Critique: Rob Bell…Velvet Elvis (movement 2)

The second “movement” is one of the most dangerous things I have read in a long time — the subject: biblical authority and hermeneutics. I believe that Rob really misses the mark on this very important topic. Because many of the problems are subtle, many will read this review and think, “That’s no big deal!” Others will understand the gravity of what he is trying to communicate.

Rob repeatedly gives reference (in the endnotes) to a particular document entitled, “How Can the Bible be Authoritative?”, which was written by NT Wright (also an advocate and researcher for the so called “new perspective” on Paul). The transcript is available here. Rob says concerning this document that it is the

“best thing I have ever read about the Bible” (184)

The article in question (along with an interesting view of Matthew 16:19 as it relates to present day believers) really drives Rob’s entire premise.

First we will deal with the article — second: Matthew 16:19.

ONE — NT Wright’s position on biblical authority is basically hybrid — a position between sola scriptura and the Catholic model. This makes sense for both Wright (he himself is an Anglican) and emergent types like Bell since they often try to bridge the gap between Catholic and Protestant theology, even some times rubbing shoulders with the most liberal of Catholics who even deny the exclusivity of the claims of Jesus Christ.

Wright argues concerning the doctrine of biblical authority,

One might even say, in one (admittedly limited) sense, that there is no biblical doctrine of the authority of the Bible. For the most part the Bible itself is much more concerned with doing a whole range of other things rather than talking about itself. There are, of course, key passages, especially at transition moments like 2 Timothy or 2 Peter, where the writers are concerned that the church of the next generation should be properly founded and based. At precisely such points we find statements emerging about the place of scripture within the life of the church. But such a doctrine usually has to be inferred. It may well be possible to infer it, but it is not (for instance) what Isaiah or Paul are talking about. Nor is it, for the most part, what Jesus is talking about in the gospels. He isn’t constantly saying, ‘What about scripture? What about scripture?’ It is there sometimes, but it is not the central thing that we have sometimes made it (emphasis mine).

So since the doctrine of Scripture’s authority is not mentioned as frequently as other topics in the Bible, then it must not be essential or even important? Keep in mind that this is, by Rob’s own words is, “the best thing I have ever read about the Bible.

After reading Wright’s article and then Rob’s chapter, it became apparent to me that Rob’s view of Scripture has been heavily influenced by Bishop Wright.

As a side note, again in this chapter, Rob gives recognition to liberal scholar, Marcus Borg. He references a Borgian concept, “more-than-literal truth of the Bible.” See endnote on page 184 (for more info on the theological connection between Bell and Borg, see Pastor Ken Silva’s AM piece on the issue).

TWO — Rob’s understanding of biblical authority, coupled with his view on Matthew 16:19 and its parallel passages results in a position which is hostile to a normal (or literal) hermeneutic of Scripture.

Matthew 16:19

And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Rob says concerning this verse,

He is giving his followers the authority to make new interpretations of the Bible.

It often seems that Rob arrives at new conclusions on the teachings of Jesus in the gospels because of his research into early Judaism. However, Dr. Ben Witherington points out in this post that Rob relies on sources written after 70 AD. Ben writes,

The mistake of using the later rabbinic grid to interpret Jesus leads to mistakes in interpreting Jesus’ words. For example when Jesus speaks about binding and loosing, he is not referring to forbidding and allowing certain ways of interpreting OT verses. To bind refers to making a ruling that is binding, not forbidding it. To loose means to free someone from obligation to keep a particular rule.

As I said above, Rob almost makes fun of the notion that the Bible carries a literal sense which can be understood by anybody. For example, he writes,

But let’s be honest. When you hear people say they are just going to tell you what the Bible means, it is not true. They are telling you what they think it means. They are giving their opinions about the Bible. It sounds nice to say, “I’m not giving you my opinion; I’m just telling you what it means.” The problem is, it is not true (54).

Rob has taken the authority away from any sort of literal sense of the Bible and has placed it upon a community (again reflecting the influence of NT Wright).

He writes,

In fact, binding and loosing can only be done in community with others who are equally as passionate about being true to the words of God…Community, community, community. Together, with others, wrestling and searching and engaging the Bible as a group of people hungry to know God in order to follow God.

To Rob, the authority is no longer placed on the Scripture, but rather on the community and its passion. Authority must lie somewhere — I’d rather leave it in the Scriptures as interpreted literally.

***Note on the literal sense of interpretation: It should be understood by the reader that a normal hermeneutic allows for the proper understanding of analogies, hyperbole, and other literary devices as they appear in different biblical genre.

  1. #1 by Phil on July 16, 2007 - 5:01 am

    Have you read any other of Wright’s work beside that article? He is absolutely brilliant, in my opinion. He is Anglican, but he is definitely not to be feared by Evangelicals.

    Also, I have found that in practice “Sola Scriptura” seems to be little more than a slogan. We have to face the fact that many people who believe it have looked at passages and come up with different interpretations. They both will come back and say, “I’m just following Scripture”. It seems we have to decide to follow someone’s interpretation on these things. Now there is a core where universal agreement is possible, but beyond that I think we are in the area of “binding and loosing”.

