This way of adjudicating doctrines is a poison pill. It removes authority from the word of God and gives the reader the authority to scrutinize the Bible’s truthfulness based on whether or not it hurts people’s feelings. This is no way to read the Bible.
When Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian came out in 2014, I could hardly have imagined how much of an impact it would have among evangelicals. Nevertheless, it has had an impact. Some of the high-profile evangelicals (e.g. Jen Hatmaker) who have come out affirming gay marriage have done so on the basis of arguments found in Vines’ book.
Among the ideas from Vines’ book that I still see gaining purchase among evangelicals is a particular hermeneutical oddity that Vines draws from Jesus’ teaching about “trees” and “fruit” in Matthew 7:15-20, where Jesus says,
Every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.
Whereas Jesus applies this to false teachers, Vines applies the principle in a way that goes against the way Jesus intended it. Vines writes,
While Scripture tells us not to rely solely on our experience, it also cautions us not to ignore our experience altogether…Jesus’ test is simple: If something bears bad fruit, it cannot be a good tree. And something bears good fruit, it cannot be a bad tree.
The earliest Christians used a similar, experience-based test when making what was one of the most important decisions in church history: whether to include Gentiles in the church without forcing them to be circumcised and to obey the Old Testament law. As Peter declared of early Gentile believers, “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us…. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:8, 10). The early church made a profoundly important decision based on Peter’s testimony. Gentiles were included in the church, and the church recognized that the old law was no longer binding…
Neither Peter in his work to include Gentiles in the church nor the abolitionists in their campaign against slavery argued that their experience should take precedence over Scripture. But they both made the case that their experience should cause Christians to reconsider long-held interpretations of Scripture. Today, we are still responsible for testing our beliefs in light of their outcomes—a duty in line with Jesus’ teaching about trees and their fruit (God and the Gay Christian, pp. 14-16).
Vines uses this “test the fruit” hermeneutic to test whether traditional interpretations of biblical texts are harmful or helpful to gay people. He concludes that traditional interpretations of texts like Romans 1:26-28 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 are harmful to gay people. So he reinterprets those and other texts of scripture in such a way that affirms committed gay relationships.
The bottom line is this. Vines twists Jesus’ teaching about fruit in Matthew 7:15-20 into a tool for suppressing biblical texts that clearly condemn homosexuality (e.g., Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Tim. 1:10). Because opposing homosexuality harms homosexuals (a bad fruit), the Bible’s prohibition on gay relationships are themselves a bad “tree.” Thus traditional texts must be reinterpreted in a way that is no longer harmful to gay people.