Pastor Rob Bell is in the news again with the release of his newest book Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality And Spirituality. With chapter titles like “God Wears Lipstick,” it’s not difficult to see why a book like this one has gotten so much attention. On Tuesday, a friend sent me a little bit that CNN produced about Bell and Sex God, so I thought I’d pass it on to you. Here it is: Rob Bell on CNN.
You can read the book on “Google Books” if you are interested. Here’s the link: Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality And Spirituality.
FYI: Recently, I was asked by the Dallas Morning News for comment when Bell’s “The Gods Aren’t Angry” tour came through town. My comments were fairly critical for reasons that did not make it into the final version of the article. For my previous posts on Bell click here.
I’m curious as to why you (and other conservative evangelicals) are so outspoken against Bell. He is doing great work for our God and is reaching people that mega Baptist churches don’t reach. Why tell the media, of all people, how critical you are of him when he threatens no fundamentals of the faith? How much would it say to our culture if an ultra-conservative Southern Baptist praises God for Rob Bell and his different approach and emphases.
I thank and praise God for Denny Burk, John Piper, Scot McKnight, John Macarthur, Michael Horton, Greg Boyd, and yes, Rob Bell. We have a diverse God, and this is reflected in his diverse body. All of these are men of God who have a passion to see people to come to know him, and I praise God for that.
What do you think of the latest book?
I haven’t read it. I’ve just looked at the table of contents and a little bit of the first chapter. That’s why I haven’t commented on it. I’ll have to leave that for someone else.
I guess it depends on how you define ‘fundamentals of the faith.’ I’ve read Velvet Elvis and attended ‘the gods are not angry’ a couple of weeks ago. If creation, God’s wrath, the very purpose of the sacrificial system, etc. are not considered fundamental, then he is fine.
I think that much of the criticism on Rob Bell comes from his “elastic theology” (i.e. his trampoline analogy) that is found in his book, Velvet Elvis. Many people think that Bell is very close to neo-liberal Christianity, closely mirroring the liberalism of the 19th and 20th century.
Look for a past post on Dr. Burk’s website relating to a talk by Mark Driscoll at the Convergent Conference. In that talk, Driscoll gives a great overview of his personal walk as a pastor and an overview of the emerging church. In the section on the emerging church he reveals the major nonbiblical influences on men like Brian McLaren and yes, Rob Bell. I think you will find it very interesting. In addition, I think you will find out why so many loving speak, not against Bell as a person, but against his position or lack of one.
Have a great day in the Lord,
If evangelicalism started out as a reaction to liberalism (so I’ve heard) then it makes sense that those who are of the conservative branch of evangelicalism will always be reacting to what they see as liberalizing tendencies in the church; constantly trying to draw the boundaries and exclude anyone who is outside of them who doesn’t want to come inside. It’s the nature of the beast. The best advice I can give you is to ignore them and not let them bother you as that is what they will always do because that is their identity.
At the same time I think they are an important part of the body because they do provide a counter balance to those in the church who would like to abandon all the essential to the faith leaving only the name Christianity intact. By the simple fact that they fight against everything, they sometimes do infact defeat things that need to be defeated. I look at them like a really strong firewall on your computer that doesn’t let anything in. Sure it’s annoying to have to constantly override it but it keeps the viruses and hackers out that would destroy your computer if they had a chance.
For instance even though I don’t hold to the doctrine of inerrancy, I think if it weren’t for the fact that conservative evangelicals so strongly fight over that doctrine whenever they see it threatened, then we probably would have abandoned the Bible as our final authority a long time ago.
Hope that make sense.
I am curious about why you don’t hold to biblical inerrancy and what effect on the rest of your theology do you think that position has?
I think that it is great a pastor makes CNN. Christian’s need a positive voice in the media.
See Bell does ministry unsafe. Jesus did ministry that was unsafe. Unsafe means paving a way, which includes theology, methodology, and philosophy, to a revolutionary movement.
See, the problem is: America has heard the Christian fundamentalist agenda loud and clear. To be honest, it is not working. So, America is looking for something that connects. Something that resonates within their souls. Something that meets them where they are at. Lofty doctrine language does not meet them where they are at.
Bell keep doing Kingdom work, even though it gets dirty at times.
ps I think it is soooo funny that Denny has not read the book, but yet has some strong opinions and critique regarding Bell.
Thank you for the analogy, it was very helpful. I, too, praise God for my very conservative brothers and sister because they do as you say. However, it is one thing when they fight the people who don’t even believe in God, but totally another thing when they fight other Christians about methodology and secondary doctrinal issues. I totally understand what you’re saying and where you say evangelicalism came from (I have not even studied its roots), but we should not hold on to those roots so tight that we lose Christianity in the process. Again, as with Calvinism and Arminianism, we should not call evangelicalism Christianity.
Denny, I asked you an honest question hoping for a response. I truly want to know your reason for this. It wasn’t a rhetorical question meant for me to grandstand and call you a fundamentalist, so if it sounded like that, I’m sorry. I just felt a little offended that I ask a question and you choose not to answer, then someone else asks one and you answer very quickly. Maybe my question wasn’t worth the time or something, and if not, then that’s fine. I understand you’re a busy man.
Judd, “nonbiblical influences” on people like McLaren and Bell? Do you have any idea where many of our private practices in church came from today? Dressing up for church? Choirs? Pews? Steeples? Many of these have pagan roots. It doesn’t mean they’re bad practices, it means people had nonbiblical influences to start them. So that argument doesn’t rest well with me. If Bell was encouraging young people to go ahead and have sex, to rebel against all authority, denying the death or resurrection of Christ, denying the authority of the Bible; then we would have issues. However, he has done none of these things.
Also Charlie, I think we can pull some good from Bell’s “elastic” view of theology. It is certainly MUCH better than a domino view which most conservatives hold to. However, the only downfall with this illustration is that it makes all doctrines of the same significance, which they certainly are not. I argue more for what’s called the concentric circle view. Dan Wallace sums this up quite nice in his blog, and I believe he has hit the nail on the head.
