Tim Keller on Homosexuality and Biblical Authority: Different Crisis, Same Problem.

In a recent Ethics and Public Policy Center forum, Tim Keller spoke to a group of journalists and was asked about his views on gay marriage and homosexuality.

Keller’s response included the following prediction of how evangelicals will make peace with this issue:

 “Large numbers of evangelical Christians, even younger ones…will continue to hold the view that same-sex marriage runs counter to their faith, even as they increasingly decide they either support or do not oppose making it the law of the land.”

As he often does, Keller has his finger on the pulse of  evangelical culture. My own experience is admittedly more limited than Keller’s, but my ear to the ground picks up the same sort of distant rumbling.

In the world of public prominent evangelicals voices, there aren’t many like Keller who seem genuinely interested in finding a third way between a polemical theological tradition and practical realties of contemporary life. Some, I know, call him a compromiser, but that is an unfair assessment. He is trying to work things out, and is often called to do so in public settings.

But what really caught my eye was Keller’s observation concerning evangelical biblicism, which has far wider implications than for homosexuality:

“If you say to everybody, ‘Anyone who thinks homosexuality is a sin is a bigot, … [y]ou’re going to have to ask them to completely disassemble the way in which they read the Bible, completely disassemble their whole approach to authority. You’re basically going to have to ask them to completely kick their faith out the door.’”

Here, too, Keller is right. To change their views on homosexuality will require evangelicals to “disassemble the way in which they read the Bible, completely disassemble their whole approach to authority.”

This raises two questions: “What’s wrong with some disassembling?” and “Why does disassembling  have to be tied to having or not having faith?”

Leaving aside the specific issue of homosexuality, Keller’s observation about evangelical notions of biblical authority is correct but also concerning. In my opinion, Keller has, perhaps unwittingly, put his finger on the entire problem evangelicals face when confronted with any issue that runs counter to evangelical theology: “You’re asking me to read my Bible differently than my tradition has prescribed, and so I can’t go there. If I do, my faith is kicked out the door.”

What drew my attention to this comment is the fact that I regularly hear the very same response with respect to many other issues–like evolution. The big impasse for evangelicals is that accepting evolution requires them to rethink how they read their Bible, specifically the story of Adam and Eve. Reading that story as fundamentally historical is “the way in which [evangelicals] read the Bible” and to ask them to do otherwise “complete dissemble[s] their whole approach to biblical authority.”

To me this raises an obvious question: Maybe the way in which evangelical read the Bible and conceive of its authority is the problem in the evangelical system that needs to be rethought, rather than being the non-negotiable hill to stand and die on for addressing every issue that comes down the road?

This isn’t about evangelicals accepting or rejecting the Bible. It’s about thinking self-critically about how they read it and their approach to biblical authority.

The problem, though, is that the evangelical view of the Bible as God’s inerrant authority for the church is its ground floor raison d’etre. Evangelicalism exists, at least intellectually, to defend and promote this view. To ask evangelicals to do a critical self-assessment of how they read the Bible is in effect to ask them to assess the entire system.

Here is where I feel Keller’s ear should be closer to the ground. I see this sort of re-assessment happening now all over the place–evangelicals looking for an alternate “explanatory paradigm,” other than an tradition that rests on an inerrant Bible, for how to live on this planet.

The only real question I see is whether this process will continue as part of the evangelical experiment or will have to move wholly outside of it.


  • http://www.evidence2hope.com Graham

    “You’re asking me to read my Bible differently than my tradition has prescribed, and so I can’t go there. If I do, my faith is kicked out the door.”

    Which then raises the question of what is their faith in? How they read the Bible or in Christ? We can’t throw the Bible out but we don’t follow it either.

    Sorry for the jumble mess but I’m still trying to work through this myself

    • http://christianmusings-brian.blogspot.com/ Brian

      Graham, The Bible is the authority for the body of Christ (thus for the individual believer). The Church has always had to confront culture: unredeemed, unconverted, culture will always have a flow that is down stream and the Church has always been called to walk against the current.

      We are not to change the Bible, we are not called to compromise the authority of God’s Word so that we can fit in with our culture, the Church is not called to “fit in,” but the Church realizes that her kingdom is not of this world. We are called not to love this world, we are called to be light, salt, and examples to truth and God’s character to a dark and unbelieving culture.

      Read the Old Testament prophets, most were outcasts, demonized, looked at as out of step, and backward, and most were put to death—Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, all spoke ‘”thus says the LORD.”

      • http://www.evidence2hope.com Graham

        But interpretations of passages have changed through history with no problems. Passages like 1 Chronicles 16:30 were used to support a fixed earth but I don’t know any Christian who holds to an earth centered astronomy. We’re not bothered about tattoos, eating fish or wearing mixed fabrics anymore.

        As for not being called to love this world, I think that’s exactly what we are called to do; Love this world and everyone in it as God does.

        • rvs

          Rock on, Graham.

          • http://ourgirlsclub.blogspot.com/ Ginny Bain Allen

            The enemies referred to here are enemies of the cause of God, who lay hands on us for the sake of God. It is therefore nowhere a matter of personal conflict. It is important to note that even David did not pray out of the personal exuberance of his heart, but out of the Christ who dwelled in him. Nowhere does the one who prays these psalms want to take revenge into his own hands. He calls for the wrath of God alone. Therefore he must dismiss from his own mind all thought of personal revenge; he must be free from his own thirst for revenge. Otherwise, the vengeance would not be seriously commanded from God. The prayer for the vengeance of God is the prayer for the execution of His righteousness in the judgment of sin. This judgment must be made public if God is to stand by His Word. It must be promulgated among those whom it concerns. I myself, with my sin, belong under this judgment. I have no right to want to hinder this judgment. It must be fulfilled for God’s sake and it has been fulfilled, certainly, in wonderful ways. The imprecatory psalm leads to the cross of Jesus and to the love of God which forgives enemies. The carrying out of vengeance becomes grace for all men in Jesus Christ. Whoever opposes Jesus, whoever corrupts the word of the cross of Jesus on which God’s wrath must be executed, must bear the curse of God some time or another. The New Testament speaks with great clarity concerning this and does not distinguish itself at all in this respect from the Old Testament, but it also speaks of the joy of the church in that day on which God will execute His final judgment (Galatians 1;8, 1 Corinthians 16:22, Revelation 18, 19, and 20:11). In this way the crucified Jesus teaches us to pray the imprecatory psalms correctly. ~excerpts from PSALMS The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

        • http://ourgirlsclub.blogspot.com/ Ginny Bain Allen

          Graham, in light of your comment above, please do enlighten us as to the meaning of the following Scriptures:

          The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, He hates with a passion. ~Psalm 11:5

          There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community. ~Proverbs 6:16-19

          For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness; with you, evil people are not welcome. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong; you destroy those who tell lies. The bloodthirsty and deceitful you, Lord, detest. ~Psalm 5:4-6

          Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others; who despises a vile person but honors those who fear the Lord; who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind; who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent. Whoever does these things will never be shaken. ~Psalm 15

          Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Romans 9:13

          Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. ~John 3:36

          I’m all ears, Graham. Do tell.

          • rvs

            C.S. Lewis–in his Reflections on the Psalms–nicely discerns some of the deeper wisdom we might glean from the deeply hateful and seemingly childish rhetoric spewed by the wounded writers of the Psalms. See, in particular, his comments on “The Cursings.” Love thy neighbor as thyself and what Lewis calls the “devilish” verse in Psalm 137 (Babylonian babies) are at odds, so it seems. Lewis reflects on these problems as a mature and rigorous thinker, and I find his reflections edifying.

          • Beau Quilter

            For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

          • Caleb Landis

            Ginny, you are asking Graham to interpret scriptures apart from its context. Each passage has its own context, audience, and author. In other words, using each of these scripture to prove or disprove anything is erroneous. Christianity is certainly not a cookie cutter faith. Our theology comes from all sorts of different places none of which stem from any individual passage of scripture.

          • chris

            Ginny Bain,
            Sarcasm is not one of the fruit of the Spirit. There is nothing wrong with a conversation on this. Furthermore, the author of this article is not suggesting that there is any kind of problem with the bible, the challenge is in our interpretation. God help us if we believe we have truly and completely cracked the code. Romans 11:33-36, who DOES know the mind of God? We are not the first round of condemnation to soften up these sorry “unredeemed” folks before God gets his hands on them. We need to remember that we are not the authority, but God is. I think we need to work on compassion and on knowing our place in the pecking order. We are a distant second (thank God!).

        • Paul

          Graham the bible does not say the earth is physically fixed, and in fact we are pretty much centred with respect to the visible universe. That aside loving the world is very different to loving people. We as Christians are called to love people, not the values of the world, big difference.

        • Jim Lang

          Why should I be bothered by eating fish?

        • Joe Wisnieski

          On what piece of cultural shifting sand do you propose we lay our foundation?

      • Dean Chang

        Brian, you’re assuming that the American Church hasn’t ALREADY been co-opted by culture. How many luxury SUVs did you see in your church parking lot on Sunday?

      • http://ourgirlsclub.blogspot.com/ Ginny Bain Allen

        Amen, Brian. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. The Body of Christ is called to be the example for the dark world around us, not vice-versa! We are to be a set-apart people, holy as He is holy.

    • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ Tim Chastain

      Graham, I hope you are doing okay while in transition on how to approach the Bible. Twenty years ago, I went through more than a year of depression, despair, and grieving the loss of God when I had to face the issue of whether the Bible was inerrant. Fortunately, I found my footing with faith in Jesus instead of in my tradition of an inerrant Bible.

      Now I blog on those issues in Jesus without Baggage. I hope you are feeling more secure than I did as you are “trying to work through this”, but it sounds as though you have already come to solid conclusions.

  • http://www.alisewrite.com Alise

    Excellent post. I also think that when we put it in such black and white terms, we end up with a number of people who agree that yes, you only CAN believe or not believe, and we end up with a generation of people who leave the church altogether.

  • Rob

    So Pete, how then do you disassemble and reassemble the Bible as it comes to the issue of marriage and homosexuality?

    • http://christianmusings-brian.blogspot.com/ Brian

      Rob, excellent question. When the Church starts to compromise (in order to be liked), so mega church pastors can sell books and get invites to the Today Show, appear on CNN, and other major news outlets, She then has lost the power of God and God’s blessing.

      We live in a church culture where the idol has become to be nice, to be liked, to be relevant, to be cool and hip and if the authority of the Bible has to be “kicked out the door,” so be it.

      • http:/dancingpastthedark.com Nan Bush

        This is an exceptionally cynical view. It also assumes a monolithic character to views that differ from orthodox evangelicalism.

      • http://ourgirlsclub.blogspot.com/ Ginny Bain Allen

        Exactly, Brian, we are called to be pleasers of God, not pleasers of men. So many would rather be popular and buddies with everybody than be viewed as intolerant, bigoted, hateful, judgmental. Jesus said, “I did not come to bring peace, but division.”

        • http://all-thought-is-practical.blogspot.com Scott Coulter

          “we are called to be pleasers of God, not pleasers of men”
          Certainly. But which men are we not supposed to please? Unfortunately, whether we say this or that or another thing about homosexuality or inerrancy or hermeneutics or whatever: some human beings will be pleased with us and others will not be. The Church is made up of human beings of various opinions. We certainly can’t know of others–especially those we don’t know intimately–whether they are motivated by people-pleasing or by sincere God-following.

    • Frank

      I wouldn’t expect an answer. No one has been able to make a case scripturally for homosexual behavior and certainly not gay marriage.

  • Bob

    It’s hermeneutical hostage-taking: e.g. claiming that if one cannot read Genesis to refute the theory of evolution, then one cannot read the Gospels as recording the historical fact of Jesus. The problem is that ultimately people, seekers, and Christians tire of giving in to the demands and abandon the hostage, confusing the kidnappers’ demands for the Good News itself. Not much has changed since Jesus’ words of Matt. 23, and there remains a profound sadness that the agape of the Gospel is obscured.

