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Comment on Alan Chambers' Interview on the Janet Mefferd Radio Show

by Prof. Robert Gagnon, Ph.D.


Here is the most critical part of the interview. It comes right at the beginning (around the 10 minute mark of the audio at 

Janet: “You and I have talked on a number of occasions and I’ve always liked you and I have been troubled to hear some of the things that you have said as well and I’ll just be open about that since you know that. I want to start with doctrine because that seems to be ......the bottom line on some of these remarks that you have made. There are a number of people who say that you are an antinomian; that is, that you believe that once you are saved that you can go ahead and sin and that it is not going to do anything to jeopardize your salvation. So I’d like to ask you first of all if that is true and if it is not true explain what your doctrine of sin and your doctrine of salvation is, if you would.” 

Alan: “Well, I think Janet that it’s fair for us to say that after salvation we all sin to some degree. We all are still tempted, we all are still struggling with those things on a daily basis. And to say that simply sinning or being tempted causes one to lose their salvation I think is mischaracterizing what the Bible states and makes salvation seem far more insecure than I believe that it is. The miracle of salvation is just that: a miracle. It does save us and I believe that it saves us completely. So that is what I believe. I believe that we all far short, we continue to fall short and thankfully we have a Savior. I do believe that behavior matters and I’ve always said that. So I think that it is important for us to continually be conformed to the image of Christ, that we are on a daily pursuit of his holiness and becoming more like him and I believe that that is a mark of a mature believer, that we are daily becoming more and more like him and pursuing his holiness.”



Alan’s mantra is that we all continue to sin as believers so that we can’t make ongoing unrepentant sin a factor in warning a believer that people who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But in making this argument Alan shows that he rejects the common New Testament distinction between self-professed believers who continue to walk primarily in the flesh and self-professed believers who are led primarily by the Spirit. For Jesus and the NT writers the former do not inherit the kingdom of God, whatever their claim to belief in Christ may be. Rather than warning self-professed believers who live unrepentant homosexually active lives that conduct of this sort is congruent with those who don’t inherit the kingdom, Alan assures them that if they made a genuine profession of faith they will go to heaven irrespective of whether they repent.  

Note how Alan words things: “to say that simply sinning or being tempted causes one to lose their salvation I think is mischaracterizing what the Bible states.” No one ever says that “simply sinning or being tempted causes one to lose their salvation.” The issue is whether a fundamental reorientation has taken place in the self-professed believer’s life such that he or she is now living in the main for God rather than for his or her own self. But for Alan it is all one thing whether one is in the habit of eating big meals on the one hand or engaged regularly and unrepentantly in homosexual practice, incest, adultery, sex with prostitutes, murder, rape, armed robbery, or extortion on the other hand. Each person for Alan is in the same state of both being in Christ and yet continuing to sin.  

Some will be misled into thinking that Alan’s views are orthodox when he goes on to say that “daily pursuit of his holiness and becoming more like him … is a mark of a mature believer.” But there is a key adjective in Alan’s sentence: “mature.” Pursuit of holiness for Alan is a mark of a mature believer, not a believer per se. A genuine believer for Alan can live in any degree of unholiness for any length of time without any repentance whatsoever and still use his or her “get out of jail free card” and go to heaven. It is precisely this view that Jesus and the apostolic witness to him vigorously reject. If only Alan could repeat these words:  

“From their fruits you will know them. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? In this way every good tree makes good fruit but the poor quality tree makes bad fruit. A good tree is not able to make bad fruit, nor a poor quality tree good fruit. Every tree that does not make good fruit is being cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, from their fruits you will know them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven but (rather) the one who does the will of my Father in heaven…. I will declare to them publicly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me you who do the work of lawlessness.’ So .... everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be compared to a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain came down and the rivers came and the winds blew and struck at that house, and it fell and its fall was great!” (Jesus in Matt 7:16-27).  

