Rob Bell and Andrew Wilson Show us The Wrong way and the Right way to Debate Theologically

An online friend, Derek Rishmawy, pointed me to this video which I notice has been making the rounds this weekend.

I don’t know Andrew Wilson (and I’m not sure I’ve heard about him before I saw this video). But he handled himself well.

It was kinda fun (and frustrating at the same time) to see how long Rob Bell could go on trying not to answer a simple, straightforward (not loaded) question! When he is asked a theological question (based on Biblical Theology, not a proof text), he looks completely baffled.

If you want to watch the video (it’s 20:47 long), I’ve embedded it at the end of this post. Here are my thoughts on Wilson’s performance versus Rob Bell’s with some implications for those of us who are called on to defend the faith informally.

Wilson does three things that we could all learn from to help in informal debates of this type, not just about homosexuality, but about any topic where we are called on to defend the position of Scripture.

(1) Wilson does not resort to cliches or comedy, and he stays on the topic at hand no matter how wide his opponent wants range in the conversation.

(On a not-wholly-unrelated note, if I hear “Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve” one more time I’m gonna grab a strap and start flipping tables.) Bell, on the other hand, kept resorting to sound bites he has used previously or that other opponents have used previously. As I’ll note again in this post, it was as if Bell was prepared for a different type of opponent and wasn’t prepared for someone to actually argue the point.

(2) Wilson argues from all of Scripture rather than simply proof-texting.

It was clear however, that Bell only knew how to answer the proof texts; he had no idea how to argue theologically, which tells me he doesn’t know how to actually “do theology.”

(3) Wilson fit the question of homosexuality in the wider contexts of sexual immorality, human sinfulness, and human fallenness.

Bell, on the other hand, argues mostly from anecdote and experience and uses that to gauge Scripture and guide interpretation, rather than the other way around. Wilson calls him on this later, after the question around 11:50.

Bell shows an entirely different method of debating the issue, and it reveals how he came to the conclusion he did. Some thoughts:

Toward the end (16:00), Bell explicitly states that personal experience and the “witness of the community,” which is essentially public opinion, determine where one must stand on this issue. There is little place for Scripture in Rob Bell’s theologizing except for validating his own preconceived view.

Around that same question (11:45 – 11:50), you’ll notice that Bell doesn’t answer the question he is asked but instead substitutes his own question and answers that question instead. That’s the kind of stuff that people don’t usually call him on but Wilson asks a pointed question in return. Bell’s response of “Your interpretation of verses?” smacks of desperation. It’s also Bell-speak for “You say ‘potayto’ I say ‘potahto.’

Wilson won’t let Bell paint it as a matter of two equal and opposing interpretive views and instead appeals to 2000+ years of interpretation. In other words, he doesn’t let Bell get away with it.

Bell also resorted to a ploy I’ve seen many people do when they get trapped: Instead of answering a straightforward (not a loaded) question, he simply kept asking for further clarification. Now, sometimes you need to do this if your opponent is asking loaded or misleading questions; Bell does it here (and others do it) because he has nothing else to say and he just wants to keep Wilson talking so he won’t have to answer.

Bell also sometimes looks to the moderator before answering. To be fair, this could just be because he’s on radio and doesn’t want to go over time or not be able to answer, but he also could be hoping the host will want to talk so he won’t have to.

At the end Bell tries to paint this whole debate as “This is why so many people don’t want to be part of the church.” But in saying this, he assumes that otherwise people would want to be a part of the church. All questions about God’s sovereignty aside, the fact is that most of the populace weren’t exactly beating down the church doors before this became an issue and before we started debating issues such as this, so why is it that this issue and its public debate is the one thing that keeps people out? Bell needs to think more deeply about this but I doubt he will.

Bell paints this interview as another example of his being persecuted. It apparently hasn’t occurred to him that when someone, especially someone of his stature, speaks out publicly on an issues, especially an issues such as this, he is in essence inviting people to critique his views and statements on the subject. I want to think that he can’t possibly be that naive, but I don’t know how else to parse it.

In trying to sum it up, Bell says, “This isn’t an issue of taking God seriously, this isn’t an issue of God’s holiness, this isn’t an issue of worship, this isn’t an issue of discipleship.”

