Justin Brierley hosted Rob Bell and Andrew Wilson on his radio program 04/20/13 (you can download the MP3 file for the program here). What follows is a partial transcript of that broadcast, starting from the point where there was some, shall we say, disagreement.
I use the word "transcript" somewhat loosely. It is an extraordinarily difficult thing to convert conversational speech to written text--and to be both accurate and comprehensive--and my hat is off to those who do this regularly. For myself, I've tried to produce something which is representative of the discussion, but I don't warrant that I've reproduce everything.
So, for instance, Justin Brierley uses lots of pauses, ums, and other things that I used to get dinged for in Toastmasters. I've included some but not all of these, primarily when they are used to to change the subject. Likewise, Rob Bell is one of those people who actively participates in conversations with noises of acknowledgement, and while those happened throughout this interview, I have not tried to capture each and every one of them, particularly when they occur during a section of another person talking. Emphasis is lacking, except in the pauses, and even there it is difficult to capture.
I anticipate making comments at some point, but I like having a post where the discussion can speak for itself.
I am licensing this work under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License, should anyone want to use this.
BRIERLEY: I think one of the major things that came through in this book what we talk about when we talk about God was this, this thing you culminate with which is that God is always ahead of us--
BELL: Mmm, hmm.
BRIERLEY: --and us being the Church very often, um, doing things and sometimes it's actually God's in the culture already making things happen, um, and the church is kind of lagging behind, you know, taking time to catch up, um, you--you--in fact, I'll just read a, a quick section of what you you describe as clicks (sp?) to make it really clear and simple let's call this movement across history we see in passages like the ones we looked at from Exodus and Deuteronomy clicks and you've been talking about how God moves that culture beyond where it was even though for us it can still look backward it was actually a big leap forward for them. And you say what we see is God meeting people at the click they're at and then drawing them forward; when they're at "F" God calls them to "G." When they're at "L," God calls us to "M." And all of it is taking place on a continuum, a trajectory, a God-fueled movement within and through human history.
Now, I don't think it's, um, you know, a lot of people are aware that you've recently made statements on gay marriage and gay relationships.And although that wasn't explicit in the book, it then suddenly dawned on me as I read that--with that in mind--that you've sort of affirmed, uh, you know, monogamous, um, uh lifelong partnerships and so on, that this might be an area where you see God ahead of where a lot of the church is, as far as you're concerned, that we're being called now to move from "M" to "N" in this area, perhaps. Is that kind of what you're hinting at is--do you believe that this is where actually God's ahead of the church, that affirming same-sex partnerships is actually a God thing, and that we will all eventually get to see that in the course of time?
BELL: I think it will happen. I don't know, uh,--you're asking several different questions there, but--yes, I think it's, time for the church to acknowledge that we have brothers and sisters who are gay--and, want to share their life with someone--
BRIERLEY: Mmm, hmm.
BELL: --and, this is a part of life, in the modern world, and, that's how it is, and that cultural conciousness has shifted--
BRIERLEY: Mmm, hmm.
BELL:And--that's, this is how the world is, and, that what's happening for a lot of people is they want nothing to do with God and Jesus, because they can't see beyond that particular issue--so, "Is God ahead?" I hadn't thought about it in those terms, of ahead or behind--
BELL: --but I think it is time for the church to acknowledge this is how the world is, and things have changed, or at least we're more honest about them.
BRIERLEY: Now this is--up to this point, there's been a lot of agreement between guys (chuckles), but I suspect you take a different view on this--and--
WILSON: (interjecting) Well can I ask a--some questions--
BRIERLEY: Please do.
WILSON: --cause what I don't know is the grounding for that--
WILSON: --that statement that I find interesting.
WILSON: So would you say "I don't think that a guy having sex with a guy is sinful?"
BELL: I would begin with--I am for monogamy, I am for fidelity, I am for commitment. and I think the world needs more of that. And I am--I--think that promiscuity is dangerous, and promiscuity is destructive, and some people are gay and want to share their life with someone, and--they should be able to. And that's how the world is and we should affirm that, and we should affirm monogamy, fidelity, and commitment, both gay and straight.