    Ben Witherington’s “The Problem with Evangelical Theology” is a good book that deals with these sorts of issues. Look at the way Calvin and Luther interpreted passages in Romans through their preconceived doctrinal lenses. Some of the stuff they claimed was there, just wasn’t.

  2. #2 by clearly on July 16, 2007 - 2:53 pm


    I would find anybody who compromises (trying find common theological ground with the Roman church) astoundingly dangerous — especially to evangelicalism, which as a whole cannot seem to make up its mind about the importance of doctrine and separation over gospel truth.

    Tony Jones refers to NT Wright in his paper on “hermeneutic authority” as being a leading emergent scholar. NT can hardly be passed off as a friend to historic, biblical Christianity.

    “It seems we have to decide to follow someone’s interpretation on these things.”

    So you would rather place the authority on a “community?” That didn’t work so well for the Catholic church…

    Witherington is a scholar. I don’t always agree with him, but I appreciate him. In this case, he says that Rob is reading the wrong Jewish sources into the NT. If anyone would know or be well-read enough to discern such a fact, it would be DBWIII.

  3. #3 by phil on July 16, 2007 - 3:28 pm

    It seems that Christian place some authority in the “community” in one way or another. Isn’t that what a denomination does? Isn’t that why churches have statements of faith? They are saying, “this is what we think the Scripture says”. Now there is near unanimous agreement on the essentials, but on other stuff there is freedom. I am a little confused to what you are arguing exactly. If an indivual community goes too far off base, it seems the Christian community at large will reel them back in (or throw them back 😉 ).

    Also, N.T. Wright is revered across the whole evangelical spectrum. To label him “emergent” only is being short-sighted. I don’t think he is a fan of Catholicism, but he may speak respectfully of it. I think the Catholic church is dead wrong on a lot of stuff, and so are a lot of Evangelicals. I think there starts to be a problem when institutions take the place of communities, and when people see institutions as the “Church”.

    Finally, another note on BW3, his review of Velvet Elvis was for the most part very positive. He did say that Bell used some questionable sources, but he also said that Bell “has a high view of the Bible’s authority” in his review.

  4. #4 by Henry Frueh on July 16, 2007 - 3:40 pm

    I read that article a long time ago, it is on the MH webstite. It is nothing more than psuedo-intellectualism. Remember the simplicity that is in Christ?

    Bell soemtimes likes to exhibit his intellectual prowess. The homeless man, the twelve year old, the tenth grade educated farmer, and the average American could not even read that article much less understand it, and most of the “Everything is Spiritual” tour is not for the common man.

    Some of that type of presentation reminds me of Dr. Gene Scott, smug intellectualism.

  5. #5 by clearly on July 16, 2007 - 3:58 pm

    Hey Phil,

    In response to your questions/statements on authority, I believe the final authority lies in the literal interpretation of the text. For instance, I am a Baptist by conviction — and by definition, a Baptist supposedly believes that the Bible is our sole authority on all issues of faith and practice. Is the church the authority? No. Are doctrinal statements the authority? Insomuch as they accurately reflect the teachings of Scripture, yes. If at any time, my church does or teaches something that is not in accordance with what the Scripture teaches (using a normal hermeneutic), then I must respond accordingly and confront or leave. The authority lies in the Scripture — Paul even recognized that fact in Galatians 1. He told the Galatians that even if he preached another gospel, to let him be accursed. According to the apostle himself, even his own teachings must be held up to the light of previous revelation.

    Rob’s chapter and NT’s article both attack a normal, literal hermeneutic. As Henry pointed out, if they are right, then the common man has no idea how to read the Bible correctly.

    As far as BW3’s review, his post was most certainly positive overall. However, he points out what I would call some serious flaws in research and understanding. If Bell is reading post AD 70 Jewish traditions into the NT, then no wonder his interpretations of Jesus’ teachings are so shocking at times —

    As far as the Catholic church being dead wrong on “a lot of stuff,” can we just be specific and say the Catholic church gets the gospel completely wrong and theologically conservative evangelicals really struggle on being consistently biblical on a a variety of non-gospel, fringe issues (although, there are many liberal evangelicals that struggle with the gospel too!)?

  6. #6 by phil on July 16, 2007 - 4:22 pm

    I would agree that “the authority lies in the literal interpretation of the text”, although I think we need to ask like Wright is doing, why it is authoritative, and what that means. I don’t disagree with you when you say, “Bible is our sole authority on all issues of faith and practice.” The problem I see is that this doesn’t seem to be much more than a slogan for us. It seems like we would be much more honest to say “Luther’s or Calvin’s interpretation of the Bible is our sole authority on all issues of faith and practice.”

    Oddly enough, I see people like Wright trying to get back to normal hermaneutic (which in itself is a loaded phrase). I feel the Church has gotten sidetracked by so many issues that we really miss the forest for the trees. We argue over things like evolution and homosexual marriage, but neglect the things the Bible says that we don’t like. If the Bible is authoritative, we need to submit to it, not bash people with it.

