines the case that they're making, and I think the evidence is really clear when you have gay activists and lesbian activists saying we need to stop making this argument, it's not true, it's false, let's make different arguments.
So it's only a matter of time before this kind of filters down to the popular culture as a whole, but the gatekeepers and the powers that be don't want this argument to come out. And I think you're rightly pointing to some of the tensions between say the transgender movement and between the argument that people are born a certain way, because in one argument we're saying that the body matters and then on the other side we're saying that it doesn't. So I'm hoping that some of these contradictions and really the other side of the story just keeps coming out and people see it.
But it does raise the question of what really persuades people? What really persuades people? When I go back to this Reformation Project that I was at, John, the entire push was we need to normalize gay people. We need to go out and meet people, build relationships, show them that hey, we're nice, we love Jesus, we have wonderful relationships, and they realize that stories and relationships are the means of persuasion. And you and I talk about that in our book, that we need to give the scientific evidence, we need to make the arguments, but it's also about people and relationships and humanizing the issue.
John Stonestreet: Well there's a lot of different sides to this issue, and that's a huge one in terms of how the case is made. Again, the conversation that you had with Matthew Vines was really locked in on, is there room in biblical interpretation for this affirming revisionist position? And that was up for grabs in the conversation.
The second point that Matthew made, and I really want you to kinda dive in on this one, because we hear it a lot, and there's a third one too I want to come back to after you answer this question, but it really has to do with the "clobber passages," right? That none of those passages are really referring to loving, caring relationships, the biblical world didn't know about those, that sort of narrative. How do you respond to that? Because I think that's something that Christian kids, I think especially many at Christian colleges or maybe under the influence of teachers or youth pastors that maybe have caved in on the biblical orthodox position here, that's one of the things that I hear all the time.
Sean McDowell: Well, the term "clobber passage" is meant to kinda be a pejorative term that, people tend to turn to certain passages in the Bible to argue that homosexual behavior is wrong. So even titling it "clobber passages" is a way of trying to get people to not do this.
Well I don't think the case for natural marriage is just from six passages in the Bible. Now, there are six passages that are explicit and more clear, and we need to look at them, but I think as N.T. Wright has written, it's the entire trajectory of Scripture, from Genesis 1 all the way through Revelation, that God has designed marriage between one man and one woman as a metaphor for understanding his love for the church. But with that said, what Matthew Vines I think has done is he's gone to these passages and he tries to strip them out of their original context, and I think make them say something that they're not. And one of the things in the discussion I kept bringing it back to, I said if we look at Genesis 1, if you look at Leviticus chapter 18, if you look at Romans 1, if you look at Matthew chapter 19, we consistently see this creation norm being the pattern for how people are supposed to operate today.
So if we go back just to Genesis chapter 1, verse 21 and 28, what does it say? "God makes them male and female, blesses them, and commands them to fill the earth." So we're given the commandment of procreation and we're told that God makes them male and female. Now you go to Genesis 2:24 and it says, "A man shall leave his father and mother," so the household is meant to be one man and one woman, "leaves and clings to his wife," so we know he's talking about marriage, "the two shall become one" and the implication is they make their own household that is then also oriented toward populating and filling the earth. So if you just read to the end of Genesis, it's clear that God has made human beings essentially gendered, given us the commandments, not necessarily every single individual a commandment, but humankind as a whole in the context of marriage, which is one man and one woman, in a one flesh union to populate and fill the earth. That's the straightforward way of reading the text and I think you have to do some gymnastics to avoid that.
Now what I did is I pointed even towards passages like Romans 1, the famous passage that talks about both lesbian and gay sexual behavior, and it also points back to the creation account. If you read 26 and 27 where it talks about homosexuality, just go to the few verses before, and what does Paul do? He specifically talks about God's creation, and he gives references to animals and creeping things, back to Genesis chapter 1 and of course Genesis chapter 2.
