Rob Bell, Gay Marriage, and the Movie Tombstone

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It seems that Rob Bell and Oprah Winfrey are pretty good friends these days.  Bell has appeared on Oprah’s show numerous times, and just recently appeared, along with his wife Kristen, on her “Super Soul Sunday” episode over Valentine’s Day weekend.  Their appearance was designed to promote their new book,The ZimZum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage (HarperOne: 2014).

Now, I have to confess that I have no idea what the main title means.  But, the subtitle is pretty bold.  Given that marriage dates back to the very creation of mankind in Genesis, do we really need a new version of it? Is something wrong with the original version?  Apparently Bell thinks so.  At least as it pertains to the issue of gay marriage, which he endorses in this new book.

The issue of gay marriage even comes up in the interview with Oprah.  Since Oprah is unlikely to challenge the coherence of Bell’s rationale (she wholeheartedly agrees with him), I thought I would fill in the gap by offering an analysis of his statements here. Here are some excerpts from the interview.

1. During the interview, Kristen Bell reads a line from the book:  “Marriage, gay and straight, is a gift to the world because the world needs more not less love, fidelity, commitment, devotion and sacrifice,

This is one of the statements that resonates with our modern world.  After all, who is opposed to “love”?  Who doesn’t want more “love” in the world?  This sort of rhetoric is very effective at making anyone opposed to gay marriage look like they are against love.  It makes them looks like they are hateful.

But, never do such statements define what “love” really is.  For our culture, “love” means whatever you want it to mean. There are no rules, no restrictions, no boundaries.  But, let’s imagine some different scenarios and see whether Bell’s logic makes sense.  Let’s imagine an adult son and his mother wanted to get married.  Is Bell ready to say this incestuous marriage “is a gift to the world because the world needs more not less love“?  Doubtful.  Or, perhaps a man wants three wives.  Is Bell ready to say this polygamous marriage is “a gift to the world because the world needs more not less love?” If he is consistent, he would have to say yes.

On Bell’s 1960’s “All you need is Love” view of marriage, it could never be a definable institution that people participate in.  Rather, marriage simply becomes whatever each person wants it to be.  Thus, on Bell’s view there can be no such thing as marriage. Because “marriage” is defined by the whims and preferences of each individual, it just evaporates into subjectivism.

2. After Oprah asked him why he included gay marriage in his book, Bell said, “One of the oldest aches in the bones of humanity is loneliness…Loneliness is not good for the world. Whoever you are, gay or straight, it is totally normal, natural and healthy to want someone to go through life with. It’s central to our humanity. We want someone to go on the journey with.

I’ve got to say, this is masterful work from Bell. Framing the debate over homosexual marriage around the issue of loneliness is brilliant.  After all, if anyone objects it looks like they are a cruel, unfeeling person who doesn’t care about the suffering of the homosexual community.

But, once again, when you dig into Bell’s statements more deeply, you realized they are flawed at a fundamental level.  Bell says loneliness “is not good for the world.”  Maybe so.  But, sexual immorality is also not good for the world.  Casting off God’s guidance on what counts as legitimate healthy sexual activity is also not good for the world. Despite popular beliefs, immoral sexual activity is not harmless.  It can have serious emotional, spiritual, and even physical ramifications.

Even more, the “loneliness argument” Bell espouses could be used to justify virtually any sexual activity. Returning to the example above, what if an adult son and his mother wanted to get married and cited their “loneliness” as the reason?  Does that make it Ok?  Is polygamy also Ok on the grounds of loneliness?

But, there is an even bigger problem here for Bell.  If loneliness is the issue, one does not need marriage to solve it.  People live together and sleep together all the time as a cure for their loneliness.  On what possible grounds could Bell object to two people living together outside of marriage?  They could throw Bell’s loneliness argument right back in his face, “Come on Rob, ‘it is totally normal, natural and healthy to want someone to go through life with. It’s central to our humanity. We want someone to go on the journey with.'”

3. When Oprah asks why the church does not yet “get it” regarding gay marriage, Bell says: “I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles, and co-workers and neighbors, and they love each other and just want to go through life.

