Homosexuality, The Church, and the Mythical Third Way

The events taking place in American culture this past week have encouraged a number of people to engage (or re-engage) the issue of homosexuality and the church. Some have called this “the issue of our time.” I think that is up for debate. Events and movements look a whole lot different in hindsight than they do when you’re swimming in them.

Be that as it may, I feel a necessity of intentionally engaging this issue at this point in time, primarily (as I said yesterday), to equip younger Christians to understand the biblical and cultural realities of homosexuality and the church. I’ve seen that a number of younger Christians exhibit a great deal of ignorance both on the biblical and cultural realities of current events, and as a local church pastor I feel like it is wise for us to examine this a little deeper. This isn’t “my issue” or “the issue” for LifePoint Church, or a “hobby horse” that we want to ride into the sunset. But fear of you thinking that isn’t going to keep me from equipping our local body on this subject either.

There are so many different angles to this discussion for Christians. How do we move forward in a culture where biblical values continue to grow more foreign in the public sphere? What about impending persecution? How can we reach those battling homosexuality? How do we engage this mission without accommodating to the cultural mores that grate against the tenets of our faith? I’m not going to take up all of these questions in this one blog, but I will be blogging throughout the next several days to build a content base here on 2thesource that can hopefully be a helpful resource in the days ahead.

What I want to discuss here is this issue from within the church. There is a growing vocal minority within the church world for the acceptance of a “third way” of addressing this issue. For thousands of years there have been “two ways” God’s people on earth have handled homosexuality. Basically, one can either 1) practice homosexuality or 2) be a part of God’s people (Israel/the Church). The idea that one could practice homosexuality and be a part of God’s people on earth has been a foreign concept since God has had a people on earth. Meaning, homosexuality was punished by death in the Old Testament community (Israel) and excommunication in the New Testament community (the Church).

Recently, a “third way” has begun to be promoted from within the church. This third way is sort of a “have your cake and eat it too” kind of a way. The third way is: you can identify as and practice homosexuality and be a Christian who claims to fully support the Bible as God’s infallible word and rule of faith and doctrine. One of the leading texts, published a year ago, that advocates for this “third way” is Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. I’ve had this on my shelf for several months and just read it in its entirety this past weekend. I don’t have the time or space to give a full review on it here, but I highly encourage you to read Timothy Keller’s fuller response to the book.

The book is a basically a biographical journey through Vines’ experience with this issue as a young man who grew up in a conservative Christian home. His dad was an elder in a conservative church in Wichita, Kansas and the family accepted the historic biblical position on this issue for his entire childhood. Through friendships in high school and heading into college, Vines felt an empathy for the homosexual community that seemed so marginalized by the church, and at age 19 going into his sophomore year at Harvard he says he discovered that he himself is actually gay. He left college to go home and study the issue and to work out his feelings that he was both gay and a Christian. Along with his dad, they started studying the issue in the Bible, and to their amazement they realized over time that the biblical texts really don’t teach against what we call homosexuality in our day. Alas, the “third way” emerged in their thinking: that one can be both a homosexual and a Christian. Running parallel to this personal story, Vines includes anecdotes from identifying homosexuals who have been (sadly and very despairingly) hurt by the church’s stance on this issue, along with his view on the biblical evidence that supports the third way.

As I said before, Keller’s article is a must read on this. In the coming days I hope to post a few blogs that handle the biblical arguments that are of great import in this debate. For now, let me simply say that the third way is a myth. I’m not saying that it is my job (or the church’s job) to judge every person in the world in regard to how they work out their sexuality. It’s not. But, it is the job of the body of Christ to “judge ourselves.” Since Vines, along with outspoken supporters like Rachel Held Evans, claim this third way is biblical; the church must judge the veracity of these claims. Paul’s word in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 are of great relevance here:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

Before you start saying, “What about the greedy Christians you associate with?!” you should listen to the sermons and teaching we consistently produce (week after week) at LifePoint on the issues of greed, idolatry, reveling, drunkenness, swindling, etc. I haven’t talked about issues of sexuality in a sermon for about 4 months (1 Thessalonians 4), and that one sermon was about 4 months after we addressed the issues of sexuality from our Genesis series (Genesis 2, specifically) last fall. The next time a self-identified swindler comes out with a book advocating for a “third way” on swindling, I’ll be blogging the daylights out of it. The fact that the Bible identifies a bunch of different things as sinful doesn’t mean that talking about any of those things individually is out of bounds. This a huge talking point in culture and within the “third way” crowd: namely, if a Christian who believes the Bible says anything about what the Bible says on this specific issue, then it is all the church cares about. Young Christians, it is time to see through this sophomoric talking point and actually figure out what you believe (and how to articulate it with civility) concerning the sexual ethic of the Scriptures. Or, you could just post a rainbow on your Facebook profile and keep piling up the ‘likes.’ Either way.

To conclude my initial thoughts on the “third way,” let me simply say that I believe it is a cleverly devised illusion. Vines admits a couple of times that he 1) is not a theologian and 2) has not studied and does not know the original languages (Greek/Hebrew) which he references continually in the book. If you have studied either biblical theology and/or the original languages in any depth, it is apparent in his arguments that on those points he is being very honest. Biblically, the contortions that this book makes in order to read the author’s predetermined premises back into the Scriptures will make you blush if you know your Bible. Vines is a sharp guy, don’t hear me saying that he is not. He certainly studied a lot for the book and the subject matter is extremely personal for him. But as it comes to the larger body of Christ, we need to take a cue from the local church of which Matthew and his family were a part. After years of “open dialogue and positive discussion” on this issue, he admits that the local church (that they had been at for years and at which his father was an elder) decided that they “weren’t willing to engage in that conversation” any longer. His family then left the church.