Go to Matthew 19, Jesus is asked about divorce. Now he's not asked about same-sex relationships because we know exactly where Jesus stood. In fact, Jesus didn't go more liberal on issues; if anything, he became more conservative, especially on sexual issues. He said you even look at a woman lustfully and you've committed adultery in your heart. Let's go to Matthew chapter 19, he's asked about divorce, and what does Jesus do about the permissibility of divorce? He cites Genesis 1 and he cites Genesis 2. So Jesus says to the Pharisees, "Have you not read?" meaning, "Don't you understand?" Now of course he's taking a shot at the Pharisees, because we all know their legalism and they had read and studied this. He points back to the Genesis account as still being normative for God's creative design for marriage.
And what strikes me about this passage, John, is that Jesus asked about whether or not divorce is permissible. He cites Genesis 1:27, 28 and he cites Genesis 2:24. Now of those two passages, he only needed to cite Genesis 2:24; man leaves his father and mother, two shall become one. So why does he cite Genesis 1 where it says God made them male and female? Well it says if Jesus is going out of his way to affirm God's original created design of male and female being essential to marriage, and I think you see the same thing in first Corinthians 6 and you see the same thing in Leviticus chapter 18.
So consistently my response back to Matthew is all of the scriptural testimony we have points back to Genesis as still being normative. Now of course in the Bible not everybody follows this; David didn't follow it, Solomon didn't follow it, I get that. But they were disobeying God's original created design for sex and marriage.
John Stonestreet: You know, one of the things that I think, Sean, and we're coming down to the end here, but I think what your answer reveals by and large is that way upstream from this issue in the church, we've got a real problem and that is our ability to really do what for many would sound like complex hermeneutics, but what you just did isn't complex hermeneutics; it's pretty simple hermeneutics. It's pretty basic. The Bible is a grand story that what Jesus does is not to take us away from God's created intent but takes us to God's created intent, that there's this, throughout the history of Christian doctrine, a rich theology of creation, created norms. Right and wrong is not based on God's random will but in actually how he expressed himself in the creative acts and that's where we get our standards of right and wrong.
And I guess that's one of the things that's somewhere between concerning and frustrating, is how many people are really kinda deceived by these arguments from Scripture. Now I know some people are listening going, "Well I don't believe in the Bible." Okay, well that's fine, that's another podcast. What we're looking at right now is specifically the case that's being made by some who refer to themselves as gay Christians to say that the Bible doesn't say what the church has always thought that it said throughout the history of the world and how many people are susceptible to this new interpretation.
And I want to end our conversation, Sean, with an example of that, which is the thing in the conversation that you had with Matthew Vines that Matthew seemed to come back to most: In addition to those two points, that the Bible was not really talking about loving, committed relationships and that it didn't have that understanding of orientation and that it was referring to abusive relationships, this idea that the traditional position hasn't brought about good fruit. And you and I work with enough Christian students in youth group and young parents and so on that we know that by and large, for a lot of believers, it's not about what the Bible says as much as, "I don't want to be mean." Like the number one thing Jesus was interested in is being nice, and that's what we should be, is nice. I'm not saying we should be cruel or arrogant or jerks, but that seemed to really be the argument from Matthew Vines, is that there's been a fruit from the traditional position, from the historic position, that has brought bad fruit. And so therefore, our interpretation, and I guess the interpretation for the entirety of church history until yesterday, has to be wrong because we don't like what it's produced.
I was really stunned that that comment was given as an argument, and I want you to react to it, because I guess that's actually an argument that maybe some Christians are compelled by, and it's an example of our inability to just kind of read the Bible beyond kind of a shallow cultural understanding. Does that make sense? How do you respond to ... I was just surprised, I guess, that Matthew kept going back to that.
Sean McDowell: John, you and I grew up hearing surveys from Barna, from my father, about church illiteracy and the lack of the ability to do hermeneutics, but there never was a cultural watershed movement where people kind of had to choose sides. Same-sex relationships has brought out the lack of theological knowledge and even training how to do exegesis in the Scriptures. And this was so clear to me in this conversation with Matthew, and he's actually said ... He has a little book that he passes out and that he sells at his site called How to Talk About the Bible and LGBT People, and in there he starts off and his number one argument is exactly what you said. And I heard him in a video say this is the most compelling argument. In fact, Jen Hatmaker gave this argument as the reason she changed her views on this.
