When Wilson Met Bell image

When Wilson Met Bell

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Last week, Andrew Wilson and Rob Bell were invited to Premier Radio for a debate about Rob's latest book What We Talk About When We Talk About God.

The discussion was broadcast on Saturday on the programme Unbelievable, and is available as a podcast.

Having expected the programme to be primarily Andrew asking questions of Rob, I was slightly thrown by the format that actually transpired, in which the programme’s host, Justin Brierley, played a far more prominent role in facilitating the discussion and asking Rob questions. Rob even began the debate by asking Andrew about his book, which was a generous thing to do when you’ve flown to a country specifically to promote your own latest work.

The first 45 minutes or so were a fairly amicable discussion of the two books, and particularly how the authors dealt with questions of miracles and ‘proof’. Rob refused to be drawn on the question of what are the consequences of saying ‘no’ to God, though he did admit that there are some and that ultimately not everyone will enter into “the presence of shalom, peace, joy…”.

The atmosphere thickened noticeably, however, when Andrew moved the conversation to the issue of homosexuality. Here again, Rob proved to be adept at sidestepping difficult questions, though the discussion was telling in itself, particularly for revealing how Rob reads the Bible.

Particularly fascinating was Bell’s description of sin - citing the theologian Cornelius Plantinga - as that which “destroys or is destructive to the shalom God intends for all things”. Thus, in his mind, a “healthy, monogamous, same-sex relationship” is acceptable because (or perhaps if?) it is not destructive of shalom.

Surely, Andrew responded, God is the one who gets to define whether or not something is sin, not our assessment of whether or not it is being destructive in someone’s life?

There was a long pause before Rob asked, apparently puzzled, “Your interpretation of verses? Your understanding of the sweep of the Scriptures?”

Perhaps the most revealing exchange came right at the end of the discussion. Andrew (not for the first time) tried to push Rob to explain how he had reached the conclusions he had. Was he saying ‘here is the scriptural evidence and the scholarship to back it up’ or ‘the world has moved on and God is going to get left behind if we don’t drop some of the things Paul or Jesus or the apostles said’?

Rob’s answer: “Yes, that’s well said.”

Says it all, really.

Have a listen. It takes a while to get going, but when it does, it’s great example of how to play the argument, not the man or, as we often term it, how to disagree agreeably.

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