Blake, I have a hard time believing Bell denies ALL of these you say. However, I actually would not consider these fundamentals for salvation, so I would still certainly have fellowship with him if he denied these things.
Come on people, lets be Christians here. Didn’t Jesus say people were supposed to know us by our love for one another? We’re neglecting that just a wii bit by demeaning men like Bell.
Without trying to get into a big debate, I don’t hold to inerrancy because I don’t think it is really defensible as a doctrine and it has to be qualified so much (see the Chicago Statement) that it kind of becomes kind of meaninless.
Things like the Septuagint and the use of it by the NT authors, textual criticism and what it shows us about the early church’s (who preserved and canonized the scriptures we call the Bible) attitude towards scripture, the canonization process that we observe in the early church, and other things here and there just make it difficult for me to hold to the doctrine of inerrancy. Plus it just seems to fail to take account of the human aspect of scripture. It often (in practice) looks at scripture in a docetic fashion.
Plus I just see it as a useless doctrine since it doesn’t guard against incorrect theology or guarantee any agreement over what the Bible says.
Even if you and I agree the Bible is inerrant, our interpretations aren’t and holding to inerrancy won’t guarantee either of us is correct.
I don’t know what effect it has on my theology. Some here would probably think it has a liberal effect but I’m not aware since I try to base all my theology on what the Bible says and I think all theology should be grounded in solid exegesis.
If you are interested in a good book on the topic read Paul Achtemeier’s “Inspiration and Authority” which kind of sealed the deal for me.
You don’t have to read Mein Kamf to have a strong opinion about Hitler. JZ, you need to study logical fallacies before you make your arguments…
I am not sure I know what you are speaking of when you say a “domino” view of theology. In regards to seeing theology as being elastic, I would state that theology has to be a rock-hard foundation, or your theology will constantly be in flux. If your theology (certainly primary doctrines) is in flux then things can really get messy.
In any event, this is the reason I believe that Bell has critics. Many people, me included, do not like to go down the path of theology being “elastic.” I have read Velvet Elvis and he has many good ideas, thoughts, and insights, but I think his theology is soft, and I think he would agree, because it is soft by design.
In Velvet Elvis, Bell questions whether the Trinity and the Virgin Birth are essential beliefs for the Christian faith.
On the doctrine of the Trinity, he writes: “It is a spring, and people jumped for thousands of years without it. It was added later. We can take it out and examine it. Discuss it, probe it, question it. It flexes, and it stretches” (p. 22).
On the Virgin Birth, he writes: “What if that spring was seriously questioned? Could a person keep jumping? Could a person still love God? Could you still be a Christian?” (p. 26).
Bell himself would affirm both of these doctrines. Yet his questions suggest that belief in the Trinity and the Virgin Birth is optional. He seems to be saying that Christianity doesn’t rise or fall on either of these teachings, so we ought to be able to question them. Thus Christians can either believe them or not believe them. Christianity doesn’t depend on either.
My response to Bell’s “questions” is threefold:
(1) The sin that plunged the human race into death was the result of listening to a serpent who did not deny God’s word outright, but merely questioned it: “Hath God said?” (Genesis 3:1). The spirit of post-modernism is one of epistemological cynicismâ€”meaning, we cannot know truth, even if there is such a thing. Or another way of saying it is that we may have a lot of questions, but we must not expect to have any firm answers. This cynicism even pertains to our appropriation of divine revelation. I believe this epistemological position is destructive to Christian faith and that it undermines the authority of Godâ€™s word, which is an essential of the Christian faith.
(2) The Gospels are unambiguous in portraying Jesusâ€™ conception and birth to a virgin (Matthew 1:25; Luke 1:34). Rob Bell seems to suggest that we can abandon the Gospelsâ€™ portrayal of Jesusâ€™ birth without losing anything essential to the Christian faith. I disagree. I agree with Mark Driscoll in his critique of Bell on this point. If we abandon the Gospelsâ€™ portrayal of Jesus, then we lose Jesus. The Gospels give us our access to Jesus. If we decide to jettison their witness, Christianity falls.
(3) The Trinity is not an optional add-on to Christian faith. Christianity alone asserts Godâ€™s three-in-oneness, and to reject the Trinity is to reject Christianity altogether. This is the biblical portrait of God and a sine qua non of the faith.
For these reasons (and at least one other), I do not think that Bell has shown himself to be a reliable guide into Christian truth. His “questions” serve more to undermine God’s revelation than to explicate it to God’s people. The New Testament teaches us to avoid teachers who are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).
Without the Virgin birth we lose Jesus, the hypostatic union, the divinity of Christ, the sinlessness of Christ, the effect of the atonement (because Jesus would have been a sinful man like us), etc. etc.
We NEED the Virgin birth, it’s not optional, same for the Trinity.
What’s next? If we ditch these what doctrine is next. He really (Bell) undermines the credibility of the Word. Yet that is what Fuller Seminary has produced for many years now…
Thanks so much for responding. I understand your concern about those 2 examples Bell gave, as I have concern for them as well! I totally believe we can’t deny the Trinity or “jump on the trampoline” without it, because this is who God is. Also, I totally agree with the virgin birth b/c scripture, so it seems, is extremely clear on the emphasis it puts on Mary being a virgin. However, you seem to have a domino affect when you extrapolate that out. The argument is something like “if we deny the virgin birth, then we deny the Gospels, if we deny the Gospels, then we deny Jesus Christ. If we deny Jesus Christ, we deny his death and resurrection, etc”. It is this view of theology that I believe people like Bell, and even Dan Wallace, are arguing against.
