Alan Chambers says “sin is irrelevant.” Is he right?

Alan Chambers has given another very troubling interview in which he declares that “sin is irrelevant” for Christians. Chambers is the former head of the now defunct Exodus International—an umbrella organization for a number of different ex-gay ministries that support reparative therapy. In recent years, Chambers has repudiated his former support of reparative therapy and has apologized to the gay community for his former work.

Chambers’s remarks in this most recent interview are riddled with biblical and theological error, and I am not going to attempt a comprehensive response. But I do want to comment on two items:

1. Chambers is antinomian in his approach to all sin—including homosexuality.

The interviewer asks Chambers if homosexuality is a sin. Chambers responds with this:

I think, as Christians, sin is irrelevant. I look at what Jesus did on the cross. He came to fulfill the law. He took care of sin. He ended it forever. Is there sin involved in homosexuality? Sure. Is there sin involved in heterosexuality? Sure. I think the damage is done when we live in a place where we’re pointing out what is and is not sin. Leslie and I don’t want to live there anymore. That’s not a place where life is found. We’re not to be in the seat of judgment for anyone, not ourselves and not other people. What we long to do is to love our neighbor, our friends, LGBT people, straight people, you name it, without pointing out things that aren’t ours to point out.

Notice that Chambers doesn’t answer the question with a straightforward “yes” or “no.” Why? Because he has adopted an antinomian view of sin and grace that makes the question “irrelevant” in his view.

Antinomianism is an ancient heresy that teaches that Christians need not live by any moral law. The grace of God renders our obedience to God’s law “irrelevant.” Whether or not homosexuality is a sin, therefore, is also “irrelevant” because it does not affect how practicing homosexuals should be treated in the church.

Chambers is misleading people about the nature of biblical Christianity. Biblical Christianity teaches that if the faith that saves you doesn’t change you, then it doesn’t save you. God progressively transforms all of his children into the image of Christ through the power of the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18). Thus the moral status of homosexuality matters very much to the Christian.

Chambers disagrees with this and believes that Christians can continue in willful rebellion against God’s law, and that rebellion says nothing about their standing with God. I have written about this aspect of Chambers theology before. I didn’t know then that Chambers would go to seed with this heresy, but he has.

2. Chambers does not understand evangelicals who oppose reparative therapy.

In a telling exchange, Chambers is asked about evangelicals who believe that homosexuality is sin but who nevertheless oppose reparative therapy:

Interviewer: A group of Christian therapists gathered recently at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. While they publicly renounced reparative therapy, they’re still preaching that “God’s best” for gays and lesbians is celibacy and some still believe that God can change sexual orientation over time. What’s your response?

Chambers: It’s kind of a doublespeak. They want to be against what is publicly recognized as the most damaging sort of thing out there. But, they talk out of the other side of their mouth and support this. I think some of them are confused, but I think, for the most part, whether you’re for or against reparative therapy, they’re saying the same thing. They’re saying that to be acceptable to God you should do this. While they may not promote counseling sessions aimed at orientation change, they may endorse a prayer time that’s meant to accomplish the same thing. I’m not sure there’s a difference.

I was a speaker at the conference that Chambers is talking about, and he is wrong in his characterization of our views. We are not “saying the same things” as proponents of reparative therapy. Reparative therapy is a secular approach to homosexuality that some Christian ministries have adopted over the last couple decades. But make no mistake, there is nothing inherently Christian about reparative therapy. The goal of reparative therapy is “orientation change,” but that is not what we are arguing for.

Contrary to reparative therapy, the Bible does not teach the absence of heterosexual desire to be a problem. If anything, the Bible treats the absence of such desire as a gift to be stewarded for the kingdom (Matt. 19:11; 1 Cor. 7:7).

The Bible does teach the presence of homosexual desire to be sinful. God calls people to repent of such desire when they experience it, and he offers power through the Spirit to enable people to walk in holiness. He does not, however, guarantee that heterosexual desires will grow in the place of homosexual ones. They might, or they might not. Whether or not they do, holiness of life is still possible and is still the goal of Christian transformation.