    Honestly, when I read Velvet Elvis a few years ago, I liked it, and I thought Bell had good insights, but nothing was shocking to me. My wife’s reaction was nearly identical to mine, same with some other pastor friends of mine. We actually recommended to like everyone we know. I was shocked a few months later when I started seeing the critics on the internet. It is possible that we are all stupid, I guess, but I just don’t see the supposed problems. I come from a Pentecostal tradition, and I’m definitely not a Calvinist (actually probably the furthest thing from it), so I was probably gone from the get go.

  7. #7 by clearly on July 16, 2007 - 9:04 pm

    “Bible is our sole authority on all issues of faith and practice.”


    “Luther’s or Calvin’s interpretation of the Bible is our sole authority on all issues of faith and practice.”

    If something I believe from the Bible lines up with Calvin or Luther, then great. Often times, it does. Often times, it doesn’t. For instance, I don’t believe in baby baptism (we aren’t going to start a discussion on this…:)). Luther and Calvin did. I believe in baptism by immersion for believers only.

    “I feel the Church has gotten sidetracked by so many issues that we really miss the forest for the trees. We argue over things like evolution and homosexual marriage, but neglect the things the Bible says that we don’t like. If the Bible is authoritative, we need to submit to it, not bash people with it.”

    The Bible clearly addresses the topics of marriage and creation. Marriage is for men and women. God created the world. The Bible also says to rebuke “teachers” who don’t believe the Bible. If we really want to obey it all, then sometimes we have to rebuke people. I’m not for bashing anyone — unless of course, talking to them about their lack of truth is bashing.

    Calvinism has nothing to do with this. I haven’t mentioned election or predestination one time. Further, I am not even a Calvinist!

    Phil, this has nothing to do with your intelligence. But, it does have to do with biblical discernment. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing. There are a lot of pastors who read Joel Osteen and then recommend him or else he wouldn’t sell any books. There are tons of pastors who read Jakes and recommend him as well. Are they stupid? No. They just need someone to drag some of these ideas through a fine sift.

  8. #8 by Phil on July 17, 2007 - 6:12 am

    I think that I may have drifted from the original subject of this post. Getting back to Bell’s view of the Scriptures, I think the way you are approaching them is just fundamentally different than the way he is advocating. It seems that you are approaching the Scriptures looking for absolute clarity on given subjects, in the sense of, “what does the Bible say about this”. Bell and Wright seem to be approaching it asking the question, “how did God work through these people at this time and place, and what does that mean to us now?”. There is overlap in those two questions, but there is also bound to be areas of difference.

    Five to ten years ago, my view would have been much closer to yours. I would argue with non-Christian friends about things that were in the Bible, and give proofs for the Bible, but in the end it made little difference I found. I wasn’t letting the Word change me. I was using it as a resource book for my arguments, not as the story of God’s heart toward humanity. I’m not saying you are doing this at all. I also think there is potential danger in how we approach the Bible. You think Bell’s way is dangerous, but I think the opposite has the potential to be more dangerous.

    By the way, I’m not a fan of Osteen or Jakes, either. They seem to be way off-track to me. Jakes is at least entertaining to listen to, but Osteen’s success is a mystery to me.

  9. #9 by clearly on July 17, 2007 - 6:37 am


    I am by no means an expert on hermeneutics or Biblical authority, but….I don’t think someone has to be to get this.

    I believe that the Bible does address specific topics. However, the Bible is also divinely inspired literature written to specific people at specific times by specific, God-lead authors. I don’t just try to glean “what does the Bible say about this?” out of the Scriptures. It is my effort (and almost every faithful Bible teacher I know) to approach the Scripture, trying to find out what it meant to the original audience in the original context in the original language. That’s exegesis. When applying the proper exegesis to today life — application —- it’s our goal to recreate the scenario in modern day. Applications change, but the Word doesn’t. Does that makes sense?

    So does the Bible address things like homosexuality? of course and God we learn that God absolutely hates it. Does the Bible address pride? Yes, God hates that too! However, the Bible also offers a snapshot into the mind and life of a man who is really struggling to trust God. The Bible also beautifully tells the story of the first Christians and how they interacted with the world around them, etc.

    I really feel that in your above post, you really put my understanding of Scripture in a little box…

    But thanks for your interaction nonetheless…

  10. #10 by Todd on July 17, 2007 - 6:45 am

    A word to “interpretation”–Bell’s point of view in his “Velvet Elvis” about how every reading of the Scriptures is an interpretation is legitimate. It’s just not very well clarified (Bell has some neat ideas, he just doesn’t always do the greatest job of explaining them and has a tendency to pick very bad examples).

    The thing here is language isn’t the cleanness communications-medium. Language always requires interpretation, there is no ‘literal’ meaning. Words are tools used as triggers to communicate ideas. Literal meaning would be only a reaction to the word itself, rather than it as a tool–‘literally’ then words are noises.

    (There are a lot of examples of this in linguistics, I’d rather not get too bog-downed with them, but one could be for instance the picture you get in your head when I say ‘house’ compared to the picture that’s generated in my head. If you want further examples, I’ll supply: this is a fairly big topic in linguistics today.)