Many people that lose their faith do so because they hold to a domino view of doctrine (If I lose one of them I lose them all). “If inerrancy is not true, then the Bible is not true, if the Bible is not true, then Jesus is not true, etc”. Rather, I am arguing that we put the things we are willing to die for in the core of a circle (resurrection of Christ, deity of Christ, authority and inspiration of scripture), and put the things we hold to more loosely but still believe in on the outside of the circle(young earth creation, calvinism, arminianism, inerrancy, dispensationalism or covenant theology, etc).
Where Bell and I would part ways is with the Trinity, because at this point in my life it is something I am willing to die for. God is Trinity, so in a way to deny this is to deny God. The church has just done a really bad job of communicating this because they think it’s only for the “advanced” Christians. Therefore, it’s in their doctrinal statement, but they don’t really teach over it. So Bell’s problem could rise from the church in general neglecting her responsibility to hold to the centrality of this doctrine. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, and I honestly do not remember ever being taught about the Trinity…how sad!
I’m reluctant to see II Tim. 3:7 as a good verse to describe Bell. I believe the men Paul has in mind here are a little worse than Bell, and all teachers are always continually learning anyways so it seems Paul is speaking about a certain central aspect of Christianity. It seems unfair to quote this verse about Bell just because he holds to a trampoline version of doctrine, while he does not deny any essentials.
I totally see your justification for this now Denny, I really do. I don’t think Bell is a heretic b/c he even claims to believe in these doctrines. But we seem to take him out of context in quoting these things from him, because he is trying to make a point not to hold too tight to any specific doctrine. Therefore, if there were a proven error in Scripture to come out today, it wouldn’t bother me any because inerrancy is not something I would die for. Bell just uses really bad examples in getting his point across! However, I certainly don’t think we should avoid Bell or preach and teach against him or criticize him in the media because of this. He is obviously doing amazing things for the Kingdom, and persecution always arises from the religious crowd.
Brian, lets not start criticizing seminaries now. I know absolutely amazing people of God that have come through Fuller Seminary. I read some of their faculty’s works quite regularly. Bart Ehrman went to an evangelical seminary, and was very close to Bruce Metzger. Because he has gone AWOL is not a reflection on either one.
Just because Bell uses this analogy does not mean Fuller as an institution agrees with it. They have the Trinity and virgin birth in their doctrinal statement. I would certainly recommend an individual to go to Fuller than a super dogmatic school such as RTS of something
I think Bell is just looking at what happens to the Christian faith if you discover undeniable “proof” against a particular doctrine.
You seem to be suggesting that if there were undeniable proof against the trinity or against the virgin birth then people should abandon the faith altogether (a domino effect).
Bell is saying that the faith should be flexible enough to be able to continue to stand if that doctrine were no longer held.
Now the difference is you come from a position that would never truly examine the evidence for those doctrines so you don’t have to worry about them not being true and abandoning the Christian faith.
I think y’all are targeting different audiences. He is speaking to those who are willing to examine everything within Christian theology and see if the Bible really teaches what they’ve been taught by man (look at his example of the virgin birth where 2 of the proofs against it could possibly come from the Bible). And if faced with evidence that suggests a particular doctrine is not something they could continue to believe then he is showing them how the rest of their faith will not crumble.
On the other hand you are speaking to those who have no interest in questioning received doctrines and are content believing them because that’s what they’ve been taught. Those type of people will never be faced with that crisis of faith because they don’t go looking for the evidence to back up those doctrines.
An example of this is the issue of creation. Some people believe in a young earth and 6 literal days of creation and later go on to college or seminary and find they can no longer hold to that belief. Because they were told that if young earth creationism isn’t true the whole faith crumbles then they are forced to abandon their faith.
Look at Bart Ehrman who was taught that if inerrancy were not true the whole faith crumbles (you know they statement if one thing in the bible isn’t true then none of it is.) Well since he was raised on that teaching, when he could no longer affirm inerrancy because of what he discovered through textual criticism he could no longer affirm Christianity either. It was a domino effect and now he’s an agnostic.
Your audience is different Denny and I think that may be something to take into account.
I would think that inerrancy in the original autographs would be something I am willing to die for.
As for the domino effect, yes, the “slippery slope” argument can be a logical fallacy. However, it can also be a truth.
As a believer, inerrancy of Scripture HAS to be something that we would die for because it is through its special revelation that we come to the knowledge of Christ.
2 Tim. 3:16 – “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God” – if this Scripture that is God-breathed can be mistaken then we are saying that God is not perfect, pure, and holy and the following domino effect would be something that would be expected. Men do not knowingly die for something that is a mistake or a lie.
Whether the domino effect is always true or not, it does happen and it is a credible reality.
I have no problem with you believing this way about inerrancy. We certainly disagree (though I do believe in inerrancy, it’s not something I would die for), but if that’s your line of thinking, then that’s fine. I think we should have more faith in our God though other than simply giving everything up if one little error is found in Scripture. But what you say is exactly what I’m describing as the domino effect.
I know alot of good Christians and Christian scholars who do not believe in inerrancy but they are certainly Christians. So you’ll just have to wrestle with the idea of what doctrines you can let go of and still remain in Christ. For me, inerrancy is not one of these. Our God is very merciful, and he often meets people where they are at and uses them despite their frailties and misunderstandings. The resurrection and deity of Christ are certainly in the center for me, but I would certainly say disagreeing with certain views known as “orthodox” to reformed individuals does not put an individual outside of the realm of Christianity. A couple of things are essential for Christianity, but we’re not going to stand in front of God and him go through a 20-point doctrinal statement when we get to Heaven to see if he will let us in.
Willing to die for?! Take it easy. Jesus didn’t say “if you deny inerrancy before men I will deny you before my father!”
Charlie if you consider it that central of a doctrine how much have you studied it? What non-inerrancy authors and books have you read? What liberal biblical scholarship have you read? Have you looked into textual criticism or the use of the LXX in the early church or canon formation etc…
If you haven’t and you have no plan to really study the doctrine of inerrancy and whether the evidence justifies the belief in it then it probably is really easy to say you would die for it.
