Thinking Out Loud

May 14, 2013

Rob Bell Defending His Position on Gay Christians

Filed under: issues — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:52 am

I am indebted to Trevin Wax for making me aware of today’s featured video. If you want to go deeper, be sure to read his analysis on what you see here.

Maybe you’re just tired of this topic. I get that. And the video runs 21 minutes and doesn’t mince words. But I think this is significant on a number of grounds.

First of all, Rob explains himself very well here, if only because the program hosts don’t allow him any escape. On the other hand, he’s not exactly on the ropes, either; he knows what he believes on this topic, and articulates it better here than I’ve seen elsewhere.

Second, Andrew Wilson clearly disagrees, but he so well models what Christian disagreement should look like. Trevin said, “Kudos to Andrew Wilson for maintaining his composure as he gently presses Rob not only to be clear on his position, but also to reveal the grounding for the position. Too often, discussions on this issue are so focused on the tip of the iceberg that the foundational, grounding elements of the argument are assumed and never made explicit.”

Third — and this at the core of where you lean on this issue — is the whole issue as to which of the Levitical prohibitions apply today and which do not. Wilson asks, “Is it a question of hermeneutics, or is it a question of exegesis?”  (That sound you hear is hundreds of readers clicking away as this distinction may be confusing to many, including one blog host. Reader thoughts on how to clarify this for the average reader are welcomed.) Trevin Wax noted, “Rob answers by appealing to the way the world is in order to make his case. He believes the church must affirm the world as it is.

Fourth, there are the amazing wrap up moments where Wilson says he would not call Bell “liberal,” and where Bell affirms the brotherhood of those who disagree with him, or him with them.


  1. Concerning your hermeneutics/exegesis question, the Trevin Wax quote immediately after that question pretty well provides you the answer, but let me add just a little bit to its correct impulses.

    Overall, there is some fluidity in the ways “hermeneutics” and “exegesis” are used when discussing the Scriptures. However, in this case, both Wilson and Wax reference those concepts with helpful precision.

    Reversing the order (to represent the way discovery is logically accomplished), exegesis is culling out what the biblical author intended his first hearers/readers to understand. Hermeneutics then is how we make application of that text in our current situation.

    Some of your readers may ask, What is the difference? Shouldn’t we obey just as the first hearers/readers would have been expected to? Well, take for instance, the issue of wives submitting to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24, NIV); was that a word to wives living in a specific cultural context in the Roman Empire, or, the Word of God for all Christian wives of all times?

    In light of all this, I would suggest two cautions. Readers who are tempted to think, “Oh, this is just so much fancy footwork to avoid obeying the Word of God and to accommodate contemporary culture,” I would caution them from jumping to premature conclusions and hurling accusations. Rather, reading good books like Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Zondervan), or, the more advanced Hermeneutics: An Introduction (Eerdmans) by Anthony Thiselton, might inform our reading of Scripture and – at the least – cause us to move with respectful caution when handling the Scriptures and engaging our sisters and brothers in Christ.(For readers understandably pressed for time, a helpful way to jump into all of this is to read William Webb’s, Slavery, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis – Intervarsity Press).

    My second caution is to those who are tempted to become impatient with brothers and sisters they consider to be conservative, or even, fundamentalist. We all need to remember that these matters of faith and ethics are not tests of our intelligence or cultural savvy. Most of all of us have Scriptural support for what we believe and we are trying to be faithful to those understandings. I have met few Christians who start with a set of ethical positions then look for proof texts to hammer others with. The advocates of social justice believe they have seen their emphasis clearly in the Scriptures, those opposed to homosexuality and women in ministry think those positions are seen in the Bible as easily as the nose on your face, and so on. Our beliefs our important and we will naturally be motivated to persuade others of their correctness. But, we all need to proceed with Paul’s words in mind, “Make every effort to keep the unity of Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3, NIV).

    “Rightly dividing” (KJV) or “correctly handl[ing]” (NIV) the word of truth is very important. Frankly, it also a fair bit of work. But, then we all have roughly 70 years to work these things out, don’t we :-)

    Comment by Jon Rising — May 14, 2013 @ 1:37 pm

    • Thanks, Jon. I did understand that the exegesis pertains chiefly to what the text actually says while hermeneutics pertains more to interpretation, but I knew I could count on someone to flesh that out in more detail. (And I almost emailed you to see if you wanted to weigh in, but you beat me to it!)

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 14, 2013 @ 5:39 pm

  2. Interesting video–I am also impressed, as you were, with how well Andrew handles himself. For me, when discussing the age-old “which Levitical passages apply to Gentile Christians” question, I am always surprised that so few people reference the Council of Jerusalem, which in fact was called for this exact purpose, with most of the key apostles in attendance. In Acts 15:23-29, the council (led by James) stated that the only parts of the Law which were applicable to the Gentiles were prohibitions against idolatry (eating meat/drinking blood sacrificed to idols) and sexual immorality (whose Hebrew legal code is contained in Lev 18.

    I do agree with everything Jon says above, that it is rarely as cut-and-dried as we think. (And great book recommendations, by the way!) I do think that in this particular case though, the universality of this particular letter to the Gentiles seems clear: as James says here, some other cultures (such as Jewish Christians) may be burdened with further requirements, but the Council agreed that there were no real universal requirements EXCEPT those related to idolatry and sexual immorality. So then one can conclude safely–from my point of view–that in all other areas (role of women, slavery, diet, dress, etc.) we have a great deal of liberty, but in the key areas of who we worship and who we sexually bond with, we are expected not to deviate largely. And even through all the various cultures Christianity has touched, it is really only modern America in the last two generations which has decided that sexuality needs to be dropped from this list…which to me feels much more like a Theology of Convenience ( than a legitimate hermeneutical stance.

    Comment by Michael Belote — May 15, 2013 @ 2:04 pm

  3. Update – Wednesday May 15 — A lengthy article about Rob’s book has just been added to Christianity Today’s website.

    Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 15, 2013 @ 5:20 pm

  4. Michael is correct that Acts 15 is seldom brought into the discussion about homosexuality. He is also correct that it is very important to the discussion. Very important.

    Comment by Jon Rising — May 15, 2013 @ 5:56 pm

    • Hopefully most readers recognized the text in question. Here’s the full reference Michael referred to…

      Acts 15:23-29
      New International Version (NIV)

      23 With them they sent the following letter:

      The apostles and elders, your brothers,

      To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:


      24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 15, 2013 @ 6:08 pm

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