Friday, April 12, 2013

Tim Keller, Sex and the Scandal of Religious Doubt

I've already read multiple posts on this topic, so I figure I'll toss my unsorted laundry into the dirty bathwater that is the blogosphere.

For those who don't know, Tim Keller (a pastor I generally enjoy) spoke at the Gospel Coalition Conference and, well, his comment below made the headlines, summarized beneath.
Keller illustrated the point by talking about a tactic, one that he admittedly said was almost too cruel to use, that an old college pastor associate of his used when catching up with college students who were home from school. He’d ask them to grab coffee with him to catch up on life. When he’d come to the state of their spiritual lives, they’d often hem and haw, talking about the difficulties and doubts now that they’d taken a little philosophy, or maybe a science class or two, and how it all started to shake the foundations. At that point, he’d look at them and ask one question, “So who have you been sleeping with?” Shocked, their faces would inevitably fall and say something along the lines of, “How did you know?” or a real conversation would ensue. Keller pointed out that it’s a pretty easy bet that when you have a kid coming home with questions about evolution or philosophy, or some such issue, the prior issue is a troubled conscience. Honestly, as a Millennial and college director myself, I’ve seen it with a number of my friends and students—the Bible unsurprisingly starts to become a lot more “doubtful” for some of them once they’d had sex.
For the source, here it is.

I admire Keller's honesty so I will be equally as honest. I come from a conservative background and didn't really learn much about the "art" of sex until Bill Clinton made his way into the glad rags at the grocery store. From there, it was much ado about something. Sex became a staunch preoccupation and I soon became an agnostic. However, the sequence is far removed from Keller's suggestion in that I was already on my way to deistic agnosticism when I was roughly 13. For doubt preceeded sexual exploration at that time.

The very interesting thing is that I'm still a virgin, having been with Allison for almost four years. To many people I know, this is odd. To others, I deserve a medal from the President. What I find interesting is the idea of doubt playing a key role in how we doubt or how we find difficulties in the text.

Within the past year, I've discovered textual criticism and found numerous discrepancies in the text of the New Testament. I've found that we don't have the original copies and the Gospels are difficult to harmonize. This happened after I'd made a point of staying faithful to Allison and keeping myself as faithful as possible. Though sex itself is on the mind, doubt and difficulties arose from simple and honest exploration of the text of the New Testament.

I didn't doubt traditional gender roles because I was sleeping around I didn't doubt the nature of eternal punishment because I was sleeping around (I wasn't in case that was abundantly clear).

I doubted them because I found them textually and exegetically inadequate. 

The same for the nature of eternal punishment and the same for varying theories of the atonement.

I doubted simply because I was as honest as I could be with the text. There are many of us who simply arrive at the text, shake our heads and change our minds. This allows nuance and perspective and doubt to spur us on.

Tim Keller is a generous individual, and I doubt that he expects this comment to be universally applicable. In fact, I would be surprised if he did. However, I do worry that his comment may spur on other theologians and pastors to exercise the same type of confrontation, and if this could lead to more problems.

Sex could certainly be a factor for some. But in my personal experience, it has little to do with it.

For those interested in a similar but more in-depth perspective, enjoy Micah's post.

--Nick

6 comments:

  1. Great post. thoughtful and honest and tackled some tough issues. I'd love to hear more on how you reconcile or deal with those issues that you find "exegetically inadequate." I'm currently working through this and not finding it easy - especially given my background that basically said the Bible is completely inerrant with no errors... if you find any inconsistencies, you're reading wrong.

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    1. Thank you for your response. Made my day. :)

      For me, its more about finding the original intent of the New Testament, and determining from there if things can be systematized. A lot of the issues for me revolve around doing systematic theology and the gulf between that and new testament studies.

      So, maybe if you had a more specific question about "textual inadequacy" I'd be able to give a better answer. :)

      Thanks!

      --Nick

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    2. You state that, “I've discovered textual criticism and found numerous discrepancies in the text of the New Testament” – and as they say, “Admitting it is half the battle.” :) To argue against Keller (who apparently thinks premarital sex causes doubts), what causes doubts is when you are taught the Bible is 100% the inspired word of God, inerrant, perfect - then you discover a discrepancy - and now you have a shaken foundation. I tried to discuss this with some of my friends, but they were raised like me and prefer to ignore any discrepancies and believe what they’re taught, the Bible is the inerrant word of God… Perfect. No discrepancies to hash out.

