Video: “Culture Has Shifted” – Is Rob Bell’s Answer to the Gay Question Biblical?

Rob is peppered with questions/challenges regarding his view of culture shift and homosexuality on the Unbelievable radio show in the UK. What do you think – are his answers sufficiently biblical, or do they simply accomodate to the culture? Or is he providing some needed nuance regarding hermeneutics and human experience?

Watch this video and let me know your thoughts!

About Zach Hoag

Zach J. Hoag is a writer and missional minister from notoriously non-religious New England. He blogs here at Patheos and HuffPost Religion. His book, Nothing but the Blood: The Gospel According to Dexter, released in 2012. Most importantly he binge-watches TV dramas and plays in the snow with his family.

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  • pastorben52

    Don’t have time to watch the entire video, but from the first five minutes he looks like a guy who has come to a certain belief but has not had it subjected to the fires of criticism.  I think it is a fairly honest look at someone who is trying to be honest about where he is in his belief being grilled by someone who is used to having these arguments and is prepared with all of the tools he needs to pull from his bible batbelt.

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      pastorben52 yeah. it was good to see these two engage though, even if it was a little bit of an interrogation.

    • zugzwanged1

      pastorben52 To me Bell here looks like someone who really hasn’t thought carefully enough about the ramifications, implications, and precise contours of his position. While he is happy to express himself in vague and appealing general statements, when pushed on specifics, the cracks start to show. He comes across as someone who has arrived at his position on extra-scriptural grounds (whether or not these grounds are ‘unbiblical’ is a different discussion), but is still uncertain of how to square it with the Scriptures, leaving one concerned at what is going to give way as the unresolved tensions exert more pressure.
      The benefit of the ‘interrogation’ is that it pushes Bell on the awkward and unwelcome specifics that are often neglected in his work. It presses him to tie his position down, to articulate clearly exactly what he stands for and defend a position. One of the consistent problems that I find with Bell is that, on a host of issues, he is very vague about what exactly he is standing for, but is ambiguous on some of the most controverted issues. This allows him to make controversial theological insinuations, without nailing any colours to his mast, and directly addressing the opposition. He is incredibly slippery in this way.
      I believe that we have a duty to be clear about what we stand for in our thinking and articulation of our positions. Bell too often comes across as a salesperson who is doing his best to keep our eyes on the advertising copy and distract us from the small print.

      • pastorben52

        zugzwanged1 pastorben52I certainly understand what you are saying I just don’t take the same view.  I would agree that Bell has not yet had time to “sharpen his positions” or “clarify his stance”.  But I think we are to quick to accept the premise of modernity that everything we believe should be argued, backed up, proven from scripture, or otherwise made into a stance.  I don’t think we have duty to do that at all.  I would actually argue that we have duty to do the opposite.  Solidifying our stances, and being sure that we can articulate the ramifications, implications, and precise contours of our positions tends to make us less able to learn from one another, more interested in our own “ideals”, and less concerned with how those “ideals” may affect other people.  I know I just said I don’t think we should be so fast to be able to back up our positions, and recognize that this may go against that statement, but here’s why I think that.  When Jesus was questioned he was often vague, ambiguous, and very against those who knew all of the appropriate arguments and question to use beforehand.  He had a disdain for clear answers, as well as an even greater disdain for those who thought they had them themselves.  I think Christians have duty to embody that as well.

        • zugzwanged1

          pastorben52 zugzwanged1 This isn’t a matter of a foundationalist epistemology, just a matter of being clear about what you are advocating and prepared to expose it to the test of critical scrutiny. This is one of the best ways to learn from other people, as we spar with them and our strengths and weaknesses are revealed through our interactions with them.
          This does not mean that as we become more interested in ideas we lose interest in people. It just means that we are honest and open about where we stand, even if where we stand is in an unresolved tension, sustained for the sake of two things that we love (in this case Scripture and our gay neighbour), neither of which we are going to abandon. As such cases can entail sacrifices on both sides of the question to allow for the non-resolution, we should be prepared to have the exact measure of the sacrifice exposed through critical dialogue and honest answering.
          For instance, in the video Bell is pushed on whether this is an exegetical or hermeneutical issue: a crucial question to which his answer seems to manifest a disturbing lack of attention to the cost of such positions. For instance, if this is an exegetical issue, we need to tackle the exegetical questions, some of which have disturbing consequences in other parts of our thinking. If it is a hermeneutical question, there may be some significant adjustments to our handling of Scripture on a range of issues involved. We need to be upfront about the possibility of these.
          People who are continually hedging rightly make us suspicious. As I said earlier, Bell sounds like the salesperson who doesn’t want us to spend time closely examining the small print, small print that he really hasn’t paid enough attention to himself, but just to attend to the appeal of the slogan. Jesus used ambiguity, but in a distinctively different manner. He used the ambiguity of multivalency, an ambiguity that increases meaning in a poetic manner, rather than sapping it through indeterminacy. He also used ambiguity or veiled teaching as a form of judgment on unbelieving hearers, and wise answers to hostile questions. What he didn’t do was hedge.

