Tim Keller:

I find it frustrating when I read or hear columnists, pundits, or journalists dismiss Christians as inconsistent because “they pick and choose which of the rules in the Bible to obey.” What I hear most often is “Christians ignore lots of Old Testament texts—about not eating raw meat or pork or shellfish, not executing people for breaking the Sabbath, not wearing garments woven with two kinds of material and so on. Then they condemn homosexuality. Aren’t you just picking and choosing what they want to believe from the Bible?”

It is not that I expect everyone to have the capability of understanding that the whole Bible is about Jesus and God’s plan to redeem his people, but I vainly hope that one day someone will access their common sense (or at least talk to an informed theological advisor) before leveling the charge of inconsistency.
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25 thoughts on “Shellfish, Homosexuality, and the Charge of Christian Inconsistency”

  1. Phil says:

    I read the Tim Keller piece, and I still don’t understand why the Old Testament punishment for homosexuals SHOULDN’T apply now.

    That is, I understand that Tim Keller writes this:

    Further, the New Testament explains another change between the Testaments. Sins continue to be sins—but the penalties change. In the Old Testament things like adultery or incest were punishable with civil sanctions like execution. This is because at that time God’s people existed in the form of a nation-state and so all sins had civil penalties.

    But in the New Testament the people of God are an assembly of churches all over the world, living under many different governments. The church is not a civil government, and so sins are dealt with by exhortation and, at worst, exclusion from membership. This is how a case of incest in the Corinthian church is dealt with by Paul (1 Corinthians 5:1ff. and 2 Corinthians 2:7-11.) Why this change? Under Christ, the gospel is not confined to a single nation—it has been released to go into all cultures and peoples.

    But I don’t think this answers the question as to why the Old Testament penalties should not apply now, given that the behavior at issue here (homosexuality) is still condemned in the New Testament. I understand that Keller explains why the penalty for homosexuality happens to be different now (that is, we have civil penalties that are different), but I don’t see any reason to believe that the current civil penalty is the right penalty–and not the OT penalty.

    Specifically, why SHOULDN’T Christians work to have the Old Testament laws/penalties apply now under a civil government? Indeed, don’t they have an obligation to work for such a penalty? After all, the behavior is still a sin, right?

    I freely admit that I could be missing an easy answer here.

  2. Patrick Duncan says:

    Part of the problem is that it is not just pundits and critics of Christianity that are making these arguments – so are people like Rachel Held Evans and Brian McLaren, supposed “evangelicals” who like to validate the idea that Christians arbitrarily pick which sins and rules they will follow/enforce.

    1. CG says:

      Indeed. I am dismayed, though not surprised, when I see unbelievers act like unbelievers.

      I am absolutely heartbroken when I see people who claim to profess Christ, but then repeat the arguments of unbelievers to slander the church.

      Lord, vindicate your name.

  3. Bruce Russell says:

    Phil:

    The Old Covenant had specific purpose, to reenact before the nations the sin of Adam. The nation itself is an anthropomorphic entity designed to reflect Adam and provide a contrast to the New Covenant Head Jesus Christ. The nation of Israel, like Adam lay hopelessly under the covenant curse of death, its only hope was the prophesied coming of the Son of David.

    In His death on the cross, Jesus absorbed the covenant curses of Adam and Israel, and establishes a new Kingdom which is not of this world. He has fulfilled the Old Covenant, its specific theocratic dictates no longer apply to the nations. Scriptural personal moral purity was required before the Old Covenant was given, it is still required in Christ.

    We now persuade sinners to obey the enthroned New Covenant King Jesus, we don’t seek to apply abrogated Old Covenant theocratic legislation, we apply new Covenant precepts to ourselves, and teach them to the nations.

    Bruce

    1. Phil says:

      Bruce,

      I think I need an M.Div. to understand that answer. :)

  4. Brad says:

    “I find it frustrating when I read or hear columnists, pundits, or journalists dismiss Christians as inconsistent…”

    Maybe God is “frustrating” us to be more vocal about the issue so that an otherwise ignorant world might have a better understanding of what we mean when we claim that Old and New Testament are part of one Bible and not contradictory collection of books. If Church History has taught us anything it has taught us that when we Christians have our “backs to the walls” embroiled in some controvery or internal struggle (working through heresies) that we have had our finest hours.

  5. Puritan Lad says:

    I would also add that, even if their argument were valid (and it’s not), it would make Christians wrong about their diet, not about homosexuality. I’ve never understood the logic behind the argument that says that, since we disobey God in one area, that makes it OK to disobey Him in another.