      So I think (based on previous posts) that you think that women should be allowed to be elder, leader, pastors – despite Paul’s teachings about women being silent and not holding those leadership positions. I just finished reading The Blue Parakeet, which discusses these issues, but it still leaves me wonder… How can you determine that one passage is not applicable today (women’s roles) and another passage is (homosexuality)? Why do we allow divorce/remarriage, women to braid their hair/wear jewelry, lend money with interest, but we cannot be gay, or have premarital sex, or…???
      Sorry for the length, it’s hard to keep these types of issues to a blog-comment size. And lastly, I do truly enjoy your blog – it’s a great mix of theology, questions, personal stories/opinions, humor… keep it up!

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    3. Thanks, again, Eric for responding! :)

      "To argue against Keller...No discrepancies to hash out."

      Ah, I see. that helps streamline my meandering post. For me, I think the original autographs written by Paul or Peter or the writer of the synoptics are inspired by the Holy Spirit. Textual criticism allows us to delve into the text and determine what was originally in the letters.

      In many ways, I think a lot of people miss the point of the New Testament, in that an assumption of 100% inerrant means it cannot have any translation errors/bias. For me, though it was an issue at first, its instead become far more about recognizing the depth of the New Testament, the level of the inspiration of God and the fingerprints we find.

      I would be a theological realist: the truth is the truth. If the text is inerrant, then it is inerrant and we kinda have to deal with that. If it isn't, then it isn't.

      I suppose an unnerving thing that happens to many is that everything just collapses, the pendulum swings and things just go haywire. It happened to me a bit, but I more or less picked up the pieces and began putting them back together. But I fully agree. Ignoring problems is bad and we shouldn't do it. We shrug, work to solve them, recognize that we are finite and go from there.

      "So I think (based on previous posts) that you think that women should be allowed to be elder, leader, pastors...but we cannot be gay, or have premarital sex, or…???"

      A marvelous question (or questions)! Yes, I fully affirm the ministry of women in any office that God has called them. In regards to the two texts that appear to limit women, I don't think one has to decide that they aren't applicable today. The text themselves don't prohibit women in their original setting.

      For example, I think Paul didn't write those verses in 1 Cor. 14:34-35, based on textual critical arguments. If Paul *did* write them, then I would be impressed that he would contradict himself, but I would also find it odd given the women in ministry he promoted. If you would like an incredibly helpful resource, let me know. I hate it when people blow up my wall with mountains of text, so I don't want to return the favor.

      In 1 Timothy 2, I think the text is incredibly difficult, especially in Greek. Some egalitarians do dismiss it as culturally bound (which I affirm, but for different reasons) but I think the text itself doesn't limit women within the original context. I could give a lot of reasons, but I think that the text doesn't restrict women in itself based on the Greek and the theological ideas. Again, I could give resources.

      Homosexuality is a difficult topic to address, one that I wish I had a better response to. In my eyes, if there were positive examples of homosexuality within Scripture, I would be inclined to ponder the legitimacy of reinterpretation in light of negative texts (Rom 1, 1 Cor 6, 11 etc). However, we do have an abundance of female leaders (Junia, Phoebe, Prisca, Lydia, etc) so we have strong evidence to support a reinterpretation of women's roles (a phrase that doesn't really fit the biblical texts) for the current day, but only because Scripture leads us. Especially given the new wealth of textual data we now possess as opposed to 50 years ago. Its incredible! :)

      Personally, I don't like the idea of divorce and am very much against it. I'm also against lavish displays of wealth for the sake of wealth or promoting personal prestige, and am in a mountain of debt due to student loans (which annoys me to no end). So I attempt consistency. :)

      Postscript: I don't think Scripture prohibits people from being gay, but it seems to prohibit homosexual acts.

      "Sorry for the length...humor… keep it up!"

      I appreciate your honest comments and questions. They made my day. I hope I've been respectful and helpful (I'm told I can be a bit terse over the Internets).

      Blessings!

      --Nick

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  2. I'm not really sure where to begin, or why I feel like responding to your blog today. But it was on my mind and I think I like you because you review fine beers which I think is necessary for some of the drier theology. Once in a blue moon I like to come out of my metaphorical hermit cave on the internet, usually because I've stayed up to late, and ramble on a little bit. Lucky you, or unfortunate you :)

    So to respond and make my point. As you know God's people have always craved direction. I was pleading with God for direction last week myself. It is very hard to be unsure isn't it? But I think more and more I can honestly say that I'm sure being unsure isn't the enemy, it is the fun part. Look at God's people who always say 'give us a sign', 'give us a king', 'give us commandments', 'give us prophets', and are never content because it becomes a burden, a yoke.