    Phrases are, therefore, formed by their context. (Here is part of the problem with reading something someone has said: we’re removed from the context–it’s hard to understand the emotion of the context.) Not only are phrases formed by their context, but also they are formed by the mind receiving or sending the phrase. My experiences, my education, my circumstances color what is here written; your experiences, your education, your circumstances also color what is here written. Perhaps there is an overlap, perhaps not–this is why discussion is so important; through discussion we can come to an agreement on meaning. Naturally this is especially important when it comes to the Church: we need to create a discussion rather than throwing words and opinions at each other.

    Due to this contextual coloring, a big question to me is what a literal interpretation of the Bible even means? If we think that everyone is immediately able to understand the Word, ‘literal interpretation’ may imply the first interpretation or understanding that comes to mind. Of course that may or may not be a ‘correct’ understanding of the text.*** Jesus’ words, Paul’s letters, the actions of the Early Church are formed by a context which is not always obvious to our modern minds. This means, for us to properly understand what’s going on, we need to do a little research of the way words are being used, the history, etc (here is where the modern Biblical Criticisms of the post-war German Theologians come in to play).

    Note that this is the process of a sermon or a lesson on a Biblical passage. We read the text, we look at what those words meant at that time, the context, the problem, etc., then we try to draw some Universal (or moral or message if you will), and then we apply this Universal to the present audience.

    Sorry that this is so long. I’m curious to read a reaction. I appreciate the fairly peaceful, willing-to-listen atmosphere of the discussion between the two of you.

    ***For example, when a writer of the New Testament talks about the reliability of the Scriptures they, of course, originally meant The Hebrew Scriptures (and possibly The Gospel–that is the Oral Teaching of Jesus Christ). However, today when I read this stuff about the Scriptures in the NT, I first think of this ‘reliability’ being applied to the NT, which is not what was meant in the original framework–present scholarship on Canon Theory shows that NT books were not held originally on the same level as The Hebrew Scriptures nor The Oral Teaching of Jesus Christ.

  11. #11 by Phil on July 17, 2007 - 6:54 am

    It wasn’t my intention to “box you in”. I’m sorry if it came off that way. I just don’t think you’ve clearly refuted Wright’s article. Wright seems to be saying that we can’t just take the position that Scripture is authoritative because it says it is. That, to me, seems to be circular logic anyway. Why does the Scripture have authority then? It’s because it is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and it is a record, if you will, of the Spirit’s interaction with the people of God. Really when we say we submit to the authority of Scripture, we are submitting to the Authority of the Spirit.

    Even in trusting the canon of Scripture, we are saying we trusted the Spirit’s guidance of the “community”. To say we aren’t isn’t being intellectually honest. Sola Scriptura is fine as far as it goes, but we need to have a basis for it.

  12. #12 by Jeff on July 17, 2007 - 8:30 am

    I enjoyed your critique of Bell’s work. I read it about a year ago and was stopped dead, dumbfounded in the same chapter on biblical authority. I just couldn’t get past the creepiness of it.

    It seemed that Bell was, indeed, using Jewish sources to make the Bible irrelevant at worst and questionable at best. I thought to myself that his book oughta be rated a Christian PG-13 – not for reading for younger Christians, whom it might confuse.

    I think I understood what he was trying to say, and I appreciate his ministry, but it is the responsibility of Christian leaders such as Bell to write responsibly and to further consider the negative impact that his conjectures might have, especially in a book marketed in the way it was – to the Christian general public.

    Thanks for the review.

  13. #13 by clearly on July 17, 2007 - 10:31 am


    “A word to “interpretation”–Bell’s point of view in his “Velvet Elvis” about how every reading of the Scriptures is an interpretation is legitimate.”

    We have to process what we read…but language is the primary God established form of communication. He spoke to Adam and Eve in the garden — at times throughout history, God would appear and speak to prophets and apostles through spoken word — through language, with the intention that they would understand (although some times, Jesus spoke in parables to conceal truth from unbelieving hearts). In this age, I don’t believe that God speaks in audible voices. However, he has given us the Scriptures, which, because they are God-breathed and because God is sovereign, convey the exact spiritual truth that we need to know God properly. The Bible is authoritative because it was breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16-16) and it is alive and powerful (Hebrews 4:12). The authority must lie in the words, their origin is God…

    You wrote, “This means, for us to properly understand what’s going on, we need to do a little research of the way words are being used, the history, etc (here is where the modern Biblical Criticisms of the post-war German Theologians come in to play).”

    I agree that research must be done in the cultural and linguistic setting of the original writers and audience. However, if there is ever an apparent contradiction, I side with the Bible, not my feeble attempts at research. That’s the problem with the so called German intellectuals — they, like many emergents, reject the authority and inspiration of the text.

    You said,
    “For example, when a writer of the New Testament talks about the reliability of the Scriptures they, of course, originally meant The Hebrew Scriptures (and possibly The Gospel–that is the Oral Teaching of Jesus Christ).”