From someone who at least pretends to be a pastor, this is a stunning statement.  Notice that Bell doesn’t refer to the “Bible” or to “Scripture” or to “God’s Word” but instead refers to “letters from 2,000 years ago.”  This is a pejorative (and deceptive) way of speaking designed to undermine the credibility of the Bible regarding sexual issues.  These are just old letters, says Bell, pay no attention.  They have nothing to say about these things. Don’t bother listening to them.

By kicking the Bible to the curb, Bell may please Oprah, but he stands in direct contrast to thousands of years of church history (not to mention the history of Israel).  God’s people have always looked to the Bible as the ultimate guide for life, especially when it comes to issues of sexual ethics. Indeed, as I pointed out in a prior post, the earliest Christians stood out from the Greco-Roman world precisely in the area of their sexual behavior.

Even Jesus himself looked to the Bible as the ultimate guide for sexual ethics.  He appealed to numerous biblical texts to defend the idea that marriage is between one man and one woman (e.g., Matt 19:1-9).

So, what does Bell think is a better guide for sexual ethics than the Bible?  Personal experience.  Why would you choose the Bible, says Bell, “when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who…love each other and just want to go through life.’  In other words, what should guide our decisions is the personal sexual experiences of people. We should follow what they feel is right. If this is how they find “love” then great. Thus, on Bell’s view, there are no sexual ethics. There are just people’s personal sexual preferences.  Welcome to a brave new world.

Of course, as noted above. This logic puts Bell in a predicament.  If everyone gets to just pick their own sexual practices, then he must acknowledge that incestuous love, polygamous love, and many other kinds of deviant sexual behavior are all legitimate.

With the help of Rob Bell, I am sure that our culture is headed precisely in this direction. The logic used to justify homosexual marriage is like an acid that will eventually eat its way through every remaining sexual boundary in our culture. And pretty soon, there will be no boundaries.

And this will not create a culture of love, peace, and fulfillment as Bell and Oprah predict.  It will create a culture of sexual, emotional, spiritual, and even physical brokenness.  Ironically, therefore, it will create a culture of loneliness.  The very thing Bell said that homosexual marriage is designed to cure.

When the culture eventually hits rock bottom, the hope is people will begin to see that a society without any sexual boundaries is self-destructive. The hope is that they will be like the young cowboy Billy in the 1993 movie Tombstone. After running with the lawless crowd for a while, Billy begins to see how destructive that life really is. Then he comes to his senses and declares to the gang leader, “I’m sorry sir, but we’ve got to have some law.”

Yes, even in the world of sex and marriage, “We’ve got to have some law.” And when a culture begins to realize it, usually that is when revival takes place.

Author: Mike Kruger
Image: Found here

Comments

  1. So if the author is “consistent” in speaking against gay marriage, then the logical thing to assume is that he also feels it is equally as wrong to eat pork, clams, oysters, get tattoos, wear mixed fabrics, or have a garden with more than one type of plant in it. Since the same book of the bible that forbids homosexuality also forbids these things, I am looking forward to the author’s next blog post to raise awareness about all those immoral pork chop eating gardeners who dare to defy the sacred word of the bible that Christians have looked to for guidance for thousands of years. We can’t let people eat shellfish when the bible forbids it or else we face a lonely world in our future.

  2. I find it frustrating when I read or hear columnists, pundits, or journalists dismiss Christians as inconsistent because “they pick and choose which of the rules in the Bible to obey.” What I hear most often is “Christians ignore lots of Old Testament texts—about not eating raw meat or pork or shellfish, not executing people for breaking the Sabbath, not wearing garments woven with two kinds of material and so on. Then they condemn homosexuality. Aren’t you just picking and choosing what they want to believe from the Bible?”

    It is not that I expect everyone to have the capability of understanding that the whole Bible is about Jesus and God’s plan to redeem his people, but I vainly hope that one day someone will access their common sense (or at least talk to an informed theological advisor) before leveling the charge of inconsistency.

    First of all, let’s be clear that it’s not only the Old Testament that has proscriptions about homosexuality. The New Testament has plenty to say about it, as well. Even Jesus says, in his discussion of divorce in Matthew 19:3-12 that the original design of God was for one man and one woman to be united as one flesh, and failing that, (v. 12) persons should abstain from marriage and from sex.