I could say I’m willing to die over Santa being real but if all I ever do is make an argument from silence (you can’t prove he doesn’t exist) and fail to look at the fact that my parents put the presents under the tree and my dad ate the cookies and milk that I left out then I’ll never really have to worry about living up to that claim of being willing to die over it.
Besides what good does inerrancy of the original autographs do us when we don’t possess them? Again that’s what makes the doctrine useless to me.
On aside, the rhetoric of the crowd that is against Bell is always concern. One may notice that this “fundamental crowd” has problems with everything. Everything is rubbing against their doctrine. This fundamental crowd wants to hold on to tradition in the present world, but while rejecting the realities of the present world. This crowd is very reactionary, and not revolutionary. This crowd is imitating what modernity has produced for us.
Brian, are you willing to front the bill for my argumentative class?
Denny, thanks for the post and comment responses. Some Southern friends and I just went to the Louisville stop of Bell’s “The Gods Aren’t Angry” Tour. See my reflections at http://ryanandkelli.blogspot.com/2007/12/gods-arent-angry-and-wrath-appeasing_04.html.
Thanks for your repsonse, but I think you replied to me without having listened to the message.
For you would not have mistaken what I am speaking of by comparing Rob Bell’s theology to whether or not we should use of pews verses chairs.
Here is the link: https://www.dennyburk.com/?p=892. If you have iTunes you can get to it quickly at the 40 minute mark. Mr. Bell holds to rabbinical authoirty as the key to interpreting the Bible. That is the nonbiblical influence I was speaking of. I apologize if I confused you.
Rob Bell is talented and creative. I have used several of his Nooma videos to help communicate biblical points. However, I do not think ministerial creativity, doctrinal ambiguity, or ability to communicate persuasively (the resons most folks follow like him) are justifactions for endorsement as “The Next Billy Graham” (as CNN flashed).
We are not demeaning Bell (remember I made it clear that I was seprating the person from his position). We are honestly and graciously asking questions of his theology.
Thanks again for responding.
Just an fyi, but Driscoll isn’t the only one who has spoken against Bell’s use of non-biblical sources (rabbinic sources). Both Scot McKnight (who is very emergent friendly) and Ben Witherington have as well.
Bells’ problem though is not exclusive to him but was a major problem in the past with the indiscriminate use of rabbinic sources that were written 100’s of years after Christ without taking into account the change in Judaism post-70 ad and how things that seem like similarities and to illuminate the biblical texts are in fact not necessarily doing so.
The point is not that we shouldn’t look at rabbinic sources (or other ancient sources), because they can in fact be helpful in illuminating the Bible, but to be more discriminate. David Instone Brewer has begun a project, TRENT, in which he attempts to sift through the rabbinical documents and discern what is pre-70 ad and relevant to interpreting the NT.
Either way I don’t think he is the next Billy Graham and I don’t think he is trying to be.
I’m no lover of Rob Bell, but I was surprised by the fair tone of this post about Rob. I would appreciate more posts like this, in which there is less vitriol, and more facts. People can make their own decisions after you present your evidence – minus the rhetoric.
But I must say that the exegetical work behind 1 Timothy 3:7 seems a little flimsy. Are you really equating Rob (and indeed, the whole postmodern paradigm) with verses 1-6?
I am not against using Jewish documents to help us think through biblical issues, but they are not a final authority.
And I do not think Mr. Bell is the next Billy Graham nor do I think he wants to be. I was merely referencing that as to his popularity.
Have a great evening, off to spend time with my family.
Your arguments are too broad brushed. Words like “always” or “everything” are never constructive nor legitimately descriptive of the very group you wish to disparage. Stick with legitimate issues/ concerns and try less mud slinging/ name calling. You claim scripture as your bases for truth and knowledge and thatâ€™s where we should be challenging each other; to look again at the text (no proof text of course) to see what Godâ€™s word says regarding your issues/concerns with the fundamentalists theology. If your issues are with ministry methods (ie. â€œholding on to traditionâ€), then simply get over it and allow others to do the work of ministry in ways that differ from yours. Remember, the church is very diverse in many ways; my grandmother meets in a weekly bible study with older folks like herself and invite others from their ageing neighborhood to join; Rob Bell methods of ministry will not help them nor should you disparage them for being fundamentalist. God loves them too! But if her group were teaching against the importance of the Trinity and or the Virgin Birth of Christ, it seems that you would be calling that revolutionary? Strange.
Your point has been heard, time and again; and the good news for you is that Bell and others like him have the opportunity to vocalize their positions of theology and or their dislike of the traditional church. Which does open them up for critique. Iâ€™m sure youâ€™re not against him and others doing such? True? Just like you are not against yourself in doing the same? True? Then why are you so against others exercising that same freedom when it is against something or someone you hold to or believe in dearly? It seems to me that you are living with a double standard. Something most non-fundamental people really abhor and loath and claim to be in others (especially those fundamental type-right!?!). You have to be willing to allow others to critique your heroes of the faith (Bell, and others like him), just like you really enjoy critiquing fundamentalist theology.
You said, “I am not against using Jewish documents to help us think through biblical issues, but they are not a final authority.”
I don’t think anyone is claiming that they should be the final authority. If you can show me where Bell is saying something like this then I’d like to see it.
Using ancient documents to better help us understand the Bible is an important part of biblical scholarship and is standard among liberal and conservative scholars (including the basic level of lexicography and how we translate the Bible). I’m sure that’s all Bell is trying to do, although he is mistakenly using the wrong documents (or at least doing so indiscriminately) so it skews his interpretation a bit. But I’d be surprised if it skews his intepretation in regards to any fundamental doctrine.
Enjoy your evening : )
Yes I will acknowledge I am making some general sweeps. However, I have not seen one fundamental blogger embrace a positive thing about Bell.
I am still in process of trying to get over it. I am using the blog world to help assist me. Thanks for the feedback.