    • Don Johnson

      I like that phrase “hermeneutical hostage taking”. I think I will try to steal it sometime.

  • JB

    I feel like Christians are trapped in situations like these. There is no answer that will make us look both accepting to non believers and biblically honest to believers. In two of the three passages in Paul’s letters than mention homosexuality, there are lists of other things that we tend to ignore, probably because they hit a little too close to home. (i.e idolaters, adulterers, those who are profane, etc). When is the last time you saw a Christian commentator on tv railing against adultery? For me, the bottom line is that I can’t get the the two greatest commands right; Love God with all that you are, and love your friends and neighbors as you love yourself. Once I get these perfected then I feel like I can move on to worrying about everyone else.

    • Matt Thornton

      Amen to this.

    • Josh

      good words!!

    • Paul

      But when do you think you will get those right JB? Ever? So then do we ignore the rest?

  • CraigCregger

    I do hope you are able to respond to Rob’s question. I would like to hear your thoughts – you have chosen to be a theologian. Your job should be to help people close up the loose ends, not introduce loose ends to people and then walk away – that is irresponsible. Specifically, I am interested in the fine balance between reading a 1st century writing about an eternal God vs. creating a god for the 21st century. So, how does one disassemble the form (the Bible) without disassembling the object (God) . Otherwise, what we’ve created is New Age mysticism that works in our 21st century.

    • spinkham

      Your job should be to help people close up the loose ends, not introduce loose ends to people and then walk away

      Why should this be his job? What if this reformation/enlightenment paradigm of Christianity is itself the problem?

      IMHO, the theologians job should be to accurately state what we know about God. If people have been over-certain, perhaps the job of the theologian in this age *is* in fact to raise the legitimate problems people have been too quick to try to resolve.

    • thobie1

      Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s any closing up the loose ends. But it is often helpful to hear how people put it all together.

  • C.J.W.

    I am not an inerrantist and consider Scripture to stand against homosexual practice without exception. In this, I am not different from Robert A. J. Gagnon. It seems that since you didn’t really want to address the issue of homosexuality, it would probably have been best to speak about Keller’s views on scripture apart from this subject. But, since you addressed Keller in the context of homosexuality, Dr. Enns, I am with Rob. Please explain and support your stance one way or the other.

  • http://christianmusings-brian.blogspot.com/ Brian

    The Gospel has always been counter to culture—to the Jew a stumbling block, and to the the Greek foolishness. The mission of the Church is to proclaim the Gospel, she has never been called to “be liked,” or to be “relevant.”

    As for loving others, you are never loving others more than when you share this counter culture Gospel with them—not a watered-down-like-me Gospel, but the Gospel that has the power to save the sinner from the wrath of God.

  • http://christianmusings-brian.blogspot.com/ Brian

    Graham, did God like the world when he destroyed it with a flood? Did God like the world when he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah? Remember the N.T tells us these things were written for our examples.

    • http://www.evidence2hope.com Graham

      So why does John 3:16 make it very clear that God loves this world?

      • Frank

        God loves the world but the world does not love God. They prove it every day when they reject God, Gods perfect plans, etc….

        Loving parents punish their child BECAUSE they love them. Only a parent who does not care does not discipline their children.

        • Monimonika

          That is so true, Frank. All those unborn children inside the women who drowned in the flood or were destroyed in Sodom and Gomorrah needed to be taught a strict lesson. How else would they learn?

          • Frank

            Stop being foolish. It’s unbecoming and does nothing to further your case, if you have one.

          • Percival

            Good point, no matter what Frank said.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    The issue that Keller and Enns are confronting here could be summed up in the word foundation. What is the foundation for our faith? Christ or scripture. That may strike some as a chicken and egg issue, but it’s actually quite important for the matter at hand. Can you change the way you read scripture and still follow Jesus? If Christ is our only foundation and the Bible points to Christ, both things the Bible itself affirms, then Keller is at least wrong about having to kick out our faith if we change how we read scripture. We can debate interpretations, but the stakes aren’t quite as high as Keller suggests.

    • Rick


      If anyone has a Christocentric view of Scripture, it is Keller.

      With that in mind, Keller views Scripture as he believes Christ wants us to view Scripture, not to mention the trinitarian aspect of Scripture (the role of the Holy Spirit).

    • Derek C

      Ed, interesting dichotomy – Jesus or Scripture… Why are they juxtaposed? What about Jesus as the Word? It seems like the issue is not so much Scripture as it is hermeneutics.

  • http://christianmusings-brian.blogspot.com/ Brian

    Graham, continue to read in the John’s gospel in verse 36 John says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.”

    God’s wrath remains on the unbeliever NOW, the unbeliever walks daily under the judgement of God.

    When we read the Bible as a whole we must then reconcile the passages that I already gave and passages like John 3:16 for sure, but the one thing we can be assured of that while God has a redemptive plan (His Love), His wrath is always burning against those who are still in their sin.

    Paul in speaking to the Church at Ephesus tell the Saints that they were at one time under God’s wrath see Ephesians 2:3 “We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also.

  • Rick

    Disassembling can be helpful (“always reforming”). However, such disassembling needs to be warranted, and doing it just on the basis of being called a “bigot” would not meet the standard. Keller thinks more reason needs to be presented.

  • http://coolingtwilight.com Dan Wilkinson

    You’re right that “disassembling” our reading of the Bible requires a careful and critical assessment of our core beliefs — something that Evangelicals have generally been unwillingly to do. That’s the “scandal” of evangelicalism: the abrogation of intellectual engagement in favor of tenuous biblicism. But if, as Keller hints at, Evangelicals increasingly disengage with issues like homosexuality in relation to the broader secular culture and instead choose to compartmentalize and privatize their beliefs, will they not relegate their beliefs into irrelevancy? If an Evangelical no longer seeks to engage with and impact culture, are they even an Evangelical in any meaningful sense? The privatization of beliefs that stand in opposition to culture hardly seems like a recipe for the long-term sustainment of the Evangelical movement.

  • Scott Canion

    The problem, hermeneutically, is that over the years the theological discipline has been separated from a personal devotion to God and has been codified into a system of intellectual study and theological categories that do not even reflect the natural biblical categories, then we have taken those categories and created traditions and distinctives to define and segregate the various groups (Ed Farley). So the first problem is theology becoming merely an intellectual discipline and the other problem is moving away from “the way of Christ and the apostles” as what believers are committed to and find unity in, and moving into mere wrangling about our distinctives (Roland Allen). With regards to the issue of homosexuality, I find evangelicals to be dumbfounded by how to respond. There’s such a stigma associated with it that we denigrate those who are even tempted by it as though there’s something especially wrong with them, rather than being just like the rest of us… easily tempted. We tend to find it difficult to separate temptation from the act from the lifestyle, and we get confused about our role in the nation and whether or not our default point of view should be Christian nationalism or general apathy. We typically don’t even consider what it means to live a life of good works and how that might play into this conversation.

    • http://dpitch40.blogspot.com David P

      I strongly agree with your first sentence: “over the years the theological discipline has been separated from a personal devotion to God and has been codified into a system of intellectual study and theological categories that do not even reflect the natural biblical categories, then we have taken those categories and created traditions and distinctives to define and segregate the various groups”. My favorite Bible verse is 1 Corinthians 13:2 because it constantly challenges me: “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” All the Biblical knowledge and faith in the world are useless without love underlying and driving them.

  • http://dpitch40.blogspot.com David P

    I can’t speak for Pete but I will try to answer Rob’s question myself. That opening Keller quote is almost eerily predictive of my own view; though I agree with the evangelical hermeneutic on why homosexual behavior is sinful and God defined marriage as between one man and one woman (perhaps not relying on so much proof-texting), I also support the legalization of gay marriage. I see no necessary connection between believing a behavior is sinful and trying to make it illegal–no Christians seem terribly riled that divorce for reasons other than unfaithfulness or an unbelieving spouse leaving is legal in America. I also see no essential reason why the government has to get “God’s definition” right for things like marriage; the state and the Bible have different, incompatible definitions for things like “Christian” and “church” and no one seems to mind.

    Jesus deliberately defied peoples’ expectations of Him to be a political revolutionary, and I can’t see Him getting terribly riled up about the state of public policy in America today. He also hung out with tax collectors, prostitutes, the unclean, and other “sinners”. There was no doubt plenty he could have condemned in these people–he could have told them, “see your despicable sin which I hate, repent of it, and then you can associate with me”, but He doesn’t. He makes the first move and comes to the outcasts of His society, loving them unconditionally in the midst of their sin, while still being clear what He expects of them. It is only *after* people repent and choose to follow them that He starts telling them what to do about their sin. The ones Jesus saves most of His condemnation for are the self-proclaimed holders of moral authority who use that authority to condemn and push people away instead of loving them. Sound familiar?

    What a lot of the comments seem to be getting at is a perceived conflict between preaching the authentic Gospel and being relevant to culture; the idea that you can only do one or the other, and if you seek to be relevant you are necessarily compromising on the truth of the message. I disagree. Yes, the fundamental truth of the Gospel is as unchanging as God Himself, but how that truth is applied and presented (contextualized) will vary by culture, and this presentation will always be centered around love for people even if we hate their sin. In the aforementioned view, an essential, expected characteristic of the Gospel is that it is supposed to be difficult and offensive to people, which can serve as an easy excuse not to make any attempt to contextualize it to speak *to* peoples’ lives (as Paul models in Acts 17) instead of *at* them. I am concerned with not messing with the truth of the Bible to suit peoples’ sensibilities, but I am at least as concerned that if people reject Christianity, it is for the “right” reasons: because we’re being seen as ambassadors of an otherworldly kingdom and not as homophobic bigots. I don’t think those two things need to (or should) coincide.

    • Frank

      If you believe that homosexual behavior is sinful isn’t supporting gay marriage an act of hate. Wouldn’t the better path be not actively working against gay marriage?

      • http://alexhuggett.me Alex

        Absolutely not. The way of love would be to preach Christ to gays and let his power heal their hearts.

        • Frank

          Yes of course but supporting sinful behavior with words and deeds is an act of hate. If sin destroys us, if sin is the antithesis of God than encouraging, supporting, affirming, condoning or remaining silent about it is not love but hate.

          • Monimonika

            Then Andrea Yates truly loved her children. She loved them so much, she killed them in order to save them from further sinning in life, which would have resulted in God casting them away from Him. She knew she was failing in raising her kids in a Godly manner, so she lovingly took responsibility for her failures and gave her children over to God to handle with True Love. She sacrificed her own soul in order to save the souls of her children.
            Not sure the children would’ve agreed that this was the best for them, but they don’t know better. Just like the gay people don’t know that all that discrimination against them in housing, jobs, adoption, schools, etc. are just ways of “loving” them and wishing for their ultimate happiness.

          • Frank

            I think that chip on your shoulder is causing you to miss the point and look foolish in the process.

      • Josh Lyman

        If you believe that Hinduism is sinful, isn’t supporting Hinduism an act of hate?

        • Frank

          It would be. As any faith in anything but Jesus is a rejection of God, encouraging people to become Hindus would be an act of hate,

          • Josh Lyman

            How about government recognition of something like a Hindu place of worhip, and tax ememption of the organisation? How about government recognition of a Hindu marriage ceremony?

            (Of course, marriage doesnt encourage people to be gay or straight)

          • Frank

            We have freedom of religion in this country but I fail to see the relevance of your post.

            As a Christian encouraging anyone to follow anything or anyone other than Christ is hateful.

          • Josh Lyman

            Why do you support freedom of religion though? Isn’t giving tax breaks to a Hindu temple (which breaks commandment no 1) far worse than giving tax breaks to a married gay couple? Why do you support the government recognition of one sin, but oppose the government recognition of another sin?

