A few weeks ago, I (along with several other bloggers, it seems) was contacted by Westminister Theological Seminary’s bookstore and asked if I might be interested in reading an advanced copy of Kevin DeYoung’s (at the time) forthcoming book What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? (Crossway, 2015) and reviewing it on my blog. I told them that I was interested, and they sent me a not-quite final pdf draft of the book. I would imagine that DeYoung and WTS care very little about what an independent Baptist pastor thinks of DeYoung’s book, but I’m going to review it for your benefit, and, at the same time, they know they’re getting a little bit of publicity. Oh, and if you buy a copy (or other books) from wtsbooks.com from here, I get a (microscopic) kickback. So there you go. A disclaimer of sorts, I guess.
What is most lamentable about DeYoung’s book is that it had to be written. I minister to a congregation where there is no question what the Bible says about homosexuality. I have weighed and found lacking the arguments by left-leaning evangelicals or theological liberals that the moral norms of Christianity should evolve with society. I am a traditional, complementarian, justification-loving, Trinity-confessing, inerrancy-lauding fundamentalist (for lack of a better moniker). I preach the Gospel to homosexuals just like Paul did, believing that God can wash, sanctify, and justify them (see 1 Cor 6:9-11, especially verse 11). I don’t really run with the crowds of evangelical who are “struggling” over how to “make peace” with the broader culture on this issue. All this is not to say I’m better than others (as if), but more to illustrate a bit of the shock I had as I read this book. DeYoung showed me, based on the way he approached this issue, that the statistics might be true: indeed, perhaps a whole host of churches and younger evangelicals are beginning to cave on this issue. Insomuch as this is true, DeYoung has done the broader evangelical church a great service: he has shown compellingly the obvious–that the Bible teaches that Christian marriage is only between a man and a woman, that homosexuality is sin, and that there is hope for salvation from this sin through Jesus Christ.
The first part of What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? is a serious argument that the Scripture provides no “wiggle room” on this question. DeYoung patiently goes from passage to passage in order to show the Biblical basis for Christian sexual ethics. Along the way, he deals with the thorniest objections raised by marriage revisionists. DeYoung exegetes the meaning of marriage from Genesis 1-2, the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19, the curses on homosexuality in Leviticus 18 and 20, the unnaturalness of such immorality in Romans 1, and Paul’s condemnations of the practice in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1. DeYoung’s approach and argument are satisfying, but not too technical. He provides footnotes to support his claims and give fodder for further study, but he does not overdo them.
The second part of the book deals mostly with objections. Against revisionists who argue that the Bible says little about homosexuality, he argues that the practice was somewhat uncommon. Even more importantly, he shows is not true both positively–from all the Scripture’s teaching on the meaning of marriage–and negatively–from the several, specific condemnations of the sin listed above. He cites gay scholars who support normalization of the acts who deny that the Bible gives any ground on this issue. (After all, it is one thing for a secular person to be in favor of homosexual marriage; it is another matter altogether to allege that, historically and hermeneutically that the Old Testament or Christ and his apostles would allow for it.) Jesus himself condemned immorality of all kinds and affirmed the Genesis prototype for marriage between one man and one woman.
Against the argument that the Bible’s vision of homosexual activity is far different from the lasting committed relationships and gender politics of those who embrace these acts today, DeYoung once again has good responses. He refuses to grant premises, arguing that some ancient same-sex relationships were marked by long-term commitment. The ancient homosexuality Biblical authors condemned were not limited to pederasty. He cites scholars Thomas Hubbard, William Loader, Bernadette Brooten, and Louis Crompton to show that ancients did, in fact, have categories for committed same-sex relationships, and that the Bible still condemned them. In sum, “the cultural distance argument will not work” (86).
DeYoung also honestly answers the objections of those who say that Christians are obsessed with homosexuality and not other sins (he specifically deals with gluttony and divorce). He rightly critiques any of whom this is true. He strongly encourages Christians to preach against both of these sins.
Some say that the church is for people who are imperfect and still broken, and DeYoung responds with clarity. He revisits the centrality of repentance, and urges that the grace of Christ not be abused. He says, “If we are to be faithful to Scripture, we must not provide assurance of salvation to those who are habitually, freely, and impenitently engaged in sinful activity” (100). The grace of Christ, DeYoung helpfully reminds his readers, is powerfully able to produce real change in people.
