The Bible and Rob Bell (Part 2)

I began part 1 of this series yesterday with this assertion about the Bible:

I believe the Bible is God’s word, that it is authoritative, clear, sufficient, inspired by God, infallible, and inerrant.

We have to start here, not simply by way of declaration, but with explanation. It’s not uncommon for people to toss out these exact words, only to belie this claim with how they handle the Bible. Can we really affirm that we believe the Bible is God’s authoritative word and then not submit to it as our ultimate authority? I don’t know how many times I’ve dialogued with people who would agree with everything in bold print above, but who flex that self-proclaimed definition of the Bible to fit specific circumstances.

“Well, if God really is (fill in specific trait clearly taught in the Bible), then I just can’t accept that.”
“Well if God would (fill in specific action of God from the Bible), then I don’t want to believe in that God.”

The Bible leads us to a number of truths about God that don’t always set well in our tummies. The Bible informs us about ourselves in a number of ways that don’t look great in the mirror (original sin comes to mind). But are we going to shape our beliefs by the Bible, or shape the truth about God by our beliefs? You can do either. Just don’t claim to believe the Bible’s authority and then deny it a couple of sentences later.

I believe differently about the Bible than Rob Bell. As I described in the previous post, Bell is probably the prince of the popular theological liberalism that is influencing Christian culture right now. As you read his stuff, you get a lot of amazing information. He is phenomenally creative, and reveals a sharp intellect and studied analysis of theological and historical issues. However, I believe differently from him on a number of key issues theologically, and the divergence begins with our views on the Bible. In part 1 of his “What is the Bible” series of articles (a series I think he still contributes to weekly), Bell begins by emphasizing the humanity of the Bible:

When people charge in with great insistence that this is God’s word all the while neglecting the very real humanity of these books, they can inadvertently rob these writings of their sacred power.

All because of starting in the wrong place.

You start with the human. You ask those questions, you enter there, you direct your energies to understanding why these people wrote these books.

The goal of his post is to emphasize the humanity of the Bible, in order truly capture its sacred power. I completely agree with Bell that the Bible is a human book, written down by human beings with specific agendas in specific times and places, contexts and circumstances. But I disagree that this is the starting point. I think the Bible is first a divine book. If you come to the Bible as first human (then divine), I think you’re going to arrive at a wholly different place than if you approach it as first divine (then human). In either case, you are holding to the Bible as a human and divine book. The starting point is the key.

Why start with the divine? I think when we read things like 2 Timothy 3:16, that all Scripture is “God-breathed,” we see evidence that God initiated the writing of the Bible with a specific plan and purpose, and that he utilized human authors to get the job done.

We see clear evidence of this in 2 Peter 1:19-21

And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Men spoke from God. No prophetic writing (Scripture) was simply a matter of someone’s own interpretation. So God spoke, and men wrote it down. God didn’t breath into it after the fact. He breathed by his Spirit, and Paul, Samuel, Moses, Peter, et al. wrote it down.

I agree with Bell on this assertion about the Bible: it’s all about where you start. But I believe we should start with God, not with humanity. It is His book first, not ours.

For an excellent treatment of this subject, check Western Seminary Professor Todd Miles’ blogs “The Bible is the Word of God” and “The Bible is (also) the Word of Man.”

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About Pastor Andrew

Follower of Jesus, Husband to Carissa, Daddy to four daughters, Lead Pastor at LifePoint Church in Vancouver, WA.
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11 Responses to The Bible and Rob Bell (Part 2)

  1. peddiebill says:

    I don’t question your sincerity, yet I wonder if deeper study would bring you a little closer to Rob Bell in your understanding. The human dimensions to the writings in the Bible then start to make sense of the silly bits eg where customs to do with tribal survival got mixed up with laws for when to stone people to death. eg from your photo you have trimmed your sideboards. Leviticus says you have to be stoned to death for this disobedience. I wouldn’t be surprised if you have eaten shell-fish or bacon, worn mixed fibre clothes and ignored the bit in the Bible that says who you should eat with. Authoritative, infallible and inspired by God – but I am prepared to bet you don’t think some of it applies. Then there are the numerous contradictions which I am happy to supply if you have not encountered them, and the shonky science – since when is a bat a fowl when even school science books in the US concede it is a mammal, the age of the Earth? A few thousand years???? You have to be joking.

    • Thank you for engaging this discussion peddiebill, just as I respect Bell’s opinion, I respect yours.