    That’s fair. When Paul spoke of “all scripture being breathed out by God,” he was speaking primarily of the OT, but keep in mind that at least three of the gospel accounts were probably already written at that point (2 Timothy was Paul’s last letter before his execution). Also, I find it interesting that Peter recognizes Paul’s writings as being Scripture and therefore authoritative. If Paul says that all Scripture is authoritative and then Peter says that Paul’s writings are Scripture, then you do the math. Maybe I am missing what you are trying to say.

  14. #14 by clearly on July 17, 2007 - 10:35 am

    Phil, you wrote,

    “Wright seems to be saying that we can’t just take the position that Scripture is authoritative because it says it is. That, to me, seems to be circular logic anyway. Why does the Scripture have authority then? It’s because it is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and it is a record, if you will, of the Spirit’s interaction with the people of God.”

    You say that the Scripture is authoritative because it is inspired by the Holy Spirit. I would argue that you cannot know this apart from 2 Timothy 3!

  15. #15 by clearly on July 17, 2007 - 10:38 am

    Jeff, thanks for the kind comments.

    I agree — so-called Christian leaders must write responsibility and not confuse young and non-Christians with confusing the terms.

    This material in the hands of a baby Christian can only lead to disaster, as they do not have their spiritual discernment senses developed yet.

    Thanks brother.

  16. #16 by Phil on July 17, 2007 - 10:58 am

    Again, you are entering into a circular argument then. We know the Holy Spirit is real because of His witness in our hearts. It seems odd to me that we could just accept something as authoritative because it says it is.

    It would be like President Bush saying he is the president just because he says he is the president. He has the authority of the president because of the constitution.

    In a sense the only absolute external authority is God. Now we can correctly say God expresses that authority through Scripture, but to say Scripture is authoritative because it says it is seems to fail a logical test.

    Christians have seen that Scripture is trustworthy and testifies to reality throughout the years, and it is because of the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives that they submit to Scripture. If we try to make people submit to Scripture before they are Christians, it is putting the cart before the horse.

    I’m not trying to be difficult, I’m just trying to flush out exactly why you’re criticizing Wright (and Bell) about.

  17. #17 by clearly on July 17, 2007 - 11:10 am

    Phil, you wouldn’t have salvation apart from the Word of God. If you don’t have salvation, then you don’t have the Holy Spirit. If you don’t have the Holy Spirit, you cannot discern spiritual truth. Furthermore, you would have no concept of the Holy Spirit apart from the Word — it’s foundational to every Christian discussion in this age.

  18. #18 by Phil on July 17, 2007 - 11:24 am

    The Holy Spirit exists outside of Scripture. I don’t really understand how you can say He doesn’t. I’ve heard all kinds of stories of people who have felt the Holy Spirit’s conviction without any knowledge of Scripture. I mean how do we explain Abraham, Moses, and the host of other OT characters that existed prior to Scripture being written?

    You seem to be speaking from a Cessationalist perspective, which is going to limit the amount to which we agree. I believe God still speaks today, and He is active. Scripture guides us and I don’t believe God will tell people to do something that is contrary to Scripture.

    I think you are avoiding the question of “where does Scriptural authority come from” still. I believe that if an unbeliever reads the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit will open his eyes to the truth. To say that Scriptures stand purely by themselves is something is hard for me to grasp.

  19. #19 by clearly on July 17, 2007 - 11:33 am


    I still don’t think are treating my arguments with fairness. I never said the Holy Spirit doesn’t exist apart from Scripture. I simply said that you would have zero knowledge that it was actually the Holy Spirit, unless you the read the Word.

    Of course the Holy Spirit still works — but does God still speak to people in audible voices? I argue not, but of course, I am a cessationist.

    Scriptural authority comes from God because the Scriptures are a divine product whereby God breathed out words and bore along the authors as they wrote. However, we would have no knowledge of this apart from reading the Scripture. Call it circular if you want, but that’s what we have to go on…

  20. #20 by Phil on July 17, 2007 - 11:49 am

    I feel this is probably just another in the list of things on which we probably will never see eye to eye on, so we probably should not argue anymore over it. I think it is good and admirable that want to pursue the truth like you do, so please don’t take my questions as personal attacks.

    Just out of curiosity, I know you said that you don’t believe the God speaks audibly today, but do you believe that the Holy Spirit still speaks to people “silently” or in any way today?

  21. #21 by clearly on July 17, 2007 - 12:21 pm

    God’s Spirit “speaks” or works today, yes. However, He only does this in accordance with other revealed truth; His working never contradicts Scripture.

    I agree that we aren’t getting anywhere. I am glad that we were able to keep this discussion within the realms of Christian civility and grace. Thanks

  22. #22 by Todd on July 17, 2007 - 1:47 pm

    What I meant with the comment about “a writer of the New Testament talks about the reliability of the Scriptures they, of course, originally meant The Hebrew Scriptures” is that the text of the New Testament has been reinterpreted from its original meaning, so that within Scripture the entirety of our New Testament today is included.