          • Frank

            You brought the government into it not me.

          • Josh Lyman

            Marriage is an act of the government. So it is the government “supporting” sin that you have a problem with.

          • Frank

            Marriage was created by God. He made them male and female be fruitful and multiply.

            God of course allows us to choose something else but Christians should not support sinful choices ever.

          • Josh Lyman

            So, should Christians support a government that allows people to make the sinful choice of being a Hindu?

  • http://christianmusings-brian.blogspot.com/ Brian

    Yes, disassemble error and man-made traditions, but the measuring rod is the whole of Scriptures the Canon.

  • pyon

    One major question – if their reading of the Bible is based on inerrancy and the concept of historical accuracy, how do evangelicals deal with the concept of Herem? Do they actually prescribe to this kind of thinking?

  • http://www.pannenbergcircle.weebly.com Benjamin Davis

    Just wanted to mention two links to further the conversation. First, Keller clarified his position on the legalization of same-sex marriage (http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2013/03/29/keller-clarifies-position-on-same-sex-marriage/). It seems he was not supporting a third way, but only reporting that such a way is growing in popularity among evangelicals. The second is a link to Zach Hoag’s blog where he recently explained how a church plant he was involved with in Burlington, VT decided the issue locally (http://www.zhoag.com/2013/03/27/evangelicals-discerning/). Here is an excerpt:

    “Because of our denominational tie and our evangelical identity, the answer to this question formed our baseline: No, as an evangelical church with a traditional understanding of New Testament marriage, we could not perform gay marriages. As much of a turnoff as that might have been, though, we saw something interesting begin to happen as we discerned beyond that baseline. Namely, our leadership and key church members strongly sensed the need to stand with our gay friends in their desire for equal marriage rights under the law, as a way of truly and properly loving them, supporting them, and seeking justice for them.

    At first this felt contradictory, but soon we realized it wasn’t – for to align ourselves with government (really, empire) in coercively denying equal rights to a huge community of our neighbors and friends (who, by the way, are here and are not going away) was about the most unchristian thing we could imagine. So, we began to ask – what is this about, really? Is this about our understanding of sacramental marriage taking place in a church community, or is this about visitation rights and equal housing and protecting children and fairly handling assets and just plain honoring permanent, committed, monogamous relationships? Legal marriage is the latter, and we could not love without desiring this for our gay friends.

    During the last two years of our church plant, we decided to be even more consistent in making the marriages we perform purely a sacred ceremony. We stopped signing marriage licenses (and encouraged couples to simply obtain one from a JP). We decided that we should not act as an agent of the state, because legal marriage and sacramental marriage are two different things. And we were simply performing the latter, based on our best understanding of the New Testament.”

    • http://anselm-ministries.us Chuck Sigler

      Love what you are doing. I’ve had similar thoughts on the issue of gay marriage. Namely that the church will have to start thinking of a distinction between marriage as a civil right and marriage as a religious rite. The marriage equality movement is about marriage as a civil right.

  • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ Tim Chastain

    Peter, I really like the quote: “You’re asking me to read my Bible differently than my tradition has prescribed, and so I can’t go there. If I do, my faith is kicked out the door.” For many, I think this IS the problem. Is our faith in Jesus or in a tradition of interpretation from an ‘inerrant’ Bible? This was a very tough issue for me twenty years ago.

  • Scott Canion

    I think the theologians job is to challenge misconceptions and train people how to handle the word accurately, not to merely teach conclusions. I’m not sure exactly how inerrancy is being conceived of in the comments above, but I would wonder how we find the Jesus we follow if not in the Scriptures and how we can decide which Scriptures are accurate and which aren’t. It almost seems the “no inerrancy” argument wants to jettison scientific method as a process for discovering meaning within Scriptures, but cling to science with regards to determining whether or not the Scriptures are accurate to begin with. I’m post-enlightenment in my hermeneutic, but if we don’t start with the written word as inspired, then what is our source of authority regarding who Jesus is, what he did and what he taught, and how do we access such information? Perhaps the term inerrancy is being used differently above. I can’t quite tell.

  • http://mmckinniss.wordpress.com Mike

    Good thoughts, Pete. Thank you. And I agree with you, Keller often has thoughtfully worked out a way to pinpoint the question at hand and navigate a Gospel-centered approach to it. I don’t always agree with his theology, but because of his humble approach, I must take him seriously.

    I agree with you, too, that our overall approach to Scripture could use some adjusting. This was certainly the case for me, as I encountered new information about historical backgrounds to the Bible or new scientific discoveries or some other element, I’d have to reckon not only with what was in the Bible, but how I was reading what’s in the Bible.

    Perception is reality, they say. In much of the Evangelical world, this is also true of our perception of the Bible. We need to realize that we can alter our perception of Scripture without actually changing the Bible. We must also have the humility to recognize that it’s we who are changing and not God’s Word.

  • Jeff Butler

    Although I have a more traditional view of the Bible, Peter’s analysis of the situation is correct. It is the battle over the Bible round 2, rather round X. In giving up a traditional view of the Bible one also gives up a traditional Christian faith unless one switched to a group that holds to a more traditional faith without grounding it exclusively in Scripture. I think that explains why some evangelicals are become Roman Catholic. You can keep traditional faith with the need to defend the Bible in the process. Without making such a switch, one will eventually, if not initially, give up the Christian faith as traditional understood without a traditional understand of the Bible in some modified form. That may be the right thing to do but I think not. I am confident that a third way can be found but not as confident that it will be embraced by all.

    • WB

      But the evangelical, inerrantist reading of the Bible is not really “traditional.” It’s an innovation, invented as a response to modern thought in order to hold onto the “foundations” of the faith. And because Protestants have no authority other than scripture. Contemporary innerantism would be utterly alien to someone like St Augustine. It’s a modernist idea that forces the Bible to do things that its ancient authors never even dreamed of making it do.

      Evangelicals claim authority also in Jesus, but as filtered through the Bible. So the fact that Jesus never once mentions homosexuality is not significant to evangelicals. But that is a mammoth reality. He never. once. mentions. homosexuality.

      • Frank

        Why would He? He was a Jew and therefore its a given that he would have believed homosexuality behavior sinful. He also then affirmed heterosexual marriage.

        This line of reasoning goes nowhere.

        • WB

          He mentions adultery. And divorce. For starters. The line of reasoning is going here: why does the contemporary evangelical church spend so much energy on a topic that was apparently of no interest to Jesus? While at the same time winking at divorce, embracing the killing of our enemies, and supporting the excesses of finance capitalism’s economic abuses–things Jesus talked a lot about?

          • Frank

            I do not wink at divorce nor greed. Divorce is damaging to God’s design for marriage.

            Sexuality, morality and marriage was of interest to Jesus.

            The solution is not to further encourage more sinful behavior and degrade marriage further, the solution is to raise the value of marriage to God’s standards for everyone.

          • Christine

            But Frank, doing that through legal means (theocratic legislation) is against the values of both Christianity and American values.

  • Kenny chmiel

    To liken the seemly clear normative sexual ethic for the church to the myth of adam and eve is a problematic position. I can question Adam and Eve’s historicity and look for alternative ways to understand the story but in an epistle like 1 cor. I find it a stretch and too easy to dismiss the clear negative perspective against Homosexuality for the Church. Therefore I’ll stick with tradition in the second case (Ethics) and go with critical realism in the first (Mythos).

  • http://hoxeyville.blogspot.com/ Eric

    Instead of singing “My faith is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness” most evangelicals might rather sing “The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me, I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E.” For such believers, to ask them to disassemble how they read the Bible will be a kick to their faith, because in effect (thought they often say otherwise) their faith is in the Bible, not in the person and work of Jesus.

    • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ Tim Chastain

      Well said, Eric!

  • Graham II

    Evangelicals who bought into the myth of objectivity in the early 20th C partly created this problem for themselves. In defining scripture as true “beyond subjectivity” and making up concepts like “inerrancy” while abandoning inspiration as not hard-nosed enough and maligning tradition as fallible, Evangelicals effectively traded their birthright as a church led by the Holy Spirit for a mess of modern pottage. (Most of the rest of the humanities fell for this “science envy” too, so evangelical theologians weren’t uniquely deceived).

    The good news is that some Evangelicals are starting to question the assumptions behind their relationship with the myth of objectivity; the bad news is that many are falling for the myth of progress on the rebound. The myth of progress has arrogance at its heart and thrives on the posture that we today are enlightened while our forebears were bigoted fools. It even extends that spirit of contempt to the global south, attributing, for example, contemporary African opposition to homosexuality as flowing from a benighted, naive and underdeveloped moral sense that would do well to learn (once again) from its white, western betters.

    Scripture expresses, most succinctly and in a particularly inspired manner, the core teachings of the Triune God. Of course we have to interpret what it means, but for that we have history and tradition as our guide.

  • http://www.jesusreligionphilosophy.com John Hundley

    So where do you get your info about God and Jesus unless from the bible? By pressing your ear to the ground? By sitting in a lotus position under a bodhi tree? By asking the polls what the popular culture believes? The issue of homosexuality and of evolution are vastly different questions when it comes to the interpretation of the bible. Genesis 1, 2 & 3 are ancient poetic depictions of a magnificent creator God and his beloved creation. The letters of Paul, especially Romans 1 as it concerns this issue, are descriptive and prescriptive practical revelations for the body of Christ. It takes some serious hermeneutical gymnastics to say that Paul isn’t talking about homosexuality as counter to abundant life. Life for the Christian is about revealing the kingdom of God in a bitter world crushed by abuse and divorce and rape, not about fitting into a culture where you can put a chrome fish on your bumper and feel better about your eternal salvation. We are called to be the wise and generous body of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, not a group of feel-goods out to affirm everyone and anyone. Jesus radically loved the woman caught in adultery and the divorced woman at the well. He did not affirm their lifestyles. It’s the Jesus way. The healing of the nations is in our hands. http://www.jesusreligionphilosophy.com/2013/03/civil-rights-gandhi-and-religion-of.html

    • http://christianmusings-brian.blogspot.com/ Brian

      John insightful post, to which I say amen. God has given the Church the revelation of Himself through the inspired, infallible Scriptures. Always, Always, apostasy, and error will be the result when the church moves away from the authority of the Scriptures, when the church removes herself from being under the authority of Scripture, you will always see man wanting to do his own thing, man wanting to do religion his way, it is of form of rebellion against God.

  • http://christianmusings-brian.blogspot.com/ Brian

    David ,while I agree with your overall premise, I can’t agree to redefining the definition for marriage. They govt, can call a union between the same sexes anything they like,but they can’t call it marriage any more than I can call my son a daughter or my daughter a son, words mean things and we can not change the definition of a word, well, just for.

    If society at large and our elected officials want to give same sex couples all of the legal rights that married couples have fine, but not under the name marriage.

  • James W

    I know this— telling an evangelical the outcome of their “rethinking” on biblical authority will be full acceptance of homosexual marriage as a Christian tradition, is nothing more than a reason for them to NOT consider questioning some of their major presuppositions like biblical inerrancy. What they see are skeptics and cynics, liberals and activists “hijacking the Christian message” in some sort of “hyper-intellectual way.” Because of that perspective, and the changing opinions of some big hitters (not just accepting gay marriage from a political standpoint– but all out re-reading the Bible to make room for it) — this will only solidify evangelical progress in the way of escaping out of Biblicism.

  • Bob Chancia

    Read “The Evolution of Adam” and “Inspiration and Incarnation” by Peter Enns and you’ll be better equipped to rethink, disassemble, reassemble but most importantly STILL TRUST CHRIST!

  • James W

    It’s not hard for me to understand how “disassbling” biblical inerrancy can be akin to pulling the rug out from under them — and impact their faith. Many understand their faith through what they believe to be true. When it all comes tumbling down, there sometimes is not enough there to pick up and evaluate the pieces. Wholesale deconstructionism does this to a lot of people.