And it is precisely here that Chambers misunderstands what we are saying. The goal of sanctification is not “orientation change” but transformation into the image of Christ. Whether or not that transformation includes the possibility of marriage is left to God.

Chambers’s remarks in this interview and his mischaracterization of our position underline the theological weaknesses of the movement he once led. Chambers was an antinomian long before the closing of Exodus International. Reparative therapy and Exodus International fell not because it was too Christian but because it wasn’t Christian enough.

And we should all learn from this. Ministries that are devoid of solid theological foundation will not survive over the long haul. God’s word lasts forever, and only ministries rooted in that revelation will bear fruit that will last (Isa. 40:8; John 15:16).

32 Responses to Alan Chambers says “sin is irrelevant.” Is he right?

  1. Bob Wilson November 5, 2015 at 5:19 pm #

    “Biblical Christianity teaches that if the faith that saves you doesn’t change you, then it doesn’t save you. ”

    “the Bible does not teach the absence of heterosexual desire to be a problem. ”

    It sounds like you are saying that unless one’s gay desires disappear either to straight desire or to asexuality, one is not saved. Is that really what you mean?

    • Ike Lentz November 6, 2015 at 3:04 pm #

      Yes, this question needs a real answer. No more dancing around this one.

      • Ike Lentz November 7, 2015 at 2:45 pm #

        It’s confusing to tell a gay person, “you’re only truly saved if your gay desires disappear”, THEN tell them that reparative therapy probably won’t work because only the gospel can change you, BUT we only know if the gospel has genuinely changed you IF you change. WHAT?

        This is the counseling we’re supposed to offer people who are not only struggling with their sexuality, but with the validity of their salvation?

        Sure, criticize Alan Chambers’ theology, but I’m not convinced that the SBC has a view that’s any less confusing.

    • Lynn Burgess November 7, 2015 at 8:07 pm #

      Ike & Bob: Salvation brings change in a life but not total change immediately. Sanctification is progressive and lifelong. So while change is evidence of conversion we are not speaking of perfection but of both initial change and of progress/growth and/or of waging the war against remaining sin.

      I do not believe that Dr. Burk is saying an ongoing struggle with “gay desires” means one is not saved any more than one who struggles with heterosexual lust or lust for excessive food, money, power, etc. is not saved. The question is has the root desire of your heart changed, are you seeking to live for God’s glory and not your own, are you willing and wanting to change (which results in mourning over ones failures in righteousness) and is there spiritual growth to that end.

  2. Alistair Robertson November 5, 2015 at 5:33 pm #

    1. Ministries that are devoid of solid theological foundation will not survive over the long haul.
    Ooh. Ow. You suggest Alan Chambers doesn’t understand your position, but neither do I think you understood Exodus and similar ministries. There is theological foundation, but perhaps not what you’d agree with.

    2. So, instead of heterosexuality being a goal within sanctification, you suggest that asexuality or heterosexuality is a goal within sanctification?

    3. I’m still thinking on your arguments, but at this stage I think you are unnecessarily restricting the definition of reparative therapy to that which you do not like, and unfairly characterising Christian ministries who use insights from reparative therapy as narrower in their focus than you. In my experience, their goal is sanctification and heterosexuality is not a given (which sounds very much like what you argue for).

    4. I’m also wondering whether you believe it possible to glean common grace insights from non-Christian sources with regard to homosexuality, or whether you think only insights developed from inside the Church can be helpful. And whether it is possible for Christians to call for repentance or even repent without always using that terminology (though I have always argued that biblical terminology be used).

    But while your post kicked off these ideas and wonderings, the post itself is about Alan Chambers disturbing comments, and I fully agree that the man is spouting errant and harmful nonsense.

    • Lynn Burgess November 7, 2015 at 7:51 pm #

      Alistair: Our counsel is only as good as our theology. If you are referring to psychology when you speak of “common grace from non-Christian sources,” the answer is the solutions they offer are antithetical to scripture. So not only are they not helpful they are destructive.

      • Alistair Robertson November 7, 2015 at 11:47 pm #

        Thanks for your response, Lynn.