        • pastorben52

          zugzwanged1 pastorben52 I am big fan of debate and discussion, obviously as I am engaging it here.  I am also a very big fan of exposing our ideas to debate and discussion, as it is certainly the best way to learn and to sharpen our understandings, or release misunderstandings.  But, that is not what Bell appears to be facing here to me.  Much like the interview with Martin Bashir that circulates after Love Wins cam out Bell is facing someone with a point to prove.  That is not dialogue or debate in such a way to learn better.  It seemed to me that Bell is pushed to clarify exactly what he is talking about so that Wilson can know from which stand point to attack. Bell has certainly had to deal with us a great deal in his life and would pretty quickly sense what is coming.  In saying, “Are you coming at this from ______ standpoint or ______ standpoint?” Wilson is showing is intentions.  If he is really interested in better understanding Bell’s opinion the questions would almost certainly be different, “How did you come to that?” “What was your process?”  “What did the process reveal to you?”  
          I think that many of Jesus’ detractors likely would have seen him as a snake oil salesmen who answered questions and problems through indeterminacy.  I think they would have seen his lack of answers at his trial as a hedge.  People who hedge make do not rightly make us suspicious, as though hedging is some sort of give away that someone is not being forthright.  It is only our societal sense that certainty is somehow the highest virtue that makes us feel that way.  People who hedge make us suspicious because we believe in understanding seeking back up far more than we value faith seeking understanding.  Bell has state from the first pages of Velvet Elvis that he does not see the world this way, which to me makes him honest and principled.

        • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

          pastorben52 zugzwanged1 Great conversation, gents. Thanks so much for engaging here. Strangely (as you might tell from the likes), I find myself agreeing with both of you, as I think Rob does manifest some hedging here (as he does elsewhere) AND some very chastened, wise nuance and generosity (contra-modernism).
          For instance, I think he hedges at first on the question of traditional interpretation and the witness of church history, but then he makes a strong empathetic appeal that nuances the notion that church witness is absolute and beyond question. And while I’m on the fence about his “bullshit” comments, I respect that he concedes the distinction between biblical/cultural conclusions. I think that’s what his view comes down to, and he admits that which takes some real honesty/humility.

  • ryanlrobinson

    I love when he calls the interrogation bullshit, and to me that was the main point he was trying to get at: regardless of where we land on the issue, we need to be able to look past the issue and love each other. I’m sure he could have given all the scholarly analysis of the context and the language in the very few texts used to demonize LGBT persons; I can’t imagine he doesn’t know it. But I don’t think it would have mattered to stop the interrogation because they seemed pretty hellbent on making him look as bad as possible. So yes, he took the tack of trying to raise the conversation past fighting and dividing over biblical scholarship into a better conversation of how we treat each other despite disagreements. I think most of the listeners probably missed it, but I’m glad he did.

  • uponacloud

    I perceive Rob Bell to be too “Let’s sell rose water Christianity to the public opinion” though I support committed gay relationships too, but I still don’t like the way Andrew Wilson diminishes the ability of our understanding of right and wrong like when he says “Surely God defines what is destructive” etc. Or his comment about orthodoxy. Is he a Catholic? If he isn’t then he is the biggest hypocrite walking on earth at the moment. Not even the Bishops of the Church of England could reach an unanimous interpretation of the Biblical stance on homosexual people, marriage etc…the attitude he has seems even worse in this context. He seems so confident to be the one who knows it all just because he is backed (arguably) by Scripture and tradition. I’m sure this attitude resembles more that of people Jesus criticised than His own.

  • http://deliberatedisciple.me/ mjluff

    Bell often comes across as unprepared in situations like this – but I think he would easily have been able to knock back Wilson’s arguments – if he’d wanted to – because from some of his comments he obviously has considered the issue in depth.  However, I just don’t think Bell is willing to be pulled into an ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ argument – because, as far as he is concerned, black or white is just too simplistic!

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      mjluff Agree 100%. Rob is visibly tired here and looks kind of caught off guard (though I can’t figure out why since he went on this same show during the Love Wins book tour and faced a similar conservative interrogation). I can’t decide if he sounds defensive or just awesome when he gets to the “bullshit” part though. Leaning toward awesome :).

  • http://www.AmyThedinga.com/ Amy Thedinga

    I think it’s a pretty far reach to say that homosexual behavior isn’t sin according to scripture.  God created male and female to partner, sexually and in other ways, for the good of others and the glory of God.  According to Bell’s definition of sin as a disruption of shalom and in consideration of how God made his good creation to function, homosexuality is most certainly a perversion of the created order and therefore sinful.  That being said, the traditional conservative obsession with THIS ONE sin is ridiculous.  Bell makes an excellent point when he mentions worry being a sin.  Where are the heated debates and party lines on worry?  I think the bigger question is – why is religious culture so preoccupied with homosexuality as opposed to other (arguably more shalom disrupting) sins?  I think the answer lies not in the threat homosexuality poses to shalom, but to our conservative, traditional lifestyles.  If gays are aloud to get married, maybe that makes my marriage less holy.  Although I disagree with Bell on the sin issue, I love how he’s willing to challenge the religious establishment.  He makes an excellent point toward the end about Christ being big enough to hold our family together when the brothers and sisters disagree.

    • http://www.AmyThedinga.com/ Amy Thedinga

      * allowed *  :)

    • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

      Amy Thedinga Thanks for expressing that, Amy. I think Rob is pushing for just that – a way for Christians to not only embrace gay folks but to embrace each other across disagreement about “issues.”


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