    (The Gospel was originally meant as an oral teaching of Christ’s life and ministry, not as a written book. Scripture (in some sense at those times) meant not only what was written, but was said–the Targum for example. In such a sense the Scripture of the New Testament has been around longer than its books themselves.)

    Briefly to the German circle, I meant more the importance of Form Criticism, Redaction Criticism, etc.; the way the German circle used them was silly, however, they have since been used in a much different manner, not rejecting the authority of the text.

    The authority is not so much in the words, as the authority is in God–it’s the meaning behind the words that is authoritative. (I believe this is what Phil is also saying.) May sound like the same thing, but not necessarily so. A difference in interpretation may be allowable (perhaps even needed) for different members of the Body of Christ to fulfill their roles. Of course, here dialog is important. We need to struggle over passages with each other, not just by ourselves.

    We are not whole without our Brothers and Sisters in Christ. I once heard Christians described as facets of Christ, meaning once we are in His Kingdom, each one of us will be able to worship Him in a way that no other will be able, and yet we are all bound together as these facets are bound together in His Person. This may sound off the subject, but what I mean to say or illustrate is Diversity as a Unity in Christ. With such an image we can see that differences in interpretation may not be such a big deal and possibly in the long run are actually not different viewpoints. God is too big for our small minds and its dimensions.

    Not sure what you meant by “if there is ever an apparent contradiction, I side with the Bible”–contradiction in what?

  23. #23 by phil on July 17, 2007 - 5:36 pm

    I was just looking at some Rich Mullins stuff online and I found this quote by him that pretty sums up my feelings on this issue better than I could:

    “I think if we were given the Scriptures, it was not so that we could prove that we were right about everything. If we were given the Scriptures, it was to humble us into realizing that God is right, and the rest of us are just guessing.”

  24. #24 by clearly on July 17, 2007 - 10:06 pm


    The point of specific revelation is primarily relational — it’s so humans can understand who God is. Creation teaches that God is, but it is insufficient in bringing about a spiritual relationship. I think Mullins is missing it — we were given the Scriptures so that we don’t have to guess about who God is. Is God greater than can be expressed by words? Yes. Is God sovereign enough to give us the exact knowledge, description of God that we need in order to know him properly? I think so.

    My point is not to prove that I’m right about everything. For instance I can honestly admit that my soteriology has holes and I have little clue what I believe on church polity. Furthermore, I will never be able to grasp how God can be sovereign and man can still have choice. I’m not trying to be the one that is right on everything. However, we do have the Scriptures so that we can prove when others are clearly mistaken (just read the pastoral epistles). I feel that Rob and Wright are missing it — thus, my response.

  25. #25 by clearly on July 17, 2007 - 10:11 pm


    You said, “The authority is not so much in the words, as the authority is in God–it’s the meaning behind the words that is authoritative. ”

    I don’t understand the distinction. 2 Timothy 3:16 clearly teaches that God breathed out the Scriptures. They are a divine product! God chose to communicate via words — words which convey meaning. The whole argument comes back to this — it seems like you are placing God in opposition to the Word. Nobody disagrees that God is the authority — however, we can’t know who this authority is apart from revelation. Revelation has to be authoritative. That’s like saying that a king’s laws aren’t the authority, the King is!

  26. #26 by Todd on July 18, 2007 - 12:38 am

    I’m starting to run in a course that’s narrowing my viewpoint into something it’s not; hopefully the following will be more what I actually think than just abstractions.

    I’m not placing God in opposition to the Word; at least, that’s not my intention. I don’t disagree with the Scriptures being a “Divine Product” — though I think I picture it differently.

    In saying, ‘the authority is not so much in the words, as the authority is in God — it’s the meaning behind the words that is authoritative’ I don’t mean to say that the words aren’t authoritative, but rather that they get their authority from something else. True we can’t know Who this Authority is without Revelation; however, if I were not a Christian, I would not accept the Revelation as authoritative first. I would accept Jesus Christ as the Authority, because of this acceptance, I would then accept the Word as Authoritative.

    I am saying that “the king’s laws aren’t authoritative, unless the king is.” (Which if you water down, I suppose it is “like saying that a king’s laws aren’t the authority, the king is.”) The only reason that law can be authoritative is if an actual person stands behind them, that has the Right to enforce them, which also means this person has the right to forgive the enforcement of the law. We are to live by the Spirit not by the Letter.

  27. #27 by Todd on July 18, 2007 - 3:56 am

    Dave, I didn’t realize until this afternoon what you actually meant with “then you do the math” when you were talking about Peter recognizing Paul as Scripture. Here might be a fundamental reason why we’re having trouble understanding each other: Dating and Authorship. II Peter is generally dated long after the death of Paul and any of his letters; meaning Peter didn’t write it, meaning someone else later in the history of the Early Church is referring to Paul as Scripture. (I don’t see this as a bad thing, it only helps us to see the process of Canonization.)

    Have you done much reading/research on the Development of the New Testament Canon? This might put things in a different light for you. F.F. Bruce’s “Canon of Scripture” is highly regarded, as well as, Bruce Metzger’s “The Canon of the New Testament.”