    When Jesus talks about freedom I think maybe that we gloss over the idea that being free means that we actually get to make the choice, even though we don't think we know what we are doing. I would argue that we do all know but that we have erected our own filters or 'theology' through which we drain our choices and often it can become trapped.

    I'm being too slow about this. Let's go faster before you get bored by phrases which mean one thing to me and another to others. I think in some Christian circles we have elevated something created 'The Bible' into something worshiped. Which is weird I know, but we do treat it very differently from almost anything else in our faith. We name churches after it, we swear upon it, we call it The Holy Bible, it is to us what the law was to the Jews.

    This might sound rather terrible, but I've found it surprisingly comforting to find that my faith is no longer resting on the Bible. I am okay with the idea that it was written by mere mortal men like us, who loved God like us, and wanted to tell others about Him to the best of their ability. I used to believe so many things because my true authority in matters of faith, the Bible, declared it so. As you can imagine, a good deal hinges on this premise so it unraveled a lot of threads.

    I now prefer the metaphor of a library. The Bible is a library dedicated to God. That is a beautiful thing and I love it but it isn't everything. It is still just a song to the one I love. Sometimes I like to read history, sometimes fiction, sometimes poetry, but very rarely genealogy. I wonder if a new medium like a screenplay could ever become canon? I suppose anything is possible if you believe God still speaks to his people. Though usually His chosen people just get very angry and do stupid things if they don't like what they hear. Not you, I mean the church in general if you touch their toys.

    You seem like a very smart guy but also quite invested in your scholarship so I'm curious what you make of this. You don't know me and this is a terrible way to say hello so I apologize. But in my defense you did post this on the internet and allow comments so you can't blame the sheep from occasionally running into your pasture to graze. Plus, I believe God does allow different people to believe contradictory things about Him for reasons I don't understand so I've got all my bases covered here :)

    Anyhow you seemed like you were having trouble with your puzzle and I felt like I should point out that maybe the puzzle pieces don't fit because they are from slightly different puzzles and the puzzlemaker might not be who you think it is. Who knows, maybe I'm just a Southern Baptist trying to troll you though :)

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    1. "I'm not really sure where to begin…Lucky you, or unfortunate you"

      Welcome. :)

      "So to respond and make my point...never content because it becomes a burden, a yoke."

      Agreed. In many ways, its a curse. We want the concrete from the abstract. For me, if something *cannot* be known, then that settles that for me.

      "I used to believe so many things because my true authority in matters of faith, the Bible, declared it so. As you can imagine, a good deal hinges on this premise so it unraveled a lot of threads."

      I know this all too well. I've had multiple friends jump ship because of an unhealthy view of inerrancy. The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it. Its a most unhealthy way to approach Scripture and I don't think YHWH prefers it, as it can lead to more fractures in the church.

      "I now prefer the metaphor of a library. The Bible is a library dedicated to God. That is a beautiful thing and I love it but it isn't everything."

      I am not opposed to that metaphor, though I think it has limitations. For instance, I would submit that the library aspect works if one considers the implications of varying literature and historical criticism when reading or researching. Psalms and Proverbs likely won't tell you scientific matters, but it will offer practical ways of worship and community. I would view each book within the library as authoritative, but not every book speaks authoritatively to each situation. If that makes any sort of sense.

      "You seem like a very smart guy but also quite invested in your scholarship so I'm curious what you make of this. You don't know me and this is a terrible way to say hello so I apologize. But in my defense you did post this on the internet and allow comments so you can't blame the sheep from occasionally running into your pasture to graze."

      Well, thank you. :)

      I think Scripture is a wonderful gift, but many people don't realize how sharp and curious it is. The library is authoritative to which it speaks, and the principles it addresses. But not every book in the library will help or aid someone.

      "Plus, I believe God does allow different people to believe contradictory things about Him for reasons I don't understand so I've got all my bases covered here"

      I think YHWH tolerates much from us.

      "Anyhow you seemed like you were having trouble with your puzzle and I felt like I should point out that maybe the puzzle pieces don't fit because they are from slightly different puzzles and the puzzlemaker might not be who you think it is. Who knows, maybe I'm just a Southern Baptist trying to troll you though :)"

      This American Baptist loves a thinking Southern Baptist. :)

      Thank you for your thoughts. They are wonderful. Blessings.

      --Nick

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