In an earlier post I described an experience I had in our youth group meeting a few weeks ago when a student realized just how influential factors in her life were in the process of her reading and understanding the Bible and thinking about God. The example I used was that of a couch: we see the world in a certain way because our culture has couches. Yeah, that sounds strange but I'm not going to rehash the whole post here. You can read it for yourself, and you should if you want to understand anything else I'm going to say in this post, as I'll refer to the couch from time to time.
In the mean time, Rob Bell has recently endorsed homosexuality as a biblically viable way of life, and has recently engaged in a debate with a Brit named Andrew Wilson (see video below). I have no idea who Wilson is, but he is posed against Bell on the topic, and believes that the Bible condemns homosexuality (as it does with all deviant forms of sexual behavior, such as lust, adultery, fornication, promiscuity, etc.). The two go at it on this particular issue for about 20 minutes.
I must say that it's not a particularly entertaining bit, nor is there much of any positive nature to take from it. Rob Bell is so incredibly vague in his answers that there isn't much takeaway. And his use of vulgarity isn't much appreciated either (warning: Rob lets slip a "BS" in the middle there somewhere).
But there is a very important part of this debate that has to do with my couch story that I began with. Around 11:30 in the video, Bell appeals to his experience with gay friends, and says that same-sex relationships are not sinful, and are, in fact, part of how life is and how the church is. His challenger responds by calling Bell on his appeal to anecdotal evidence and instead asserts that God gets to define what is OK and what is sinful, and that he tells us so in the Bible.
Bell comes back by basically stating that Wilson's view of same-sex relationships is based on his own interpretation of scripture, and is therefore flawed and invalid. Wilson says it's not just his interpretation of one or two passages of scripture, but also the whole "sweep" of scripture that informs his opinion. And Bell comes back again with another question: "Your interpretation of the 'sweep' of scripture?"
What Rob Bell is basically doing is saying that Andrew Wilson can't get an objective view of what the Bible says about homosexuality because of the couch he's sitting on. In other words, Bell would posit that Wilson can't know what the Bible says about homosexuality because of all of the influences that are constantly pushing and pulling him one way or another. What is astonishingly ironic about this is statement is that Bell doesn't realize that he's in the same boat. That is, if Wilson can't get an objective handle on what the Bible says about homosexuality so that he knows it is condemned, how does Bell assume he has such an objective means by which to declare it righteous? To put it in my couch language, if Wilson's knowledge about couches has skewed his understanding of homosexuality, hasn't Bell's couch skewed his view as well?
Don't get me wrong: I affirm the reality that we are pushed and pulled in all kinds of different directions as a result of being linear, cultural beings. Things affect us. We change based on our environment. Our ideas and thinking are shaped by the people and events around us. Even the way we read and understand the Bible is affected by these influences. I get it. But the question we're asking here is this: do those variables preclude us from being able to grasp objective truth? Wilson would say no; Bell would say yes. To which I would follow up by asking, "How do you know that Rob? Is it true that a person can't know truth? If it is, then your argument is invalid.
Rob Bell is basically stating that his position is right. If you disagree with him, he will say that you are wrong because you have been influenced by your culture and your opinion is shaped by those influences. Rob, if we're going to play this game, we all have play by the same rules. If my view is flawed by my influences, so is yours. Let's at least be honest. If we have to play this game your way, then at least abide by your own rules.