Tim Keller on preaching about homosexuality: "Ummmm... it’s just... it’s just think about... you know... you know..."
(Tim, w/thanks to a faithful man) By now, when the President of our own Covenant Theological Seminary invites Tim Keller to model pastoral ministry to his students over in St. Louis, he should know precisely what he's going to get and not be left batting cleanup for him. But take a listen to this exchange from one of Keller's recent visits, there.
It's a Q & A session in front of men preparing for pastoral ministry. A Covenant student asks the Rev. Dr. Tim Keller this question: "How do you think the church is or should be proactive with regard to the issue of homosexuality? I see the prevalence of homosexuality, yet the church seems to be afraid to touch the issue. How do we actively speak to believers about this topic in truth and in love?"
Which question launched the Keller/Chapell duo into this session of semantic dodge ball, with protective pads and helmets.
Was Tim Keller's answer bad?
Yes, his answer was bad.
Because he's a preacher of the Gospel and he ought to rejoice at being used by the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment. He ought to know God's Moral Law is man's schoolmaster, his crossing guard to the Cross. Pastor Keller's ministry is to singles in Manhattan, so he should (and easily could, given his gifts) excel at the proclamation of the wickedness of sodomy along with God's love and mercy for those ensnared in this foul pit...
Tim could do better--much better.
Why doesn't he?
That's a question very much worth asking because the answer has to do with the nature of preaching itself. What is preaching? How ought it to be done? What sort of model for preaching are we presented in the New Testament? Is the preaching of the New Testament time-bound and hidebound, or timeless and trans-cultural?
If Tim Keller were not The Model for conservative Reformed pastors today, I'd not be constant in my criticism of his approach to all things sexual. Sadly though, he is. And doubly sadly, our seminary president is a fan.
If you're more visual than auditory, here's a transcript of this particular question and answer at Covenant Theological Seminary done by a longtime Redeemer Presbyterian Church of Manhattan member who's been warning me for some time that Tim Keller does not address homosexuality from his pulpit.
Tim seems to cede the point, here.
My necessary conclusion for ministers of the Word and Sacrament is that Tim Keller is no example to emulate in preaching to an effeminate age.
Unless, of course, Tim Keller is a correction of the Apostle Paul's bad example.
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CHAPELL: [CTS student question] How do you think the church is or should be proactive with regard to the issue of homosexuality? I see the prevalence of homosexuality, yet the church seems to be afraid to touch the issue. How do we actively speak to believers about this topic in truth and in love?
KELLER: Uhhhh….well…(sigh)…The church is afraid to touch the topic? I….it may…….it..its possible…that….in the 20 yrs that I’ve seen that this issue has actually not.…ummm. it..uh…it hasn’t gone away its really gotten to be much much more..socially….
CHAPELL: Sure. Rural church, Sparta Illinois, 1985. I can tell the first Sunday I used the word ‘homosexuality’ and my wife wondered if I would have a job the next week. I mean, it was that scary of a subject at the time. So, if…now again, that’s rural Illinois but I’m guessing even now the church questions..now there’s all kinds of reasons for the fear. One, are you going to say something that your people are going to get mad at you about? Second, is the subject going to be so hot that the people who are struggling with an issue of of gender or sexuality, that I can’t even say in a public setting the kind of things I want to say to minister privately to this person. So how do I do this?
KELLER: Well, it’s much, much, much easier to to have private conversations about it. I think…..uh…I can make this short. I…I believe in general that if you preach on why homosexuality is a sin,..uhhh….there are……at least in my…in my..in my..in my church I know there’s lots and lots of folks who have same sex attraction who know that that’s not….as a Christian, I can’t do that. I’m not gonna go there. There’s a good number of them. I’ve got a lot of non-Christians who are present who are friends of gay people but are not gay. Uhhh…and then uhh there’d be a number of people with same sex attraction who…are there. And generally speaking, it’s almost impossible to preach a sermon and hit all 3 or 4 of those constituencies equally well. Ummmm.. it’s just.. it’s just think about..you know..you know…you’re a communicator. You know you need to…well, what’s my goal? Who are my audience and..wow! it’s like a conundrum you can’t solve. So, the best thing has always been for me..[CONSPICUOUS COUGH]…to not do the public teaching as much as segment my audience through…ummm [CONSPICUOUS COUGH]..Books, through classes, through one-on-ones, and so on. I think the time is probably coming in which we’re going to have be more public in how we talk about homosexuality. And I haven’t….I’m actually thinking quite a lot about it. Uhhh.. as to how I will go about it or how we should go about it but I’m not prepared to give you 3 bullet points.
CHAPELL: have you been able to say…again, very different congregations and cultures…Could you would you say from the pulpit at Redeemer, ‘Same-sex attraction, if it leads to activity that is same-sex oriented is a sin’?
KELLER: O yeah..well, you have to because you get to it and you’re preaching and you do. sure. But..what I’m saying is if you go…if you make it the subject of your sermon, uhhhh… it’s uhhhh..uh an entire sermon on it would not be an easy thing to get..you..you…you have to say what the Bible says and nobody at Redeemer doubts where we are. But for me to do teaching in the worship service, I am now going to give you the re…you know….the biblical teaching on homosexuality, that has been a hard thing to do when my audience is so diverse. I would have to say the average church, the audience isn’t nearly that diverse. And…so….I have not…made that the main place in which I’ve taught. But…we…we’ve done a fair amount of teaching inside amongst our leaders, our counselors, our undershepherds, our elders. We talk about it. Nobody doubts where we are. But I think that preaching on a Sunday about it…uhhhh…making public statements is…kind of in the cards because I think it’s gonna be a very, very divisive issue in the future.
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My son-in-law, Lucas, comments: "He broke a rule in software development: you are supposed to under-promise and over-deliver."