  • Chris Holmes

    Peter, thank you for your post. I would just like to point out that the need to critically reevaluate reading “practices” is supported by the NT itself. Luke Johnson has written an entire book about this, and so much of what I say below is informed by his work.

    Acts 10–15, and to some degree Gal 2, demonstrate the critical re-evaluation of reading practices that took place in the early church. You really can’t regard the Gentiles as outside of God’s care and essentially evil in their core (cf. Wisdom of Solomon) AND accept the fact that they’ve just received the very same spirit that you received without a critical reevaluation of reading practices. You can’t take Deuteronomy where it says that everyone who hangs on a cross is cursed (Gal) AND lift up Jesus—the undeniably crucified, therefore cursed one—as the “righteousness of God” without reevaluated reading practices. You really can’t have an understanding of God’s people independent of circumcision—the primary marker of inclusion among God’s people—without a serious re-reading of Torah.

    The early church faced many “crises” in terms of practice. For those who accuse Keller of compromising, I would say he’s in good company with the likes of Peter, Paul, and James. Church practices, specifically how scripture was read, were drastically reconfigured not only with the death and resurrection of Jesus BUT ALSO with the bestowal of the Spirit.

  • http://www.krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    I haven’t had time to read every comment but I can’t get over how often these conversations bring me back to Mark Noll’s book, “The Civil War as a Theological Crisis.” Noll shows that the primary theological dialog was between Southern conservatives, with their common sense reading of the Bible (no issues with slavery in the Bible) versus abolitionists who were primarily directed by Enlightenment republicanism, discarding whatever scripture or tradition they found to be an obstacle. There were those who retained the notion of Scripture as rule for faith but also came to that slavery and discrimination against women were contrary to Christian mission, but the tended get hammered into the background by the other two more dominant camps. The discouraging thing is that meme seems destined to perpetually repeat itself due to the dynamics of our culture. The debate over homosexuality seems to be the latest verse of the same song.

    • Percival

      Those who refuse to learn from history . . .

  • Mike Berry

    If the goal for christians is to enshrine “Biblical marriage” into US law, then by all means we should start selling our daughters and embracing polygamy. US presidents should have to marry the daughters of foreign heads of state.

    Oh, and banking would be outlawed. The bible quotes God as being quite angry at those who charge interest, and as far as I know this prohibition was never repealed in the NT.

    The point is that the books were written with a certain cultural context. We need to understand that context and decide how we want to incorporate that into our lives. If the most important thing in life is to recreate the social construct of a pre-modern society, well … that will lead to a lot of frustration.

    First of all, it isn’t going to happen, because you can’t go back. Science, technology, politics, all that has changed. For example, being ruled by a monarch who can execute people like Jesus at will won’t be accepted as normal the way it was in antiquity. Second, it shouldn’t happen. Our lives are better today and nobody (not even the most extreme fundamentalists) would want to go back to an era in which they had no right to vote or free speech, no trial by jury, no way to borrow on credit, no knowledge of medicine, etc.

  • http://misoriented.blogspot.com Mike Blyth

    If anyone has commented on “Why does disassembling have to be tied to having or not having faith?” I must have missed it.

    Unlike most others in this conversation, the disassembling *has* been associated with a loss of faith. As more and more tensions are raised between faith, tradition, and the Bible on one hand, and experience, science, and a broader scope of ideas (i.e. outside Christian tradition) on the other, there are basically two options. One is to continue modifying the tradition and interpretation. From an insider perspective, this is seen as being faithful to the deeper truths of the faith while recognizing that our interpretations must change. From an outsider perspective, it looks a lot like working hard to make sure that the faith does not drift too far from a consensus truth.

    The second option, as tensions and contradictions mount, is to stop and ask, “Tell me again, *why* are we doing all this?” If the Bible and tradition say A, B, and C, and we now believe A’, B’, and C’ instead, why insist that we still must derive truth from the faith? Why keep pretending that the faith is primary, when we have to use all kinds of rationalizations and disassembling-re-assembling, based on experience, science, and outside perspecitves?

    This seems to be well-recognized in progressive circles, and the most common answer is, “We don’t believe because of the Bible, we believe in Christ.” The problems of how we are to derive anything concrete from Christ without the Bible, and even more critically the problem of why we should believe in Christ at all without an authoritative Bible, does not seem to cause much lost sleep.

    The apostle Paul did believe in and teach about a historical Adam, whether or not that is central to Christianity. He did teach that homosexuality is wrong, and in fact singles it out in some ways. Jesus did say he was returning in the lifetime of the apostles. As Dr. Enns as ably shown, evolution *is* a problem for the faith in a way much deeper than some previous science-religion conflicts.

    I have finally reached the point where the burden of fact-doctrine matching has outweighed the pain of admitting that the faith may be fundamentally mistaken after all. This is especially the case when I consider the strong tendency we all have to buttress our beliefs in any way possible. If I were standing outside and deciding whether to become a Christian, why on earth would I want to (except that it can be a very nice story, after one smooths down the rough edges)?

    • http://misoriented.blogspot.com Mike Blyth

      Sorry, the first sentence of the second paragraph should be “Unlike most others in this conversation, FOR ME the disassembling *has* been associated with a loss of faith.”

    • http://www.Yeshua21.com/ Wayne

      Hi Mike,

      Your input into these discussion always resonates with me.

      There was a time when we though we understood nutrients and nutritian and imagined we could make “baby formula” and “vitamins” (thus circumventing the need for mother’s milk and healthy eating habits) and “chemical fertilizer” (thus circumventing the need for crop rotation and good soil management). As it turns out, we have only barely begun to understand the depths and the riches of natures bounty in these regards and the damage we have done with the innovations of modern farming and food culture. The latter is not all bad and, obviously, we can’t simply go back to 19th century farming and food production. But we have learned that it is dangerous to mistake the part for the whole…

      Likewise, as we began to learn a little bit about physics and cosmology, biology, philology, and anthropology, we imagined we could do without our religious traditions, as well. But your own distress at the loss of your faith– and my own, as well, for many years –and our continued intrest in these kinds of converstations would seem to indicate that something real has been lost (or is in danger of being lost). As such, perhaps it makes sense to continue to dialgoue with the tradition until we understand more clearly what is alive and essential within it, and what, per chance, is dead and can, therefore, be safely ignored if not forgotten.

      Thanks again for your contribution to the ongoing dialogue!


    • James

      Hear, hear.
      Unless you’re willing to admit that your faith *might* be wrong, there’s little value in exercising your intelligence. When you accept that you *might* be wrong, eventually you get around to asking if you *are* wrong. “If I weren’t a Christian already, would I find any of this compelling?”
      I did the evangelical thing, but left when I recognized their (and my) dishonest intellectual habits. The Bible much more closely resembles the Bible of critical scholars.
      Do some people manage this “disassembling”? Sure. But I find agnosticism much more compelling than clinging to a Book that looks nothing like evangelicals claim.

      • rvs

        Fideism is a perfectly interesting mode within traditional Christianity. See, for example, Jonathan Swift and Laurence Sterne.

  • Kevin Miller

    Great piece, Peter. To be fair to evangelicals, the way every group approaches the Bible is their raisin d’être. Progressives are Progressives because they approach the Bible through a different interpretive lens. The same goes for Liberals and Emergents. If that’s the case, why should Evangelicals be asked to reevaluate their position and not others? For me, this is why experience has to be the final arbiter of truth. Because the way I would respond to my question is to say that if the way you approach scripture consistently causes you to marginalize others and/or legitimize other forms of violence, you have good cause to reevaluate your position. Then again, if you’re trapped within a worldview that regards violence and exclusion against certain groups as necessary, even God-ordained. So moving on that point is practically impossible apart from an EXPERIENCE that shakes you up enough to reconsider your views. All that to say, I don’t think argumentation on this point is sufficient to achieve the desired goal. But I still think it’s vital.

  • R.C.

    The interpretive challenges of evolution are categorically different than that of homosexuality. The need to address evolution comes from the integration of scientific knowledge that is taken to be true into the reading of Genesis. On the other hand, no amount of science will tell us the moral and spiritual status of a homosexual lifestyle. The fact of evolution challenges the literal reading of Genesis, and requires a different understanding of what it is that Genesis is meant to convey. The fact of homosexuality is not in question, it is that assessment of homosexuality that is being question today. What needs to be done is not ask what the texts about homosexuality are meant to tell us, but why it is that homosexuality is assessed in the way it is, which is not a categorical shift like that of a new understanding of Genesis in light of evolution. So, I would disagree with Dr. Enns in that I do not see these two issues as examples of the same interpretive problem.

    • toddh

      I think the problem is that once you learn that the Bible is the product of people of a much different time and culture, then everything is thrown into question. Genesis reflects the scientific thinking of their day in theological terms. Clearly, their cosmological model was incorrect in major ways. So, what about their cultural model and thinking about homosexuality? One can no longer make a straight across scriptural interpretation from their time to ours owing to the cultural distance.

    • WB

      I disagree, RC. The fact of homosexuality is in deep question. Those who accept homosexual lifestyles and support homosexual marriage do so in part because they believe scientific accounts arguing that homosexuality is not a personal choice, but a predetermined orientation. If you accept that scientific account, you may feel the need to re-think your approach to the Bible and your faith. Those who presume that homosexuality is a choice are rejecting the science on the issue.

      • Frank

        Whether its a choice or not does not matter. It does not change the sinfulness of it. People are born with all kinds of predilections. It a result of our fallen world.

        Still there is no consensus on whether people are born gay or not. If they are they still have a choice.

        • WB

          Wow, Frank. You’re all over the place. The comment was about science and Christian positions on homosexuality. I believe there is a pretty strong scientific consensus that homosexuality is not a choice. Obviously you don’t believe that, but that doesn’t change scientific consensus, unless you’re flying under the radar here as a geneticist? Whether it is a choice or not makes all the difference. Christianity does not tell heterosexuals that they have to work hard to root out all their natural sexual desire and never allow any expression of it in their entire lives. Because sexual desire is part of being human. If someone is born with a sexual desire for other members of their sex, and they have no choice, why should we force them not to live in monogamous, healthy relationships where they can express their natural human sexuality?

          • Frank

            There is no solid evidence yet about the innateness or choice of homosexual orientation. Either way behavior is always a choice.

            No one is asking anyone to root out our sinful desires. We will always have them. Whether we act on them or not is the issues. The question is whether we believe God and His design or not. If we do we can trust that Gods design is best and anything else works against us. If we don’t we are reject God.

            There is nothing loving in allowing someone to live apart from Gods will.

            Heterosexual behavior is the natural norm.

          • Josh Lyman

            “There is nothing loving in allowing someone to live apart from Gods will.”

            So, there is nothing loving in LETTING someone be a Hindu? Does that mean that the state should stop them?

          • Frank

            The government,is made up of people. What they decide is what will happen, hateful or not.

          • Josh Lyman

            Is it hateful for the government to LET people be Hindus? Yes or no?

          • Frank

            Its hateful for Christian to not reveal the truth of Jesus and the lie of putting our faith in anything else.

            This is not a government blog this is a faith blog. Stay focused.

          • Andrew

            Frank, you are avoiding the question. Let’s say that Congress was made up 100% of professing Christians. Would they be engaging in an act of hatred by enabling people to be Hindus?

            If you say yes, it’s not like you’d be alone in history. Almost all of Christian Europe until the 18th-19th centuries did not permit religious tolerance, for they also thought that to allow people to not follow the way of Christ was defying God. If you would want to go back to the system, just say it.

          • Frank

            Hypotheticals are not useful so I avoid them.

