In the last couple of weeks, Alan has talked here and here about the Reformation Project conference he attended—a project that aims to convince the church that homosexual acts have not been prohibited by God. (You can hear more about the project, along with a response to some of its arguments, here.)
Alan noted that their work stands or falls mainly on the idea that the type of homosexuality forbidden in the Bible is not the kind of relationship they’re promoting today. In “Not That Kind of Homosexuality?” Kevin DeYoung summarizes this popular argument like this:
- There were many bad examples of homosexual behavior in the ancient world.
- For example, here are ancient sources describing pederasty, master-slave encounters, and wild promiscuity.
- Therefore, when the Bible condemns same-sex intimacy, it had these bad examples in mind.
DeYoung explains two reasons why this argument fails:
For starters, the cultural distance argument is an argument from silence. The Bible nowhere limits its rejection of homosexuality to exploitative or pederastic (man-boy) forms of same-sex intimacy. Leviticus forbids a male lying with a male as with a woman (Lev. 18:22; 20:13). The text says nothing about temple prostitution, effeminate men, or sexual domination. The prohibition is against men doing with men what ought to be done with women. Similarly, the same-sex sin condemned in Romans 1 is not simply out-of-control passion or the insatiable male libido that desires men in addition to women. According to Paul, the fundamental problem with homosexual behavior is that men and women exchange sexual intercourse with the opposite sex for unnatural relations with persons of the same sex (Rom. 1:26–27; cf. 22, 25). If the biblical authors meant to frown upon only certain kinds of homosexual arrangements, they wouldn’t have condemned the same-sex act itself in such absolute terms....
The second reason the distance argument fails is because it is an argument against the evidence. The line of reasoning traced above would be more compelling if it could be demonstrated that the only kinds of homosexuality known in the ancient world were based on pederasty, victimization, and exploitation. On the face of it, it’s strange that progressive voices would want us to reach this conclusion. For it would mean that committed, consensual, lifelong partnerships were completely unknown and untried in the ancient world. It seems demeaning to suggest that until very recently in the history of the world there were no examples of warm, loving, committed homosexual relationships. This is probably why Matthew Vines in using the cultural distance argument to make a biblical case for same-sex relationships admits, “This isn’t to say no one [in the Greco-Roman world] pursued only same-sex relationships, or that no same-sex unions were marked by long-term commitment and love.” But of course, once we recognize that the type of same-sex unions progressives want to bless today were in fact present in the ancient world, it’s only special pleading which makes us think the biblical prohibitions couldn’t be talking about those kinds of relationships.
For more details, read the rest of DeYoung’s post.
My heart goes out to the people involved in the Reformation Project. I know the sting of loneliness and the desire for intimacy with another person. I know the temptation to step around God’s word in order to pursue this desire. A desire for oneness with a spouse is a powerful, good desire when it’s fulfilled the way God designed it to be fulfilled. And it’s destructive when we place it above God, closing our eyes to what He’s said in order to protect the particular relationship we desperately want. It’s destructive, most of all, to the one thing we ought to guard above all else: our relationship with, love for, submission to, and trust in Christ.
The people of the Reformation Project are engaging in their work as professed Christians, so there is one question they need to be asked—one question they need to carefully consider: If it were true that God actually did prohibit homosexual acts, and you came to know this to be true for sure, would you leave the practice of homosexuality, or would you leave Christ and Christianity? They need to settle the answer to this hypothetical question apart from the question of what the Bible says, before they determine what the Bible says, for the answer to this question goes much deeper than any answer that’s merely about homosexuality. What are you really willing to give up for Christ? How much do you really love Him? More than your boyfriend? Your girlfriend? Your desire for a family? Is He greater than even these things? Is He your Lord? Do you trust that He commands the right commands? Do you trust that He will care for and sustain you when you suffer loss for His sake?
This question isn’t just for the Reformation Project, it’s for you and me, and it’s not an easy one. It never has been an easy one, and many have “gone away grieving” from Jesus, who said:
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.
You don’t have to be gay to feel the weight of that. If, when you read it, you don’t cry out like the man in Mark 9:24, “I do believe; help my unbelief,” you don’t yet understand your own need for grace. But you can rest in this: Jesus has grace enough. He called you to Himself while you were still His enemy. How much more will He give you grace to follow Him now! He knew your sin and lack of love for Him then, and He knows it now, so there’s no need to hide from Him or from the truth. His grace has covered your past failure, and as you move forward with Him now, His grace will give you life in your loss.
When, gay or straight, you’re prepared to give up what Jesus asks you to give up, whatever it turns out to be, then you’re ready to go to the Bible and find what He wills there.