I think the wider body of Christ can take a cue from that local body, in recognizing that the “third way” is not a way Christ or the Scriptures leave open. It is a revisionist reading of the biblical text. This doesn’t mean you or I have to be a jerk about it, but it does mean we need to get to know our Bible’s better and stay aware of the shifting winds of our time.

About Pastor Andrew

Follower of Jesus, Husband to Carissa, Daddy to four daughters, Lead Pastor at LifePoint Church in Vancouver, WA.
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10 Responses to Homosexuality, The Church, and the Mythical Third Way

  1. deangoffjr says:

    Great Blog Andrew,
    Keller did an excellent review on that book. It became quickly evident to me, and I say this with a great deal of honest subjectivity due to the fact I have not read all of “God and the Gay Christian”, that the arguments presented in the book as Keller brought some of them out, are at best elementary. And I even have a hard time using that phrase to describe their lack of diligence in their exegesis, or lack thereof of the biblical text. If we are using “Hermeneutics” correctly, there is no way in my finite and limited understanding of the art and science of true biblical interpretation, to support any of their arguments. I was waiting for some jaw dropping, never heard of argument to be presented. But once again, it is just the same question recycled, over and over, “Indeed has God said”?

  2. Katy says:

    First, full disclosure I haven’t had a chance to read Keller’s article (I’m a stay at home mom of two). I’d like guidance on how to approach the issue of someone ,who is a believer, struggling with homosexuality, but not practicing. In this instance do we treat it as “any other sin”? I’ve seen some conversations around the internet that sound like if you are a Christian and think you are homosexual you are going to hell, regardless of faith in Christ. This is of special concern to me as I have several family members and friends who have relationships with Christ who struggle with sexual identity, but do not practice (to the best of my knowledge).

    • Katy says:

      Wanted to clarify, I absolutely believe the Bible is clear that the practice of homosexuality is sin. I’m concerned with addressing the sin without compromise and with compassion. I’m also trying to wrap my brain around what scripture says about the assurance of salvation and the issue of homosexuality.

      • Katy,
        Really great questions. Keller addresses this briefly in his article. I agree with his stance on this. Same-sex attraction is not a sin. Homosexual practice is a sin– Like any other temptation, the temptation to same-sex sexual relations is a temptation to sin, but not sin itself. So, yes, compassion, care, prayer, etc. are all in order. The fog that the cultural landscape is now casting over this situation is very frustrating–because in culture, to feel any same-sex attraction suddenly MAKES your “orientation” gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, et al. And since everything in culture on this issue is about self-identification and finding your identity in your sexuality, finding yourself, etc. it makes Christians or seekers dealing with gender identity issues or the like feel like they have to either suffer in silence or fully embrace the culture’s stance on this. This is the lie that Vines’ book perpetuates. Same-sex attraction is NOT a sin. And same-sex attraction doesn’t MAKE you anything… other than a person dealing with temptation toward sin. This may be a worth a whole blog here…

  3. deangoffjr says:


    I can understand you wanting to be compassionate with your families members. And you should be. It must be extremely difficult for you. Love should always be the vehicle when we deliver biblical truth. Especially, when we are addressing someone directly, and vitally important when it is a family member. When you say compromise, I am only assuming what you were referring too. We cannot compromise Gods truth, for the sake of not offending someone. Because in essence, that would not be true love. A Doctor delivering information to a patient must tell the patient all of the diagnoses even though the patient might become upset. But the good news, in most cases, is that the doctor is also able to provide a treatment plan to help the individual get better. But it is a partnership. The patient must first acknowledge that there is an issue. If denial sets in, and they refuse to treatment, then the problem only grows worse. It kind of works the same way with our sin, all of our sin. I have to trust Gods word to reveal to me the issue in my heart, because that is where it really resides, in our heart. And then as hard as it may be sometimes, surrender to Him and allow Him to treat the issue. We cannot defeat sin on our own. I have tried, and it does not work.

    Sexual issues are very difficult to deal with for us as humans. One of the most important things we can do is to ask the Holy Spirit to guide our words as we help someone work through this type of struggle, and any struggle for that matter. But also remember, encouraging them to be in loving, accountable relationships, and stay plugged into a church community is vital. We cannot do this on our own. The good news is that Jesus is the great physician, and he is not surprised by anything we struggle with. I will be praying for you and your family. I am sure Pastor Andrew can also offer some more excellent insight that will also hopefully help you find comfort, and the guidance you need to be the church to your family.

    • Katy says:

      Thanks for your reply. I definitely meant not compromise the truth. Currently, I speak truth when I have the opportunity and pray frequently for God to convict, heal, and restore the broken places, much like I ask for myself.
      I’m quite saddened that this court ruling may cause some of these family members to become increasingly confused about their sin and more heavily in denial.

      • Katy says:

        Thank you for your response too…it definitely clarifies what I’m facing. I think part of the counter cultural battle is the defining of personhood by sexuality. It certainly hasn’t made it easier for those I know who struggle with this temptation. I’d love to see more of your thoughts on the matter.

      • Just posted a blog your question inspired.

  4. Pingback: The Love of God’s Gospel: Clearing the Fog on Same-Sex | 2theSource

  5. Pingback: Navigating the Fog: From the Driver’s Seat | 2theSource

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