        You’ve made a sweeping claim. Are you talking about all psychology? Can you tell me which solutions in particular are antithetical to scripture? I’m happy to be persuaded, but I’d need some specifics from someone willing to have their own assertions tested.

        • Lynn Burgess November 8, 2015 at 8:42 am #

          Try this book, you can get it good to nearly new for only $4 used including shipping: http://tinyurl.com/ntoxlrt

          It’s a bit complex to answer in a blog.

        • Lynn Burgess November 8, 2015 at 10:48 am #

          Alistair: Here is a second book recommendation for you, not quite as cheap as the first but very affordable. Powlison is an excellent author. http://tinyurl.com/qj847dc

        • Lynn Burgess November 8, 2015 at 3:33 pm #

          Alistair: Here is a free John MacArthur blog series titled Counseling and the Bible.

          I hope it whets your appetite for the books and further understanding and learning.

          https://www.gty.org/blog/BS140/counseling-and-the-bible

          Individual titles include:
          Contaminated Cures for the Soul
          Insufficient Help Part 1 & 2
          God’s Sufficient Word Part 1 & 2
          God’s Sufficient Spirit
          God’s Sufficient Grace

          • Alistair Robertson November 9, 2015 at 3:13 am #

            Thanks Lynn, but surely it is possible to respond in the comments of a blog when we’re dealing with specific examples.

            For instance, can you tell me what “re-parenting” is in Reparative Therapy and why it is unbiblical when the whole church is described as a family? Can you explain why sin cannot be approached as “disordered loves” as Augustine does? Or why our sin can not be shaped by people sinning against us? All of these things are found within reparative therapy. Why are they dismissed as unbiblical.

            • Lynn Burgess November 9, 2015 at 12:49 pm #

              Alistair: I first responded with a few lines of comment and that post was deleted. Not sure why exactly but I know this forum does not really lend itself well to an in-depth discussion and this is not a topic easily abbreviated. The JMac blogs will give you quite a lot of info and that is another reason for me to not reply at length – he’s already written it – did you read what he wrote?

              • Alistair Robertson November 10, 2015 at 3:04 am #

                I will read it at some stage, but I’ve read enough of John MacArthur to know that I don’t agree with him on a number of topics. I’ve also listened to a whole semester of lectures by David Powlison, so I’ve got some idea what he’s about. I certainly don’t deny that there are good things said by each, but when it comes to specifics, both, in differing ways, have blind spots.

                Hence my comment about specifics.

                And, in my opinion, comment sections can actually be quite useful if either side of an issue is willing to listen and consider the other’s arguments. It only becomes problematic when there’s a lack of willingness to listen.

    • Lynn Burgess November 10, 2015 at 7:12 pm #

      Alistair: Here are more resources for you.

      Dr. Heath Lambert, What’s Wrong with Reparative Therapy? (blog)
      http://www.biblicalcounseling.com/blog/what-wrong-with-reparative-therapy

      Can Homosexuals Ever Change – (free podcast) (11 minutes)
      Dr. Heath Lambert, Speaking the Truth in Love
      https://soundcloud.com/acbc-2/til-018-can-homosexuals-ever-change

      Here are two Biblical Counselor Training sessions by Tom Maxham titled “Coming Out of Homosexuality” and there are a ton of free recordings at this site. (free Mp3)
      http://www.ibcd.org/resources/messages/category/homosexuality/

    • Lynn Burgess November 10, 2015 at 7:16 pm #

      And more… I’m assuming I can only have three links per post…

      The Association of Certified Biblical Counselors just had their national conference and the topic was Homosexuality. You can buy the full conference card for $100 or individual sessions for $2.99.

      http://store.biblicalcounseling.com/collections/all/annual-conference-2015

      The Pre-Conference was on Transgender, the individual sessions are $2.99, and the complete card is $20, which is not a good deal if there are only four sessions. To be honest the ACBC store has not ever been fully functional so far as I know but it seems to be improving so by time you go there you may find something better or more than I found. You can contact them if you have questions.

      http://store.biblicalcounseling.com/collections/2015-pre-conference-transgender

      http://store.biblicalcounseling.com/collections/2015-complete-conference-cards

      • Alistair Robertson November 10, 2015 at 10:00 pm #

        Lynn, I appreciate the links, but I’m challenging what the resources are saying. It is the ideas I am wanting to discuss, so reading the same ideas over and again is not really furthering your point.