Wilson calls him on it and asks, “Mightn’t it be an issue of God’s holiness?” Bell’s response is to mention several issues, some not mentioned in Scripture at all, and try to paint this as one among many issues. One of which is worry and anxiety, which he implies is on the same level as sexual immorality. While Jesus did (as Bell noted) preach against worry and anxiety, Scripture does not claim that those who worry a lot will not inherit the Kingdom of God, though it does say that about sexual immorality, homosexuality included.

Again, I want to be gracious so all I’ll say is that Bell has to be smarter than that.

In this last point, and indeed in the whole debate, Bell shows not only a lack of exegetical sensitivity, he demonstrates an inability to handle the Scriptures accurately.

In short, I really liked how Wilson handled himself; he was gracious but firm and displayed a skill in handling both the informal debate, the Scriptures, and biblical theology that all of us should emulate.

This video also confirms what I’ve long said about Bell: Rob Bell not a competent theologian nor a competent exegete. He can tell stories but somehow manages to get the moral wrong. He can ask questions (and many of the questions he asks need to be answered) but he either doesn’t answer them or he answers them in the way that he likes, regardless of what Scripture or the history of interpretation has to say.

I hope we see more of Andrew Wilson defending the faith and I pray God bless his ministry and make it fruitful.

Here’s the video. Watch it and tell me what I’ve missed.

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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Social Issues and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Rob Bell and Andrew Wilson Show us The Wrong way and the Right way to Debate Theologically

  1. Great review. I heard Bell speak not too long ago and posted my impressions. He’s really not interested in making hard commitments, which makes his voice sound increasingly different than the voices in the biblical texts.

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting! Yes, Bell loves to ask questions but not provide answers. He thinks he’s being profound or something but he simply reveals that he doesn’t have any answers, all he can do is ask questions.
    I’ll have to head over to your blog and check out your impressions, too.

  3. Cal says:

    I enjoyed some of the Nooma videos. This was just painful. Rob Bell just comes across as irrational, unapproachable, and frankly, narrow-minded. For as much as Bell wants to ask questions, any attempt at answers meets total intolerance. Not only as a Christian, but as a logician, this was just one constant groan. I’ve sat in Andrew’s chair before, I have great respect for his composure, his charity, and his respect.

    Cal

  4. Jared says:

    Great post. I watched the video and then googled who is Andrew Wilson Pastor and this came up. This hit all of the things I was thinking, including who is Andrew Wilson and how come I haven’t heard of him,

  5. ray russell says:

    great i think homosexuality is deemed wrong but should the church relook at why people are gay or bisexual i mean is c e just pleasing the goverment and surely most christians are bicurious the bible does not have a point on what we might think of attraction to the same looks but should we look at what and why we have personnel weekness the internet makes it so easy to find and its a personnel weekness on hand but i also have freinds that are gay .

    • This comment makes assertions with no proof (“most christians are bicurious”), has more than one non sequitur (“i think homosexuality is deemed wrong but should the church relook at why people are gay or bisexual i mean is c e just pleasing the government”), and in general makes little sense (“should we look at what and why we have personnel weekness the internet makes it so easy to find and its a personnel weekness on hand but i also have freinds that are gay”). Feel free to comment again when you learn to type, spell, and articulate a cogent argument.

  6. ray russell says:

    i think the church should show a loveing attitude towards gay and cross gender people but is our personnel weekness since so much sex in the media soap operas its our persoonnel weekness should we really be honest to our elders and pastors how many opely gay people in the church cant come out but i find and cant understand why an opely gay or bi man would want to have unsafe sex anyway its all be quiet in the church but why are some factions of the church doing gay marriage

  7. Pete Tobias says:

    Michael, have you herd or watched Rob Bell debate Dr. James White? These debates are really something to see, (Dr. James White Alpha and Omega Ministries). Rob Bell could give mature Christian a new meaning. This article was very good, and really appropriate you sharing it with us. Thank you so much, we must stay obedient to our Lord Jesus Christ daily and especially when the world and US, and are going the way self-centered, all about equal equality, ect, we as disciples of Christ are more and more becoming the minority. Stay strong; and God bless.