And where does the Bible even say that the significance of the virgin birth is that Christ was not born with a sinful nature? This is much more philosophical than exegetical, because the text does not state this.
It seems to be more of a miraculous birth affirming that God the Father will be with this child. “Sinful nature” is an Augustinian term anyways and not a biblical term. This argument seems to be more of a polemic to comfort us when we screw up instead of an exegetically sound belief. “Of course he loved his enemies, he was Jesus. Of course he didn’t sin, he was Jesus. Of course he healed the blind, he was Jesus.”
Funny how we see his disciples doing these very things after his ascension, and Jesus even claiming that we (Christians or the 12) will do greater works than he did. What’s the philosophical argument for that one? We have to have one, because we can’t really do anything Jesus did.
Read Romans 5:12:
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned–”
I like 2 or 3 of Rob Bell’s Nooma Videos. There. I said it. A positive thing about Bell. Ha!
What is a fundamental blogger? Is it a blogger that spells correctly? Is it a blogger that posts frequently? Or perhaps it is a blogger that knows how to move a runner over or hit the cut-off man?
I enjoyed our discussion.
Maybe I mis-understood Brett in him saying he would “die” for inerrancy. I thought he meant it was a “hill on which to die” type of issue. I have not even given thought to literally dying for inerrancy.
“Charlie if you consider it that central of a doctrine how much have you studied it?”
I have studied inerracy a good deal.
“What non-inerrancy authors and books have you read?”
I am fairly well-read, however I do not spend an overwhelming time reading non-inerrancy authors for a myriad of reasons.
“What liberal biblical scholarship have you read? Have you looked into textual criticism or the use of the LXX in the early church or canon formation etcâ€¦”
I’m most familiar with Ehrman and Bultmann. As to your second question, I have a fair amount of knowledge of textual criticism and a cursory understanding of the use of the LXX in the early church and canon formation.
“Besides what good does inerrancy of the original autographs do us when we donâ€™t possess them? Again thatâ€™s what makes the doctrine useless to me.”
The good that inerrancy does is that Scripture states that all of it is God-breathed…therefore, since Scripture is the Word of God, I like to believe that God will not lie to us.
I would personally like to hear some thoughts on the whole significance of the virgin birth that I brought up. I have always heard from the pulpit that the significance of this was that he was not born with a sinful nature. However, the Scriptures really don’t tell us the significance, and we have to hit the Bible over the head pretty hard to get this out of it. It might sound good philosophically, but exegetically it seems quite flawed.
There always seems like there is some significance in Scripture to accounts of birth. For example, Sarah giving birth to Isaac at such an old age, and we all know how God used Isaac. Shouldn’t the virgin birth just affirm to us how God was in this? Shouldn’t it tell us that this baby is something special because he was miraculously conceived by a virgin? The whole sinful nature thing just makes no exegetical sense. Jesus did not sin, and I am not saying he did by these thoughts. It’s just not as black and white and the systematic theologians make it out to be. As far as I can tell, Jesus possessed the same nature that we possess. I don’t believe we can look at humanity and sin fused together, because then you make humanity the problem, and not sin. Sin is the problem, not humanity, and that’s a dichotomy we should all have in our theology.
The whole sinful nature belief essentially stemmed from Augustine, and because he and others after him were so extreme, they practiced infant baptism. So if its as true as conservative evangelicals claim it to be, then why don’t most of us practice this anymore? The whole idea of it seems sort of mythological to me, and some nonbiblical practices have stemmed as a result of it.
Just for fun, do you think the barren woman motif might be present here? There is a recurring theme of God causing a barren woman to bear a child: Rebekah, Sarah, Rachel, Samson’s mother, Hannah, the Shunamite woman. Then in the NT, Elizabeth and Mary are both “barren.” Elizabeth is older, married, childless. Mary is a virgin. I would think one could claim that virginity represents ultimate barrenness in a sense, even though it is in one’s power to end the condition.
I doubt whether this is the main reason God did it this way, but it is a neat tag-along nonetheless.
I totally think that’s a step in the right direction. This could be the apex of the barren woman motif. If we argue that the significance of the virgin birth is that Jesus didn’t have a sinful nature, then we make his nature different than ours…which it was not. We have a tendency in evangelicalism to fuse sin and humanity together, thus making them one thing. This seems to be a mistake.
Why could this not be the main reason God did it this way? Based upon your extrapolation from scripture, I would say it fits exegetically. To say the “sinful nature” has to be passed on through the seed of a male is just a philosophical argument, not an exegetical one. What do some of you guys think?
God has always done things so as to rule out the possibility of the human flesh/will getting the glory. The virgin birth is the ultimate “slap in the face” to our human glory.
I do not think it was “necessary” for Christ to be born of a virgin because scripture does not say it was necessary. But, to rule out all possibility of human glorying in the perfection of God’s Son He chose to “birth” Him thru a virgin.
Just for you Brett…here is a possible “proof text” 🙂
Romans 9:6 – 18 (ESV) But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but â€œThrough Isaac shall your offspring be named.â€ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: â€œAbout this time next year I will return and Sarah shall have a son.â€ 10And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or badâ€”in order that Godâ€™s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his callâ€” she was told, Â£â€œThe older will serve the younger.â€ As it is written, â€œJacob I loved, but Esau I hated.â€ What shall we say then? Is there injustice on Godâ€™s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, â€œI will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.â€ So then it depends not on human will or exertion,Â£ but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, â€œFor this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.â€ So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
Here’s a little sumpun’ sumpun’ on Rob Bell as well:
Rob Bell Agrees with New Age Guru Marianne Williamson
Fair enough on the dying over inerrancy thing.
Your last response though in regards to what use inerrancy is if it is dependent on autographs that don’t exist didn’t seem to really answer the question, being that it’s like saying the Bible is perfect but we don’t possess a perfect copy of the Bible.