WILSON: Is that a yes or a no? As in, do you believe it--so what I'm trying to get my head around is, do you think it's sinful but we need to lump it because the world's changed, or do you think it's not sinful, and if so, do you think the--Bible doesn't think it's sinful and that--Jesus didn't think it was sinful, that's--
BELL: I'm not aware that Jesus mentions it. I think you have about five verses that can be read a number of different ways--and there is a large Christian tradition that sees this as--there are Scriptures that speak to this, but I don't think you can make an overwhelmingly--case against it.
WILSON: So--but is your position, which I know is, you know--
WILSON: --so, your position would be, "No it's not sinful," right? It's not sinful for a guy to have sex with a guy, that's not a problem--for God, it never has been, it's just--at times he had to move people towards--forward in history, but that's not a problem--if you understand Paul properly, you understand Jesus properly, they genuinely don't have a problem with guys having sex with guys--is that--I'm just trying to--is that what you believe, cause I don't wanna critique--
BELL: I think Paul--
WILSON: --a position you don't have.
BELL: --had, I think Paul had his answer to that question tied up in worship of all sorts of other deities--I think it was all one giant hairball in Paul's day, and that, for him, there was the temple, and there was the temple of other gods who were opposed to the God of Israel, and that went on in there. So I think when Paul was talking about this issue, for him it's tied up in all sorts of idolatry, it's all sorts of rejection of God, so I would wanna like--pull the various issues apart, and I don't think they--
WILSON: So but your--
BELL: --had a cultural--
WILSON: --but so your--
WILSON:--then you've got, so if, Paul is looking at--there's two gay men in the church in Corinth--the want--they're having sex together, they're not worshiping idols, Paul's gonna say "That's great guys, go for it, we need more of that, not less." Is that you're--is that what you believe is true of Paul?
BELL: I think Paul didn't have that cultural framework or conception operating around him. I think he had men and boys, I think he had temples--I did not think he was talking about what we're talking about in 2013, which was two committed people of a same-sex relationship.
WILSON: Okay so you--
BELL: I would start there.
WILSON: --you don't think there's any--you don't--your position would be this is not sinful, this is righteous, it's a good thing. God says, "Way to go guy--I--from my throne in heaven, I'm blessing that, I'm saying that's wonderful, it's not--it's a beautiful thing--
BELL: The (INAUDIBLE)--
WILSON: --to pursue.
BELL: --the theologian Cornelius Plantinga defines sin as "culpable disturbance of Shalom," so any way in which I'm guilty of destroying the Shalom that God intends for all things.
BELL: I don't think a healthy, monogamous same-sex relationship destroys or is destructive to the Shalom God intends for all things.
WILSON: So you don't think it--you don't think it's sinful, yeah, so, so--
BELL: Although some things are really destructive.
WILSON: Yeah, sure. So, so for you, gay sex isn't sinful at all, and if we understood the Bible properly we'd all get that, so actually we are--we're--when Jesus talks about sexual immorality flowing from within the heart and refers back to Leviticus 18 with all of its prohibitions, you would say, that's--that's a time-specific thing, that's just--Jesus was--was Jesus wrong on that, did he misunderstand what God had (INAUDIBLE)--
BELL: Well in Leviticus, I mean--
WILSON: --was Jesus just a step forward, or--what's the--cause obviously he's just--he's talking--in the same passages he says "all foods are clean but from the heart come"--
WILSON: --sexual immorality among other things, and sexual immorality in the Jewish world, as you've read a lot about it as I have, is--
BELL: A big deal.
WILSON: --understood very much in terms of (INAUDIBLE)--
BELL: Yeah yeah. Yeah yeah. A big deal.
WILSON: --so--so, the--so if it--again, I'm trying to get at, would you say--
BELL: Right, right.
WILSON: --you say, Paul didn't have a problem with it, so you don't--you don't think Paul or Jesus were referring to any of those prohibitions from the, from the Old Testament, and they weren't really talking about anything like what we're seeing today. Or would you so say, no, Jesus did say that, but he was a child of his time as Paul was, and therefore we can move beyond it now because the world's changed? It's just which of those two--
BELL: That's a great question.