“If you are being led by the Spirit you are not under (the jurisdiction of) the law. Now the works of the flesh are apparent, which are (of the following sort): sexual immorality (porneia), sexual impurity (akatharsia), licentiousness (aselgeia), idolatry … and the things like these, about which I am telling you beforehand [i.e., before God’s day of judgment], just as I told you beforehand [i.e., when I was personally with you] that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God…. Do not be deceiving yourselves: God is not to be mocked, for whatever a person sows, this also he (or she) will reap, because the one who sows to his (or her) own flesh will, from the flesh, reap (a harvest of) destruction; but the one who sows to the Spirit will, from the Spirit, reap (a harvest of) eternal life. And let us not be bad in doing what is good for in due time we will reap (our harvest), if we do not slack off” (Gal 5:18-21; 6:7-9). 

“So then, brothers (and sisters), we are debtors not to the flesh, (that is,) to live in conformity to the flesh. For, if you continue to live in conformity to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by (means of) the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are being led by the Spirit of God, these (very ones) are sons (and daughters) of God” (Rom 8:12-14).  

“If we say that we have partnership with him and are walking in darkness, we lie and do not have the truth; but if we are walking in the light as he himself is in the light we have partnership with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin…. The one who says, ‘I have come to know him,’ and is not keeping his commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him.... By this we know that we are in him: The one who says that he remains in him ought—just as that one (Jesus) walked—also himself to walk like this…. No one who remains in him keeps on sinning [i.e. as a pattern of life]; no one who keeps on sinning has seen him or has known him. Little children, let no one deceive you: The one who does what is right is righteous, just as that one (Jesus) is righteous. The one who keeps committing sin is from the devil, for from the beginning the devil is sinning.... Everyone who has been born from God does not keep on committing sin [as a pattern of life] ... because he has been born from God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are evident: everyone who does not do what is right is not from God, also the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 1:6-7; 2:3-6; 3:6-10).

“For if we keep on sinning willfully [or: deliberately, intentionally] after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there is no longer left a sacrifice for sins but a fearful prospect [or: expectation] of judgment and a raging fire that is about to consume the adversaries. Anyone who set aside the law of Moses “dies” without mercy “on (the testimony of) two or three witnesses” [Deut 17:6]. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the one who trampled under foot the Son of God and regarded as unholy the blood of the covenant by which he was made holy [or: sanctified] and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:26-27, 29).

Sadly, Alan Chambers cannot repeat these words because he does not believe them. He believes that believers can live lives primarily under the control of sin rather than the Spirit, never repent, and still inherit God’s kingdom. Thus, in his Atlantic interview, in response to a question about how he regards “gay Christians … in a same-sex marriage,” Alan declared: “Some of us choose very different lives than others. But whatever we choose, it doesn’t remove our relationship with God.” When asked whether that meant that “a person living a gay lifestyle won’t go to hell, as long as he or she accepts Jesus Christ as personal savior,” Alan responded that “my personal belief is that … while behavior matters, those things don’t interrupt someone’s relationship with Christ.”  

In his first Lisa Ling interview he stated: “There are people out there who are living an active gay Christian life. God is the one who called them and has their heart and they are in fellowship with Him, and I do believe they will be in heaven with me, I do—if they have a relationship with Jesus Christ, they will.”  

At the Gay Christian Network conference he stated: “The thing that brought me here [to the GCN conference] first and foremost is: We’re Christians, all of us. We may have diverging viewpoints … but the thing that brings us together, the thing that causes us to even want to have this dialogue, or need to have this dialogue, is the fact that we all love Jesus. We all serve him. We serve the very same God and believe very different things.” For Alan this translates into assuring them that they will “go to heaven” since he is convinced that a genuine believer can never lose salvation.  

Much time was spent in the interview debating whether Justin Lee, founder and head of the Gay Christian Network was a genuine Christian. Alan defended him by saying that he is celibate. What he conveniently neglected to mention is that Justin is celibate because it is imposed on him by external circumstances. He just hasn’t met “Mr. Right” yet. But he has declared his desire to be in a committed monogamous marital relationship with the right man since he doesn’t regard such relationships as sin. Whether Justin’s faith was ever genuine is beside the point since Jesus and the NT writers would (as Paul did with the incestuous man) simply say that, regardless, he won’t inherit the kingdom of God if he decides to take on such a life. But even more to the point, in stating at the GCN conference that “I honestly believe that [Justin] loves Jesus and that we are brothers in Christ and that we will spend eternity together,” Alan went even further and declared that all those present at the GCN Conference (consisting overwhelmingly of persons who either want to be in a committed homosexual union or currently are) were true believers and thus persons with whom Alan will likewise “spend eternity.” Later Alan posted on Exodus a “clarification” that there might have been some non-genuine believers present just as (he added by analogy) there are some non-genuine believers at any church that one addresses. But there is a world of difference in comparing the number of people who might not be genuine believers at a gathering where people are actively and unrepentantly engaged in a sexually immoral life with the number at a church where people are not doing so. It is like going to a pro-incest or pro-polyamory convention of self-professed believers (or a convention for unrepentant Christian robbers, extortionists, and murderers) and saying, “Well, one will find non-genuine believers at any Christian gathering.” 