Also the appeal to 2 Tim 3:16 always seemed really circular to me, raising a lot more questions than answers.
i have read velvet elvis and have significant concerns about the views expressed in that book.
however, the cnn video w/ rob was fantastic… or at least not un-biblical, right? he seems to be reaching a particular audience, talking about things that need to be talked about from a christian worldview.
let’s be discerning and praise what ought to be praised and critique what should be critiqued.
denny, with this post you had an opportunity to say something positive about bell, but instead you bring up the CNN interview and mention your previous criticism of bell. i agree with your concerns, but this brother is not all bad… there may be something even to learn from him.
The word “fundamentalist” gets thrown around more than a football on turkey day. The louder people shout about “fundamentalists”, the quicker I tune them out as white noise.
Fair enough on the circular reasoning thing, but if we can’t appeal to Scripture what can we appeal to? Reason? Our reason is sinfully flawed, you well know.
That’s another point, what good is the doctrine of inerrancy when the perfect bible can only be communicated through our flawed reason and imperfect interpretations. None of us has inerrant interpretations so adhering to inerrancy does us no good.
I don’t necessarily think that you can’t appeal to scripture’s own witness of itself (2 Tim 3:16) but it has to be taken in addition to the evidence that either show it to be inerrant or not. And I don’t think the evidence show us a Bible that is inerrant. If Jesus were to say he were God that’d be fine and all but we would want to see something other than his own testimony that does in fact verify his claim (and he realizes and speaks about this in John). And I think there is plenty else to show that he is God and his early followers worshiped him as God other than just going on his own testimony.
If the book of Mormon says it’s inerrant we aren’t going to just accept that because it said so. We will want evidence that it is inerrant and upon examining it we find that it isn’t really inerrant.
On a side note, I wonder how we can expect those of other religions to seriously examine their religion and the arguments against them in light of the truth claims of Christianity if we don’t ever seriously consider the arguments against some of our doctrines.
Anyway my point about 2 Tim 3:16 also had to do with the fact that it really does raise a lot more questions when you start examining it more and looking into it’s implications. I really don’t want to start raising all of them.
Thanks for the conversation.
I sure am glad that God is sovereign and that all of prophecy has been and will be fulfilled according to Bryan’s “non-inerrant scripture”.
I sure am glad that we can have confidence in God that His will is accomplished despite our fallible nature.
I sure am glad that we have the Rock-solid promises of Scripture and I do not have to be concerned whether they are true or not…because God cannot lie.
I’m sure glad you felt the need to share that here Kevin although I’m not sure what the point was.
From post #45 you said:
I donâ€™t necessarily think that you canâ€™t appeal to scriptureâ€™s own witness of itself (2 Tim 3:16) but it has to be taken in addition to the evidence that either show it to be inerrant or not. And I donâ€™t think the evidence show us a Bible that is inerrant.
From post #46 Kevin J is saying that fulfilled prophecy is sufficient evidence to validate the Bible’s self proclamation of inerrancy.
Where is the Bible’s self proclamation of inerrancy? Would you say any other document that claims it is inerrant and has fulfilled prophecies in it proves that it inerrant?
BTW what prophecies do you have in mind? All of the ones from Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah and the rest of the prophets? And do non-fulfilled prophecies work against scripture being inerrant? If not then you are working from a premise where it is impossible for scripture to not live up to your requirements for inerrancy since any unfulfilled prophecies or prophecies that weren’t fulfilled just like they were said are not considered as evidence against its inerrancy.
Debating about the innerrancy of the Bible is like trying to debate about the existence of God. You either believe it or you don’t. You either believe the Bible in childlike faith or you think that God is not capable of preserving his written Word in a form that is inerrant – even thru fallible people.
From cover to cover the given assumption is that it’s a reliable source of truth.
John 17:17 â€œSanctify them in truth, Thy word is truth.â€ Hopefully you wonâ€™t need a running commentary of John 17 to understand what Jesus means by saying â€œThy wordâ€, and Iâ€™m assuming you understand the difference between â€˜truthâ€™ and â€˜errorâ€™. Jesus claimed the Old Testament to be: 1) Godâ€™s word; and 2) truth.
What has caused you to doubt the truthfulness of Scripture? Where have you personally found it to be in error? Who told you it was with error and how did they prove their claims to your satisfaction?
Okay guys, the first thing we should do is define inerrancy. In my Souther Baptist church, it basically meant taking everything literal. Thus, when it gives huge numbers of armies in the OT we have to take it literal. However, a vast amount of OT scholars say this is simply hyperbole, and there is no way the armies were this big. The author simply used a number this big to make a point. What does that do to inerrancy?
What about grammatical mistakes? There sure are alot. What does that do to inerrancy?
You guys (Benjamin and Kevin) have a very unhealthy view of doctrine. You basically are arguing that if you don’t believe in inerrancy, then you have no faith in God…much worse, you could extrapolate that you don’t even know God.
The belief of inerrancy hasn’t even been around that long. So, for the first several centuries of church history there were no “inerrantists”. What do you have to say about that?
I personally believe in inerrancy but I believe my definition would be a little different than yours. However, I would certainly emphasize the authority and inspiration of the Bible over inerrancy. The Bible never even makes the claim that it’s inerrant, but it does make the claim that it is inspired and authoritative.
What about Mark 2:25-26? In this text Jesus says to the Pharisees: “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions were hungryâ€“ 26 how he entered the house of God when Abiathar was high priest and ate the sacred bread, which is against the law for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to his companions?”
However, when we look in the OT at this example, Abiathar was not the high priest, Ahimelech was (1 Samuel 21:1-7). What does this do to inerrancy? This was actually the passage that caused Bart Ehrman to lose his faith. So, what do you say about it?
My point is, you don’t have to believe in inerrancy and be a Christian. Affirm it, yes, but don’t hold too tightly onto it.
Bryan, you’re our brother in Christ, and I have no problem at all with you not believing in inerrancy. It’s not essential, and you have your reasons for not believing in it. Who cares.