            Christians in good conscience cannot support encouraging anything else but Jesus. We also have to follow the rule of law in our country. If they conflict and our position requires us to uphold the rule of law we then have a choice. Stay where we are and allow a hateful decision, object conscientiously or change our circumstances.

          • Josh Lyman

            Its not a hypothetical. The US DOES allow people to be Hindus. By your argument that is a hateful thing for the USA to do. Should the USA stop being hateful, and prevent people from being Hindus?

          • Frank

            It’s a hateful thing for Christians to do is what I said.

      • Holly

        I know plenty of people who say they were not born gay, but that they chose to be once they were adults – and yes, they consider themselves Christians.

  • http://www.Yeshua21.com/ Wayne

    Bibliolitry is the problem… A reorientation toward the living Christ is the solution. As far as I can tell, N.T. Wright’s “critical realism” is the best hope Evangelicals have of preserving some degree of cultural influence along with a good portion of their “tradition.” But if I understand Wright’s approach correctly, this comes at the price of abandoning inerrancy and ignoring questions of “historicity” when it comes to preexcilic narratives. A fair trade, perhaps… But even better than critical realism (with regard to the gospel narratives) would be to meet the living Christ:


    “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” ~ John 5:39-40

  • Edward Pillar

    Thank you for a really helpful article. There’s very little to add… I am simply but profoundly aware that as far as I can tell the call on my life is ‘come, follow me.’ Throughout my own spiritual journey which includes time as a Pastor and NT scholar I don’t remember Jesus calling me to trust the bible etc. I suppose it may be considered ‘easier’ and more straightforward to lock down my faith to the 66 books of the bible rather than obedience to the teaching and example of Jesus. After all, prior to the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus is asked, ‘what much I do to inherit eternal life?’ The answer if course is, ‘love…God, self and neighbour’. Jesus then makes things clear, ‘do this and you will live’. Jesus exhibited and taught love, kindness, compassion and so on. I do wonder sometimes what the church might look like if we were uncompromising in our loving God, self and neighbour…?

    • Frank

      Jesus constantly quoted the OT in both word and principle. He held it in high regard and a strong case could be made that He held it as ineerrant.

      • Andrew

        Umm no, not really. Jesus ignoring OT law on cavorting with the ‘unclean’, touching lepers, not washing his hands before eating, stipulation on divorce etc. There’s a reason we talk about this Jesus guy 2000 years and it’s not because he was just another 1st century Rabbi.

        In addition, many don’t realize is that interpreting the OT through different lenses and taking some things while leaving others didn’t start with Jesus . . .it runs through and through Judaism itself and it’s partially why the 2nd Temple Period had such diversity, including what was initially deemed a radical group of Jews eventually called Christians. Intense debate was an essential component of the faith. The very concept of “inerrancy” is very much a reaction to modernism begun by conservative Christian groups in the 19th century. 2nd Temple Jews would’ve considered our modern concept of an inerrant Bible a very strange idea . . .

        • Frank

          If Jesus came to fulfill the law He had to take it as literal truth. He saw every dot and tittle as the Word of His Father and therefore literal and perfect.

          The OT cleanliness laws served a purpose. What does that to do with biblical inerrancy? Jesus hung out with everyone without fear. He was the Son of God after all.

          • Andrew

            “If Jesus came to fulfill the law he had to take it as literal truth”

            No, he did not, that doesn’t make sense. If you start constructing a house, and I go and finish it, the fact that I finished constructing it doesn’t mean I thought everyone you did prior was perfect/how I would’ve done it.

            So Jesus only hung out with lepers and societal outcasts, without prerequisite mandates, to show that he was without fear? I fear you are missing a huge point of the entire Gospel.

          • Frank

            I think you are the one missing the point. If you can make a case that Jesus did not believe the OT then do it. The gospel is meaningless without the Law.

            As far as perfection, God breathed both the OT and the NT. So if God the father drew up the plans and started to build the house and Jesus finished it, it was always perfect.

            Jesus came to bring the Gospel to the whole world including the outcasts. Once again what does that have to do with scriptural inerrancy?

  • norman

    I get a little amused at those who are calling for Pete to lay it all out on the table in one fell swoop; as if that is possible. What do some of you think Pete has been doing for umpteen years! The Bible is as complicated to decipher as nuclear science is to some degree but we want Pete to provide the Reader Digest version without us having to lift a finger. You simply are not going to grasp his discussions unless you do simiar type homework as he has and frankly many are afraid to open up that exploration as this post of his highlights.

  • http://www.alanmolineaux.com Alan Molineaux

    I am grateful to Keller for at east trying to deal with the issues in an open way.

    I accept that re-assessing our view of scripture is important but I suggest in my new book, Evangelical Morphodoxy, that the issue stars with us acknowledging that we all have a constituency to who we feel connected. In this regard speaking honestly is difficult because we fear being rejected by our constituency.

  • http://www.Yeshua21.com/ Wayne

    Apropos of personal and collective reformation among evangelicals, this blog post just came up in my facebook newsfeed. Perhaps it will be worth a look for someone–it is authored by a former member of Stuart Briscoe’s “Elmbrook” church and a former student body president of Moody Bible Institute. The link, below, appears to be the first in a seven part series:

    – Step #1 “It’s OK to see God differently”
    – Step #2 “It’s OK to see the Bible differently”
    – Step #3 “It’s OK to see salvation differently”
    – Step #4 “It’s OK to see the earth differently”
    – Step #5 “It’s OK to see prayer differently”
    – Step #6 “It’s OK to see sex differently”
    – Step #7 “It’s OK to see your destiny differently”


  • http://alexhuggett.me Alex

    The issue isn’t inerrancy, it’s literalism and shallow hermeneutics.

  • Andrew

    And to the reactions to those saying their faith is Christ-focused and not Bible-focused and that that’s impossible because how would we know Jesus without the Bible . . . Christianity survived its most vulnerable period (the initial decades after the death of Jesus) without any widespread NT scriptures, and even for its first several hundred years most communities transcribed the Gospels stories through the oral tradition and not by reading Scripture. People also didn’t carry around Bibles . . reading by one-self was very rare for many centuries after Jesus, if one was even literate.

    One general complaint about the gay marriage issue is that there are several passages that are against it, and if you adjust on that then everything is open to adjustment and we have relative morals and we descend into sin etc. First off, I do believe there are eternal truths and eternal morals. They are true whether one has ever read a Bible or not. Secondly, one reason why the gay marriage argument is losing is because the scientific consensus is that homosexuality exists largely because of some mixture of biological/prenatal developments that occur in the womb ie it’s not that they are born heterosexual and “choose” to be gay. I’ve known a couple of men from childhood who “came out” later in life and my experience conforms with that notion . . they had always been a little effiminate/”different”. I also know that I personally have always been attracted to women and not “tempted” to have gay sex. I’m not surprised that many of the most ardent opponents of acceptance of homosexuals have been later found out to be gay themselves.
    So going with the idea that it’s a state of being not under the control of the individual, does it correspond with the message of Jesus, that of love of neighbor, the acceptance of those deemed “unclean”,breaking boundaries of social acceptability-that these individuals are somehow “cursed” and that even if they are born that way, they should be forced to maintain a lifetime of celibacy “in their sin” and never having a fulfilling romantic relationship with someone else? How does that make any rational sense, from a Christian or basic humanitarian perspective? All of the arguments against gay marriage end up grasping at straws and this is why the country, and eventually most of Christianity, will move on from this issue just like it moved on from slavery, anti-semitism, and subjugation of women, although some have gone farther than others.

    • Frank

      Even if people are born with same sex attraction, no real evidence yet on that, it is simply a sign of our fallen broken world. Our genes are fallen, our DNA is fallen. That why people are born with disease and disabilities.

      Our country may move towards complete acceptance of the idea of a genderless marriage but the created order revealed both through scripture and nature will never change for those that trust in the God of creation.

      • Andrew

        There is plenty of evidence that it is the result of certain bio/genetic-developments in the womb. The fact that scientists don’t know the exact causes doesn’t surprise considering how genetic science is still in a very nascent stage . . we still have TONS to learn.

        But your other comments are troubling. Genes and DNA are “fallen” . . then why are some people born perfectly healthy and some with horrible disabilities . . did the disabled parents’ fallen behavior cause that?
        And if you are even going to classify homosexuality as some sort of “disability,” why not give them equal treatment and equal access like all of our fellow human beings are entitled to, “disabled or not”? Society used to beat left handed children, had no conception of “handicap access” and thought deaf children were retarded, but we now know they are just part of humanity’s diversity. Why not allow another minority designated at birth equitable treatment as well?

        • Frank

          Both the sun and the rain fall on the just and unjust alike. Why do some people suffer more than others? Why are some born with disease and disability? Why do some children die? We live in a fallen world. The entire creation is fallen. So yes sexuality is also fallen. Homosexuality is one symptom of this. So even if and when science determines a concrete cause, it would not change the sinfulness of the behavior nor would it change the hatefulness of supporting, affirming or condoning it.

          • Andrew

            “Why do some people suffer more than others”

            That’s the classic problem of evil and no-one has ever discovered a fully satisfying answer in all of human history . . one major reason why the human species has such major religious diversity and why many don’t believe in God. What you are describing was Augustine’s solution in the 5th century ie it must be a result of Adam and Eve’s original sin. But many Christians, including myself, think that concept is as flawed now as was flawed then. Just one of the reasons why it is flawed is that, going back to a recurring theme in this blog, there was never a historical Adam and Eve . . .the “fall” is allegory for human sinfulness against God, but it was not a literal event in which humans were exiled from a mythical Garden of Eden.

          • Frank

            Well certainly if the bible is only myth to you then we have no common ground to discuss.

  • Nathanael Snow

    You say, “the evangelical view of the Bible as God’s inerrant authority for the church is its ground floor raison d’etre”. That can’t be right. It does not accomplish anything. Why do evangelicals stress the authority of Scripture? So that they can prescribe behavior, and political positions. The fact that the Bible can be read in different ways threatens the authority of those who are to be accepted as having the “right reading” and their power over people.
    Evangelicalism is at its very root a get-out-the vote campaign. This is what it has been since Wesley Wesley Whitefield and Wilberforce. The ability of evangelicals to deliver a predictable block of votes is what makes them valuable to the political machine and therefore sustainable.

  • Bob

    There is a strong case that we are not to attempt to change the actions of non-believers (1 Cor. 5). Until someone can produce a Biblical and sound argument for our intervention into the lives of secular folks, I am with Keller.

    • Frank

      The Great Commission. The Great Commandments. The call to be compassionate and serve. All are God calling us to change the lives of unbelievers.

      • Bob

        “Lives” and “actions” are two very different things. “Lives” implies that the person’s heart, and therefore eternal destiny, are changed while “actions” implies that they are doing something different. Is this fair? Sure, the actions of gay people will be changed if gay marriage remains illegal in most states but their lives will not be changed. I would argue that the more we change the actions of nonbelievers the harder it will be for them to change their lives because they will be so turned off by Christianity. Also, the great commission is to be done through the church while it seems like anti-gay marriage advocates are relying on the secular government.

        • Frank

          Yes I see your point but it borders on semantics. Lives are made up of actions. We ultimately are what we do. Jesus said teach them to obey.

          All that said I am with Keller too in his prediction (which is not something he endorses) but I maintain that supporting gay marriage actively in words or deeds is an act of hate and at best “doing nothing” is an act of apathy which could also be called hate.

  • http://anselm-ministries.us Chuck Sigler

    “In the beginning God …” translates the first three Hebrew words in Genesis. There is a fundamental distinction between God and his creation; between God and everything else. The analogy I sometimes find helpful here is that between an author and a novel. Evangelical Christianity (and it would seem to me that most other theistic religions) holds that knowledge of this Creator God exists as a general, fundamental aspect of his created order (general revelation). That knowledge is available for everyone to see and comprehend as evidence of the existence of a Creator God.