  6. tony says:

    I think the problem with religion is that you either follow the laws and customs of a faith that are alive and evolving or those that are fixed and unwavering. It is when a faith tries to legislate in that in between space that charges of inconsistency begin to appear. (No one calls an Amish community inconsistent, for instance, until they see the buggies parked outside of Home Depot).

    But in some cases I just don’t understand what Christianity even means to people any more, aside from these splinter issues that seem to yolk the believers together. We are a country at permanent war engaging in an economic model that tends to harm the impoverished. We consume conspicuously and wastefully. I don’t necessarily have a problem with either of these two circumstances, but they don’t seem to me to be all that necessarily Christian. And yet to argue against them is not really a part of the current “plan to redemption” because we just have to accept certain modern conditions as facts of life. So I guess the question is why can’t gay marriage be a part of the modern Christian society, like, for instance, corporate tax shelters or assault weapons or welfare cuts?

    The bible as a text makes no explicit case as to what marriage actually is (the bible doesn’t even use the term marriage, or an ancient equivalent) and therefore all efforts to legislate marriage issues from a biblical standpoint require a fair amount of interpretation. Therefore, when I say inconsistent, what I really mean is that the hermeneutics are a little unclear.

    The gay marriage issue is not really one that deals with traditions or holy law (God never declares marriage to be a certain model, He simply creates Adam and Eve as one form of union, while Jesus, in referencing divorce, asks us to remember their model). Therefore Christians are dealing with a “plan to redeem” that is not explicitly stated, but rather very much open to interpretation.

    If Christians would just accept that the way they treat the Bible is a possible interpretation, and justify their interpretations with more than simply an appeal to divine, perhaps they wouldn’t have to weather charges of inconsistency. As of 2013, Christianity looks like a lot of different things to a lot of different people. From my perspective, the incredible wealth of many Christian leaders is about as far from the model Jesus provides us with as I’m sure gay marriage looks to many of you. But if we are to agree that the Bible teaches by modeling, and not through legal codes, then we have to accept that we are all trying to interpret the path to redemption. And that the biggest inconsistencies of all are the paradoxes that no Christian seems willing to answer. Christians tend to be pro-war and pro-death-penalty, but anti-abortion and anti-universal-health care. Not all Christians, I might add, but there are some Christians that are pro gay marriage. So the inconsistency argument is spawned not so much out of the treatment of old testament law and ritual, but out of the incoherent “path to redemption”

    I am not trying to be controversial, but I am trying to make a point that I feel many Christians are missing today.

  7. Flyaway says:

    I would say the Bible does make the case for marriage of one man and one woman. It’s a natural law:

    Genesis 2:20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept ; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh ; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” 24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife ; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

  8. tony says:

    I guess I’ll be more blunt. Why does heterosexual marriage have to be part of God’s plan when we live in a society that is ideologically and economically as distant from the model of Christ’s life and times as can almost be imagined. In other words, you let so many other systems and traditions modernize, but not that one sticking point on marriage. That’s the inconsistency.

    Most people think that Christians are all about limiting marriage rights and that’s it. There’s no evident case for helping the poor or creating a caring society or resisting war or returning to that kind of society. I am also suspicious that if you had children who were gay, you would want them to be able to get married. So the entire case seems incredibly inconsistent. Not to mention poorly argued…

    1. Wesley says:

      Tony –
      your blunt questions are much clearer and easier to answer. You said,
      Why does heterosexual marriage have to be part of God’s plan when we live in a society that is ideologically and economically as distant from the model of Christ’s life and times as can almost be imagined.” I want you to take a moment and just consider the implications of what you wrote there. Why – when God created everything, including marriage – did He have to create things in such a specific way when today it feels like it goes against what a large part of our society want to do? Consider, would you find this so hard to accept that God had a good plan to begin with if we were talking about murder, and today everyone thought murder was just ok? The fact is, it is you who is picking which things go against the view of some today and holding them up an the example of inconsistency. God – and His church on the whole – are being consistent with the way He designed the universe to work. The very fact that this whole debate is called “redefinition” belies the reality that this is redefining something that previously been a normal understanding.

      As for this statement, “There’s no evident case for helping the poor or creating a caring society or resisting war or returning to that kind of society.” … are you seriously making that claim? You need to look around more bro and check your history much better. Foundational to Christianity has been the outworking of our faith in the very things you mention amoung many others!

  9. Keller shouldn’t have mentioned Matthew 19. Most Christians reject Christ’s words on divorce as too strict and archaic. The number of conditions Christians (yes, even devout believers) accept as justifiable reasons for divorce has greatly expanded, and even most conservative churches have no problem with second marriages. So if Christians are willing to be more flexible on divorce than Jesus was, then why not be just as flexible about marriage laws?