        Here is a response to Heath Lambert’s article to give you an idea of my disagreements.

        http://kiwiandanemu.org/index.php/13-i-m-registering-an-opinion/277-what-i-think-about-what-heath-lambert-thinks-about-reparative-therapy

        The response is deliberately provocative, and definitely could be better written, but I wrote it with the intention of being open to engagement and correction. Feel free to engage with my disagreements here or there. I am open to being proven wrong, but I do like to be shown where I’m wrong.

        • Lynn Burgess November 11, 2015 at 1:14 am #

          Alistair: I actually know zero about reparative therapy so I cannot comment on what they do or do not believe and do. Second, you should know that after years of counseling of all flavors true biblical counseling of the ACBC variety saved my life both literally and figuratively. Also, be aware that under the leadership of Dr. Heath Lambert, the ACBC counseling paradigm is being tweaked and although it has been excellent for 40 years, it is now increasingly progressively more and more excellent. I would encourage you to be a Berean and keep studying. Dr. Lambert has a new book coming out in the spring that I can hardly wait to have in my hot little hands and there will be multiple other authors publishing new texts between now and then.

          http://tinyurl.com/nvdyq9z

          I long believed that the Bible should have the answers to life’s problems but I did not know anyone who knew how to make it practical until I met a NANC/ACBC counselor and it changed my life and my worldview and my understanding of Christianity. Now mind you, God’s Word is perfect and complete — but God’s people are not perfect or complete – so biblical counseling is not perfect and varies according to the counselor the way pastor’s sermons vary. But so long as they are counseling God’s Word and the counselee is willing to submit to God’s Word – it is truly revolutionary as Christianity and God’s Word should be.

          I have heard multiple testimonies from people who trained in Psychology and abandoned that to counsel the Word and the Word alone when they came to understand the beauty and power of Biblical counseling. For some it is almost like a second conversion experience. It is abundantly evident that you do not know the depth of what biblical counseling entails and I would encourage you to be a Berean and study it further instead of trying to debate it and discredit it – you are trying to discredit the very Word of God. This is not “take two verses and you’ll be fine in the morning” and it is not “pray it away.”

          I do not want to offend you, so please accept this with the gentleness and love in which it is meant, your egging me for a debate reminds me of what Proverbs says about a fool, and I would encourage you to be wise.

          Proverbs 18:2 ESV
          A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.

          Proverbs 29:9 ESV
          If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.

          The Sufficiency View of Scripture in Christian Counseling by Dr. Wayne Mack (free MP3) http://tinyurl.com/ndjnmh4

          • Alistair Robertson November 11, 2015 at 3:44 am #

            Lynn, I certainly would not want to discredit the work of ACBC. I don’t think I’ve indicated that I would. I am immensely glad that you have benefited from it.

            Nor am I discrediting the Bible. I solidly believe that everything should be judged by the Bible. I am arguing against setting up one method of counseling (derived from the Bible but also within a particular church culture and theological tradition) as the framework through which all other methods are measured.

            I’m sorry you feel you’re being egged toward a debate. I assumed you had knowledge of Reparative Therapy and were willing to engage on the specific issues I have flagged. Clearly neither these things were true.

            I do believe, however, it unfair to call me a fool. A discussion between two people who do not agree can be very helpful and upbuilding. I guess I should have realised that you were not up for a discussion when you kept posting links. My mistake. I apologise.

            Lastly. I appreciate people’s testimonies, but remember, I have testimonies too. The Bible really is the ultimate arbiter in these things.

            Blessings. I’ll now read Denny’s latest post on RT with interest.

            • Lynn Burgess November 12, 2015 at 6:27 pm #

              Alistair: When I looked at your personal blog, I remembered you from other online discussions. My comment about the Proverbs was somewhat a response to the sum of the whole. However, I did not call you a fool I encouraged you to be wise.