WILSON: --positions you're in. [52:34]
BELL: That's a great, deep, think, complicated question--I'll have to think about it more.
WILSON: It's like--is it a question of hermenuetics or is it a question of exegesis? So it it that you and I would disagree about--it's obviously--
BELL: Yeah, right. Great question.
WILSON: --about Paul, or about Jesus, or is it--
BELL: Yeah, it's a great question.
WILSON: --that (INAUDIBLE) about how that fits into God's story, and you'd say we go beyond that now. [52:51]
BELL: Well, when Jesus is referring to Leviticus, tied up in Leviticus is two different kinds of fabric, being woven together, so you have lots of questions about Jesus' understanding of Leviticus based on--because--wait, wait, wait, wait, is he--calling people to two different kinds of fabric, and can we do that now, and--I think when Jesus quotes Leviticus that's--opens up a whole series of questions about exactly where in Leviticus we say that's timeless, that's not timeless, that's cultural, that's not culturally bound. That's a whole longer discussion.
WILSON: Well, yeah, but--when he talks about sexual immorality it's quite--
WILSON: --in that sense--I'm just saying, if it--you know--Jesus is--I understand--is a Jewish--first century Jew whose understanding of sexual immorality Torah-shaped, right, so he--he has a view of what is and isn't acceptable, so when he says that's one of the evils that comes from the heart, um, he--he's not whistling in the dark, he's not saying that in a vacuum--people--his hearers understand him--Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, etc., Paul understands him--obviously I would disagree with the way you're understanding Paul's use of the words in as well, but--and we probably won't get time to get to that--
BRIERLEY: Well, we--we are running out of time just in the section, folk, and so let's--let's go to another quick break--
BRIERLEY: --we've just got ten minutes to kind of wrap things up, and I think--I think this kind of gets us to the point of talking about where--where the difference does come in terms of the outworking of what--what it means to--to look at God and to--to talk about God in today's culture--because I'm getting from you Andrew that, in certain areas, you feel Rob has, perhaps, gone too much down the--the way the culture if kind of steering these issues, in this area at least, and perhaps Rob you're feeling no, this is--this just is the way as you say the world is, and we've got to understand how people are going to best approach God in the world that we live in today--um, so we'll come back to this in a moment's time. You're listening to Unbelievable with me, Justin Brierly--fascinating discussion today between Rob Bell, he's a bestselling author, former pastor--uh, you know him well, probably for things like the Nooma DVDs, the book Love Wins a couple of years ago. Also with me Andrew Wilson, tossing Rob some of the tough questions on this issue of homosexuality, but also a lot of interesting discussion on resurrection and how to reach people with Christ, so--come back for the third part of today's program, in just a moment's time. [55:06]
BRIERLEY: Welcome back to part three, and as we just conclude this conversation with Rob Bell--it's been quite wide-ranging--been questions on both sides today between Rob and our other guest, Andrew Wilson, and again if you want to get hold of the new book, it's called "What We Talk About When We Talk About God." And we sort of--have veered off into a particular area about how this works out--because at the outset, Andrew, you--one of the concerns you voiced is, well I like a lot of what you're saying here Rob, but what does it look like practically, and what are some of the maybe--the differences we might have about how that works out, and we've obviously identified one pretty clearly here that, um, you take a very different view on Rob to--the legitimacy of Christians engaging in homosexual activity. Um, Rob says that boat has sailed kind of thing--we live in a culture, and we've gotta affirm, um, what is good--you know--uh--people staying together, um, people, uh, being with one person and so on. For you though, the Bible is presumably clear on this, Andrew, that that is not part of what it means to live a Christian life, and so for you--do you feel that in some way Rob is selling people short if that's not kind of--the answer that he comes to if--if that issue is raised at some point in what it means to be a Jesus follower.
