Tim Keller on Homosexuality, Hell, and Human Flourishing

Robert Gagnon, at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, an astute scholar of the question of homosexuality in the NT has written a critique of some 2008 comments by Tim Keller regarding homosexuality. In response, Rachel Miller writes,

For me, while Dr. Keller’s remarks on homosexuality are disappointing, it is his redefinition of sin and hell that I find much more troubling. Dr. Keller states that sin doesn’t send a person to hell, but rather self-righteousness does and that sin is just what is bad for “human flourishing.”

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  1. Wait, Keller did what? If Keller were not so much of a public figure this would be a sad cace of /facepalm. Unfortunately he influences a large number of people outside his local congregation. His softening of the definition of sin, I wonder if it is a result of or a precursor to his ideas on evolution and the historical nature of Adam.

    • This statement from R. K. is a good illustration of what makes the conservative Reformed world so bizarre to outsiders. How exactly do these statements on sin connect with his (relative) openness to a Christian appropriation of evolutionary theory?

      I know how fond you guys are of slipper slope arguments, but I would appreciate an actual demonstration of these connections.

      • Well Kevin, as you write:

        Needless to say, a guy who loves Karl Barth and Simone Weil is not a typical evangelical, if an evangelical at all.

        Paradigm differences?

        But then I’m just one of “those guys,” You certainly seem to have us all figured out!

    • Kevin,
      The correlation between the two statements is due to the fact that both deal with the same issue, sin. If one takes the Adam to be a historical figure, and the story of the fall to be a report of an actual event then one is lead to the conclusion that evolution could not have occurred prior to the Fall of man. Why? Because there was no death before the fall. Evolution requires death to occur in order to weed out sub-performing mutations.

      On the other hand, if evolution is historical fact before the ‘fall of man’ then one of the penalties of sin, death, must be taken as an abstract idea or disregarded. Death is part of evolution, and it is part of the fall.
      If the penalty for sin is not death, but rather some other abstract principle then the view of sin changes.

      So, I see a re-definition of sin by Keller, and I wonder if it is due to his professed position on the historical Adam, or if his view on the historical Adam is because of his redefinition of sin. It is entirely possible that A & D are both results of an as yet unknown (by me in any case) change in Keller’s views.

      From logical viewpoint:

      A (the historical Adam) -> D (Death as the penalty for sin)
      E (Evolution) -> !D (not Death as the penalty for sin)
      Therefore E -> !A by Modus Tollens

      E -> !D
      A -> D
      !D -> !A
      therefore E->!A

      Sorry if I rambled on. Does that touch on your query? There are plenty of others that explain it far better.

  2. It would seem that Kellers problem was that he didn’t define sin in a away that scripture or the Westminster standards would define it. He also seems to ignour that self righteousness is a sin.

    • Andrew,

      This seems right. It seems likely to me that what’s afoot here is a failure to think (or at least to speak) confessionally, to define things the way the churches do. Sin certainly results in a lack of human flourishing but sin is much more than that! I’m sure Tim knows that truth. He’s said the same many times.

      RKB may be right. I have to look up modus tollens again. I did pay attention in Logic 101. I really did but it’s been so long.

  3. Thanks, Dr. Clark for the link to my blog.

    I think the previous comment is very interesting. There does seem to be a likely connection between Dr. Keller’s views on hell/sin/death and his view on evolution and the historical Adam. Although, it would be hard to determine which came first.

  4. My first thought was that Dr. Keller’s restatement of sin and hell reflects his indebtedness to CS Lewis. I see that Rachel came to the same conclusion. I think this is more likely the origin than his openness to evolution. His definition perhaps eases rapprochement between Christianity and evolution.

    Kevin, it may be helpful to read some of Dr. Keller’s fellow worker in Metro New York Presbytery, Dr. Choong. For example, see http://areopagus2005.blogspot.com/2008/02/transformative-evolutionary-doctrine-of.html for an idea of how creation, the fall, and sin have to change in an evolutionary framework.

  5. Hi Scott,

    I do think that Lewis’ influence is very strong. There was a generation of British evangelicals (though I that designation doesn’t fit Lewis well) that simply discarded the doctrine of hell as a remnant of outdated medieval thinking. John Stott and John Wenham come to mind.

    Few doctrines alienate moderns and late moderns more than the doctrine of hell.

  6. Amazing… Imop, To go so far against the clear teaching of scripture and the catechism… Which he swore to adhere to. Maybe I’m jumping off a cliff here but it seems to me that when a PCUSA guy thinks a PCA guy is soft on sin… Then the PCA is done as a denom. Also it seems weird that there is no discussion as to whether charges be brought, or at least a investigation for teaching that is out of bounds with the confession? Is it because the presbytery in NY is that liberal or he is just that popular and thus, untouchable? What is going on?

    • Gage,

      Call me a liberal but I think it’s worth further discussion rather than immediate censure. I want to know what he intended. What he said isn’t very helpful or confessional. So the question is whether he believes what we confess and if so why he is speaking in a way that seems to contradict it.

      The PCA is a 350,000 people. Tim is a very visible figure but he is not the PCA. I think anyone would say that the PCA has certain challenges. They’ve had difficulty dealing with the FV adequately on the presbytery level but the PCA has done other things very well.

      It’s a time for prayer and concern but yes, that might be cliff approaching quickly. De-acceleration might be in order.

  7. Would never accuse you of being a lib Dr. Clark. Pastoral advice is appreciated kind sir. Just seems like a PCA trend…or slide imop.

  8. It may be helpful to note that Tim Keller mentions this interview and apologizes for his poor answers in it here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2011/09/13/keller-on-salvation-outside-of-christ/.

    Sounds like it was the first time he was trying to put concepts to non-believers and he didn’t do a good job. Probably we should compare this interview with what he says normally about these subjects in his sermons and articles. I’m am pretty sure they will have a marked difference since his views of sin and hell are orthodox in past and present contexts.

    Lets move on folks and let people lay goose eggs sometimes. Even Tim Keller is flawed and can have a bad night. Perhaps we should all marvel that only one 2008 interview has ever gotten him any bad flack. Over the fullness of his ministry he has been consistent enough to not be knocked nearly as much as he has taken for this interview. Hope that helps. Cheers!

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