A controversial new book from a mainstream, evangelical Christian publisher is being described by a critic as a “new low-water mark” for the industry while an advocate calls it a “game changer.”

“God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships,” by Matthew Vines, who describes himself as a gay Christian, has been released by Convergent Books, an imprint of WaterBrook/Multnomah Publishing.

Ingrid Schlueter, a long-time conservative voice in Christian media, sees Vines’ book as yet another example of evangelicals accommodating “a culture in moral free-fall.”

“All the theological contortions in the world by evangelical authors and publishers cannot change the Word of God and its teachings on the issue of marriage and homosexuality,” she said. “The fact that this book is being published, by a mainstream evangelical publisher is no surprise, as evangelicalism is largely jettisoning the authority of the Word of God on sexual ethics and is instead accommodating a culture in moral free-fall.”

She said the book is a “new low-water mark for so-called Christian publishing, and we can expect that more such books, reaching ever-new depths, will soon follow.”

Schlueter said that as a producer for Christian talk radio and TV for 24 years, she has “witnessed the long slide of evangelical publishing.”

“Once stalwart publishers of biblical truth gradually sold out for purposes of profitability and now, they are largely only adding to the moral chaos of our times,” she said.

Schlueter’s remarks stand in contrast to the views of progressive evangelical voices.

Rachel Held Evans, a popular evangelical blogger, speaker and author, endorsed Vines’ book, calling it a “game changer.”

“Winsome, accessible, and carefully researched, every page is brought to life by the author’s clear love for Scripture and deep, persistent faith,” she said. “With this book, Matthew Vines emerges as one of my generation’s most important Christian leaders, not only on matters of sexuality but also on what it means to follow Jesus with wisdom, humility, and grace.

“Prepare to be challenged and enlightened, provoked and inspired. Read with an open heart and mind, and you are bound to be changed.”

WaterBrook/Multnomah, a division of Random House, the largest trade book publisher in the world, was created in the late ’90s as an entry point into the Christian book industry. Convergent, the new imprint within the WaterBrook/Multnomah group, is dedicated to publishing the views of religious progressives.

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Vines, president of the Reformation Project, is a prominent gay rights activist. His group says its purpose is “to train Christians to support and affirm lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.”

“Through building a deep grassroots movement, we strive to create an environment in which Christian leaders will have the freedom to take the next steps toward affirming and including LGBT people in all aspects of church life,” the group’s website states.

Using a blend of Christian and cultural terminology, the group’s tag line is “Advancing the Kingdom, Advancing Equality.”

In the past, WaterBrook/Multnomah published such mainstream authors such as Randy Alcorn, Kay Arthur and David Jeremiah. In 2006, Random House announced the purchase of Multnomah Publishers.

Book industry insiders often create “imprints,” or divisions, within larger companies to distinguish niche books.

Matt Barber, founder and editor-in-chief of BarbWire.com, sees the publication of the book as a watershed moment for American Christianity.

“It is reasonable to speculate that Multnomah is trying to cover up its fast-growing connection to sexual-sin activism and furtively avoid the kind of widespread scandal and Christian backlash that took place after World Vision abandoned clear biblical teaching on sexual immorality,” Barber said.

As WND reported, World Vision announced in March it would hire Christians in same-sex marriages but reversed the decision only days later after receiving a wave of strong criticism from evangelical leaders and supporters.

“Multnomah appears poised to make the same mistake,” Barber said.

The introduction to an interview with Vines by the religion website Patheos said what “makes this book especially controversial is that Vines is an evangelical Christian with a ‘high view’ of scripture — not the constituency you’re most likely to hear such an affirming perspective on this issue coming from.”

“Yet Vines’s fervent hope is that this book will open up the conversation on this issue in conservative churches, where he says, ‘there has been little to no theological debate so far.'”

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