For Alan genuine saving faith doesn’t necessarily produce a transformed life; it should, but it doesn’t have to. As such, he can assure self-professed Christians who engage in gross unrepentant sinful behavior of any magnitude or duration that such things will not interrupt their relationship with Christ. That is what is most problematic here.


Other comments:


Is same-sex attraction sin?

At one point Janet stated to Alan: "You don't believe same-sex attraction is a sin; there are all kinds of verses about sin coming from the heart. Christ himself outlines that in the Gospels, that it is the evil desires within you that make you unclean." Alan responded: "Same-sex attraction is not sin. Same-sex attraction is something that we have an opportunity to bring to the lordship of Christ and he has the ability to help us overcome that on a daily basis."

They are both a little right, both a little talking past the other, and neither completely accurate, in my view. To say same-sex attractions are or are not “sin” is to obscure a critical distinction. As I wrote on p. 17 of my Time for a Change of Leadership at Exodus?:  

No one is at fault merely for experiencing urges that one does not ask to experience and does not seek to cultivate. For example, the fact that someone experiences same-sex attractions at all is not something for which one is morally culpable and does not in any way justify a designation of the person as morally depraved. Same-sex erotic desires, like any desires to do what God expressly forbids, are sinful desires (i.e., they are desires to sin), which is why the one experiencing the desires should not yield to them either in one’s conscious thought-life or in one’s behavior. Alan strikes me as a little confused on this point. In his 'Letter for June 2012' entitled 'Defining Exodus' Alan states: 'Exodus does not believe SSA [same-sex attraction] is sinful. However, sexual expression resulting from SSA is. Making such clear distinctions has been a failure of the Church…. At Exodus International one of our primary missions is to communicate that we all have propensities that if indulged can lead us into sin, but those attractions or inclinations are not sinful.' As it is, Alan has not made entirely clear distinctions. The statement that same-sex attraction is not sinful is true if Alan means only that one is not held culpable for the mere experience of the attraction; but false if he also means that the desire is not a sinful desire. Feelings of jealousy, covetousness, greed, pride, or sexual arousal for an illicit union are all sinful desires; but one isn’t culpable for them unless one willingly entertains them in one’s mind or acts on them in one’s behavior.


Did Janet Mefferds say that following Christ and loving the homosexual neighbor are incompatible principles?

Janet toward the end of the interview took exception with a June 19 blog post by Alan in which he said, "There is nothing more aggressive, more life changing and more culturally impactful than boldly loving your neighbor as you love yourself. That is the Gospel and it remains really, really Good News." Janet continued: "My response to that, Alan, is that loving your neighbor as you love yourself is not the gospel. That's straight law. The gospel is the ... dying of Jesus Christ to put away our sins .... Do you believe that loving your neighbor is the gospel?" Alan responded by calling it the greatest commandment but agreed that Jesus is the gospel, that him dying on the cross for our sins is the gospel "but so is loving our neighbor.... That is the greatest of the commandments." Janet responded: "But that is not the gospel. That is what condemns us because we cannot love God and love our neighbor as ourselves; that's exactly why Jesus had to fulfill the law in our place."

After the interview was over, Alan posted on his Facebook page the following ungracious charge that Janet said "that following Jesus and loving our neighbor couldn't both be done--if it's a gay neighbor especially." Alan then called on his followers to post on the Janet Mefferds Show Facebook page and express their outrage. Janet responded on her FB page: "I absolutely believe we should love our neighbors as ourselves, including our gay neighbors! What I took issue with was Alan's claim, in his June 19 blog post, which said: 'There is nothing more aggressive, more life changing and more culturally impactful than boldly loving your neighbor as you love yourself. That is the Gospel and it remains really, really Good News.' ... The gospel is what Christ did for us (I Cor. 15). YES, of course we are to love our neighbors! But if Alan is calling a command 'the gospel,' then he has confused the law with the gospel."