    But Evangelical Christians also believe from Romans chapter one that some will deny that there can be evidence in the created order that points towards a knowledge of God. For this to be true, then there cannot be irrefutable evidence in creation that there is a God, let alone the God of the Bible. General revelation is not enough for human beings to truly know God. Evangelical Christians additionally hold that God has provided additional knowledge (or special revelation) for individuals to truly know God; and that the Bible is that special revelation. This further knowledge can be trusted; it is true in what it says about God. The Biblical, Christian God is not a trickster god and what He says in the Bible should be believed.

    Draw two circles, one above the other; then draw straight lines joining their outer circumference points. The top circle represents the Christian understanding of the Creator God and the bottom circle represents his creation. The lines joining the two circles represents general revelation. This is Cornelius Van Til’s way of portraying the above discussion of the Creator-creature distinction. Now add a line from the outer edge of the top circle into the center of the bottom circle. For Evangelical Christians, this is the special revelation of the Bible. When this revelation is questioned or challenged, “did God say …” some Evangelicals see this as an attack upon the only way we can truly know God. Evangelicals are fundamentally people of the Book and react (often wrongly) when they perceive this view of special revelation being challenged, questioned or dismissed as untrue or irrelevant.

    I think Peter’s view of Scripture as incarnational (“Christ is both God and human, so is the Bible. In other words, we are to think of the Bible in the same way that Christians think about Jesus.” page 17 of “Inspiration and Incarnation”) is helpful here. The line representing the special revelation of Scripture added to Van Til’s Creator-creature distinction above is seen as one line that simultaneously exists within and outside the created order. The Bible for Evangelicals is simultaneously from God and part of Creation. When the human understanding of Scripture is questioned or challenged, some Evangelicals instinctively react as if the entirety of the special revelation of Scripture is being questioned, challenged or dismissed. Speaking within Peter’s incarnational analogy, Evangelicals (I think) would add that not only does the incarnational nature of Scripture mean that it is “100 percent God and 100 percent human—at the same time”, but that just as the human nature of Christ is without sin, the special revelation of God within creation was given truly, without error or sin. Christ’s human sinless would have to be analogically present in God’s special revelation in the Bible for an Evangelical holding to the infallibility doctrine of Scripture to agree with Peter’s incarnational analogy of Scripture. If the “100 percent human” part of Scripture means the special revelation of God as the Bible is fallible, errant, etc., Evangelicals can’t and shouldn’t go there. As Peter quoted Tim Keller, “you’re going to have to ask them to completely disassemble the way in which they read the Bible.” And potentially come dangerously close to questioning the “100 percent God and 100 percent human” doctrine of Christ. Here may be the crux on the matter.

    Evangelicals looking for an alternate “explanatory paradigm” for how to live on this planet will have to retain an understanding of the Bible as God’s special revelation in some way if the older doctrinal terminology of inerrancy and infallibility is now unacceptable. Otherwise, they will cease to be “evangelical.” Please step outside the traditional interpretive tradition that fails to account for the general revelatory knowledge of the 100% human aspect of the Bible, but don’t cut the cord of the special revelation of Scripture.

  • Scott Canion

    @Andrew The beginning of Genesis is obviously literary mythology, whether or not it’s intended to reflect a factual history. However, to me it seems as though it is intended to function as prolegomena for Genesis and the Pentateuch and provide an accurate worldview for the Hebrew peoples. Has something happened that has reordered creation so that this worldview is no longer accurate, or are you saying that such a worldview never was accurate? It seems that you are not only rejecting inerrancy, but rejecting that the text is even inspired at all. It’s one thing to acknowledge that the Scriptures contain instances of human error, it’s quite another to say that its human authors were so incorrect in their thinking that their intents are skewed, illegitimate or that they should be dismissed and our own thoughts and assumptions inserted in their place. I agree that there are significant issues within evangelicalism regarding interpretation. Almost no one is doing it well; everyone is reading their own tradition over the text. However, I’m unclear on your hermeneutic. Once author’s intent is no longer the criteria, then the text is subject to being paved over by whatever meaning we choose to insert, whether that be existing theological traditions or prevailing cultural thought. How do you determine meaning?
    With regards to the “born that way” issue. DNA and genome research is moving us closer and closer to all sorts of predictive science with regards to human behavior and orientation. If science can prove that people are born with a predisposition toward alcoholism, are we to take it then that this is just the way they are and are we to assume then that no one, including the affected person, should make efforts to avoid it because they were born that way? Perhaps you feel that only “destructive” behaviors such as this should be corrected, but then that takes us back to a moral question, does it not? What is destructive to human flourishing? What does it look like to be truly human?
    Perhaps the more basic question to what you are posing is “Is sexual intercourse a requirement for basic human flourishing, satisfaction and intimacy, and if so, in what circumstances?”
    Just my thoughts, would love to hear more of yours. Maybe I’m misreading you.

    • Andrew

      Well Scott, a lot of thoughts in there so I’ll try my best to response succinctly.
      My comment about Genesis was in response to Frank’s comments about “original sin” being the cause for natural disorders/sickness etc. This whole response by Augustine (formerly a Manichean who believed that the material world was inherently evil, and who also apparently had a libido that he felt was beyond his control) to the problem of evil and the contention that the “Fall” created an “original sin” that afflicts all humans is a relatively late idea (hundreds of years after Christ). His ideas in turn influenced much of what became orthodox Roman Catholic theology and especially a major part of the Reformation. But Jesus and his fellow Jews didn’t believe in original sin; that concept for them didn’t exist. It’s a theological construct that I do not believe in and one can only see it in the Bible if they are already wearing their “post-Augustine/Reformation” lenses on, if that makes sense.
      I do not believe being born with a predisposition towards addiction is at all akin to sexual orientation. Our attraction to others and a desire to give and receive romantic love is IMO a major component of being human; heck it’s a major component of intelligent mammals (whether the great apes feel “romance” I have no idea but my general point remains :)) That component is part and parcel who we are as individuals. A person can live their whole life without a sip of alcohol and be perfectly fulfilled and happy; a life devoid of romantic love can still be fulfilling to a degree, but is generally not as fulfilling as it could be and for most is incredibly lonely; we have innate desires for romantic companionship (which comes with it, sex).
      Your question “is sexual intercourse a requirement for basic human flourishing” has already been answered by human history. Yes, a very small number of spiritual monks remain celibate their whole lives; the wide majority of human beings engage in sex. The better question which I have yet to hear a satisfactory answer to is if homosexuality does come from nature, and the sexual relationship is conducted in accordance with love, respect, and fidelity, what is going against the Holy Spirit here? (and the whole “ability to produce to biological children” argument falls flat on its face due to the existence of infertile/elderly straight couplings which no-one takes issue with).

      • CraigCregger

        I think it has to do with what God defines at acceptable vs. what God defines as unacceptable. Pornography is a great rush. It brings alot of excitement, and I might add fulfillment (sorry to allude to something very crass here). Some people are more predisposed to really getting thrills from porn. Some guys find it disgusting. But some love it, and look for more extreme fringes of it to continue to get excited and fulfilled. Therefore, some are born to really enjoy porn.

        Now, the secular world does not outlaw porn – unless its children. Consenting adults are perfectly allowed to engage in porn activities for watching, be it video or print. However, would you say that therefore God’s view of porn is “as long at it doesn’t hurt anyone and the one photographed and the one enjoying the photograph don’t mind, then God is fine with it”. I would think not.

        So, for the Christian, if he gets a rush from porn, he still has to reckon that with a God who sees that as sin.

        • Andrew

          I don’t think pornography in and of itself is inherently sinful; people can get too wrapped up in it to the point it harms their relations with others, just like drinking too much can, but I wouldn’t make an overarching statement like “all pornography is sinful” just like I wouldn’t say “all consumption of alcohol is sinful.” But neither viewing pornography or drinking alcohol though point to the innate desire to romantic companionship I was talking about; it’s another case of making false equivalents.
          And pulling the “what God defines as acceptable” card brings us back to square one and how one interprets the Bible. Do you believe God once upon a time really deemed shaving off the sides of one’s beard “unacceptable?”
          It seems that a problem with evangelical Christianity is that in the absence of hard material evidence of God, the Bible becomes a material substitute and its four corners become a type of shelter in which one can feel safe in.

          • craigcregger

            “I don’t think pornography in and of itself is inherently sinful”
            oi, oi, oi. In this case I suggest that our ability to converse over this topic is impossible. Anything you disagree with will boil down to “I don’t interpret it that way”. Discussion closed.. Please see Frank’s comments below about studying.

        • Frank

          Exactly! Porn = lust which Jesus condemned!

          • Andrew

            OK well the next time you look upon with a women with lust let me know how the eye removal surgery transpires, since we are being all biblical and all.

          • Frank

            Stop with the silliness. Your comment shows that there is something you don’t understand. I suggest more study, you need it.

          • WB

            Frank, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that whenever you feel you can’t answer a comment on this thread, you go ad hominem. Andrew’s point is serious. Literalism is always selective. If you take Jesus’ obviously figurative suggestion to gouge out your own eye as not literal, then why not take Genesis’ obviously mythological beginning (esp compared to other similar texts of the ancient world) as not literal? It’s because your evangelical ideology tells you which should be literal and which should not. Why is it better to die on the mountain of an ideology codified in 1910 than to try to follow truth no matter how complex, no matter how far it might take you from what your Christian subculture has taught you?

            Jesus had something to say about religious subcultures that hold onto self-supporting ideologies that reinforce their own power at all costs.

          • Frank

            Andrew is obviously confused if he thinks pornography can ever be good. How about you?

            Jesus warned us about lust, Andrew doesn’t respond to that fact but instead interjects a strawman. We can talk about the consequences of lust but that’s not the point nor does it in any way invalidate the words of Jesus on lust.

          • Andrew

            Frank, back in ancient Rome “lust” was equated with certain actions; often correlated with sexual violence. Widespread rape of the conquered, child prostitution, concubinage, along with your more basic “cheat on your spouse” type of adultery. Referring to “lust” as a sin didn’t refer to anything that provoked sexual desire just like referring to “greed” doesn’t equate to engaging in any activity that creates beyond a subsistence profit. Jesus’s comment about “looking at another woman with lust” equating to adultery taken in the larger context of the rest of those sections in Matthew is referring to how malicious actions begin with malicious thoughts . . thus if you constantly think about cheating on your wife with a certain woman, you’re more likely to actually do it. It correlates with the larger theme of purity of heart naturally producing “good fruit” ie good works. Thus the exhortations to “enter into the kingdom like children” reflecting the pureness of love and spirit that children possess but that gets corroded with experience, disappointment and skepticism as we age.
            Regarding pornography, many married couples actually use what would be classified as pornography to enhance their sex lives (and some people use it as a means of becoming emotionally and physically distant from their partner, so it can be lead to unhealthy problems as well, but it depends on the people involved and the specifics of the relationship), so no you can’t subjectively throw that in under the grand umbrella of “lust.” How people utilize it can produce both good and bad fruit . . just like drinking alcohol.

            And how is it a strawman? Are you honestly going to tell me you don’t pick and choose what Bible verses to take more “literally” than others? Because if you are, frankly you are lying. 100% of Christianity does the same thing, but some are more apt to admit it than others.

          • Frank

            If you want to believe that porn is ok that your business. Since its so clearly not ok then we have very little common ground to continue.

            Porn produces lust, porn objectifies people. If that’s ok with you then you are being deceived.

          • Andrew

            Ugh, I knew I shouldn’t have responded to the pornographic comment, because I knew then that would be all that would be responded/dwelt on, instead of my larger point. Ironic (or not) that the two more conservative commentators now just “can’t even debate with me” anymore b/c I dared not think that all that would be classified as pornography, which would include some of humanity’s most celebrated literature, does not all spring from the devil. It does remind one of arguing with a 6th grader!

