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04/08/2013

Semantics and Pedantics

Following on from my post earlier today - drawing upon Rob Bell's 'Rhythm' video - on how we can come to understand God as 'The Song', and from there, seek to live in-tune with God by looking to the general example of Jesus, I also want to make a quick note of this other video which featured alongside it on Youtube.

 

In an interview with broadcaster Premier Christian Radio in May of this year - also featuring Andrew Wilson - Rob Bell affirms the potential quality of homosexual relationships as equal to the potential quality of heterosexual relationships. He does not comment further on gay marriage but nonetheless he has gone much further than other evangelicals (it's also worth noting that Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church has since started to tread a similar path).

Rob Bell's argument could be interpreted as follows:
  • Christianity, as a tradition, as an outlet of God's Spirit, has both transient and permanent aspects;
  • There are aspects of Christianity that change - emerging, shifting and passing - according to the culture and time. This could be applied to the mechanics of sexual relationships, for want of a better phraseology!
  • There are scriptures that pass comment on the particulars, including prohibition of homosexual acts of intimacy, but these should be approached with reference to the historical context and to the weight given to them across scripture as a whole.
  • There are aspects of Christianity that are timeless - recurring, thematic - which continue to apply. These include monogamy, fidelity, nurturing of peace, the ending of idolatry and so on.
  • The scriptures of the Christian tradition - particularly the New Testament - give greater weight to such things.
So for Rob Bell it is an issue of interpretation and emphasis, borne out of an exploratory approach to the Bible that views this text as a complex conversation, as a layered narrative on humankind's journey towards greater spiritual understanding - God-inspired but not God-dictated.

For Andrew Wilson, he attempts - in trying to argue against Rob Bell's position on this specific issue - to make a clear distinction between sealed revelation and continued revelation. This is borne out of viewing the Bible as a fairly straightforward list of God-dictated moral teachings, and rules, to be held to literally for all time - placed within historically accurate events, including the actual resurrection of a man said to be clinically dead for three days.

What is also interesting, and saddening, is the manner in which Rob Bell - having been brave enough to be open on such things, when other Christian leaders with similar views keep quiet for fear of discrediting themselves - then finds himself prosecuted by the host and Andrew Wilson on his authenticity and legitimacy as a Christian. The host leads Rob Bell into a discussion as to whether he has, pejoratively speaking,  'gone liberal'. This is continued by Andrew Wilson, albeit in slightly more nuanced and gentler language, that if Rob Bell is saying certain moral teachings set out by figures in the Bible are no longer applicable, then the Bible becomes worthless as a holy book to follow - in other words, "so you might as well put it down, go find something else and let us look after it..."

This is of course, an age old response from the power houses of Christianity towards those Christians who attempt to work through their faith honestly, and in turn take up positions of conscience and reason that differ than the established views. And Rob Bell is right, it is what continues to turn increasingly educated, questioning, information-rich generations away from Christianity.

Just last week, at Meeting for Worship, a lifelong Quaker commented that he had been asked the age-old question, "So, are you a Christian?" by a friend of a friend, an evangelical conservative, after finding out his religious affiliation during an alumni gathering. He noted, "I've always replied with "yes, I am a Christian" when asked this, but when they outline what they see as necessary belief to be a Christian, it would perhaps be easier to just say no..."

It is particularly saddening to observe Rob Bell look so weary at this direction the interview takes. For an individual who has lead thousands back into the Christian faith but now finds himself under attack in this way, it makes me wonder where he goes next? And where do Christians who think and feel similar go next?

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