              I hope you will listen to the message I posted by Dr. Wayne Mack. It explains the foundation of biblical counseling as understood by ACBC. I posted things for you because not only I did not want to debate but also because I believe that you need to understand not only the specifics of a certain topic but the overall biblical counseling paradigm in order to compare it to psychology and other counseling methods. The entire introductory counselor training course is online for free at the IBCD site.

              I can appreciate that you would be supportive of a counseling method you have found helpful, but is that the final measure of God’s best? AA has helped many to become sober and remain sober and there is some good in their program. But does AA help a person towards seeing their need of Jesus Christ as Savior and loving God with all their heart and soul and mind? I would suggest that the opposite is true. Although they speak of a higher power, it can be defined as absolutely anything and the practical reality is that the group itself is God in AA. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world including sobriety if he loses his own soul?

              I would suggest that part of our difference is in our anthropology. You asked at some point something about the mind or the brain. The Bible often speaks of those things as the heart. The brain is merely part of the physical body. I hope you stay engaged and pursue these things diligently. Blessings!

              Proverbs 10:14 NASV
              Wise men store up knowledge, But with the mouth of the foolish, ruin is at hand.

              Proverbs 28:26 NASV
              He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But he who walks wisely will be delivered.

              • Alistair Robertson November 12, 2015 at 7:24 pm #

                Alistair: When I looked at your personal blog, I remembered you from other online discussions. My comment about the Proverbs was somewhat a response to the sum of the whole.

                Wow. Or should I say, ow?

                Ok Lynn. You don’t wish to discuss. Feel free to stop anytime you’d like. I’ll try to find time to listen to a couple of your links, but I’ll be measuring it against the Bible ;).

  3. ian Shaw November 5, 2015 at 5:44 pm #

    “I think, as Christians, sin is irrelevant. I look at what Jesus did on the cross. He came to fulfill the law. He took care of sin. He ended it forever”

    I am no theologian, but I believe the correct answer would be, Jesus took care of the PUNISHMENT for sinning against a righteous and holy God, in our place. Not eliminating sin from existence. If he truly holds that belief, that is really unsound, unbiblical theology.

  4. Christiane Smith November 5, 2015 at 6:19 pm #

    hard to know how to respond when ‘sin’ is defined differently among Christian people . . . even more difficult when the word ‘sin’ is used in a context that doesn’t appear to make any sense to an observer

    I get it that Chambers is ‘over’ judging others as ‘sinners’ and has turned away from the example of the Pharisee in sacred Scriptures . . .

    but I don’t understand Chambers’ reference to ‘sin’ . . . any clarification would be appreciated as I am left to wonder how he was taught to define ‘sin’ . . . knowing that, I could then try to understand more about exactly what it is he is rejecting as ‘relevant’

    • Christiane Smith November 8, 2015 at 9:00 pm #

      I did find this, which does appear to be a statement of ‘repentance’ and of taking responsibility for having injured others, so I believe Chambers views inflicting these injuries as his ‘sin’ against those begatively affected by his own behavior:
      “I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives.” (Alan Chambers)

      I think he needs to CLARIFY what he means by ‘sin’ and by what it is that he himself is ‘sorry’ for having done . . . otherwise, it seems extremely difficult to make sense of his phrase ‘sin is irrelevant’ . . .

      • Christiane Smith November 8, 2015 at 11:43 pm #

        should be ‘those NEGATIVELY affected’ . . .

  5. Rick Mang November 6, 2015 at 10:03 am #

    Chambers’ pastor teaches that for the Christian, sin is not a violation of the moral law. It is a violation of love. Make sense of that if you can.

    • Christiane Smith November 9, 2015 at 4:11 am #

      The ‘moral law’ is a universally-understood standard which is thought to reflect something of the very character of God Himself . . . so I don’t understand “sin is not a violation of the moral law” can be said in one phrase and ‘It (sin) is a violation of love’ said in the next sentence, no.

