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With the release of Matthew Vines' God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, conservative Evangelicals are responding with warnings that the book should not cause confusion regarding Scripture's teaching on homosexuality.
The book, Andrew Walker – director of Policy Studies for the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission – says, "is the first step in a larger effort to fundamentally recast long-held, universally acknowledged norms pertaining to sexual ethics."
In his review, Walker notes that not only does Vines identify himself as a conservative evangelical and claim to uphold the authority of the Bible, but his book also comes at a strategic time for the gay rights movement as it was likely written to introduce confusion among Evangelicals – "one of the last remaining constituencies in America that has not embraced homosexuality with gusto."
"This book need not be 100 percent compelling or accurate in order to succeed. All that needs to happen for Vines to claim victory is for his readers to be confused and not necessarily convinced of his argument," Walker writes.
Vines drew attention in 2012 when a video of him making the case that homosexuality is not a sin went viral. The former Harvard University student, who is gay, rejected traditional Christian teaching on homosexuality and explained in an over hour-long argument using Scripture that the Bible does not condemn loving, same-sex relationships.
In a September 2012 interview with The Christian Post, Vines, who was raised in a Christian home in Wichita, said he came to that conclusion after taking a leave of absence from Harvard to study the Scriptures and scholarly works on the subject of homosexuality.
"The Bible never directly addresses, and it certainly does not condemn, loving, committed same-sex relationships. There is no biblical teaching about sexual orientation, nor is there any call to lifelong celibacy for gay people," Vines – now founder of The Reformation Project, which seeks to reform church teachings on sexual orientation – maintained.
In an article on Monday in The Wichita Eagle, Vines says that his message is not that change in the church is inevitable, but that it is possible.
"My message is that change is possible. I think it's only really possible with the right biblical approach to arguments. That's what the book is all about. But once you have that, it's going to take a tremendous amount of persistence and effort and determination and grit for years to make that happen. But I'm convinced that it's possible," the author states.
"I want the Christian church to be an effective, authentic witness of God's love to the world," he adds. "That's what most Christians want, too."
Several Southern Baptists have released reviews or critiques of the new book. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. and his colleagues released on Tuesday an e-book, titled God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines.
Mohler told Southern Seminary News that many people may believe Vines' "treatment of the Bible is legitimate."
"I think that it's very important that evangelicals be reminded that the church has not misunderstood Scripture for 2,000 years," he said.
While Mohler is offering a 100-page critique, Walker has provided a more brief review, summarizing Vines' arguments and his response in nine pages.
"If I was to condense the substance of Vines' book, here's what is happening: Vines has compiled liberal biblical scholarship and popularized it for a non-technical audience," Walker sums. "Let me be clear: Vines is not advancing new arguments. In fact, his work draws largely from existing gay-affirming scholarship. Vines is making liberal scholarship accessible for common audiences and then compounding its effect by bringing in the emotionally laden context of our times."
Aware that Vines may read his review, Walker says the first thing he would do is tell Vines that he loves him and that he deserves dignity and respect.
"I would apologize to him for what I can only assume are the countless insensitivities and insults he's experienced as a same-sex attracted person. I would also apologize to Matthew for the pat, unhelpful answers and rejection he's received from Christians who don't know how to speak about homosexuality."
He adds, however, that he would also tell Vines that he has been "deceived."
"He's believed the lie that homosexuality will prosper his life."
He says he would also "implore Matthew to repent of a book designed to cast a shadow of suspicion and doubt about the Scripture's teaching on sexuality;" and "exhort him to a path of discipleship with incalculable unknowns – unknown difficulties I will not experience and can only sympathize with. But I will commend him to set his desires before the cross, knowing that Jesus is better than any desire we think needs satisfied; that Jesus is better than marriage, than children, than sexual fulfillment itself."
Walker's full review of God and the Gay Christian, which includes pastoral considerations, can be read here.