God vs. Rob Bell: the Debate Is Bull$#*!

More than any other topic, I get blog hits when I post about either Rob Bell or homosexuality. So … why not post about both? Here we go.

But before we do, a note: I’m going to swear a little bit in this post. If you find that offensive, please know that I am not doing so to purposefully offend you. I am doing so to stress the gravity of both the debate that is taking place and the seriousness with which I hold the position I do.

The video below has been making the rounds over the past couple of days. It features Rob Bell and British pastor Andrew Wilson on a British radio show called Unbelievable?, hosted by Richard Brierley. It’s long but worth the watch.


 

Throughout the conversation, it seems like Brierley and Wilson gang up on Rob, insisting that he defend his recently announced support of same sex relationships. Wilson works hard, trying to get Rob to say whether or not gay sex is sinful. Rob refuses to take the bait and tries to keep framing the discussion in a way that resonates with him. I deeply appreciate that.

At times Rob looks bemused, annoyed, and detached. It’s like the debate that Wilson and Brierley want to have sounds to him like a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. Eventually, around 16 and a half minutes in, he kind of snaps and calls bullshit on the whole thing.

And I am so glad he did.

One of the traps that Brierley and Wilson use is to try to label Rob’s position as “liberal” and “unorthodox.” The presupposition is that Rob has set his own opinion over and against the opinion of God. It’s God vs. Rob Bell. This is rather clever of Brierley and Wilson. If you can frame the debate that God “clearly says x, y, and z” while your opponent says something else, you’ve won. Being of the same opinion as God is the ultimate trump card.

This is bullshit.

It is not that Christian proponents of monogamous, faithful same sex relationships have their interpretation of the Bible while opponents of homosexuality have God’s interpretation. That’s simply a logical and hermeneutical fallacy. It’s bullshit.

Do you mind if I raise my voice a little bit?

EVERYONE IS INTERPRETING THE BIBLE. NO ONE IS OBJECTIVE. ALL OF US IN THIS DEBATE, REGARDLESS OF THE CONCLUSIONS WE COME TO, ARE SEEKING TO MAKE THE BEST SENSE OF THE BIBLE THAT WE CAN. WE ARE NOT TRYING TO RID OURSELVES OF GOD. WE ARE TRYING TO FIND GOD IN THE MIDST OF A VERY COMPLICATED WORLD.

I have had this bullshit foisted on me. When I have spoken out in favor of same sex marriage, I have had people send me lists of Bible verses, as if I had not given any thought to them, as if a list of Scriptural prooftexts is all that is needed for a discussion. Bullshit. I have wrestled with the biblical texts. A lot. I am interpreting them using my knowledge, faith, and experience, along with various hermenteutical tools, just like my friends who have come to different conclusions than me.

Rob-Bell-Grace-Cathedral

The Bible can easily be used to defend both sides of this debate. The debate is not won, let alone advanced, by simplistic prooftexting.

I too have had people accuse me of being against God because of what I have said and written. This is bullshit too. The conclusions I have come to are motivated by my love for God and my desire to see the love and justice of God’s kingdom spread far and wide.

It is disingenuous and not a little insulting to have my brothers and sisters in Christ try to pit me (or Rob, for that matter) against Jesus and his Father when I am simply trying to follow the way of Jesus as best I can.

Disagree with me. But be honest about my intentions and my process.

Debate me. But don’t try to label me as something just so that you can lump me together with some group you don’t like, as if that is the end-all and be-all of biblical interpretation.

Dismiss me if you have to. But don’t damn me to hell just because I come to a different hermeneutical and interpretative conclusion than you.

These kinds of conversations are tremendously important. But they are not just important because interpretations of the Bible are at stake. They are important because people’s lives, well-being, and faith are at stake. To suggest anything else is, well, bullshit.

In reaction to this post, an open letter was written to me on another blog. Here is my response.

I have also now posted some humble suggestions about how the church can best engage in this debate. You can read those thoughts here.

  • Karen Gerber

    yes. yes. and yes.