      Admittedly, I sincerely disagree as well. I would venture to say that less in-depth study would lead me closer to Bell on these things, not more in-depth study. You have sufficiently proved this assertion as you have framed me as the stereo-typical google-search-for-bible-contradictions straw man known as the “biblical literalist.” Case in point, I said nothing in this post about the age of the earth- yet you assume I ascribe to a young earth.

      I appreciate your offer to point out for me supposed biblical contradictions with science or reason, but I can assure- I have internet access at home- so it’s not hard to find seeming contradictions divorced from a valid realization of context, historically and theologically informed understanding of covenant in the Bible, and biblical language/grammar.

      Your comment is precisely the reason I’m engaged in writing this series on this blog- Bell’s starting point when it comes to the Bible ultimately makes humanity the authority, rather than God. Whether or not you possess the same faith that I do in this regard, Bell’s teaching on the Bible is in conflict with centuries of historic orthodoxy. I for one don’t believe the argument that Bell has somehow arrived at some deeper understanding than the rest of the church on this subject. In my view that’s not a solid place to build my faith.

  2. peddiebill says:

    Thank you for a civilised response, which I think I understand. It is probably a bit of a tall ask, but just as I may have misunderstood you from your post, you may have misunderstood me. If you were to look up one of my posts Biblical Literalism, the Shaping of God, you would get a clearer idea of what I was trying to say.

  3. thecieplys says:

    Thanks for the post. I have read a good number of Bell’s posts on the bible. I agree that our starting point when approaching the bible is the most important issue we must tackle. I do believe as Bell does that when our starting point is “divine” or “inerrant” we can miss out on the richness and true heart that was fully intended by its writers. Take Jesus for example, if our starting point when reading about him in the gospels is that he is God then we will miss out of so much of the truth of the very gospels we are trying to learn from. After all the starting point for the disciples and others in first century Palestine was certainly not that Yeshua was divine. They got to this conclusion eventually but it was a dynamic and difficult process. I believe this is the same when approaching the narrative of scripture as a whole. We must approach it as it was intended to be received and i’m sure that is not within the framework of our 21st century, post – enlightenment lens. In my opinion, we have nothing to lose (except maybe some terms that we have created such as inerrant, infallible, etc) and everything to gain. I surely don’t agree with Bell about everything but this is one issue I feel strongly about because I have seen the harm of “using” the bible in ways it was never intended to be used for. Thanks again for the post. These are the types of conversations we need to have with each other, especially those with different viewpoints. Rob are you watching? ha

    • Thanks for the comment Aaron. It is an interesting discussion. I don’t think that viewing it as divine first- inspired, etc- causes us to lose any if it’s richness. I think we need to study it closely with both the divine/human in mind. My hesitancy with Bell is that the lens he seems to advocate looking through (from my perspective) puts the reader in a position of judgment or authority over the text. I think the text, as the word of God, should first hold authority over us. With Bell it seems like that authority breaks down, replaced by the readers’ reason or judgment on the text. Admittedly, I haven’t followed Bell closely in recent years, I mostly tracked him before 2011. I have read most of his books, and I think the conclusions he comes to in Love Wins are a result of his hermeneutics- starting and seeing the bible as primarily human. I think we can delve into the richness of it (even more so in my opinion) while still respecting it as Gods authoritative word.

      I appreciate your comment. Thank you. I see you guys are Boston-area. My wife and I began our marriage out there, with two years at Gordon-Conwell as I finished my degree. Great area of the country- we still have a lot of friends out there. Praying God continues to lead you guys-

  4. thecieplys says:

    That is a great and interesting perspective about having a stance of authority over the scripture. Thanks for that angle on it as I have never thought in that way. I appreciate you’re humility in sharing your opinions. I guess it is a fine line to hold both “divine” and “humanity” as we approach the scriptures eh? I have been reading a good deal from N.T. Wright and have been thinking of how to approach Jesus first as human. Surely this was part of the liberal agenda which I don’t fully agree with but believe we can learn from.

    Yes! We live in Malden, Ma! We are with Youth With A Mission Boston and I am also an advisor with Alpha New England. Pray for me as I am trying to follow the Lord as He clearly is leading me to continue my education in the Bible, etc. Gordon Conwell is definitely an option.

    Thanks again! I’m sure you will hear from me again and vice versa of course!

  5. thecieplys says:

    Have you read “The Last Word” by N.T. Wright? If so, what do you think about his views on the Bible?

    • I have read a little Wright- Surprised by Hope, and a few others. I haven’t read The Last Word yet. I like some of his stuff, but others I have to think about a bit… Not enough exposure to really give a definitive opinion.

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