Kevin DeYoung. What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015. 158 pp. $12.99.
What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? is sort of a “Gagnon for Dummies” (Robert Gagnon is the author of a thorough and technical tome defending the traditional Christian view of homosexuality). Gagnon’s book is a monument of serious biblical scholarship, but it’s so academic that it’s not accessible to the ordinary reader. And yet, there’s never been a more urgent time for ordinary readers to understand what the Bible says about the matter. Though homosexuality is quickly becoming one of the defining issues of our time, many Christians don’t know how—or even if—Scripture speaks on the matter.
Enter Kevin DeYoung, a pastor-scholar who is a master at taking complicated arguments and putting them into a form that anyone can understand. He admits at the outset of his project he doesn’t intend to break any new ground. He aims to create a resource for “moms and dads and lay elders and college students and grandparents and high school administrators and small group leaders and dozens of other ‘ordinary’ people who aren’t sure how to make sense of this issue” (19). And that is exactly what DeYoung achieves in this book.
What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? is relentlessly biblical. In fact, DeYoung, senior minister of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, devotes the entire first part of the book simply to explaining what Scripture teaches. In five chapters, he deals with six primary texts from the Old and New Testaments that relate to homosexuality: Genesis 1–2 and 19; Leviticus 18 and 20; Romans 1; 1 Corinthians 6; and 1 Timothy 1. Anyone familiar with the mountain of biblical scholarship on these texts over the last 40 years knows this is a formidable task. Sadly, much of that work is dedicated to implausible revisionist interpretations that have found undeserved plausibility in the aftermath of the sexual revolution. DeYoung knows this scholarship, summarizes its arguments accurately, and then decimates them in terms that ordinary readers can understand. This is no small achievement.
For each of the seminal texts, DeYoung reviews the revisionist interpretations and dismantles them decisively. After clearing away revisionist debris, DeYoung shows that God really did create marriage as a male-female institution (Gen. 1–2); that Jesus really did affirm the Genesis definition of marriage (Matt. 19); that God really did destroy the cities of the plain in part because of the sin of homosexuality (Gen. 19); that Mosaic prohibitions on same-sex behavior really are still relevant today (Lev. 19–20); and that Paul really did condemn all same-sex behavior (Rom. 1; 1 Cor. 6; 1 Tim. 1). The biblical picture of homosexuality is really not as complicated as the revisionists suggest.
Lest one see homosexuality as a biblical outlier since only a few texts mention it, DeYoung leaves little space for this impression to develop. He demonstrates that the covenant of marriage as depicted in Genesis 1–2 is fundamental to Scripture’s storyline. Male-female complementarity is required both for marriage and its symbolic status as an icon of the gospel. The entire narrative substructure of the Bible assumes this framework.
Normalizing homosexuality and getting marriage wrong isn’t just a matter of mishandling a few texts, then. It’s a matter of undermining the entire storyline of Scripture—a storyline that begins with a marriage in Genesis 1 and ends with a marriage in Revelation 21. As DeYoung writes, “If God wanted us to conclude that men and women were interchangeable in the marriage relationship, he not only gave us the wrong creation narrative; he gave us the wrong metanarrative” (32). Since marriage is an icon of the gospel, and since unrepented immorality is incompatible with being a Christian, Christians must get the issue of homosexuality right.
The second part of What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? answers major objections to the Bible’s teaching on the subject. Seven chapters deal with common challenges such as “The Bible hardly ever mentions it” (ch. 6), “You’re on the wrong side of history” (ch. 10), and “It’s not fair” (ch. 11). The book concludes by detailing what’s at stake in this debate. Among other things, DeYoung argues that the authority and entire storyline of Scripture are at stake. He argues, therefore, that Christians need to hold fast to the ancient faith with grace and truth. DeYoung punctuates his work with three appendices so important they could have been included as chapters in the main body of the book. They deal respectively with same-sex marriage, same-sex attraction, and the church’s ministry.
I don’t think DeYoung’s book has any major weaknesses. Nevertheless, one might point out that it gives short shrift to some critical issues: the ethics of sexual orientation and the culture war over gay marriage. Yet I can hardly complain about shorting two issues needing book-length treatments of their own. Also, DeYoung has a narrow purpose in mind—explaining what the Bible teaches about same-sex behavior and confronting challenges to that teaching. This book excels in that narrow aim.
What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? may be a “Gagnon for Dummies,” but it’s also so much more. In only 158 pages, DeYoung covers this massive issue in a substantive way. It brims with quotable nuggets and DeYoung’s lively prose.
For the ordinary reader, this book is simply the best on the subject that I know of. I will recommend it to people trying to come to terms biblically with one of the most contested moral questions of our time. I cannot recommend this work highly enough. It’s the right book for our time—a real gift to the church.