WILSON: Yeah, I--I do, um, because I think it's a misunderstanding--to me it represents a misunderstanding of new creation--I think it's--to go back to the garden and see one man, one woman, permanant, faithful, exclusive, other--you know, different from one another--go all the way through--Moses, all the way through the Old Testament, what it says about same-sex relations--not about gay people, love gay people, lots and--lots and lots of gay--we baptized a number of gay men in my--in our church recently, it's just wonderful, but each one of them is saying, but now when I get baptized, I die to the old me, and I rise again to a new me that's Christ-shaped--this eschatologically informed and transformed--they might not use that language--a resurrection life which is actually a completely different type of creature, which means that a lot of the desires that I have had--a lot of the things which I've wanted to do, I--like Paul did, certainly in the season he wrote 1 Corinthians and like Jesus did--I put on hold sexual desires--I say actually I die to a lot of things I want in order to follow Christ, that's what it means for me to rise again to new life, and I do that as per Jesus's comments about sexual immorality, Revelation's comments about sexual immorality, Paul's comments about arsenokoitai and malakoi, which are these two words for the active and passive in homosexual sex, and--Romans 1 and elsewhere, and--and so you--we look and say, well what is--what is Christ-shaped new creation look like and we've got, as I say, gay guys in our church, and women as well, who've said for me, I know dying to my old life, and being risen again to new life in Christ means dying to all the acts of the flesh, including some of the sexual things that, yes, I wanted to do them, just like lots of people want to have sex with lots of people--some people might want to have sex with three or four people simultaneously but--that doesn't mean that I'm okay to do that, um--it means that I just--like anybody else, greed or--desires to slander or to swindle or any number of other sins, that we just say those things die with me, I--I repent and I get baptized. And I suppose that for me, to--to not put that in front of somebody--is at risk of saying, you can have the kingdom, you can inheirit the kingdom, um--but if it costs too much, we'll just--we'll just lower the asking price we get people to buy.
BRIERLEY: Okay, so--so is this--are you lowering the--the bar, as it were, I mean--I know I've heard you talk about the cost of discipleship, Rob, but for you, this particular issue isn't one that's kind of, um, an issue in discipleship as far as you're concerned--this isn't the big issue for you--
BRIERLEY: --of what--I mean--how do you--how do address Andrew's concerns then, that--that this is the, you know--part of what it means to be a follower of Christ, is denying certain aspects of your life including, if you experience same-sex attraction--that acting on that has to go--you just don't see that--same way--
BELL: I've met lots of people who are gay and had the exact experience he's talking about--who said I choose to be celibate, I choose to not engage--and they do it out of a deep sense of conviction--that can be a beautiful thing. I also have friends who have had long-term partners and they have--they have had somebody to share their life with, and they're serious followers of Jesus, and they're serious members of their community, and they give and serve together, and they don't want to live alone--they want somebody to share their life with--they feel, like, wired to share their life with somebody, and I don't see any reason to say to them you can't do that, or you can't be a part of the church, or you can't be a contributing member--doesn't make any sense to me. [63:26]
BRIERLEY: I mean obviously a lot of people who, who disagree simply with your, your view on what Scripture has to say in that regard, how we--exegete it, the hermenuetic perhaps that you're bringing to it--will say well it's--it's like you did with Love Wins, Rob, you know, um--you've--you've gone liberal, basically--that they'll say--um--now--I'd just be interested in knowing what--what it is about--that--that makes you feel confident that--that this isn't just Rob Bell going liberal, this is actually Rob Bell being true--to Christ, being true to the Scriptures. [63:59]
BELL: Well, I--I think the better question is, what does it look like when it's lived out, and I've been in lots and lots and lots of settings with lots of friends and lots of people who--have same sex relationships and--it's not destructive, and it's not evil, and it's not--it's a part of how churches are, it's a part of how life is, and--it's fine. [64:24]
WILSON: That's the--that's surely to be the question, though, isn't it--to say I've been in lots of friends--relationships with people who are who are doing this, and it's not destructive or it's not evil--surely God gets to define that, doesn't He--over and above--not to speak about the individuals concerned, but--God gets to provide that definition rather than my observation--it's like--you can imagine people in the period of 1 or 2 Kings, which I'm going through in my quiet times at the moment, going well actually, I know lot's of people who--who worship at the high places and--and they still follow Yahweh--that's great, and the--the Scriptures don't seem to have that attitude--they seem to be saying no, no, no, there is--there are moments--a lot of them where Jesus said if anybody wants to follow me, he needs to hate, in the sense of lesser love these--all of these things that you might have to otherwise lose if you follow me, and of course Paul was like that--it cost him his life--it cost Jesus his life, obviously--it cost him sexual relationships--neither of them had those things, so--is, sort of--doesn't God get to draw that line rather than--I shouldn't say you, I know that there's others who are doing it to, but--why isn't that--why isn't the fact that Scripture speaks that way, and the fact that Paul, Moses, Jesus speak that way, why isn't that the end of the conversation in terms of defining what something might--to be evil and destructive--what something looks like?[65:27]
BELL: Your--interpretation of verses?