          • Frank

            Well sometimes I am forced to come down to the level of those I am speaking with.

            If you don’t believe something you should not write it. And if you do you should be prepared to stand by it. Your comments are very telling and you shouldn’t be surprised that if you say something foolish you may be considered a fool.

          • Frank

            Btw when I think of porn I do not think of great literature that has sex in it.

        • Kennyd23

          Porn is the largest money makers on the internet
          and one of the most destructive.
          God hates Sin because it hurts us.and he loves us.
          For the Christian who struggles with porn, or alcohol, drugs
          Gambling understanding Grace is a good thing
          Right believing will lead to right living.

    • http://anselm-ministries.us Chuck Sigler

      Human nature is a “psychosomatic unity” of body (soma) and soul (psyche). Although I first heard this term in Anthony Hoekema’s theological work, “Created in God’s Image,” to describe the material-immaterial composition of human nature, I think it can easily be applied in a humanistic, non-religious way to human nature. Any attempt to explain an aspect of human nature merely from a somatic point of view will only get it half right, at best; because the immaterial, soulish part of human nature is either ignored, dismissed or subsumed under the material, bodily aspect of human nature.

  • Neil

    I know this is more like what US evangelicals are like, but speaking as someone who lives in the UK and also reads a lot of posts from the US, I can say that ‘evangelical’ means something different over here.
    For instance, most UK evangelicals would have no problem with evolution, and I didn’t growing up. In my twenties I started seeing some material that gave me something else to think about, and I now don’t think there is any evidence for it. But my path to that belief had almost nothing to do with how I read the Bible-I still have problems with the idea of a six day creation because of how we measure time. But my main point is that over here there are different issues that unite and divide evangelicals, so knowing this, I think it is more important to encourage people to read the bible for themselves and think about rather than just accept what someone else says. Anyone else. The Bible actually commends this approach-the Bereans searched the scriptures to find out if what paul said was true.

    Also, a side point. If you are mainly concerned with one issue, why occasionally bring up the issue of sexuality at all? And if you are going to explore various issues, why doe this one appear so often?

  • James

    Yes, Tim Keller is a well respected voice in the evangelical world. I just wish I knew exactly what evangelicalism is other than a system of belief that holds to inerrancy improperly understood, which I don’t believe applies to all evangelicals. The issue for me is faithful interpretation of Scripture. If we need to disassemble the way we’ve always read it, well and good, but we better build up a more faithful way to read or all we have left is a pile of rubble.

  • Steven

    The thing is that there are a hundred or even a thousand ways to read the Bible. If that were not so then there wouldn’t be so many different churches, each one convinced that its interpretation of Scripture is most valid.

    At the end of the day, they can’t all be right. In fact it’s highly probable that none of them are. At least, not completely. Scripture itself talks about us seeing “through a glass, darkly”, which tells me that none of us see it as it really is. So I’ve never really understood the concept of “inerrancy”. Only God knows what is truly inerrant and the rest of us can only guess at it. The fact that we come to such different conclusions leads me to believe that how we journey (i.e. how we treat others on the way to arriving at the conclusions we arrive at) is just as important as the final destination (i.e. being either right or wrong). I revolt against a Pharisaical focus on traditional interpretation and correct form accompanied by a sneering dismissal or demonization of anyone who sees things differently.

    It may be that Tim Keller holds certain views that other evangelicals find unacceptable and revisionist, but then those very same evangelicals hold views that would be unacceptable to the founders of their churches, whose views in turn would have been unacceptable to the Universal Church they all ultimately split off from in the first place. We’re all revisionists when compared to someone else.

    In my own human imperfection I constantly judge my fellow man, however I’m also aware that by doing so I’m constantly shooting myself in the foot and missing what stands out more and more clearly as the entire point of Scripture: that we’re all broken and we can’t repair ourselves, so our only hope is to place our trust in the Lord and love Him with all our hearts and try to love our neighbors as ourselves. We may come to different conclusions across a whole range of topics, but the moment we deride or show contempt and hatred for our neighbor is the moment we get it so badly wrong that it doesn’t matter if our interpretation of this issue or that issue is closer to God’s truth than anyone else’s. Being right won’t save us. There’s no entrance examination for salvation.

    • Brendan

      Steven, agreed that being right doesn’t save; we can’t say we know God when we hate our brothers and sisters. But I also think the idea of biblical inerrancy is helpful when that means the Bible, and not MY interpretation of it, is without error. indeed, the Bible itself says that no one can see God or understand God’s Word (written or incarnate) unless God opens her or his eyes. (And since inerrancy only properly applies to the original texts that we don’t have, and our textual tradition has thousands of variants, I’m always open to the possibility that a verse or word in my English translation might not be *exactly* what the original said.) Inerrancy need not mean dogmatic certainty, but does provide helpful direction and definition for our faith.

      So i hold to inerrancy, but aim to do so with humility, always being open to correction and using the Bible as a signpost pointing to the Triune God rather than a club to bludgeon others – because I think that’s what the Bible teaches about itself. Praise God for that!

    • valoreem

      Steven, I’m finding this 7 months after you have written it. What you have written should be burned in all our “Christian” brains. Well written, what I have been thinking but unable to express so clearly. Thank you!!!!

  • Brendan

    I’m just happy that everyone here is, on the whole, civil and well thought through! Disagreements sure, but no trollin’ I can see! That makes me happy. :D

  • http://all-thought-is-practical.blogspot.com Scott Coulter

    “the evangelical view of the Bible as God’s inerrant authority for the church is its ground floor raison d’etre. Evangelicalism exists, at least intellectually, to defend and promote this view.”

    Not necessarily.

    As I have experienced evangelicalism, it seems to be about the centrality of a personal conversion story, as much or more as it is about a particular way of reading the Bible. Evangelicalism as I first came to understand it as a teenager was about seeking common ground with Christians of different denominations and traditions–even Catholics–and defining our unity around our belief in the need for personal faith, personal experience, and personal conversion.

    The ways my understanding of what the gospel is has changed (i.e., going beyond Jesus dying to save me, an individual person, from Hell and for Heaven after I die), as much or more than the ways my approach to reading the Bible has changed, is what makes me question whether the label “evangelical” still applies to me.

  • Doug

    I think a major reason why it is so difficult for evangelicals to give up on inerrancy is that, like nearly every comment on this post, (not one mention of the Spirit in this discussion? Really??) they are not fully trinitarian- they have a functional binatarianism of the Father and the Son, but no Spirit. This deficient pneumatology occludes them from seeing God’s activity in the world through the Spirit. And if you don’t experience the reality of the living Christ, SOMETHING has to be constructed as your foundation, and in 19th-20th century protestantism, that something is inerrancy.
    My faith doesn’t have to rely on a inerrant bible, because i see The living Christ working through the Spirit in my life, in my local church community, and in the world. It’s God presence that grounds my relationship with him, the Holy scriptures are A SOURCE of understanding, not the ONLY source. That’s a burden that fundamentalism placed on the WRITTEN word, that is supposed to be placed on the LIVING word.

    • Scott Canion

      @Doug- How do you validate your position the LIVING word it a legitimate source for understanding?

    • Stevestack

      Dude, Jesus believed in the authority of the scriptures, as did his disciples. If u believe in a sovereign God who doesn’t make mistakes then u should believe in the innerancy of His Word. If not you’re a heretic. It’s not complicated. Yes the Spirit lives in us and guides us but only when his promptings are put through the sift of the Bible can we be certain they are from Him. The devil himself masquerades as an angel of light, or is that idea passé as well?

      • http://progressivesalvationist.blogspot.com Timothy McPherson

        Trying to call someone a heretic is something only God should do.

        • Steven

          I think Paul would disagree.

        • Steven

          The fact is that all this business of not adhering to the authority of the Bible is all human pride. It is difficult to humble yourself, to be submissive to the Bible, and sometimes it feels contrary to our nature. But whats wrong with that? Our nature is fallen, and no man is righteous. If God exists, why do we have such a problem with his moral absoluteness? No, any thought outside of the Bible is mere human speculation, driven by our emotion, or shaped by our culture. We are only motivated by our own happiness, even those of us who hang ourselves. God is NOT as interested in our happiness as he is in our character. What he thinks of us is infinitely more important than what we think of him. What we think of him is only as important as it relates to what he thinks of us. He gave us the Bible to understand him as far as he wants to reveal himself. He has spoken. To ignore it is to reject God.

    • http://ryangear.com/ Ryan Gear

      Great point, Doug. I think you’re right. In some strains of evangelical theology, the Bible has replaced the Holy Spirit, which is of course, bibliolatry.

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  • http://www.AnswersinGenesis.org Georgia Purdom

    “Maybe the way in which evangelical read the Bible and conceive of its authority is the problem in the evangelical system that needs to be rethought, rather than being the non-negotiable hill to stand and die on for addressing every issue that comes down the road?”

    This is an interesting but sad article from Peter Enns (professor at Eastern University, writes for Biologos, and author of the Evolution of Adam) about the “problem” of biblical authority. One thing he does get right is that if we start questioning the Bible’s authority in one place (like creation) then it leads to questioning it in other places as well (like the definition of marriage).

    • peteenns

      Georgia, I accept comments from everyone (unlike AIG posts), but I am not sure what you hope to accomplish by your comment here. Are you seeking to antagonize? Is that what Christ requires of you? I am also a bit miffed at how much you have gotten wrong in this brief comment. (1) I am not referring to the Bible’s authority in an absolute sense, but “THE WAY in which evangelicals read the Bible….” (2) I do not tie creation to homosexuality. You do.

      This is either an intentionally misrepresentative reading of my article or careless one. I am not sure which is worse. Regardless, your slippery sleep argument, though common from AIG, is simplistic, misinformed, and adds nothing to the discussion that thoughtful followers of Jesus are trying to have. I will only accept subsequent comments from you if they display a willingness to engage and LEARN rather than pontificate.

      • TA

        Actually his comments are quite valid and must have struck a nerve for you to fly off the handle like you did.

        • Stevestack

          Yeah man. We don’t change the way we read scripture because a temporal, carnal, and perishing culture requires we do in order not to be criminalized. Being a Christian really is radical, the Word really is infallible, and Christ really is our ultimate treasure. These aren’t traditions. This is the definition of a Christian.

          • http://progressivesalvationist.blogspot.com Timothy McPherson

            Interesting topic on infallibility: What is your definition of infallibility? Do you mean all Scripture is true, or that all Scripture is factually correct?

          • Steven

            I mean its true, perfectly true and inspired by God Almighty. There are different literary styles to be interpreted according to the style or genre. If its giving a geneaology or historical account, I believe its factual and accurate, as archaeology continues to reveal. God also uses parables, prophecy and poetry, like in the psalms for example, to speak Truth to us. Good question. Is that what u mean? The fact is, it still requires faith to accept that it is the living, inspired, Word of God. But its accuracy is uncanny, especially considering its a collection of 66 books by 40 or so authors from 3 continents over a span of 2000 years, with one common overarching theme and zero contradictions.

      • Darius Beckham

        This response was completely unwarranted

    • Darius Beckham

      Dr. Purdom I was surprised to see your comment here! You’re a celebrity in my eyes. Thanks for standing up for the truth :]

  • http://www.libchrist.com/bible/contents.html John Sanchez

    The church has been wrong on sex for so many centuries its just sick. It used to be considered fornication if you enjoyed sex in a marriage relationship. That was the belief from 300 ad till just the mid 1900′s Study what the church taught on sex from People like Augustine and Jerome. It only got worse after them. A good book on this is “The poisoning of Eros” by Raymond Lawrence. If you want a bible study on what the Bible has to say on sex and homosexuality I highly recommend. Divine Sex: Liberating Sex from Religious Tradition by Philo Thelos and God is not a Homophobe By same author.
    This website has some good resources as well

  • John

    Reading and interpreting Genesis would have to be different for an evangelical simply because of the genres to which the first chapters of Genesis belong. However, evangelicalism really stands by according to the scriptures an authority that other traditions did not. While the acceptance that the scripture is the word of God requires a certain epistemological judgement on the part of the believer, a believer stands under its judgement for his life and conduct. Otherwise, one can believe anything and justify it based on the basis that we retain the right to interpret the way we want. This is precisely what evangelical Christianity has tried to avoid.