  28. #28 by clearly on July 18, 2007 - 8:34 am


    You are right. We disagree on authorship issues. As far as I know every Greek manuscript reads, συμεων πετρος . Therefore, I have no reason to question the Petrine authorship of 2 Peter.

    Bruce and Metzger are fine scholars (and I have read Bruce’s commentaries and a little of Metzger, but not enough to discuss), but regardless of their scholarship, I cannot believe that pseudonymity would have been accepted by any Christian audience since as a general rule, honesty is a Christian virtue.

    I would side with conservative scholarship and be more in line with this article.

    As far as I’m concerned our discussion is only confirming my problems with Bell’s chapter — it’s theological liberalism in a new cover. I stand with the fundamentalists of old.

  29. #29 by Todd on July 18, 2007 - 9:26 am

    Pseudonyms are a funny thing. A lot of people have talked about it representing a school of thought, so the Pauline School’s head at the time would write under the name Paul, likewise for the Johannine School, Petrine School, etc. It’s an idea; not sure how much trust to throw behind it.

    Authorship may not be so important though — this is where Authority is important. The text is authoritative, because it gets its Authority from God. (As said earlier.)

    I’d be careful with saying things like “as fas as I know every Greek manuscript reads, συμεων πετρος.” Most manuscripts are not complete and Greek New Testaments are constantly being revised (that is considering all the new manuscripts we have — remember that they all aren’t identical), but also the idea of titles was different then that is now (another thing Metzger handles).

    On the side: Didn’t realize you were doing this, but criticizing a book chapter by chapter before you’re finished with the whole book may not be the best method. You might want to get the whole picture first, then criticize away.

  30. #30 by Pastor Ken Silva on July 18, 2007 - 9:50 am


    “The authority is not so much in the words, as the authority is in God–it’s the meaning behind the words that is authoritative.”

    When Todd writes this he shows the influence of neo-orthodoxy and Karl Barth which teaches that the Scriptures become the Word of God as the Holy Spirit illuminates the reader.

    The way Dr. Walter Martin summed up Barth is helpful: “The Bible is a mailbox where we receive messages from Heaven.” This is backward, the Scripture IS the Message from Heaven though as Christians we are still illuminated by God the Holy Spirit.

    F.F. Bruce did not reject Peter as the author of 2 Peter, and as far as I know, neither did Metzger completely rule it out.

    Frankly Origen, who was a lot closer to the issue than either of those two guys, only acknowledged some questions others had raised concerning authorship. Since he didn’t even bother trying to refute those speculations it says to me that he didn’t think it worthy of his time.

    And Dave, you say of Rob Bell’s musings: “it’s theological liberalism in a new cover. I stand with the fundamentalists of old.”

    Let me commend you in the Lord my wise young brother because this is exactly what it is.

  31. #31 by clearly on July 18, 2007 - 12:09 pm

    First to Todd,

    “I’d be careful with saying things like “as fas as I know every Greek manuscript reads, συμεων πετρος.” Most manuscripts are not complete and Greek New Testaments are constantly being revised…”

    Could you provide me with an example of a manuscript of any Petrine literature which (if containing the beginning of the book) leaves out the name Simon Peter? My point is this: If the author under inspiration of the Holy Spirit says that he is Peter, then he is Peter. God is not about causing confusion. If he were representing a school of thought, he would say I am of Peter (similar to the whole 1 Corinthians thing). Our views of inspiration and innerancy are quite different…we start at the Scripture with a different reference frame.

    Ken, your comments are always encouraging to me. Thanks!

  32. #32 by clearly on July 18, 2007 - 12:13 pm


    Oh and as far as my method of critique goes, for some people it won’t matter how wrong Bell’s teachings are and it won’t matter how clearly I measure them against Scripture, they will still defend him…no matter how I go about critiquing.

  33. #33 by Todd on July 18, 2007 - 12:39 pm

    You’re entitled to you opinion — the both of you. I’m fine with that. Just trying to get another viewpoint.

    Ken, I really don’t appreciate being boxed in as category-x. You’d be better off dealing with people, rather than categorizing people under some idea and writing that idea off. Never been influenced by neo-orthodoxy, sometimes I just think.

    Dave, the reference frame is different, you’re right. I suppose we should leave it at that. I appreciate that you’re civil; I encourage you to continue with that spirit. I do think you should reconsider the process of critiquing. People will defend Bell, but you offer more in the dialog/debate if you’re honest about your methods. Critiquing a book, before you’ve finished makes it look like you’ve gone in and read the book with some sort of motive — an open-mind at the beginning is very important for critiquing. And post-script I’m no Bell-adherent, was only looking for a discussion. It was good to chat.

  34. #34 by Pastor Ken Silva on July 18, 2007 - 1:54 pm


    The Lord be praised, I’m glad to be of service. 🙂

    And Todd,

    “Never been influenced by neo-orthodoxy, sometimes I just think.”

    Whatever “Christian” writers e.g. Rob Bell that you have read/been reading have influenced your thought via the neo-orthodoxy etc. they have injested.