  8. Christopher says:

    Michael,

    It seems I am late by several years to the proverbial party, but appreciate your critique. I am astounded by the illogicality so pervasive today in western culture. For instance, I just read an article today about Yale English majors objecting to having to study the works of Shakespeare, Chaucer and Milton (presumably because they are all long dead “white guys”). I mean, they are objecting to a Caucasian-centric worldview on the grounds that it is implicitly racist without realizing they themselves are being racist. Genius knows no color or gender or age. Should I, wanting to learn music, refuse to listen to Mingus because he is a dead “black guy”?

    We see the same lack of sound reasoning in the religious realm as well. To me, it’s really quite simple. If people are born with an SSO that cannot be helped (as is often claimed), then the Biblical passages condemning homosexuality are unjust and must be “rewritten” or the Bible should be simply tossed in the trashcan. But since there is 1) no incontrovertible scientific proof that SSO is genetic and 2) plenty of incontrovertible scientific evidence for sexual imprinting in the animal kingdom (such as with falcons), why is everyone saying homosexuality is not problem to be fixed? You don’t fix things that are not broken after all. Yet, even in Darwinian terms, homosexuality is undesirable because it is maladaptive – if everyone was gay, humans would become extinct. And anything that has been learned (such as an orientation in childhood) can theoretically be unlearned. We just need to figure out how to do so in a scientific manner. And stop being lemmings.

  9. Len Pritchard says:

    Seems to me that Rob Bell hits the nail on the head quite early on when he says that Biblical references to homosexuality are tied up with other things such as idolatry, promiscuity and, by inference, other evils. The point being that nowhere does the Bible deal with monogamous, same sex partners who are essentially good people and happen to have a homo rather than hetero sexual inclination. The bible is silent on the type of long term living homosexual relationships we often see in our day and age. He is also correct in his observations that such relationships are not destructive. Personally I’d rather not be tied to so called ‘scriptural authority’, and find Andrew Wilsons suggestion that ‘God should draw the lines’ completely ridiculous. If a god with clear views about our behaviour exists I would expect his communication of those guidelines to be a lot less occult.

    • bc says:

      Michael – I actually had the opposite take, that Rob was the more charitable in this “debate.”

      Andrew wasn’t offensive in the least (as you and your commenters note) but he definitely was there to argue from an assumed position that he was right (i.e. Rob was “wrong” within Andrew’s understand of scripture). We all do this, but it does block our ability to understand others and see if/when we are wrong, generally.

      Rob takes the opposite approach: he shares what he thinks is helpful without trying to compel you to accept it or even be dogmatic that he’s unequivocally right. Once Andrew demonstrated three times in a row that he’s not understanding (by repeatedly forcing Rob into the same question of is it sin?), Rob indeed answers (i.e. well, it doesn’t disturb shalom) but then just concludes that Andrew doesn’t have ears to hear and looks to the moderator to see if there is anything else to discuss. In my opinion, that’s patterned after the approach that Jesus took because He a) typically moved on after the 1st time of the person not listening (Rob moved on after 3 times); b) they both never defended themselves and; c) though seemingly never answering the question that was asked of them, directly, rather they answered as most helpful to the listener (i.e. cautious with words / hoping to generate understanding), recognizing that only a willing heart would hear. No, I’m not equating Rob to Jesus, just saying he looked more like Him than Andrew in that debate, allowing Andrew space to “not yet understand” because Rob saw that his heart was closed to what he had to say. That’s graciousness.

      Btw, I disagree with Rob in that I think a homosexual act is sinful, even in a monogamous, committed, loving relationship. But I admire the charity he affords in being questioned by someone who disagrees, noting the bread and wine comment and calling Andrew “my brother.”

      Ps – To illustrate what I’m saying, just google the critical response to Rob’s book “Love Wins” by both a) orthodox evangelicals and b) the Amish. You’ll not find a peep from the Amish but much vitriole from the other group. Who looks more like Christ in their response? Amish disagree with the theology of love wins at least as much as orthodox evangelicals. They just don’t feel compelled to compel others to their point of view like orthodox evangelicals. I’d say they are more secure in their belief than orthodox evangelicals (of which I’ve been one for decades) who for some reason think they own the truth and fight as such. That’s the final point Rob was making, by the way, when he got a little nervy.

      Thanks for the discussion and for reading this reply!

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