“You guys (Benjamin and Kevin) have a very unhealthy view of doctrine. You basically are arguing that if you donâ€™t believe in inerrancy, then you have no faith in Godâ€¦much worse, you could extrapolate that you donâ€™t even know God.”
I never equated believing in the innerancy of the Bible with believing in God. I equated the arguments…not the doctrines. You either believe it or you don’t. There is no HUMAN rationale for the belief in God or inerrant scripture. If we try to rationalize everything then we rule out faith and that was my point.
However, you claim to believe in inerrancy but you make a claim that there is an error. How have you overcome that error and still maintain your belief in inerrancy of scripture?
The translation you used for Mark 2:25-26 states that David did this WHEN Abiathar was High Priest but the literal rendering is “in the days of Abiathar the High Priest.”
Was Abiathar alive when his father (Ahimilech) gave David the bread? If so then this saying of Jesus would not be in error. Are we living “in the days of President Bill Clinton”? Yes. Is Bill Clinton actually the president right now? No.
“in the days of” is not a literal translation at all. The preposition used here is “epi” which does not at all mean “in the days of”. BDAG describes the preposition here as a marker of temporal associations. “in the time of” or, as you say, “in the days of” could be allowed, but it is not literal. “under” could also be allowed, and so could “when”.
Basically, even if you did read it “in the days of Abiathar the high priest”, it still implies that Abiathar was the high priest…which he was not.
As far as inerrancy goes for me, I haven’t really studied many disputed passages to know for sure. I do believe in inerrancy, and could easily describe this as a textual variant. However, I won’t put my life on the line for it. It’s honestly not that big of a deal for me, because it doesn’t change the meaning of the text in this case, and Jesus is trying to make a point about eating grain on the Sabbath. To get caught up in the secondary details is ridiculous.
Basically, you shouldn’t be dogmatic about your “in the days of” translation, because if you put this in an exegetical paper and explained it this way you would probably get points deducted, because regardless of whether it implies “in the days of”, it still implies that Abiathar was the high priest. So, Kevin, my question to you is how do you handle this?
Also, I never made the claim that there was an error. I might have implied that there is possibly one, but I don’t believe that right now. So please don’t say I made that claim when I actually didn’t.
“My point is, you donâ€™t have to believe in inerrancy and be a Christian. Affirm it, yes, but donâ€™t hold too tightly onto it.”
I agree with you Brett that you do not need to believe in inerrancy of the Bible to be a Christian. However, it is a huge step towards relativism. If a person does not believe in inerrancy then they can pick and choose what they think is true or correct.
For example, a person may believe “once saved, always saved” whether they “stick to the faith” or not. This person will tend to disagree with Romans:
Romans 8:12 – 14 (ESV) So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
This person would say that this passage cannot mean what it says. The promise here is that “if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” So, there is a requirement to “live” and those who are led by the Spirit of God WILL do verse 13.
For the non-inerrantist this passage will probably be shrugged off as an “error”. Maybe not, but my point is that “non-inerrantism” is a big step toward “relativism” and toward eternal death. Can a person be truly saved and not believe in the inerrancy of the Bible? I think so. But, chances are more likely that they are NOT being led of the Holy Spirit and thus NOT a son of God (Romans 8:14). AGAIN, I am not saying that a TRUE believer can not struggle with the inerrancy of scripture.
You are the pot calling the kettle black.
You said, “You guys (Benjamin and Kevin) have a very unhealthy view of doctrine. You basically are arguing that if you donâ€™t believe in inerrancy, then you have no faith in Godâ€¦much worse, you could extrapolate that you donâ€™t even know God.”
You just put words in my mouth. The very thing you don’t want others doing to you. So, what say YOU about that?
Innerancy applies specifically to the autographs. Are there some varients in the copies? Yes. But the manuscripts have been well researched and most of the major varients have been isolated and shown to affect no major doctrine of the church. Unless of course you believe in the handleing of snakes (Mark 16).
So please don’t say I’m saying something that I actually didn’t say. Thanks!!
Benjamin and Kevin,
I am not arguing against inerrancy here guys. I keep getting the gist that you guys (not really Kevin anymore, but Benjamin) think I don’t believe in inerrancy, which I do. I’m well aware of the manuscripts and the variants, and totally agree they don’t affect major doctrines. I never claimed they did.
And inerrancy is not a step towards relativism if you’re a Christian. This is a really bad, unhealthy, and immature way to look at things. Scholars who do not hold to it do not believe this way for the heck of it, but b/c they feel the evidence leads them that way on a particular passage. That’s like saying if you don’t believe in God’s total sovereignty (human choices included), then you can pick and choose any of his attributes. Seriously, come on. I believe Christians must believe in the inspiration and authority of the Bible. If they believed this about the word of God, they would not claim everything to be an error and pick and choose whatever they wanted. They might claim something such as Mark 2 to be an error based upon the evidence, but this doesn’t even do anything to the faith whether Mark made a mistake here or not. We can’t get caught up in all the details.
And I’m not the pot calling the kettle black. The remarks you all were making to Bryan indicated he had no respect for the word of God. You all seemed to have a very vicious tone towards those who don’t believe in inerrancy. Thus, it seems to be easy to extrapolate that and see you all questioning anybody’s faith who didn’t believe in inerrancy. I. Howard Marshall is an incredible scholar and he doesn’t believe in it, neither does James Dunn or John Goldingay. This doesn’t make them non-Christians or mean they are relativistic. If anything, these guys wrestle with the text more than any ultra-conservative scholar I know and are not afraid to state what it means rather than having to protect some doctrinal statement or catechism.
I think it’s great the respect you all have towards the Bible because I share that same respect, but I hope you understand the Bible never claims itself to be inerrant. This basically just stemmed out of evangelicalism and liberalism. Also, I understand what Bryan means when he basically says what’s the point b/c we don’t even have the originals. I totally do believe the originals were inerrant, but we don’t have those so inerrancy is tough to sell to a person. I’m not claiming the manuscripts we have are full of errors, b/c I have faith that God preserved them, but any little detail such as Mark 2 could have been written down or translated wrong. This will be my last post on this issue. Good talking to you guys and keep living!