  • Marty Fields

    Dr. Enns- as one who has appreciated your work I think your “self-assessment” notions result in a reductio ad absurdum. It will only result in subjectivism.

  • John Richard

    WOW! Thanks Tim Keller. Perfect place to find Volunteers!

    We need homophobic Christian volunteers to undergo “heterosexual conversion therapy” in order to make them homosexual. This would provide definitive scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.

    We know from science that “gay conversion therapy” does not work and that you cannot “pray the gay away” yet it may be possible to change heterosexual homophobic Christians to homosexuality as that has not yet been attempted.

    “Heterosexual Conversion Therapy” would have steps such as:

    (1) Participate in art museums, opera, symphonies, etc.

    (2) Avoid activities considered of interest to heterosexuals, such as sports activities.

    (3) Avoid men unless it is for romantic contact.

    (4) Increase time spent with homosexual men in order to learn to mimic homosexual male ways of walking, talking, and interacting with other homosexual men.

    (5) Avoid church and join a gay community group

    (6) Attend heterosexual reparative therapy group to discuss progress, or slips back into heterosexuality.

    (7) Become more assertive with men through flirting and dating,

    (8) Begin homosexual dating,

    (9) Engage in homosexual intercourse.

    (10) Enter into heterosexual marriage (when it becomes legal in your country).

    • Kennyd23

      That is some strange thinking.and way too many stereo types and cliches.
      The Gay community used to say just leave us alone. now that is not enough, society must affirm their lifestyle choices.
      Sin is Sin but there is a difference from a struggling and practicing.
      Jesus died for sinners ,meta noya

  • Kelli

    As an evangelical, I don’t see myself reading the Bible in a certain way. I also don’t ever use “the Bible said it, therefore it is exactly that way” mentality. This doesn’t include rational thought and pursuit of truth. I do believe 100% that the Bible is true and that we have to be very careful of not inserting our own feelings and experiences into the Scripture. However, we also don’t just allow common culture to influence our views either. If you are uncertain about something in particular, study, study, study! Let’s take evolution: study the Scriptures, study pro-evolutionary science, study anti-evolutionary science. See what is really out there and then pray that God gives you a peace about your pursuit of truth. I know what I believe and when asked, I can defend what I believe. At some point, people will disagree with you and this is the way it will always be. But hopefully they will respect that you haven’t formed an opinion willy-nilly.

  • http://ryangear.com/ Ryan Gear

    This is a fantastic article.

    Keller assumes that evangelicals’ opinions on same sex marriage and toward people who are gay are static. They are not. The percentages depend on the poll, but over the past twenty years, an increasing percentage of evangelicals are supporting same sex marriage and do not condemn people who are gay. The change of mind is happening slowly, but it is happening.

    It is difficult for me to believe that 25 years from now, a majority of evangelicals will condemn people who are gay as sinners. Like opinions on slavery, science, women’s rights, and the right of African Americans to vote, evangelicals will change their minds about same sex marriage over time, as well.

    Conservative evangelicals desperately need to reexamine the way they interpret the Bible, or they face an uncertain future in American culture. Even in the past couple of years, evangelical faith is being increasing tethered to Tea Party politics (“Teavangelicals”), and this does not bode well for the future of evangelical faith.

    Read literally, the New Testament instructs slaves to obey their masters and to be content in their slavery (Ephesians 6v5, 1 Corinthians 7v21), wives to obey their husbands as their “head” (Ephesians 5v22-23) and wives to wear veils in worship as a sign of their husbands’ authority over them (1 Corinthians 11v2-16).

    In 2013, these social customs are already more at home in Saudi Arabia than in the United States. In the eyes of Americans, the view of people who are gay in both the Old and New Testaments is also quickly moving in that direction. Any Christian who chooses to live by ancient Middle Eastern or Greco-Roman social customs will have an increasingly difficult time living in the United States of America in the 21st century. Conservative evangelicals can disagree with this assessment, but they still have to live with this reality.

    I consider conservative evangelicals to my brothers and sisters in Christ, and love for brothers and sisters demands honesty. As Peter writes:

    “Maybe the way in which evangelicals read the Bible and conceive of its authority is the problem in the evangelical system that needs to be rethought, rather than being the non-negotiable hill to stand and die on for addressing every issue that comes down the road?”

    • http://ryangear.com/ Ryan Gear

      I need to clarify my statement above. Tim Keller states that evangelicals are becoming more open to same sex marriage while holding their view that same sex marriage is a sin. I think Keller is correct on that point.

      In addition, my comment above was meant to assert that an increasing number of Christians I know no longer condemn persons who are gay as sinners. This is a change, not just regarding same sex marriage but regarding how Christians view persons who are gay.

      I think this change of mind toward persons who are gay comes from a way of interpreting the Bible that springs from understanding the biblical books within their cultural context. In other words, what was Paul thinking when he wrote Romans 1? When Paul speaks of persons in a same sex relationship in Romans 1, is he thinking of same sex relationships the same way that 21st century Americans do?

      This requires study of the Greco-Roman culture in which Paul lived and wrote. If 2,000 years ago, Paul thought of same sex relationships as something different from 21st century Americans, that should influence our interpretation.

      This is true of all biblical interpretation. We cannot assume that the biblical author held our cultural assumptions. To do so is so commit eisegesis.

  • Mick Miller

    Wow – just trying to get my head around all of this!

    So, would I be correct if I summarised (UK English) that – on one ‘side’ – we have a group of Christians (described as ‘conservative evangelicals’ or simply ‘evangelicals’) who believe that everything in the Bible is 100% true – even if our growing understanding of the world we live in may suggest otherwise. They also believe that the Bible was basically dictated word for word by God (inerrancy???) through men (even though we may have very little/no direct knowledge of where books like Genesis originally came from). And this group are determined to stick with this belief no matter what, otherwise they fear that too much/any questioning of the Bible’s authority may lead to … chaos?

    And on the other ‘side’ we have some people that are suggesting the Bible is a mix of: men’s thoughts and writings about their experience of God and their history with God (that may well be influenced by the culture/circumstances they lived in); + some of God’s absolute truth/wisdom; + some historical documentation about things that took place. And it is for us to try and work out which is which, with the help of God’s Spirit within us – even though this may lead to a lot of confusion and disagreement about what is ‘right or wrong’ (although, from what I’ve experienced, it’s hard to imagine much more disagreement and confusion among Christians than already exists).

    Would this be a fair summary or am I over simplifying things/missing stuff – which is very possible (sorry if I am).

    • http://progressivesalvationist.blogspot.com Timothy McPherson

      You have summarized (US English) this very accurately. This is the unfortunate stance of theology in the United States today. There are, however, progressives like myself who view Scriptures in the light of your second statement.

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    Peter, it is fair for you to ask Evangelicals to be willing to re-think the way they read the Bible. However, when you do this without offering them a viable alternative, you do not serve them well.

    To say, as I’ve heard you say, that reliable history in the Bible begins around the time of Omri (Randal Rauser’s podcast) requires an Evangelical to give up much more than inerrancy. This would still be true even if the only history you were asking them to give up was in Genesis. If you were clearer about what you wanted Evangelicals to shed and what you’d encourage them to retain, you might find more takers.

    • John Richard

      I would recommend a few good books. God is not a Homophobe by Philo Thelos and Divine Sex: Liberating sex from religious tradition. Same Author. Other good reads would be The poisoning of Eros by Raymond Lawrence and Dirt Greed and Sex by William Countryman. If you believe in sola scriptura then these books will be enlightening.

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        I do believe in sola scriptura, but nothing about your book titles gave me hope of being enlightened. Then I looked up their descriptions on Amazon and became even more discouraged.

        The spirit of this age has pulled many Evangelicals in its drift. I feel bad enough for those who have succumbed to sensual temptation, but even worse for those who have corrupted their understanding of the Bible in order to justify the capitulation.

        • John Richard

          Its the other way around. The church corrupted the teaching on sexuality from the time of Augustine on. You should read the books and then form an opinion. Divine sex is just a bible study on what the BIBLE says about sex. I see lots of Bible Gymnastics when people see that the bible talks quite differently than what is taught today after centuries of sex negative doctrine.

          • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

            I don’t need to wallow in the mud to know that it is mud.

            The Scriptures are clear and Jesus is clear: sex is for marriage, and there is no such thing as “same-sex marriage.”

            When the church repents and returns to the purity of Christ then the world will see some light. The great moral decay we see in society today can only be resisted if those who call themselves Christians return to their first love: Jesus Christ Himself.

          • http://progressivesalvationist.blogspot.com Timothy McPherson

            Unfortunately, the Scriptures aren’t clear on that. In the Old Testament, polygamy and incest were allowed and condoned (Abraham and Sarah (brother and sister) and Hagar and Keturah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob’s 2 wives & 2 concubines).

            Jesus is silent on anything that we would consider to be homosexuality and Paul’s view on it are from an era where pederasty was common.

          • j

            Neither polygamy nor incest was ever condoned. It’s an imperfection and part of man’s fallen nature. No great man or woman of Yahweh in scripture is perfect including Abraham and Lot.

            God explicitly created one man (Adam) for one woman (Eve).

            Plus Paul also mentions female homosexuality:
            Romans 1:26-27 – “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful
            lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.
            In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and
            were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts
            with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their

          • http://progressivesalvationist.blogspot.com Timothy McPherson

            Polygamy was also never condemned, unless you take Paul’s requirement for bishops out of context.

            Plus, the Scripture passage you have shown does not deal with homosexuality as we understand it today. It’s very easy to look at these Scripture passages in today’s context without looking at it in its historical context.

        • http://progressivesalvationist.blogspot.com Timothy McPherson

          I prefer the Wesleyan Quadrilateral to “sola scriptura.” However, that’s my own opinion.

  • Apologist

    If Jesus was asked the same question that Tim Keller was asked Jesus would not beat around the bush he would tell them like it is, Homosexuality is a sin, and they will go to hell if they dont repent.

    • beau_quilter

      Yeah, that sounds just like Jesus. Gee, why don’t you write a gospel.

  • Apologist

    If God approved of homosexuality he would have made two men or two women in the garden. God is not confused. There is not need to get into intellectual arguments and dig up scientific evidence. Do u see animals mating their own kind? Even the animals know better. God didn’t make an error when he created man for woman. It is a sin just like, stealing, fornication, adultery etc. Let us not be self deceived let us therefore repent and ask him to help us in our weakness of the flesh.

    • beau_quilter

      Actually, many animal species have been documented in scientific studies displaying homosexual behaviors. My grandfather complained every year about the sheep and goats on his farm that mated with the wrong sex.

      • j

        Give your point though Scripture speaks of an all encompassing fallen creation

        • Beau Quilter

          “Give your point”? I’m not sure what you are trying to say.

    • http://progressivesalvationist.blogspot.com Timothy McPherson

      This is very interesting. You are doing exactly what Keller says here. It appears to me that you are having a hard time with viewing the Bible anything other than historical. There are some Christians who do not view the Genesis story as historical because they cannot accept scientific fact for how things were made. (I am one of these.) The main thing I understand from Genesis is that God created the cosmos and why He did. I also understand that God was trying to explain this to a people who believed the Earth was flat and that there were oceans of water above them that would come crashing down if it weren’t for a firmament.

  • ctrace

    “practical realties of contemporary life” = sin.

    By the way, try giving up your naive reading of science at some point.

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