More thoughts on the Boy Scouts decision and where we go from here

Yesterday, I posted my initial thoughts on BSA’s decision to allow openly homosexual scouts. The feedback I received fell basically into two groups. One group was supportive of our decision not to continue in scouts. The other group said something along the lines of, “Would your church kick out people who struggle with homosexuality or same-sex attraction?” or “Since people in churches struggle with all types of sins, will you pull your family out of church too?”

I appreciate the sentiment behind the questions, but I think there is a considerable misunderstanding of why our family (and many others) will not be part of BSA anymore. This is not a question of whether there are scouts who struggle with same-sex attraction. I’m sure there are now and have always been people in scouting who struggle in that way. The policy change by BSA says that being openly homosexual is not inconsistent with being “morally straight.”

A number of people have pointed out that the BSA decision maintains that no scout, regardless of orientation, should be participating in any sexual activities. Therefore, the policy change just means that boys who admit to struggling with same-sex attraction will not be kicked out of scouting. This understanding of the policy change is what leads to the types of questions above.

However, I don’t believe that this is the best understanding of the new BSA policy. A person can be openly homosexual without having sex. A boy who dates girls, or expresses his desire to date girls, is openly heterosexual. A boy who dates boys, or expresses his desire to date boys, is openly homosexual. The result of the change in the BSA policy is that being openly homosexual is now acceptable, and packs and troops cannot refuse membership to any boy because of his sexual preference.

So, to answer the questions: no, I would not want my church to kick out those who struggle with same-sex attraction, anymore than I’d want to be kicked out for my own struggles with sin (controlling my tongue, anger, worry, etc.). No, I would not pull my family out of church because there are sinners struggling with same-sex attraction. All sinners saved by grace will continue to struggle against his or her sins until the day Christ returns or calls us home.

I would, however, expect my church to say that being openly homosexual is sin and not consistent with Christian behavior. This would also be the case with adultery, lying, stealing, and a whole host of other sins laid out in Scripture. I would expect my church to call all sinners to repentance. And, if my church changed its stance and declared homosexuality to be acceptable behavior and not sin, then, yes, I would leave that church.

The BSA decision is not about allowing struggling sinners to remain in the organization. It is about acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle as merely another way of living, and it is a capitulation to the spirit of this age. We are called to stand firm in the face of adversity. I believe that the best way to do that in this case is to leave BSA and move on to something else.

Along those lines, there is one new alternative that I’m particularly interested in. Several years ago, a group formed as an alternative to Girl Scouts. American Heritage Girls is a Christian organization and was, until the recent BSA decision, the official sister organization to the Boy Scouts. They are in the process of putting together a boys group as an alternative to Boy Scouts. You can find information about the new group here:

Faith Based Boys is a leadership and character development program serving boys 5-18 years old. The name of this new organization, its logo, along with its program elements will be developed by a coalition of interested parents and stakeholders who believe that a Christ centered, skills based opportunity is necessary for young men “to be raised in the way they should go”. This coalition, with assistance from American Heritage Girls, is working to provide an interdenominational program that will be available across the nation. It is set to launch in Fall 2013.

The website has feedback forms to fill out for parents, leaders, churches, and interested individuals. I’m pleased to see that they hope to launch by this fall.

No crisis of faith necessary, simply exchange conservative beliefs for liberal ones

One of the goals that organizations like the BioLogos foundation have is to reconcile evolutionary creation and biblical faith. Of their great concern is the number of people who have had a “crisis of faith” because of the apparent conflict between science and faith and have left the church. The goal is to show Christians that they don’t have to give up their faith to accept the scientific consensus on evolution. All they have to do is adjust their understanding of Scripture and what it teaches.

Many critics of this approach have argued that this kind of accommodation leads to further accommodation and the loss of more and more tenets of biblical faith. Slippery slope arguments, as they are often called, generally are sneered at and ridiculed. However, the truth of this danger is fairly easy to demonstrate.

Dr. Peter Enns, formerly a BioLogos senior fellow, wrote in his book, The Evolution of Adam, that maybe we should reconsider our definition of sin and our understanding of death, in consideration of the “truth of evolution”:

Although … sin and death are universal realities, the Christian tradition has generally attributed the cause to Adam. But evolution removes that cause as Paul understood it and thus leaves open the questions of where sin and death have come from. More than that, the very nature of what sin is and why people die is turned on its head. Some characteristics that Christians have thought of as sinful — for example, in an evolutionary scheme the aggression and dominance associated with “survival of the fittest” and sexual promiscuity to perpetuate one’s gene pool — are understood as means of ensuring survival. Likewise, death is not the enemy to be defeated. It may be feared, it may be ritualized, it may be addressed in epic myths and sagas; but death is not the unnatural state introduced by a disobedient couple in a primordial garden. Actually, it is the means that promotes the continued evolution of life on this planet and even ensures workable population numbers. Death may hurt, but it is evolution’s ally (160).

Dr. Karl Giberson, formerly VP of BioLogos, has written a book with Dr. Randall Stephens entitled, The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age. In their book, Giberson and Stephens argue that evangelical Christians must learn to accept the scientific consensuses and stop making fools of themselves by going against the tide. They also believe that there is a simple answer to avoiding a crisis of faith:

Not all born-again Christians lose their faith in such crises, of course. Many simply find a new articulation and a new place in the parallel culture of evangelicalism where they are more comfortable and where they can live more faithfully. The spectrum of evangelical belief runs from a rigid, judgmental, sometimes harsh fundamentalism on one end to a more liberal and culturally plural expressions on the other. Often an evangelical ‘crisis of faith’ is resolved with a simple liberalizing, whereby specific beliefs—biblical literalism, young earth creationism, homosexuality as perversion, eternal torment of the damned in a literal hell, the sinfulness of abortion—are abandoned and other beliefs—the Bible as literature, concern for the environment, racial and cultural equality for oppressed groups, universality of salvation, an emphasis on social justice, tolerance of diversity—move to the center as animating ethical and theological concerns. The evangelical spectrum encompasses both of these camps (216).