You kind of rephrased what you originally said to when in response to my question “Where is the Bibleâ€™s self proclamation of inerrancy?” by replying with “the given assumption is that itâ€™s a reliable source of truth.”
That’s not saying the same thing and I would agree with you that the Bible is a reliable source of truth. But you seem to have watered down your original statement about the Bible’s self-proclamation of inerrancy.
I think many believe that a rejection of inerrancy is a claim that the whole Bible is false and utterly unreliable. That’s not the case though. If it were I wouldn’t invest so much of my time in learning proper exegesis and hermeneutics and investing so much money in acquiring good commentaries, because I would believe it is a worthless endeavor to understand what the original meaning of the text was if I thought it was probably wrong anyway.
As far as how I came to not believe in the doctrine of inerrancy it was a combination of studying some of the things I asked Chuck about earlier. But a good book that was kind of the deal sealer for me was Paul Achtemeier’s “Inspiration and Authority”. You should read it if you get a chance.
Thanks for posting the video. CNN was at our church many months ago (probably more than a year.) I was a little concerned about it since they don’t usually get things right. But, this clip was quite good and surprised me.
Also, thanks for making no comments about a book you didn’t read. You tend to be fair.
Great Post. Interesting following the exchange here. Both sides bring up good points. The following is not an attack on anyone in particular, it’s just the thought that rose to the top of my heart as I read through the 60 comments on this blog:
Those critical of Rob Bell should realize that it’s easy to be critical and judgmental, only pointing out the bad in others. It takes more of a work of God’s grace to be charitable even to those with whom you strongly disagree.
In fact, as a Christian, I would rather be a gracious and extremely charitable lover of people (esp Christians) and yet get every non-essential of my theology screwed up THAN be a Christian who has flawless theological positions and can defend them well, yet possess an uncharitable, naturally critical spirit without seeking to balance my differences with other well-meaning Christians with a great measure of gratitude for what God has done and does through those whose theology may be less than satisfying to me. In fact, such a reality should humble those who think they have their theology better aligned with the biblical text. No matter where you stand theologically, God uses those who you might see as “off” on some significant things to change the lives of people with those more basic aspects of the Christian faith.
There’s nothing worse than having your theology all polished up, or your opinions all intellectually nuanced and well researched, only to lose sight of what actually means the MOST to God–namely, to love one another—–for those who do not like Rob Bell to be charitable towards him, and those who think his critics are fundamentalists who don’t get it to be patient and loving with them also.
Of course, if we love God we will care about the truth also, but the part of the “truth” that we should care MOST about is this truth: When Jesus was asked what the most important of all commandments was, he did not say something like “to follow every jot and tittle of the Torah and the Prophets.” Rather, he said that love for God and people was the MOST important part of obedience to God. Everything else is based on this.
I would rather be wrong on the whole “fundamentals vs. non-fundamentals” thing and find myself a humble and charitable Christian than to have a critical spirit towards those “on the other side” whom God chooses to use in major way. Everyone enjoys giving their perspective on important topics and correcting the bad arguments those who disagree with us make, but it can very easily feed our pride and zap our gratitude. It’s harder to be loving, gentle, patient, meek, and charitable; to lace our opinions of difference with humility and love.
Awesome comment. Well thought out.
For me, inerrancy comes down to texts like 2 Timothy 3:16 (which has been discussed a lot here) and 2 Peter 1:21.
Now, the 2 Peter passage says that “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Just for the sake of eliminating side discussions, let’s apply this to only the times in the Old Testament when prophets spoke ‘thus saith the LORD.’ If those words were the direct words of one of the Trinity, then can they be understood as inerrant?
I sure don’t want to have anything to do with a god who ever would say, “Oops, did I say that?”
But then you might say, “Well who said that Peter’s comment in 2 Peter is inerrant? He could have been mistaken.” Can we have any confidence about anything if we start thinking like this? I don’t think that I am setting up a slippery slope by saying that; a carelessness about inerrancy just kind of leaves everything up to you.
On a similar note, one of the good things about a committment to inerrancy is that when some new question enters the picture (e.g. someone claims that a certain text contradicts another one), inerrantists buckle down and try to sort out the mystery. They have a presupposition that it all must work out because it is all of God and thus reliable and inerrant. It seems to me (although I’m sure that many will claim that this is not the case) that those who are not committed to inerrancy might sooner just chalk the new mystery up to ‘must be another error’.
As a disclaimer, let me say that I do try to question and sort out all of my beliefs. I don’t think that a committment to inerrancy means that you seek to remain ignorant of the concerns of others about the doctrines you believe in. In admitting that I do question this way, though, I do not necessarily think that this is a good thing; it is just a product of my fallen person. Faith that is childlike is commended over and over again after all.
I think that people who would criticize bad theology and those aspousing it would claim that they are putting the GREATEST commandment (love God) above the second one. I think that all would agree that this could be done in a more loving way, but it hurts to be called wrong no matter how you slice it. After all, that’s what we say to unbelievers: “We love you, but everything that you have built your life around is dead wrong.”
Do I love Rob Bell? Yes – in the sense that I would really like to get to know him (I have affection for him), I would never want to see anything bad happen to him (I don’t wish him ill), and I will (Lord willing) happily spend eternity with him. Do I like the way he does church? Nope. Do I like the way he preaches? Nope. Do I think that some of his ‘elastic theology’ ideas are destructive? Heck yes.
Can love and criticism exist side-by-side? I certainly hope so. That is the way Jesus rolled. “Neither do I condemn you (love & forgiveness). Now go and sin no more (criticism – he called her action sin).” Jesus was also not charitable when it came to error: “Woe to you, etc.”