What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?

Written by Kevin DeYoung Reviewed By Benjamin Vrbicek

My grandmother is theologically conservative, but she’s stayed in a denomination that has drifted. She wants to know. The barista at Starbucks who found out I’m a pastor wants to know. The young family who visited our church and talked to me in the foyer afterward wants to know. They all want to know what the Bible really teaches about homosexuality. Kevin DeYoung has written the book to answer their questions.

DeYoung is the senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, MI and the author of several books, including Just Do Something, The Hole in Our Holiness, Taking God at His Word. In all of these books, DeYoung presents rich, complex doctrines—whether the will of God, sanctification, Scripture, or now sexuality—to a popular audience, and he does so in ways that are clear and compelling without being simplistic. In this current book, DeYoung affirms the traditional Christian understanding of sexuality and engages the most common objections to this view. The book is structured in two central parts, with an introduction at the start, and a conclusion and several appendices at the end.

In the introduction, DeYoung notes that questions related to homosexuality abound. “How can I minister to my friend now that he’s told me he’s attracted to men? Should I attend a same-sex wedding?” (p. 16). But his book is only about one question, at least directly. It’s the one question that Christians must answer before all of the others: According to the Bible, is homosexual practice a sin that needs to be forgiven and forsaken, or is it, under the right circumstances, a blessing that we should celebrate and solemnize? Readers familiar with DeYoung, or Crossway, won’t be surprised at his answer. He writes, “I believe same-sex sexual intimacy is a sin.” And then he adds, “Why I believe this is the subject of the rest of the book” (p. 17).

Part 1 consists of a chapter on each of the most relevant passages, namely, Genesis 1–2; Genesis 19; Leviticus 18, 20; Romans 1; and a combined chapter on 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1. The focus here tends to be proactive and positive, that is, showing why Christians believe “that God created sex as a good gift reserved for the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman” (p. 19). At the same time, discerning readers will notice some of the more nuanced objections to the traditional view in the background, or sometimes even in the foreground, often in the form of rhetorical questions.

Part 2 responds to what DeYoung considers the seven most common objections to the traditional view: (1) the infrequency of explicit biblical material on homosexuality, especially from Jesus; (2) when the Bible does address homosexuality, it’s addressing something different than what we know today, namely, committed, consensual same-sex relationships, and is rather addressing only what they knew of same-sex activity, namely, something abusive or cultic (e.g., prostitution, pederasty, or master-slave relationships); (3) the myopic focus on this issue to the neglect of gluttony and divorce, sins spoken of far more frequently in Scripture; (4) the church should be a place for the broken, and therefore should be affirming of the LGBT community; (5) just as the church has been wrong on other things, especially slavery, so now traditionalists are on the wrong side of history by not celebrating homosexual practice; (6) it’s simply not fair—we dare not ask people to deny something so fundamental to their identity, especially if God gave these desires; and finally, (7) as is so clear in the Bible, “God is love,” therefore, he must be affirming of committed same-sex intimacy. In this ordering of objections, there is a slight but observable move from the more sophisticated and scriptural to the more popular.

The conclusion underscores what is at stake if we depart from the biblical understanding, and it wraps up with our need—our universal need—for Jesus and the gospel. The three appendices are brief but helpful extensions of how the implications of the book relate to same-sex marriage, same-sex attraction, and the local church. There is also a short annotated bibliography.

Readers should note that the book requires more of them than Sam Allberry’s book (Is God Anti-Gay? And Other Questions about Homosexuality, the Bible and Same-Sex Attraction [London: The Good Book Company, 2013]), but less than the standard, technical work by Robert A. J. Gagnon (The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics [Nashville: Abingdon, 2001]). It’s well written, as is Wesley Hill’s book (Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010]), though more didactic and missing Hill’s narrative arc. The book does, I believe, sufficiently answer the objections that revisionists raise, whether in academic works such as A Time to Embrace: Same-Sex Relationships in Religion, Law, and Politics by William Stacey Johnson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), or more popular books, such as God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships by Matthew Vines (New York: Convergent, 2014). All the while, in our sound bite culture, DeYoung resists the sloganeering so prevalent—on both sides.

“Debates about gender and sexuality are not going away,” DeYoung writes (p. 125), and likely we’ll only be talking about this more in the coming years. In the process, well-meaning people will get confused. These are the ones DeYoung writes for—not primarily for the already convinced or the contentious, but the confused (pp. 17–19)—that is, those like my Grandma, or the barista, or the new family at church. And he’s written for pastors like me that need help as we help others. While the book could cover a few more topics or be more detailed on others, I don’t know of a better book to help us answer the question that must be answered before all of the others: What does the Bible really teach about homosexuality?

Benjamin Vrbicek

Benjamin Vrbicek
Community Evangelical Free Church
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA

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