    1. Wesley says:

      “Most Christians reject Christ’s words on divorce as too strict and archaic. “

      … Seriously? Most Christians you know, or …? What are you even basing that claim on bro? If you’re talking about the numerous liberal, non-inerrantist denominations preaching soft, hazzy lines, sure – i’ll just bet they think Jesus is too archaic for them. But they don;t speak for Christianity bro and they don;t even speak for most Christians. Sorry. Thanks for posting though.

      1. Most Christians (including evangelicals and fundamentalists) have no problem with divorce on the grounds of alcoholism, drug use, criminal behavior, or spousal abuse. You’d be hard pressed to find any church that would tell a wife living under such conditions that she should stay with her husband.

        Jesus states that the ONLY acceptable condition for divorce is if a wife cheats on the husband, so it is not acceptable for a wife to divorce adulterous husband. I don’t know of any church that attempts to hold different policies on adultery for each spouse. The churches that acknowledge adultery as acceptable grounds for divorce do so no matter which spouse is adulterous, and church that reject adultery as a valid excuse for divorce reject it for both spouses as well.

        1. Wesley says:

          That is an incredibly myopic reading of Jesus’ teaching on divorce bro. I’d be hard pressed to find a church that taught that Jesus taught a wife with an adulterous husband couldn;t divorce him. Love to work through your hermetic sometime.

          1. Read the scripture:

            “7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

            8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

            Paul confirms this in Romans 7:

            “2 For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. 3 So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man.”

            Back in Biblical days marriage was treated as an exchange of property, so the notion that a wife would have grounds to leave a husband was incomprehensible to him. The husband’s perspective was one the only one worth considering since men essentially purchased women from their families.

            1. Wesley says:

              I don;t disagree with the Scriptures you quoted. I still don;t see where you find that Jesus (or Paul) says a woman can’t divorce her husband b/c of marital infidelity. The big glaring clue is in the reasoning behind what Jesus claims is an allowable reason to divorce. You;re also ignoring what Paul also says about the Christian spouse who’s unbelieving spouse abandons them.

  10. Puritan Lad says:

    Tony,

    We hold that God’s Word is the ultimate standard of right and wrong, not whatever “most Christians you know” practice.

  11. tony says:

    Wesley, history is far too often not on the side of the Christians.

    And when I say that Christians are not in the business of creating charitable, equitable, peaceful societies, I’m not talking about the non-centralized church units. I’m talking about the influence Christianity has had on American society. Christians shape the government to be lean, mean, and highly individualizing. Churches are different, and I’ve never said that all churches should accept gay marriage. I’m talking about America. And Christians are trying to keep America, the political entity, from accepting gay marriage.

    Christian politics are inconsistent. If you guys want to fight for something, fight for welfare and healthcare for children (which, radically enough, the religious right NEVER does). I used to belong to a very conservative church. I left because I found the political motivations suspect and hypocritical. I wish Christianity would stay out of the political arena. This is not a Christian country.

    1. J. Clark says:

      How can Christianity stay out of the political arena if there are Americans that are Christians that are in the political arena? That’s like saying, “why don’t all people who are above 5 feet tall stay out of gov’t.” As if people cannot be who they are. Christians like secular humanist, atheist, buddhist, et. have a constitutional right to excercise their infulence within the boundaries of the law. This is the same argument often argued in the public arena by secularist except more crude: “Why are you trying to force your morals on us?” Then who’s morals do you want “forced” on you? Allah’s? Margaret Sanger? Tweedle Dee?

  12. anaquaduck says:

    Peter’s vision recorded in Scripture(Acts 11) along with the tearing of the curtain in the temple reveals an opening up of Salvation to the gentiles…so the OT laws no longer have the same significance & relationship.

    However the 10 commandments, which still stood for Jesus also (Mtt 5)reflect the holiness & purity of God in our relationship with the creator, our being & our neighbour.

    On this basis there is no inconsistancy at all regarding Christianity & our failings to live up to what we believe at times is consistant with a life of faith that declares we are not perfected yet but have repented of our sins & are trusting in Christ.

  13. Flyaway says:

    I left a church when the assistant pastor said in a Bible study that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was violence and inhospitality and he wouldn’t tell me if he was for gay marriage or not.

    Jude 17 But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, 18 that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” 19 These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on some, who are doubting ; 23 save others, snatching them out of the fire ; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. 24 Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, 25 to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

  14. Puritan Lad says:

    If one desires a place where Christians stay out of politics, there are plenty of places where they can go. China, Russia, North Korea, Cuba, or any Middle Eastern Country should fit the bill.

  15. Bridget says:

    Wonderful article. Very helpfully explained.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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