Ben Witherington, author and New Testament scholar, writes about his recent visit to a Question & Answer session with Rob Bell. Despite his affinity for Rob, Witherington critiques Bell’s answer to the question of homosexuality as “evasive… disturbing… and unbiblical.” In fact, it was Rob’s reluctance to make any pronouncement on this issue that seems to have disturbed Witherington the most.
What are we seeing here? Just a few years ago, I remember Rob addressing the issue of homosexuality in a sermon and being very clear about the need for deliverance from homosexuality as a sin. Has Rob turned a corner in his theology? It sounds like he is following Brian McLaren, who has famously refused to give a clear answer to this question.
Wayne Grudem writes about a “slippery slope” towards liberalism, and he takes a lot of flack for employing that over-used metaphor. Usually, he is speaking of denominations that begin to play loose with their doctrine of Scripture, accept the ordination of women as pastors, and then eventually meander down a path that ends with a full embrace of homosexuality and homosexual unions.
Grudem’s study of denominational trajectories seems to be taking place in a few short years within the life of this young, talented preacher from Michigan. A few years ago, Rob began speaking of the Bible as a “human book,” and shied away from clearly defining his views on the trustworthiness and inspiration of all Scripture being divine. Then, he led his church to a completely egalitarian position regarding women in ministry. This, of course, came on the heels of Rob’s reading of William Webb’s book Slaves, Women and Homosexuals, which advocates a “redemptive trend” that seeks to build an ethical system based on where the Bible was going, not what it ultimately says. (I know this is a simplistic way of framing Webb’s book, but for the purpose of this post, I’m going to leave the summary as is.)
According to Grudem, the next step is changing our terms of reference for God (which Rob Bell has not done officially, although he has challenged traditional references to God with provocative sermons like his Mother’s Day 2005 sermon called “The Mother God.”) After that, Grudem says, comes the moral acceptance and approval of homosexuality. Rob hasn’t gone that far, but Witherington’s account makes it sound like he’s waffling a bit.
So, is Rob Bell going soft on homosexuality? Who knows? Witherington’s analysis doesn’t sound hopeful. I pray to God that this is not the case. Rob is a gifted preacher with a heart for his people. I have benefited from his sermons and have admired his passion for seeing lives transformed. I have no doubt that the Enemy would love to take out Rob Bell, because if he stays on track and remains faithful to historic Christianity, he will be a positive force for the Kingdom during the next few decades.
I, for one, will be praying for Rob as he ministers in Michigan. And specifically, I’ll pray that Witherington’s critique will be a wake-up call for Bell to get back on track and speak the truth of God boldly, and in love, for if we fail to name sin for what it is, we leave no room for God’s redemption and forgiveness.