Keller: “it is very misleading . . . to say, ‘Homosexuality is a sin’”
When it comes to sins like greed and idolatry, TE Tim Keller knows how to speak clearly about sin. But when it comes to homosexuality, he, well . . . uhhh . . . ummm . . . is not very clear. This is extremely odd, and I’m surprised that more people are not alarmed at it. This is not just a one time mistake. It is a pattern for Keller.
One man who has attended Keller’s church contended that Keller focuses on:
. . . destruction of deep, abiding, foundational patterns and assumptions of sin, worked much more effectively on my heart than if someone had simply preached to the surface manifestations of my sinful behavior. (emphasis original)
I don’t think that this is true. Keller can very eloquently preach to the “surface manifestations,” but when it comes to homosexuality, he has trouble giving a straight answer. Allow me to prove my point by contrasting how he speaks very clearly to specific sins but utterly fails to do so in the matter of homosexuality.
Keller clearly denouncing sin: In Proverbs 3:27-28 we read, “do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor ‘go and come again, tomorrow I will give it,’ when you have it now with you.” The Hebrew there essentially says, do not withhold good that belongs to your neighbor. It conveys the idea that your neighbor has a claim on you—just by being your neighbor. What’s more, it tells us that we have the power to do good, whether it’s by helping an elderly neighbor who can’t clean her own house, or by tutoring a neighborhood kid whose family can’t afford a decent school.
By the way, when I preached on this some years ago several people wrote and told me they felt guilty. They had this constant burden, always thinking about the people around them. “Well,” I told them, “I don’t want to help you get out from under that verse.”
Waffling on homosexuality: Well, it’s much, much, much easier to to have private conversations about it. I think . . . uh . . . can make this short. I . . . I believe in general that if you preach on why homosexuality is a sin . . . uhhh . . . there are . . . at least in my . . . in my . . . in my . . . in my church I know there’s lots and lots of folks who have same sex attraction who know that that’s not . . . as a Christian, I can’t do that. I’m not gonna go there. There’s a good number of them. I’ve got a lot of non-Christians who are present who are friends of gay people but are not gay. Uhhh . . . and then uhh, there’d be a number of people with same sex attraction who . . . are there. And generally speaking, it’s almost impossible to preach a sermon and hit all 3 or 4 of those constituencies equally well. Ummmm . . . it’s just . . . it’s just think about . . . you know . . . you know . . . you’re a communicator. You know you need to . . . well, what’s my goal? Who are my audience and . . . wow! it’s like a conundrum you can’t solve. So, the best thing has always been for me..[CONSPICUOUS COUGH] . . . to not do the public teaching as much as segment my audience through . . . ummm [CONSPICUOUS COUGH] . . . Books, through classes, through one-on-ones, and so on. I think the time is probably coming in which we’re going to have be more public in how we talk about homosexuality. And I haven’t . . . I’m actually thinking quite a lot about it. Uhhh . . . as to how I will go about it or how we should go about it but I’m not prepared to give you 3 bullet points. (Note: ellipses represent pauses)
Comparison # 2
Keller clearly denouncing sin: Also, we looked at Job’s description of all things he was doing in order to live a just and righteous life in Job 31. He calls every failure to help the poor a sin, offensive to God’s splendor (verse 23) and deserving of judgment and punishment (verse 28). Remarkably, Job is asserting that it would be a sin against God to think of his goods as belonging to himself alone, To not “share his bread” and his assets with the poor would be unrighteousness, a sin against God, and therefore by definition a violation of God’s justice. (Timothy Keller, Generous Justice, [New York: Dutton, 2010], 24)
Keller waffling on homosexuality: I would definitely say . . . a thoughtful Christian Biblical response doesn’t fit into any of the existing categories out there. It’s not a simple matter of saying there should be no moral differentiation between any kind of sexual activity. Christians can’t go there–they can’t say, “no it doesn’t matter.”
It’s also true however, that this is a country where we’re supposed to love our neighbor. This is a country where a Christian is supposed to care about a just society for ALL our neighbors whether they believe like we do or not. And that’s gotta mean our gay neighbor.
And I would say people in the more conservative movement don’t really want to talk too much about that because they’re very upset because they feel like the gay agenda is too anti-Christian and too anti-religious.
So I would say–the reason it’s good to end on this question is–it’s not something, the way forward, I don’t see spelled out anywhere in public. I don’t see anybody in public taking all the Biblical concerns about justice and mercy in that area and speaking about them. But I’m certainly not going to get started.
Comparison # 3
Keller clearly denouncing sin: Some years ago I was doing a seven-part series of talks on the Seven Deadly Sins at a men’s breakfast. My wife, Kathy, told me, “I’ll bet that the week you deal with greed you will have your lowest attendance.” She was right. People packed it out for “Lust” and “Wrath” and even for “Pride.” But nobody thinks they are greedy. As a pastor I’ve had people come to me to confess that they struggle with almost every kind of sin. Almost. I cannot recall anyone ever coming to me and saying, “I spend too much money on myself. I think my greedy lust for money is harming my family, my soul, and people around me.” Greed hides itself from the victim. The money god’s modus operandi includes blindness to your own heart. (Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, [New York: Dutton, 2009], 52)
Keller waffling on homosexuality: What sends you to Hell is self-righteousness – thinking that you can be your own savior and lord. What sends you to heaven is getting a connection with Christ because you realize you’re a sinner and you need intervention from outside. That’s why it is very misleading actually to say, even to say, ‘Homosexuality is a sin’ because most people . . . 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 ‘If you’re gay, you are going to Hell for being gay’. It’s just not true. Absolutely not true.
EISENBACH: So then, what’s . . . then how is homosexuality a ‘sin’. I’m not . . .KELLER: Well, homo . . . [sigh] . . . Greed is a sin. In other words, it doesn’t help human flourishing. Basically, Christianity has an account of what we think human beings were built to do and what will therefore, help human flourishing. So, we would say if you spend all of your money on yourself, that’s bad . . . not only for your own soul, but for everybody elses. We would say homosexuality is not the original design for sexuality. Therefore, it’s not good for human flourishing. We want people to do things that are good for human flourishing. But that’s not what sends you to heaven or Hel