      UNLESS, Chambers is thinking along lines of ‘only You have I sinned against’ and ‘God is love’ ???? I cannot know his mind or his reasoning. I do know that in Judaism, one of the first things a child is taught is that the greatest ‘sin’ is ‘unkindness’ and the greatest attribute of God is His ‘chesed’, or ‘loving-kindness’.

      I am left wondering about how Chambers and his pastor have worked this out, because without further explanation or connecting up the dots, it is really hard to fathom where they are coming from, where they are at, and where they are headed ‘on the journey’. I would like to know more. It’s an interesting issue.

  6. Curt Day November 6, 2015 at 11:58 am #

    One of the morals of this story is that extreme positions often produce extreme reactions. And when a person overreacts to his or her own extreme position. the trick in understanding that person is to find the continuity between the original position and the current reaction.

  7. Paul Russell November 6, 2015 at 6:59 pm #

    “The Bible does teach the presence of homosexual desire to be sinful.” I’m guessing that you’re referring to lingering desire, desire that is fed, dwelt upon, enjoyed; otherwise, I’ve never thought that having a fleeting desire waft across my mind is, in and of itself, sinful. “At a hotel, anyone may approach the desk, but not everyone gets a room for the night.”

    • Lynn Burgess November 7, 2015 at 7:44 pm #

      Paul: As I’ve heard Dr. Burk, Dr. Lambert, and others teach about homosexuality it has helped me to understand my own struggle with sin. We have long said/thought that temptation is not sin if not acted on and we rely on Jesus was tempted and did not sin to support that idea. But is that true?

      Jesus was tempted by Satan and not by his own sinful heart. When I am tempted although there may be a demonic component my first cause of temptation is my own sinful, lustful heart that wants to be lord of my life – thus the temptation itself is sinful.

      Also, we tend to look only at the surface/fruit sin and not the root/motive sin of the heart. I would suggest that this is a primary reason we fail repeatedly in areas of habitual sin. We seek to control the action without addressing the heart.

      This is why Jesus could say in the Sermon on the Mount that to be angry is equal to murder and to lust is equal to adultery. Jesus was speaking of the root/heart level sin being equal and/or the same even when the actual actions are vastly different.

      • Christiane Smith November 8, 2015 at 2:06 am #

        Thank you for this explanation, LYNN. I wondered a lot about it when Denny first mentioned something about it.

        This is what I know from my own Church’s teachings:
        For many years, the early Church attempted to clarify ‘Who Christ was’. Initially, the Church was able to settle it that Our Lord was One Person with two natures: one fully Divine, the other fully human.

        But the trouble continued with a man called Eutyches who was a Monophysite. They had difficulty with the fact that Our Lord was fully human as well as fully divine. Some thought the two natures were intermingled into one. Others are said to have worked out some sort of a conversion of the human into the Divine.

        The Monophysites were condemned by the Council of Chalcedon (451). This Council defined that Jesus Christ remained, after the Incarnation, “perfect in Divinity and perfect in humanity . . . consubstantial with the Father according to His Divinity, consubstantial with us according to His humanity . . . one and the same Christ, the Son, the Lord, the Only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures not intermingled, not changed, not divisible, not separable”

        It’s that word ‘intermingled’ that I would focus on when I say that I believe Our Lord was tempted in EVERY way we are tempted, and that He CHOSE not to give in to these terrible temptations. . . . is a teaching in the Church that what was assumed in the Incarnation could then be healed, which supports the idea that Our Lord was attacked by and suffered all the kinds of temptations we humans may suffer, but He did not will to sin. Temptation is seen as an attack on us. Sin is seen as our cooperation willingly with the evil one in choosing to give in to temptation and sin.

        • Lynn Burgess November 8, 2015 at 7:58 am #

          Hi Christine: Jesus was fully human but born of a virgin. Adam’s sin, the sin nature, original sin, is passed to children through the seed of the father.

          Jesus was fully human like Adam before the fall whereas we are Adam’s children after the fall and are born with a nature to sin.

          True, Jesus could have chosen to sin as Adam chose to sin, but that is somewhat different from we since the fall with the inborn propensity to sin.

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