In light of this, it was hardly a surprise when he announced on Sunday during a Q & A session that, “I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it’s a man and woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. I think the ship has sailed and I think the church needs -- I think this is the world we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are.”
Of course, Bell is right that, to an extent, “the ship has sailed,” and affirming same-sex marriage is now the politically “in” thing to do, as witnessed by the recent statements of former President Bill Clinton, Senator Rob Portman, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
But what in the world does that have to do with right and wrong? If society has lost its moral bearings, should the Church lose its moral bearings as well? Shouldn’t we rather swim against the tide of popular opinion and call the world to turn around?
And since when do we drag down the teachings of Jesus, which were marked by divine authority and absoluteness, to meet the standard of “the world we are living in”? Aren’t we supposed to challenge the world to live up to the standards of the Lord?
Bell said on Sunday, “I think we are witnessing the death of a particular subculture that doesn’t work. I think there is a very narrow, politically intertwined, culturally ghettoized, Evangelical subculture that was told ‘we’re gonna change the thing’ and they haven’t. And they actually have turned away lots of people. And I think that when you’re in a part of a subculture that is dying, you make a lot more noise because it’s very painful. You sort of die or you adapt.”
Without a doubt, Bell is right that in many ways the evangelical Church has fallen out of touch with the nation, and to the extent we can be culturally sensitive and “understand the times” (see 1 Chronicles 12:32), we make an impact. On the other hand, Bell is completely wrong when he warns that “You sort of die or you adapt.”
In the days of the Maccabees, did the Jewish people survive the onslaught of Hellenism by adapting to paganism, with all its worldly appeal, or did they overcome by resisting at any cost, thereby demonstrating the power of their convictions? Did the early Church survive the polytheism of Rome by bowing to the emperor, or did they overcome by refusing to compromise, even to the point of death, thereby pointing to a better life?
Remarkably, on Sunday, “When the Very Rev. Jane Shaw attempted to get Bell to take a firm position as to whether Christians ‘know’ the truth in some ultimate sense, Bell veered in a different direction.”
But that is the very heart of the problem. Bell’s celebration of ambiguity has become a dogmatism of uncertainty, and it is because of his lack of spiritual absolutes that he has wandered off the path, leading a generation in his wake.
The truth is that 100 years from now, either in this world or the world to come, history will record that those who conformed their beliefs to the culture were nothing more than a passing curiosity, while those who refused to compromise truth will be regarded as the spiritual heroes and torchbearers.
In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “Character is always lost when a high ideal is sacrificed on the altar of conformity and popularity.”
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.