When it comes to the objection that Christians and moral traditionalists are on “the wrong side of history,” DeYoung shows that this objection is not as neat and tidy and one might think. He refuses to grant the assumption that history is progressive and evolving. He also shows that liberal ideas have at times resulted in societal catastrophe. Then DeYoung argues that, while Christians have certainly shown imperfection in history, the old fables about Christians being on the wrong side of history are pretty much the fanciful mythology of the left. This is a good chapter.
One of DeYoung’s strongest chapters comes when he deals with the objection “It’s Not Fair.” After all, if what DeYoung writes is true, Jesus Christ demands homosexuals embrace heterosexual relations in marriage or be celibate. DeYoung responds with a kind of tenderness and empathy that I cannot summarize. Yet he shows that smart people disagree over the “causes of sexual orientation.” He acknowledges that almost no one decides to become a homosexual, but he does not believe this removes culpability. “Our own sense of desire and delight, or of pleasure and of pain, is not self-validating” (111). People are drawn to all sorts of sins, and just because “they want to,” does not mean they should or must. The Gospel is clear: “No matter how we think we might have been born one way, Christ insists that we much be born again a different way” (112). Further, he encouragingly points to former homosexuals who have converted to Christ. DeYoung also refuses to allow that sexual desires never change. He reminds us that marriage is not a panacea for removing all desires to sexual sin. If chastity is too hard for those who believe they cannot be heterosexual, then it is surely too hard for those who never find spouses or those whose have spouses with whom for one reason or another they cannot be intimate. Jesus Christ asks all these cases to bear the same great cross. More importantly still, DeYoung refuses to concede that sex is the summa bona our society thinks it is. Singleness is not “a death sentence.” He calls the church to confront a culture who needs “a deep demythologizing of sex” (119). He asks, “How did we come to think that the most intense emotional attachments and the most fulfilling aspects of life can only be expressed with sexual intimacy?” (119).
Finally, against those who argue for revision because the God of Christianity is a God of love, DeYoung shows from Revelation 2 the truth that Jesus, though he certainly loves sinners, does not tolerate sexual immorality.
DeYoung finishes up his book with a some appendices (including one addressing the political issue of homosexual marriage) and a most helpful annotated bibliography.
Summing Things Up
This is a good book. Whether you are a pastor, a layman, a young person, an unbeliever curious about the Christian position, this book is worth reading and interacting with. Unfortunately, with the increasing pressures of the surrounding culture, it is going to be more and more difficult for Christians to remain faithful to the teaching of Scripture on this matter. This book provides a helpful layout of the issues and a compelling case from Scripture that God condemns homosexuality as sin. DeYoung struck a tone that was blunt, yet compassionate.
As a pastor, I found the answers to objections helpful from an apologetic point of view. I also valued his annotated bibliography (as I said earlier).
DeYoung affirms this moral issue is not one of indifference. That is, Christians are not free to disagree on this. “To countenance such a move would be a sign of moral bankruptcy,” he writes (76). He says, “[I]f 1 Corinthians 6 is right, it’s not an overstatement to say that solemnizing same-sex sexual behavior–like supporting any form of sexual immorality–runs the risk of leading people to hell” (77). DeYoung says that when churches tolerate and affirm those who insist on transgressing Christian sexual morality, they are leading people away from Christ.
Unfortunately, this book does not address every question that is going to come up for Christians surrounding these issues in the coming months. On a couple minor points, one could see that DeYoung is not a dispensationalist. If one is looking for a full, in depth treatment, there may be better resources out there. If you’re looking for a book making a civil argument against revisionist marriage of all kinds, Sherif Gergis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert George’s What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense might be more helpful. But these are minor quibbles.
For what this book is trying to do, I believe it succeeded well. DeYoung has given us a very good resource to help Christians to walk as children of light in this present age of darkness. I am thankful for DeYoung’s labor for the good of the church. He has done the church a service, in my estimation. I highly recommend Kevin DeYoung’s What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?