BW3 on Rob Bell

Methodist theologian Ben Witherington III, after attending a recent speaking engagement by Rob Bell, has taken advantage of the opportunity to comment on Bell's theology and influence. Bell is very popular among young Christians and "emergent/ing" Churches as well. I like Bell's stuff that I have personally read/watched.

Witherington's main critiques are Bells ambiguity on homosexual practice, as well as his sometimes reading the ideas Medieval Jewish and Rabbinic sources back into first century Judaism.

2/20 update: Ben Witherington has gone into more detail on the use/misuse of Jewish sources to shed light on the NT.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have read your blog and some of your comments. I am a probationer Elder in my 2nd year. I too am "liturgical" and interested in all things ecumenical/catholic. I have been labled a "high church" methodist though I advocate nothing that Wesley did not advocate for. I have found nothing but a hard road. I am surrounded by charismatic-like contemporary worship and its empty "praise songs." The Eucharist for Methodists is only supportive and never central to their lives. Most Methodists do not worship like "Cox Chapel" most of them are Ginhamsburg wannabees. Get used to it. Think twice about accepting orders in the UMC. It will be hard road.

8:00 PM, February 17, 2007  
Blogger Nance said...

I read this on Witherington's blog as well... thought it was pretty interesting... a scholarly take on Bell. I'm all about getting more opinions on a topic, especially when said topic is a particularly popular or influential teacher.

10:35 PM, February 17, 2007  
Blogger Stephen said...

I think Ben was harsh in his interpretation of Paul's letter to the Corinthians concerning homosexuality. I know you have done some Greek work haven't you? There are other scholars who would used the Greek words to imply a dominating role of one male and a submissive role of another male. Yet I guess it is just who ask or who writes the book. I haven't read much of Bell stuff or even seen him in person, but I have had contact with some others in the Emergent movement (more on the Liturgical side) such as Karen Ward.

7:15 PM, February 19, 2007  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Hey Stephen,
I think those scholars who try to justify homosexual practice by saying "Paul is not talking about what we are talking about, therefore what he says is irrelevent" are just reading their own pre-accepted (Western) values into the text; I think so for several reasons (apart from my own values). Witherington's position has good scholarship behind it, even among mainliners (not to mention Evangelicals and Catholics): Witherington is a fine scholar, so is Richard Hayes at Duke Divinity School, or NT Wright or any number of fine NT scholars who would also agree with Witherington. My own NT prof here at Perkins was IN FAVOR of changing the church's position on homosexuality (to liberalize it) but he said "there is no way to reconcile that with Paul, b/c Paul grounds his argument for sexual norms IN NATURE," so instead he said we should just disagree with Paul (that is, with the Scriptures) and say, "we know better than they did." So that fact that a pretty liberal NT scholar was willing to be that forthright about 1) the fundamental rejection on homosexual practice in the Biblical texts (though he knew about the "liberal" arguments) and 2) his own position was actually a rejection of Biblical authority over our sexuality (because "we know better now" - as our stable intimate relationships and families no doubt demonstrate?! [read sarcasm]) his frankness has only reinforced my belief (mentioned above) about reading liberal cultural values into the text - and so I side with Witherington (and Paul) on this issue. The book that Witherington mentions is supposed be the last word in the debate that takes into account and persuasively rebuts all the major pro-homosexual-practice scriptural arguments (but, I haven't read it).
Of course, reading OUR (sexuality-obsessed) cultural values into the text is always a danger - this is one reason why I have emphazised the use of trans-cultural, trans-chronological Church Tradition in the right interpretation of Scripture ("chronological snobbery" is a constant temptation for us that is reinforced by marketing strategies that have taught us to believe that newer is always better - since such a mindset facilitates the sale of more widgets). And when I look at Ancient African Augustine, or Medieval German Luther, or 20th Century Englishmen Lewis, or the whole of the consensus of Tradition, it is very clear that across cultures and ages they side with Witherington as well. The innovators are confined to a small point both culturally and chronologically - and even in that culture and time are a tiny minority. I'm still willing to hear out any new evidence or interpretation, but the burden of proof is VERY heavy on the innovators that theirs is the true Christianity. What do you think?
Is Karen Ward the "reaching out without dumbing down" lady? That book is on my list...

9:37 AM, February 20, 2007  
Blogger Nance said...

if anyone's interested, BW3 just did another post on Bell, this time apparently after he went and read Bell's first book, Velvet Elvis. another intersting read, I thought.

6:17 PM, February 20, 2007  
Blogger Stephen said...

I believe that most people in the emergent group would agree with your assessment on Paul's letter to the Corinthians, but I know that most of them would also point out (in the same way you do) where the modern church has failed with keeping a lot of the biblical principles.

Karen Ward is an Episcopal Priest at the Church of the Apostles in Seattle, WA. They meet in an Abbey, practice daily prayer, and engaging young adults to take on a rule of life.

The slippery slope with Paul and sexuality is that he would prefer none at all. :)

10:23 PM, February 20, 2007  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

That MIGHT be reading some later practice of the Early Fathers into Paul's comments. He does after all say that each one OUGHT to be married and OUGHT not to abstian from sex - except for SHORT periods of time. On the other hand he also says he wishes other Christians could be celibate as he was (as you, Stephen, have alluded to). So we sometimes joke neither Paul nor Jesus have the same family values as certain para-church "family values" organizations. That might not be entirely fair because we may be the ones taking things out of their original context purely for polemical purposes...but it sure is fun, isnt it?

2:58 PM, February 22, 2007  
Blogger Stephen said...

Some people would say that we in the mainline churches have "heeded" Paul's comments about remaining celibate too much. :)

If you ever get a chance to see Mike Judge (King of the Hill)'s movie Idiocracy, it is worth it just for the introduction. Responsible people settle for having children later in life and then just having 1 or maybe 2, while irresponsible people have 6 to 12 in wedlock, out of wedlock, etc...leads to a world dominated by irresponsible people. He is being sarcastic, but the point is effective.

3:36 PM, February 22, 2007  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

so natural selection favors idiots? good point. God help us.

4:26 PM, February 22, 2007  

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