What the Academy needs today is men who are fearless in proclaiming sin, righteousness, and the coming judgment in the context of the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ to desperate sinners like us. And these men should normally be those who are followers of Jesus Christ who work on campus; His slaves who can’t help but be faithful in speaking of His holiness and mercy in their classrooms, faculty offices, faculty senate meetings, on the walkways from classroom building to classroom building, and so on.
A YouTube video entitled “What do Christians have against Homosexuality? Tim Keller at Veritas [8 of 11]” is getting significant play in Exodus circles as supporting Alan Chambers’ flawed theology in assuring “gay Christians” that unrepentant continuance in homosexual practice is no obstacle to inheriting the kingdom of God. Though the video was uploaded at the end of Nov. 2011, I saw it for the first time only a couple of days ago. It shows Rev. Tim Keller, prominent pastor of Redeemer Church in New York City (part of the Presbyterian Church of America, a conservative denomination that does not ordain women), being interviewed by Columbia University historian David Eisenbach for the Veritas Forum at Columbia University.
Toward the end of the interview Eisenbach asked Keller about whether he thought homosexual people will go to hell:
I wrote a book about the gay rights movement because I was appalled by the oppression and the discrimination against homosexuals in my America. This questioner asked, “What do so many of the churches have against homosexuals and what about your church’s approach to homosexuality? Is it a sin? Are they going to hell?”
This question led to a 6-minute response on Rev. Keller’s part that I have to say is disappointing. In Rev. Keller’s defense, let me say that some allowance has to be made for the venue (New York City, Columbia University, responding to a homosexualist professor with perhaps a majority of people in the audience left of center), the time (only 6 minutes), and the intent of the speaker (Rev. Keller trying not to alienate others from the Christian faith). Maybe too some allowance should be made for the “Stockholm Syndrome”: he has imbibed the culture of New York City for too long.
Even with these considerations I still find his response to be disappointing, especially as regards his unqualified insistence that homosexual practice will not send anyone to hell; but also for criticizing the church in an unqualified way for “oppression of homosexuals,” claiming that an act of homosexual intercourse is not as bad as an instance of greed (any greed), and viewing sin merely as “something not good for human flourishing.”
Much of the response had the feel of a dodge and some of what Rev. Keller said is so misleading as to come under the rubric of misinformation. This isn’t justified even when one is in “seeker-friendly” mode.
I will also grant that I have not explored other statements that Rev. Keller has made about homosexual practice (here’s one that someone forwarded to me: http://www.redeemer.com/news_and_events/newsletter/index.html?aid=363). [Editor’s note: the original URL (link) referenced is no longer valid, so the link has been removed.] Rev. Keller’s view may be more biblically accurate than the video suggests (and I will certainly see if I can contact Rev. Keller about this). However, a video interview has a life of its own. Some Christians will circulate this video as justification for their own anti-scriptural views. So a response to the arguments that he makes in the video is justifiable. I hope that Rev. Keller himself will issue a statement providing clarification.
What follows is my own transcript of the ensuing discussion. I leave out a few irrelevant statements (denoted by dots) but report verbatim nearly the whole. Following the transcript I offer a 4-point analysis.
Keller: “[Christians over the years have said:] The Bible has reservations [about homosexual practice]. The Bible says: Homosexuality is not God’s original design for sexuality. The Bible also says: Love your neighbor. In fact, the Good Samaritan parable … [tells us that] everybody is your neighbor…. It is the job of a Christian to do what Jesus did on the cross, which was to give himself for people who were opposing him….
So a Christian is supposed to say, ‘I serve the needs and interests of all my neighbors in the city, whether gay or straight, whether Hindu or Muslim.’ Hindus, for instance, don’t believe in the Trinity. It is a different view than what the Bible says. Gay people have a different view of sexuality than generally what you see in the New Testament. I’m supposed to love my neighbor. So at this point I see some churches that are basically ignoring the places of the Bible that talk about homosexuality in order to love their gay neighbor.
And I see other Christian churches taking very seriously what the Bible says about homosexuality but in a very self-righteous way. So they actually do single out gay people. There are a number of conservative churches that will love their Hindu neighbors and will love their Muslim neighbors but not their gay neighbors. I really don’t think there is any excuse for that. Therefore I have to take some responsibility of being a member of the Christian church for the oppression of homosexuals.”
Eisenbach: “Are committing homosexual acts a sin against God?”
Keller: “What do you mean by sin? The answer is ‘Yes.’ Now here is the problem with that: You don’t go to hell for being homosexual.”
Eisenbach: “But committing homosexual acts will get you to go to hell … doing gay stuff?”