WILSON: My interp--no, not my interpretation--well, of course it is--we're all doing our own interpretation of verses--but it's not only an interpretation of verses, it's an understanding of the sweep of Scriptures, starting from the very beginning, where you have one man, one woman, in permanent relationship--
BELL: Your understanding of sweep--
WILSON: --and you go all the way through the rest of--
BELL: --your understanding of the sweep of Scriptures? [65:49]
WILSON: --well understanding of Genesis 1, understanding of Genesis 2, understanding of the Torah, understanding of the Prophets, understanding of Jesus, understanding of Paul--Revelation--of course, that's always what we're talking about, but I think to say, oh, but that's your understanding--of course, that is my understanding, just like yours is yours, but--yours, unlike mine, is obviously in the--in the face of--apparent meanings of lots and lots of texts supported by almost every scholar and is also in the face of 2,000 years of Christian tradition in which that hasn't been the way people have read any of those texts, so--with Justin I'm sort of saying--if you move the goalposts, isn't--isn't the--I was gonna say maybe the--the humilty of orthodoxy is to say I'll stay where the church is unless I'm sure that the church has always been wrong about this, and in that sense, I want to understand what arguments are you bringing to the table to suggest that the church had always been wrong about it, um--
WILSON: --as much as I agree with the desire to win, and I want to--I want to see people liberated and free and everything as well, but I think, unless the definition of what freedom looks like is clearly established, we're--we're both going to be on very different pages about how to go about it. [66:46]
BRIERLEY: I mean--this kind of strikes me as kind of a fundamental thing--that's kind of been--symptomatic of what you've been doing lately, Rob--is a lot of people saying, are you giving up a kind of an orthodox position--what sort of--and what basis can you claim to be speaking now the truth about God--you know--you've titled your book "What We Talk About When We Talk About God," and while there's a lot that you and Andrew have been happy to agree on, on that front--obviously, when you get to these particular issues, and this is a particular issue, and it--I don't want to frame this as the only issue out there by any stretch of the imagination, but--you know--what--how do you, kind of say, no, I'm really firm that this is--is it--cause you--what you've talked about is essentially experience, I think--that you've seen that there are people who are gay who are in relationships, and they're living out a true life of Christian discipleship--is that the kind of--the defining thing--that if you see that happening then that for you is enough to say, we did get it wrong for a long time on this--on this issue.[67:55]
BELL: You have the witness of the community, you have your own experience, you have--lots of, um, scholarship, um--you have lots of things that inform why you think the way you do. You draw on lots of sources.
BELL: That's how we all do it. Yeah.
BRIERLEY: And people will disagree with you, obviously--
BRIERLEY: What--I mean what--I suppose--what do you do with that diagreement? Do you just say it's just--it's just a kind of an impasse we're at--are you, are you kind of confident that people will come round to--in this issue--your way of looking at things?
BELL: Well, Andrew's my brother--like if we got out the bread and wine, we'd both take it.
BELL: That's right. So I don't--I understand it one way, I read it one way--
BRIERLEY: Mmm, hmm.
BELL: --he reads it another way--is that it, then? Do we just part ways? Or do you take the bread and wine and does Christ hold us together--is there something that trumps whatever differences we have? Like that's the question. Like, literally you're asking--and this is part of, like, sort of the [EXPLETIVE DELETED] that really, really, really pushes people away--is when, you have a particular conviction, and all of a sudden--your orthodoxy or your faithfulness to Jesus is all of a sudden called into question.