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  • Wayne Rumsby

    WOWSER! BAM!! YA BABY!!! That interview made me spitting mad. Thanks for pushing back. I couldn’t find the words, but I think these are very well crafted. Nicely done, other Rob.

  • Heidi

    I loved the video. Well, the parts where Rob was speaking :) I love that his answers were always gentle and kind. I love that he pushed back…particularly when he asked why of ALL the things in the Bible, people question your orthodoxy or belief in God when you won’t say homosexuality is a sin. I also really love his definition of sin.

    Excellent response, Robb.

  • Rob Moss

    Thank you for posting this. Lots of us, Rob Bell now included, have been pushing back against a narrow and judgmental view of biblical interpretation for a long time. It’s good to be reminded that God is bigger than our personal interpretation.

  • Jeff Kursonis

    Hi, I love your post. I have had the same feelings many times. I have my whole wrecking crew of friends and family who are all still very conservative who regularly do all the above to me.

    Not that they’re able to hear it, but what I feel so deeply divides our views, and that stands right at the intersection of what it means to emerge from a US religious conservative viewpoint, is the issue of “conceptual reality” verse real reality…from our enlightenment sprinkled world view, we are so used to basing everything in concepts. Proof texts support concepts. Doctrines are concepts held and defended. in that world, we don’t look at people who might be hurt by our bad views, we just uphold the concepts. To emerge is to become free of these concepts and to enter the land of living human beings. I don’t care what my Catholic brother’s concepts are, I just want to embrace him. Evangelical distinctiveness does care what his concepts are and chooses to reject him because he holds bad concepts. Peter Rollins writes about this as the “concept idol” and it seems very real to me.

    The problem is that you can’t just arbitrarily change the concepts. You can’t just one day wake up and say, Ok, let’s change this shit coz we feel like it. The concepts are set in stone. But when a concept – literally an imagination in your mind, causes you to be unkind to a human, now your concept is an idol that has caused you to go the opposite of love. We must love humans, and let concepts go.

    Thanks!

  • http://jpserrano.com/ jpserrano

    A fine post. Thanks for putting this out there.

  • Kristy Buyok

    “In Leviticus, there’s two different types of fabric all woven together.” The irony made me literally LOL! I’m not sure if he meant that to be funny, I suppose not, but it was, none-the-less very funny.

  • Clint Schnekloth

    Nice work, Robb. Thank you.

  • Barry Hoerz

    Thanks for this, Robb. I stumbled upon this by accident and am quite happy that I did. Thank you for an inciteful and honest response. I take comfort in hearing passionate but intelligent responses to belligerent bullies who ignore logic and a compassionate God in favor of volume and persistent ignorance.

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  • David Axberg

    Robb,

    This is my first time reading your blog sorry we lost touch. You used to live in my house in Foxboro.

    I do disagree with you because your intentions are to malign the Word of God. Bad biblical interpretation in order to make a point that you want to be able to fit in what you want Christianity to be is always wrong. You are making up a new religion when you do that and it is not based on truth. Truth always has to be true in every area. So I will go right to the Garden of Eden God gave Adam three commands 1. Be Fruitful and multiply 2. Tend the Garden 3. take dominion. Pretty basic and yet God had a clear plan for man. Now He needed to find a help meet for Adam and that is when God created Eve (not Steve). No debate man God intended man to not be alone so he gave you Vanessa to tend you as you tend the garden and so that you could be fruitful and multiply while missionally taking dominion.

    Careful not to malign the Word for I am not the who saves or damns to hell. That is for the King and Creator of the universe to do. I am to preach the Word of God in season and out of it not to make it be something else to suit my needs.

    I pray God will remove the rose color glasses from your eyes.

    • rryerse

      Dave, nice to hear from you. I appreciate that you and I have different perpectives on this issue. However, I don’t get how you can say that my intentions are to malign the Word of God. Nothing could be farther from the truth … and the inaccuracy of making those kinds of accusations is exactly the point of this blog post.

      • David Axberg

        I hear what you are saying that you are not intending to malign the Word of God. In order to come to the conclusions you draw, you have to change the the true meaning of the text in all of scripture, that is my point that a truth is a truth from beginning of time to the end of time. To change it is to malign it.

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