Notice that evangelicals are urged not only to give up a belief in Young Earth Creationism, but also the inerrancy of Scripture, a literal hell, and homosexuality and abortion as sins. It’s never just about evolution. To accept evolution as the “way God created” requires a type of mental gymnastics with what Scripture teaches. Once you give up the orthodox teachings on Scripture, everything else is open to redefinition. How much longer until Giberson and the rest accept the scientific consensus that no man has ever risen from the dead?

Tim Keller: Sin, Hell, and Homosexuality

Recently, Dr. Robert Gagnon, Associate Professor of New Testament, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, wrote a very systematic and detailed critique of some of Dr. Tim Keller’s comments on homosexuality. Dr. Keller’s comments come from an interview that he gave at Veritas Forum back in 2008. The comments have been discussed elsewhere before, but this really was the most in depth treatment that I’ve read. I highly recommend it.

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.” Dr. Gagnon addresses this in two parts of his critique:

Is it the case that homosexual practice will not send anyone to hell? Rev. Keller declares categorically that homosexual practice (and sin generally) will not send anyone to hell but only the self-righteousness of thinking that ‘I am my own savior and lord.’ ‘And that is the reason why Pharisaism, moralism, Bible-believing people who are proud and think that God is going to take them into heaven because they are good, that is sending them to hell.’ But claiming to be a follower of Christ while repeatedly and unrepentantly engaging in gross sexual immorality will not send one to hell? Certainly, refusing to accept Christ as one’s Savior and Lord confirms one’s destination will not be heaven. But what is misleading in Keller’s presentation is that self-professed believers who engage unrepentantly in homosexual practice or in other ways show themselves to be slaves of sin will not inherit God’s kingdom because they show their ‘faith’ to be something other than saving faith. …

I find it hard to believe that Keller would have been so misleading in his answer if the question was about unrepentant serial killers, those who regularly defraud others of their life savings and refuse to repent, or unrepentant perpetrators of rape, incest, or pedophilia.

And,

Is the only thing bad about sin that it does not help human flourishing? Rev. Keller appears to have a reduced understanding of sin as merely something that is ‘not good for human flourishing’ but can’t send one to hell. ‘We want people to do things that are good for human flourishing but that is not what sends people to heaven and hell.’ Rev. Keller, intentionally or not, was giving the impression that homosexual practice is not so bad. It’s kind of a minor sin. It’s just not going to give a person an optimal life where ‘human flourishing’ can take place. This is incorrect. Immoral behaviors are also grave offenses to God. …

Human sin is what creates the judgment of hell in the first place. True, one is delivered from that judgment if one puts one’s faith in Christ as Savior and Lord. But if one claims to have such saving faith while continuing to live unrepentantly in egregious immorality then one is a liar.

Some might say that Dr. Keller was simply contextualizing his answers given the hostile audience he was addressing. However, his idea that sin is that which is not good for human flourishing and that people don’t go to hell because of sin are common themes that appear in a number of his books, sermons, and interviews.

In his book, The Reason for God, Dr. Keller explains his view of hell (borrowing heavily from C.S. Lewis):

Modern people inevitably think that hell works like this: God gives us time, but if we haven’t made the right choices by the end of our lives, he casts our souls into hell for all eternity. As the poor souls fall through space, they cry out for mercy, but God says, ‘Too late! You had your chance! Now you will suffer!” This caricature misunderstands the very nature of evil. The Biblical picture is that sin separates us from the presence of God, which is the source of all joy and indeed of all love, wisdom, or good things of any sort. … If we were to lose his presence totally, that would be hell — the loss of our capability for giving for receiving love or joy. …

Hell, then, is the trajectory of a soul, living a self-absorbed, self-centered life going on and on forever (76-77).

Dr. Keller goes on to say:

In short, hell is simply one’s freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinity. We see this process ‘writ small’ in addictions to drugs, alcohol, gambling, and pornography. First, there is disintegration, because as time goes on you need more and more of the addictive substance to get an equal kick, which leads to less and less satisfaction. Second, there is the isolation, as increasingly you blame others and circumstances in order to justify your behavior. … Personal disintegration happens on a broader scale. In eternity, this disintegration goes on forever. There is increasing isolation, denial, delusion, and self-absorption. When you lose all humanity you are out of touch with reality. No one ever asks to leave hell. The very idea of heaven seems to them a sham (78).

This annihilistic view of hell does not seem to fit with the picture of torment that the Scriptures teach and that the Westminster Standards describe this way:

Q. 29. What are the punishments of sin in the world to come?

A. The punishments of sin in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell-fire forever (Larger Catechism)

And,

II. The end of God’s appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of His mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fulness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord; but the wicked who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power. (Westminster Confession of Faith, emphasis added)

Dr. Keller also gives his definition of sin in The Reason for God:

Sin is the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God. Sin is seeking to become oneself, to get an identity, apart from him. …

So, according to the Bible, the primary way to define sin is not just the doing of bad things, but the making of good things into ultimate things (162, emphasis original).

This redefinition of sin also seems different from the Biblical descriptions of sin. The Westminster Standards define sin as:

A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God. (Shorter Catechism)

And,

VI. Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, does in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal. (Westminster Confession of Faith)

I understand the desire to explain Biblical concepts in new and fresh ways to gain a hearing with an especially jaded culture. However, we must be careful that our explanations are consistent with Scripture and that we aren’t simply softening the truth to make it easier to accept.