BELL: So, when I get into an interview like this, and--it inevitably comes around to whether I'm not on a--and you didn't say whether or not I'm a Christian, but it's the same, like--have you gone liberal, have you given up?
BELL: Um, you haven't said what about--like--the--you, you haven't like, asked a series of Andrew about--what about this, what about this, what about this--
BELL: --it comes back to me. This is why so many people don't want to be a part of the church.
BELL: This is why so many people--is literally--if you are--a particular issue--cause you have just defined this as a particular issue--if you see it this way and not this way, then--your whole thing is called into question--Rob, are you even--um--this is just why so many people just give up.
BRIERLEY: I mean--I can tell that you're--you're fed up with that--
BELL: Well, it's just part of--I think it just speaks to the stuff that so many people are so tired of, and this isn't an issue of taking God seriously, this isn't an issue of--God's holiness, isn't an issue of worship, isn't an issue of discipleship--it's an issue of--the tent might be a little bigger, and when it becomes--so you're not even the tent, um--
WILSON: Well, it might--
BELL: It just sort of goes--
WILSON: --I understand that, but it might be an issue of God's holiness, mightn't it, and--can you see that if you saw the text--
BELL: Sure, sure, sure.
WILSON: --the way I do, it would be an issue of God's holiness--
BELL: Sure, but--
WILSON: --so you can see why it's--
BELL: --but even then, the whole framework for him was, on this particular issue, so we have a wide-ranging discussion about--resurrection all the way across, we come down to one issue, and it's not nuclear weapons, it's not immigration, it's not--the--addiction to technology, and e-mail, and all of the ways are fed--are, overwhelmed with stress and worry, where Jesus did say don't worry--you know what I mean, like, like--you have a wide range of issues--somebody comes along, and this issue apparently--there's an issue with them on this particular issue, and instantly--
WILSON: Can I--
BELL: --it becomes the whole thing.
WILSON: --if I just pitch--I think the reason--
BELL: So that's why I think, for me it's sort of--
BRIERLEY: We're gonna have to, just, wind things up, guys, so I'll--if this--
BELL: --that's why, that's why for me it's part of like--seriously--
WILSON: The question is why is--why is the issue there, isn't it? So I think with--the-I think it's not just a randomly chosen issue--what are your views on this issue--that's the buzzword for the day--
BELL: Yeah, sure.
WILSON: --so we'll catch you out on that. It's how you got to that position, and I think--in some ways, what I'm trying to establish is if--if you got to the position of saying, I affirm this because I genuinely don't believe that anything in the Bible indicates that it's sinful, and therefore I think we should celebrate it because the--because God does, because Jesus does, because the apostles did, because the prophets did--this is just a great thing, and 2000 church--2000 years of church history have been wrong, they've been reading it wrong, and here's a whole bunch of scholarship to support that position. If that's how you got there, then I'd say, well I'll disagree but I'd love see the evidence--
WILSON: --love to work it through.
BELL: Sure. [71:59]
WILSON: If you're saying, the world's moved on--God's gonna get left behind if we don't change it--even though to be honest I've got a sneaking feeling that there might be a lot in Scripture that speaks against this, but I just don't think we can afford to keep sticking with that because it looks boring and retrograde and backward and intolerant, then--so we will drop what I think Jesus, or Paul, or the apostles, or anybody else was saying, in order to make ourselves more adaptable to the modern age--that doesn't mean you're not a Christian, of course it doesn't--it doesn't mean you've even gone--in my understanding, liberal is, resurrection-denying, and you're not doing--close to doing that--but it does mean that there's something quite fundamental that might be switching--which is saying I don't think that I can hold this text as being a high standard for behavior and morality anymore, and that's a big enough deal to people like me--
BELL: Yeah, I understand what you're saying.
WILSON: --that we would want to say this is a--do you see what I mean--and I think you would--if you shared my view on those texts, you'd probably feel similarly, so it's really, which--
BELL: Yeah, yeah.
WILSON: --which way have you got to that conclusion, I guess is the question I'm wanting to--
BELL: Yeah, yeah. That's well said.