So charge many of our fellow young Christians, most recently amidst the controversy over Matthew Vines’s God and the Gay Christian, which argues that the Bible and the Church are alike wrong on sexuality. Let us be clear, according to Vines, the tradition and reliability of the Church’s teaching throughout the ages on sexuality are both wrong. Not only are the Scriptures and the historic interpretation wrong, they are both active purveyors of injustice meted out towards homosexuals.
As one of us wrote in our review of Vines’s book,
It’s rather appalling that Vines’ organization is called “The Reformation Project,” a title synonymous with the movement of Martin Luther, because there’s a simple, yet glaring error in how he understands the reference to “Reformation.” Luther never believed the church had been in error from its beginning. He wasn’t calling for the rejection of long-held beliefs; instead, Luther was reaffirming the faith “once and for all delivered to the saints.”
Vines, in contrast, is calling for Revolution, the type consistent with the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Vines believes the church has been wrong for 2,000 years. The early Church Fathers—wrong. Augustine—wrong. The Roman Catholic Church—wrong. Luther, Calvin—all wrong. But I wonder if Vines is willing to accept the alternative—that he’s wrong?
We ask because if Matthew Vines is correct, Jesus is wrong, because Jesus—the Incarnate and Risen Lord—is not aware of his own patriarchal biases in Matthew 19:4-6. One would think that a member of the Trinity who saved sinful humanity would possess sufficient foresight and divine wisdom, but apparently not.
It is a key plank in Vinesian exegesis that the writers of the New Testament lacked a modern comprehension of individuals with a same-sex orientation. But this approach to interpretation defies how the Scripture understands itself and distorts any credible doctrine of inspiration. If the Church—a pillar and buttress of the truth (1 Tim: 3:15)—has been wrong on homosexuality, what else has she been wrong on?
We can further scrutinize the fresh harvest of wisdom Progressive Millennial Protestants offer us. Jesus’s words cited above speak not only to the enigma of orientation but to the rather hidebound categories of male and female, man and woman. In his book, Vines makes clear that the Church should endorse transgender identity. In so doing, he renders Jesus an archetype of a former age. He thought that the sexes were created by divine design and thus subject to divine authority. But all this is now subject to revision.
One cannot mistake the arrogance of the new hermeneutic championed by Vines and cheered by Rachel Held Evans. It renders Jesus behind the times on human sexuality, the apostle Paul retrograde on gender roles, and the biblical witness substandard in light of queer theory. Indeed, Vines’s most radical proposal is his approval of transgender identity. Perhaps this is what promoted Evans to pronounce God and the Gay Christian a “game-changer.” Indeed, it would overturn historic Christian views of gender and sexuality if swallowed whole. We are eager to see how “egalitarian” Christians respond to Vines’s savaging of biblical gender and sexuality.
Yet it is not the theology of the progressive Millennial Protestants that most take our breath away. It is the hubris. Matthew Vines, a young twenty-something with no formal theological training, believes with all starry-eyed optimism that he has the authority to correct the apostle Paul in his doctrinal particulars. This is a familiar pattern for Vines; one winces, for example, as he publicly brings his father to heel in his book.
We do not judge a Christian teacher only by his age or experience, to be sure. But the new progressives have an authority problem. Whether their own family members or martyred apostles, they show no hesitation in correcting those who would—and should—teach them. They do so, furthermore, with precious little confessional and congregational accountability. Ecclesial accountability—though no fail-safe—is given us for our good. Beware Greeks bearing bonds, you might say, and bloggers without churches.
Put it this way: If we’re faced with a choice between a precocious twenty-something with lots of neat new ideas about sexuality and gender untested by the scholarly community on the one hand, and an apostle gored by a Roman sword because the Holy Spirit spoke through him in tones ancient authorities considered hostile to imperial rule on the other, we’re banking on the latter.