I do believe that Alan Chambers misconstrued Janet's words. To some extent both were like two ships passing in the night. Janet was responding to the fact that Alan had identified the command to "love your neighbor" as the core message of the gospel as opposed to the proclamation of Christ as Savior and Lord. Her comment "we cannot love God and love our neighbors" was certainly not saying (as Alan misconstrued it) that "following Jesus and loving our neighbor couldn't both be done," as though following Jesus and loving one's neighbor, especially one's "gay" neighbor, were incompatible principles. She was rather saying that the gospel proclaims the saving work of God that no human being can merit; that one can't become saved by loving one's neighbor because no one can love one's neighbor adequately to the point of meriting salvation. On Alan's side is the fact that he was perhaps not claiming that but rather seeing loving one's neighbor as a central moral imperative for those who receive the love of God. Yet it is absurd to infer from what Janet said that she thinks that it is incompatible to love those who live out of same-sex attractions and still follow Jesus. Alan should know better than that and not be distorting what she said to disciples of his. As an aside, Alan identified the command to love your neighbor as yourself as the greatest commandment. That place belongs to the Shema in Deut 6 to love Yahweh your God with all your heart, etc.


What is wrong about Alan's view of sexual orientation change?

Perhaps a little differently than Janet, I don't fault Alan for believing that many Christians don't or won't experience significant sexual orientation change. As I noted on p. 11 of my Time for a Change of Leadership at Exodus?”:

Knowing Jesus and obedience to God’s will are naturally the main goals and not change of orientation. Moreover, I myself have often written and said that the greatest manifestation of change, and one over which the angels especially rejoice, is when one continues in obedience to the Lord in spite of persistent urges to do otherwise. (My plenary address at an Exodus Conference a few years ago focused on that very point.) It is no great feat to be obedient to Jesus when one experiences no strong desires to violate God’s will. The theme of the power of God operating in the midst of ongoing deprivation and human weakness is a powerful message of 2 Corinthians (e.g., the thorn-in-the-flesh passage in 2 Cor 12:7-10; also 1:9; 2:14-17; 4:7-12). Moreover, I have never thought that radical transformation from exclusively homosexual or near so (Kinsey’s categories 5 and 6) to exclusively heterosexual or near so (categories 0 and 1) to be common or easy, particularly for men (see my The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics [Nashville: Abingdon, 2001] 420-29). If anything, I am a bit more cautious than I was when I first wrote about these matters over a decade ago—though I still don’t think that the evidence shows that people are “born homosexual” in the same way that they are born with a given gender or eye color.

That being said, I feel that Alan has gone too far in trying to disassociate Exodus from reparative therapy. Alan stated categorically in “Defining Exodus – Letter from Alan Chambers for June 2012“ (June 19): “We are no longer an organization that associates with or promotes therapeutic practices that focus on changing one’s attraction.”

This is an overreaction on Alan's part. It is not necessary that sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) achieve complete transformation from “gay” to straight in order to be helpful. One or two shifts along the Kinsey spectrum or a change in intensity of homosexual impulses can be beneficial. Alan’s anecdotal comment that “99.9 percent” of the people that he has come across in Exodus have not been able to eliminate every vestige of same-sex attraction is great press for homosexualist advocacy groups but otherwise meaningless. It would be a different story if Alan claimed that not even incremental changes in orientation occur but that appears not to be the case.

Not everyone will have experienced same-sex attractions as a result of a perceived distance with a same-sex parent or peers. But apparently some do and experience significant help from such a therapeutic model. I can understand that some believers who have not experienced the shift in orientation that they hoped for from reparative therapy would not be high on its use. Yet since the narrative “reparative therapy didn’t help me (or help me enough)” is not true for everyone in the “ex-gay” movement, why be so all-or-nothing and close off opportunities for others? In shutting off Exodus completely from NARTH and any orientation-change approach, Alan Chambers is making the issue of reparative therapy all one thing or all the other.



  © 2012 Robert A. J. Gagnon