And essentially the argument is from Matthew chapter 7, where Jesus talks about recognizing a good tree by its good fruit and a bad tree by its bad fruit. Well, according to Matthew and the cultural narrative that we hear, the church's traditional teaching has brought such bad fruit in the lives and experiences of gay people, therefore the teaching itself must be false. Now that is a relationally and emotionally compelling argument, because I certainly don't want to say or do anything that's gonna bring harm to anybody, and there's a lot of people who look around and see gay people who are suffering and we feel bad, and if our teaching brings it, it makes us go, "Gosh, I wonder if we got it wrong."
Well that's an emotionally compelling argument, but there's two problems with it: Number one, there is no explicit evidence linking the teaching of traditional Christian views to the suffering of gay people. Now you will hear stories of people, and I don't deny that that happens, but if you take places like the Netherlands, interestingly enough, the most gay-friendly country in the world, there's almost zero evangelical presence there. But you see the same suffering in the lives of gay people; loneliness, depression, considering suicide, as you do in the United States. So maybe something else is going on. In fact, I called a friend of ours, a leading pollster, and I said, "Is there any way to link traditional teachings to the suffering of gay people? Can we do a study that would do that?" And he looked to me and goes, "That would cost $5 million. You could never isolate that belief as the cause of it."
So first off it's false, second it's bad exegesis. If you just look at Matthew chapter 7, when Jesus ... He's talking about recognizing a prophet by his fruits. If you keep reading the verses before and the verses afterwards, fruit is not the experience in somebody's life of trying to live out biblical teaching. That's how Matthew interprets it, but that's not what the Gospel of Matthew teaches. Rather, good fruit is obedience and bad fruit is sin. So really what Jesus is saying is we judge a prophet by whether or not this prophet encourages people towards obedience or encourages people towards disobedience.
So when I tried to draw him back to Matthew 7, he's like, "Wait a minute. Let's go over to Galatians," and I said time out. The way you interpret the Scripture is by looking in the context within the book, other similar books, and then we might go to Galatians. So I really think at the heart of revisionist theology is bad hermeneutics, and it's just a bad, faulty approach to Scripture. That's why one of the most important things we have to do with young people is just teach them how to handle the Scriptures well so they don't get taken in by a lot of these bad ideas.
John Stonestreet: Absolutely. That was such an important point you made at the beginning of that, saying we've struggled to teach hermeneutics and just kind of solid biblical interpretation to the next generation for a long time, but we haven't had that watershed issue. And I just want to underscore something too, where you said if you look at the verses before and the verses after; I mean, that's not, as my friends in Tennessee used to say, that's not rocket surgery, right? I mean, that's not like seminary-level biblical hermeneutics; that's just actually looking at what the text actually says and taking it seriously, and I think that's really one of the things that came out as being at stake in your conversation with Matthew Vines.
Listen, come to Breakpoint.org and you'll find a link to this terrific conversation, helpful conversation, between Sean McDowell and Matthew Vines just a few weeks ago at a church in California where they're discussing whether there is or not room in the Scripture for this new revisionist, affirming position on LGBT issues, especially same-sex marriage. You can also pick up a copy of the book Same-Sex Marriage that Sean and I co-authored, as well as the many, many other books that Sean's been involved in. And Sean, we gotta have you back to talk about ... You just worked with your dad to update the classic massive summary of Christian apologetics, Evidence That Demands a Verdict; just a very, very important book, and a complete revision came out in 2017, so let's talk again about what you did with that book.
But listen man, thanks so much. I appreciate so much of your friendship, your partnership with the Colson Center, the speaking and writing that you do, and for joining us on this episode of the Breakpoint podcast.
Sean McDowell: Thanks for having me. Keep up the good work, John.