“Let God be true and every man a liar.” That phrase from Romans 3:4 was stuck in my head after watching CNN’s interview Tuesday night with Joel Osteen on whether or not homosexuality is a sin. Osteen’s answer: “Yes. The Scriptures show that it’s a sin.” As far as I can tell, the interview didn’t win evangelicals a monumental cultural battle or give us some new insight into American’s happiest pastor. We will probably forget about this moment in a few weeks. As a friend of mine said, it seems like a flash in the pan.
Many, however, watched the video and concluded that Osteen’s answer was insufficient. He didn’t mention the gospel, and he withdrew into his “I don’t want to be the one to judge” mantra a few times. But his defense of why homosexuality is a sin was humble and, even, commendable.
There is much to Osteen’s ministry we can and should criticize. We have good reason to keep much of what he does and says at arms length. But I think Christians can learn something from this interview. In my opinion, Osteen performed better than many evangelical leaders who have been put in this impossible situation.
Several times the interviewer asked Osteen difficult questions about the biblical understanding of homosexuality. Even if Osteen had all the right answers, the sound-bite setting wouldn’t have done justice to them. So Osteen responded rightly to the indicting questions:
[I]t’s a difficult issue. I—I don’t—I don’t understand all the answers, and—but I just come back to the—what I read in the Scripture. I can’t ignore that. I don’t—I—saying it again. I don’t know that I understand it all.
In fact, over and over—I counted six times—Osteen answered the accusations and objections of the interviewer with what he reads in the Bible. You could summarize Osteen’s entire interview with this phrase: I don’t have all the answers, but I believe the Bible to be true.
Evangelicals have responded to the interview by saying, “We’re going to be asked this question more and more, let’s hope we do better than Osteen.” Maybe we can be more winsome or less nervous than Osteen. We should certainly explain that homosexuals, like anyone else, should put their hope in the finished work of the gospel. But the first and last word on why homosexuality is sinful is with the Bible. And Osteen didn’t budge from that. We can come up with all kinds of reasons and studies as to why homosexuality is harmful to society, but nothing is so authoritative as God’s Word on why it’s wrong. Only Scripture is definitive enough to cause us—indeed, every created being—to put our hands over our mouths.
In our discussions with skeptics, when we don’t have all the answers, Christians should be humble enough to say, “I don’t know, but I believe the Bible.” That is a good Christian response. We base our knowledge upon the wisdom of God, not on man. We can always reproduce the arguments of others or register sociological data, but we can never do better than God’s Word.