    So whether you personally are aware of it or not is irrelevant to the fact that the view of Scripture you suggest is at best neo-orthodox.

  35. #35 by N.M. Owen on October 8, 2007 - 7:45 pm

    Raise your hand if you’re astounded by how perceptively Van Til saw all of this coming. Read “The New Modernism: An Appraisal of the Theology of Barth and Brunner.”

    VT said long ago that the theology which Evangelicals subscribe to could not weather the storm approaching. This will no doubt certainly upset Ev’s to hear, but facts are facts. Back of everything is epistemology, and the Ev’s have either A) not given it sufficient thought, or B) settled for a secular epistemology to undergird their faith. It’s said how people – in their philosophical ignorance – write that man off. We people of God tend to kill our prophets don’t we?

    Bell’s mystical nonsense is an outgrowth of dialectical theology… which is an outgrowth of the Church building the temple with Kant instead of with Christ.

    I mourn for my brothers, but I’m ready for the fight. I’m a redeemed sinner, and there is no bottomless noumenal ocean through which God must speak to reach us on our phenomenal island.
    God does not compete with possibility. His voice is clear… and literal.

    “Riding to the sound of the enemies guns.”
    (I love that… just picked it up.)
    N.M. Owen

  36. #36 by Cindy on October 26, 2007 - 10:55 pm

    My 17 year old son came home from youth group 2 years ago and said they watched a Nooma video for youth. He said,” I don’t know what it is mom, but the guy gave me a strange feeling and I really do not like the videos.” I tried to tell him to give them another chance and I watched one and didn’t think it was so bad. I also found that after watching it I really did not know what point he was trying to make. It seemed to say alot of nothing.
    My 15 year old daughter was at a youth conference this spring and picked up Velvet Elvis and was disturbed within her spirit at the things she was reading. She was shocked at how off the teaching seemed to be.

    I find it interesting how easily they both picked up that something was not right. This has caused us as a family to dig deeper into scripture and to become more aware of what we really do believe, so that we can answer people and show them the deception that is coming to the church.

  37. #37 by Romy on November 11, 2007 - 3:31 am

    Hi everyone. I would like to add to the conversation, but I fear I may offend some. For this purpose, I’ll keep my comments short and to the point. Here goes:

    I have been listening to Rob Bell for nearly 2 years now and have added just about everything he has to offer to our growing library of spiritual/religious materials.

    Having said that, I have found that many of those initial feelings many seem to have about Rob (judgements) come from a gut-visceral understanding of him rather than a study of his body of works.

    Although I feel no need to defend a man who is pursuing God in his own right (John 21: 21-22 says: When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”). That he is seeking out his Lord is a wonderful thing. Romans 14 would seem a fitting chapter to re-read here.

    My point is this… I enjoy Rob Bell’s teachings. I enjoy others as well. What I find most important however is this:

    I am more concerned about living out my orthodoxy (i.e. orthopraxy), than defending it. Christ did not defend himself with words… he proclaimed the truth by His actions. He loved unconditionally…

    Because Christ loves me (with all my faults), I am called to love others (with their faults). Not out of fear or repentence, but rather because I am humbled by Christ and willingly choose to follow Him.

    John 14:6-7 says, Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

    To me, I understand it to read that those who want to know God and be in relationship with Him must humble themselves and posture their hearts with love. Only with love in one’s heart can one truly enter relationship with anyone or anything. For me, only when I love (as Christ loved) do I find myself in relationship with my God.

    In conclusion, my orthodoxy calls me to Love God with all my strength, heart, mind and soul and to love my neighbors as myself.

    Because Christ loves me so perfectly, forgives me so often, and reminds me of His grace so undeniably… I want to follow Him and treat my neighbor the same. The gifts my Lord gives me, I lovingly offer to my neighbor… the saved and unsaved… the self-righteous and the humble… my enemy and my friend.

    PS: If Rob were trying to get me to trust in myself rather than in scripture, I would question that. Instead, he regularly invites me to look at scripture again as if to say… “Romy, are you sure you understand everything… or is there more to the story?” In which case, my closed mind is reopened and faith overtakes understanding.

    Mathew 7:7 says, Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

    So again, I ask and seek and knock. It is through this humble conversation with my Lord that I find myself “IN” relationship with Him… dwelling within the Kingdom here and now.

  38. #38 by Tim on January 25, 2008 - 9:58 pm

    Much of this fine discussion is way above my head. I’m not a student of textual criticism, so much of the what you all are discussion sound as greek to me as the original epistles.

    However, what I get from Rob Bell’s argument is that no one is out there taking scripture as it is. If there were, then we’d be greeting each other with holy kisses, and women’s heads would be covered, and we would meet everyday in our homes and go to the synagogues on Saturdays, and other such stuff.

    The reality is that we bring our biases to bear when we read it. We interpret it … or we allow others to interpret it for us.

    What does it mean? What did it mean for them then, and what does it mean for us now?

    If it means different things now than it did then, could it mean different things later than it does now?

    Should we keep revisiting our own scripture-reading biases?

    Rob’s answer appears to be yes. And I tend to agree with him.

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