    However, let’s get back to considering the larger issue of inconsistency regarding things mentioned in the OT that are no longer practiced by the New Testament people of God. Most Christians don’t know what to say when confronted about this. Here’s a short course on the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament:

    The Old Testament devotes a good amount of space to describing the various sacrifices that were to be offered in the tabernacle (and later temple) to atone for sin so that worshippers could approach a holy God. As part of that sacrificial system there was also a complex set of rules for ceremonial purity and cleanness. You could only approach God in worship if you ate certain foods and not others, wore certain forms of dress, refrained from touching a variety of objects, and so on. This vividly conveyed, over and over, that human beings are spiritually unclean and can’t go into God’s presence without purification.

    But even in the Old Testament, many writers hinted that the sacrifices and the temple worship regulations pointed forward to something beyond them. (cf. 1 Samuel 15:21-22; Psalm 50:12-15; 51:17; Hosea 6:6). When Christ appeared he declared all foods ‘clean’ (Mark 7:19) and he ignored the Old Testament clean laws in other ways, touching lepers and dead bodies.

    But the reason is made clear. When he died on the cross the veil in the temple was ripped through, showing that the need for the entire sacrificial system with all its clean laws had been done away with. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice for sin, and now Jesus makes us “clean.”

    The entire book of Hebrews explains that the Old Testament ceremonial laws were not so much abolished as fulfilled by Christ. Whenever we pray ‘in Jesus name’, we ‘have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus’ (Hebrews 10:19). It would, therefore, be deeply inconsistent with the teaching of the Bible as a whole if we were to continue to follow the ceremonial laws.

    The New Testament gives us further guidance about how to read the Old Testament. Paul makes it clear in places like Romans 13:8ff that the apostles understood the Old Testament moral law to still be binding on us. In short, the coming of Christ changed how we worship but not how we live. The moral law is an outline of God’s own character—his integrity, love, and faithfulness. And so all the Old Testament says about loving our neighbor, caring for the poor, generosity with our possessions, social relationships, and commitment to our family is still in force. The New Testament continues to forbid killing or committing adultery, and all the sex ethic of the Old Testament is re-stated throughout the New Testament (Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Corinthians 6:9-20; 1 Timothy 1:8-11.) If the New Testament has reaffirmed a commandment, then it is still in force for us today.

    Further, the New Testament explains another change between the Testaments. Sins continue to be sins—but the penalties change. In the Old Testament things like adultery or incest were punishable with civil sanctions like execution. This is because at that time God’s people existed in the form of a nation-state and so all sins had civil penalties.

    But in the New Testament the people of God are an assembly of churches all over the world, living under many different governments. The church is not a civil government, and so sins are dealt with by exhortation and, at worst, exclusion from membership. This is how a case of incest in the Corinthian church is dealt with by Paul (1 Corinthians 5:1ff. and 2 Corinthians 2:7-11.) Why this change? Under Christ, the gospel is not confined to a single nation—it has been released to go into all cultures and peoples.

    Once you grant the main premise of the Bible—about the surpassing significance of Christ and his salvation—then all the various parts of the Bible make sense. Because of Christ, the ceremonial law is repealed. Because of Christ the church is no longer a nation-state imposing civil penalties. It all falls into place. However, if you reject the idea of Christ as Son of God and Savior, then, of course, the Bible is at best a mish-mash containing some inspiration and wisdom, but most of it would have to be rejected as foolish or erroneous.

    So where does this leave us? There are only two possibilities. If Christ is God, then this way of reading the Bible makes sense and is perfectly consistent with its premise. The other possibility is that you reject Christianity’s basic thesis—you don’t believe Jesus was the resurrected Son of God—and then the Bible is no sure guide for you about much of anything. But the one thing you can’t really say in fairness is that Christians are being inconsistent with their beliefs to accept the moral statements in the Old Testament while not practicing other ones.

    One way to respond to the charge of inconsistency may be to ask a counter-question—“Are you asking me to deny the very heart of my Christian beliefs?” If you are asked, “Why do you say that?” you could respond, “If I believe Jesus is the the resurrected Son of God, I can’t follow all the ‘clean laws’ of diet and practice, and I can’t offer animal sacrifices. All that would be to deny the power of Christ’s death on the cross. And so those who really believe in Christ must follow some Old Testament texts and not others.” — Tim Keller

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