Keller: “No, first of all heterosexuality does not get you to heaven [laughter], I happen to know this, so how in the world can homosexuality send you to hell? … Jesus talked about greed 10 times more than he talked about adultery, for example. Now one of the problems Christians have here … Let’s be nice to Christians: You know when you are committing adultery … but almost nobody knows when they are greedy. Nobody thinks they are greedy…. However, the fact of the matter is that the Bible is much harder on greed. It’s a horrible sin, a terrible sin. Will greed send you to hell? No, what sends to hell is self-righteousness, thinking you can be your own savior and lord. What sends you to heaven is getting a connection with Christ because you realize that you are a sinner and you need intervention from outside. That’s why it is very misleading even to say homosexuality is a sin because …. Yes, of course, homosexuality is a sin, because greed is a sin, because all kinds of things are sins, but what most Christians mean when they say that and certainly what non-Christians think they hear when they hear that is that if you are gay you are going to hell for being gay. It is just not true, absolutely not true.”
Eisenbach: “So how is homosexuality a sin?”
Keller: “Well, greed is a sin. It doesn’t help human flourishing. Basically, Christianity has an account of what we think human beings were built to do and what will help human flourishing. So we would say: If you spend all your money on yourself, that’s bad, not only for your own soul but for everyone else’s. We would say that homosexuality is not the original design for sexuality. Therefore it is not good for human flourishing. We want people to do things that are good for human flourishing but that is not what sends people to heaven and hell. Now maybe we have to talk about that. What sends you to heaven or hell really has to do with your faith in the gospel which is that you can’t be your own savior through your own performance and good works. Now I’m coming at this like a Protestant now….. There is difference of opinion within Christianity about this. But, no, being gay doesn’t send you to hell and sin doesn’t send you to hell, like that. The sin underneath the sin is that ‘I am my own savior and lord.’ And that is the reason why Pharisaism, moralism, Bible-believing people who are proud and think that God is going to take them into heaven because they are good, that’s sending them to hell. I mean, I know that this is a lot to take in at once, a lot…. Inside our church, therefore, there is just not going to be this disdain of homosexuals. There just can’t be—not when I’m teaching the gospel like that.
1. Does the church in fact oppress homosexual persons? Rev. Keller criticizes “the Christian church for the oppression of homosexuals.” But he never specifies what that is. The vast majority of what counts as “oppression of homosexuals” for homosexual activists should not in fact be considered oppression by Christians: opposing the ordination of homosexually active persons, opposing granting any of the benefits of marriage to homosexual relationships (which relationships are constituted from the get-go in sin), opposing “sexual orientation” laws that inevitably lead to the attenuation of the civil liberties of those who find homosexual practice to be morally wrong, etc. In only criticizing the church for “oppression of homosexuals” and leaving unmentioned the huge qualification that opposing the homosexualist agenda for society does not in fact constitute “oppression”.
Rev. Keller’s remarks have the feel of throwing much of the church under the bus (especially given the interviewer’s opening comment). Moreover, he says nothing about the hatred and intolerance for orthodox Christians by homosexualist forces. It is certainly true that a minority of individual Christians wrongly treat homosexually active persons as beyond the pale of any Christian outreach in love. However, what occurs is not overt oppression by churches but the absence of acts of love by some individual Christians.
2. Is it the case that homosexual practice will not send anyone to hell? Rev. Keller declares categorically that homosexual practice (and sin generally) will not send anyone to hell but only the self-righteousness of thinking that “I am my own savior and lord.” “And that is the reason why Pharisaism, moralism, Bible-believing people who are proud and think that God is going to take them into heaven because they are good, that is sending them to hell.” But claiming to be a follower of Christ while repeatedly and unrepentantly engaging in gross sexual immorality will not send one to hell? Certainly, refusing to accept Christ as one’s Savior and Lord confirms one’s destination will not be heaven. But what is misleading in Keller’s presentation is that self-professed believers who engage unrepentantly in homosexual practice or in other ways show themselves to be slaves of sin will not inherit God’s kingdom because they show their ‘faith’ to be something other than saving faith.
True faith trusts in Christ’s saving work and issues in a life no longer lived in the main for oneself but for God. When the lives of self-professed believers are grossly incongruent with a claim to faith in Christ as Lord, when they do not bear appropriate “fruit,” Christ casts them away as not genuine believers or as believers who have fallen away from the faith. I find it hard to believe that Keller would have been so misleading in his answer if the question was about unrepentant serial killers, those who regularly defraud others of their life savings and refuse to repent, or unrepentant perpetrators of rape, incest, or pedophilia. There is a reason why Paul warned the Corinthians, in treating a case of adult-consensual incest at Corinth: “Do not be deceiving yourselves: Neither the sexually immoral [including the incestuous man in ch. 5], nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor ‘soft men’ (malakoi; i.e. men who feminize themselves to attract male sex partners), nor men who lie with a male (arsenokoitai), nor thieves, nor greedy defrauders [or: extortionists], not drunkards, not those who viciously slander others, not robbers, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10). That reason was not to assure the Corinthian believers that participating in extreme sexual immorality and other grave offenses could not get them sent to hell.
Read More (about 4,000 more words)
Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D. is an ordained Ruling Elder in the PCUSA and serves as Associate Professor of New Testament, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary