When Wilson Met Bell

When Wilson Met Bell

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.

Picture Credit: Rob Bell by Keegan Jones

5 Comments On This Topic
  1. Peter P
    on May 3rd at 1:58 am

    Rob Bell fascinates me.

    I agree with a lot of what he says… or at least, a lot of what he said 6 years ago but he comes from a very interesting school of thought – and it fascinates me in the same way the Roman Catholic church (and even the Greek Orthodox church) fascinates me.

    In fact, part of what I think he said at the end there fascinates me for one of the reasons the Catholic church fascinates me…. and that is:

    It is possible for a Pope to say or write something which is then declared inerrant.

    But how do we know what is inerrant and what is not? This guy who was picked as the leader of the denomination can spout any old nonsense all his life and then just once, or even just once in a dozen Popes, something is declared inerrant.

    It’s odd.

    So, of course, the argument then goes, “How do we know that the new testament is all inerrant?”

    How do we know that Paul, when writing certain things wasn’t just right for that culture at that time… or was even right at all?

    These questions are very hard to answer and very dangerous to answer differently than we have been answering them since the bible was canonised.

    That’s what fascinates me about Bell… he seems willing to say that the New Testament is not inerrant and is not for all people but he doesn’t seem able to give a good reason WHY he believes that.

    • Jennie Pollock
      on May 3rd at 9:41 am

      Funny, I was just talking to someone about that yesterday, how various sects (not the Catholic Church or Greek Orthodox in this instance) misinterpret something, or just add a bit extra, and soon you’ve got heresy. We were talking about guarding against doing the same thing ourselves.

      Yes, I agree, the ‘why’ question is the big one – it seems he is (rightly) reluctant to say ‘The world’s values ought to shape our reading of Scripture’, but can’t think of any other reason for what he believes.

      • Peter P
        on May 3rd at 11:05 am

        … and that’s the thing.

        He’s so good at being vocal about everything that when he refuses to give his reasoning, it only serves to suggest he has no good reason… or at least, not one he can justify.

  2. Annie Carter
    on May 23rd at 11:34 pm

    Thanks for relaying the content of that radio discussion. Some worthwhile questions to consider.

    Great new site, too 🙂

    • Jennie Pollock
      on May 23rd at 11:39 pm

      Thanks Annie!


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