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Rob Bell once questioned hell: Here’s why he is now taking aim at the Bible

In his 2011 book “Love Wins,” former pastor Rob Bell famously questioned the existence of hell. The bold move made him a pariah among some conservative Christians, but the furor catapulted the book onto the New York Times bestsellers list. Bell’s name did not grace that list again for the next six years despite publishing several books during that time.

But his newest book, “What is the Bible: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything,” was an instant New York Times bestseller and is being widely read and reviewed.

If you have not yet read it, this book is Rob Bell at his Rob Bell-iest: punchy, conversational, and riddled with provocative questions. What I admire most about this book is that it seems genuinely driven by Bell’s love for the Bible and his optimism about its transformative power and contemporary relevance. But there is a question about whether or not he is saying anything new here. The book basically attempts to popularize historical-critical approaches that have been utilized by Bible scholars for a century or so. (Bell admits as much below.) Still, many readers have never encountered such ideas and Bell’s style gives them a unique flare.

Here we discuss why he decided to write an entire book about Christians’ sacred scriptures.

RNS: What is the Bible in a sentence or in a short paragraph?

RB: It’s this library of books that sit in the middle of culture with this presumed familiarity. I love how Dallas Willard said, “Familiarity breeds unfamiliarity, and unfamiliarity breeds contempt.” You have so many people with such strong opinions about the bible, but when they talk about those opinions you find yourself thinking, “Have they read it?” At one level there is this library sitting right under the culture’s nose, but also it is such a better collection of books than anybody realizes.

Image courtesy of Harper Collins

RNS: I think a lot of Christians would agree with that. What are you saying that is new or provocative? What’s interesting about what you mean when you say that?

RB: I begin with the Bible as a collection of human books, so I begin with its humanity. Who was writing this? What was the world like at that time? What were the economics and politics? Were there any new technologies? In my observation a lot of religious people begin with, “This is God’s holy book. Why did God write it down this way?”, instead of, “This is a human book.” If you start there, it has all this room for doubt, and fear, and anger. It opens its arms wide to the full spectrum of the human experience, and I think that’s interesting.

RNS: Many who begin with the Bible as a work of divinity say that the Bible contains no contradictions because God can’t contradict God’s self. Do you agree with those beliefs?

RB: I actually think those are all the wrong discussions, because it’s not that kind of book. In the book I talk about these two passages where the one says, “God told David to take a census,” and the other passage says, “Satan incited David to take a census,” and this would be a classic example where somebody would say, “See? It completely contradicts itself.” And it does, unless you read it as an unfolding story and you realize that these two different passages were written at two different times, and they reflect a growing sophistication in thinking. Now we have something very interesting. We see that people were growing and evolving in their thinking about the divine. That’s a story that we are much more likely to find ourselves in.

RNS: But what about when the Bible says something miraculous happened. Are there instances where you think those events didn’t happen?

RB: I think sometimes you have history with some poetry, and sometimes you have poetry with some history. I think the better thing that’s happening underneath your question is that we moderns are obsessed with factual accuracy. We can be so obsessed with the facts that we miss what’s actually happening in the event. We have no idea what the story means. We just know that we got the right facts about it.

I would argue that the ancients were much more interested in what does the story mean. It doesn’t mean that they didn’t care about truth or details. They’re just telling the story like people told stories then. If you let it be what it was to those people, it has all sorts of power. It’s funny that people on Sunday nights gather to watch Game of Thrones, and no one ever says, “Hey, wait. Did this happen?” You know what I mean? Yet people are moved inspired by all kinds of stories.

RNS: But even your approach has some assumptions. If you’re trying to get at what the writers mean, then you have to assume that these writers have good motivations and aren’t trying to trick us or prop up a religious system or something. Is this right?

RB: I love that the world “Israel” means “struggle.” These stories come out of a tribe whose name is struggle. They’re struggling to understand fear, loss, betrayal, hope, money, power, empire, forgiveness. These writers were wrestling with whether the divine is on the side of the oppressed and whether history is headed somewhere good. I begin with the assumption that these people are wrestling through the things that we are wrestling with.

I know that that’s a very popular belief that the Bible’s writers are trying to deceive us or help keep the patriarchy or whatever. I totally get that. I’m sure there’s some of that, but at its core, I think these were people wrestling with the deepest questions of what it means to be human and whether we are alone and if this is all headed anywhere. I start with the good and go from there.

RNS: Here’s a big question: Is the Bible “inspired,” as many Christians believe?

RB: Well, obviously we have a thousand different definitions of what “inspired” means. I think these books are unique and inspired, and I think they attest to something at work in human history drawing the whole thing forward into greater unity and depth. I think that’s why these books have endured is because they speak to the deepest questions of human existence.

It’s interesting how people will nod their heads when somebody quotes Martin Luther King, who was quoting somebody else, about how the arc of the universe is long and bends towards justice. People will smile, and nod, and be moved by that. The Bible’s like 30,000 verses speaking to that idea. So often people will nod and affirm what they read there, too.

RNS: What about “inerrancy?” What do you say to people who believe the Bible is without error?

RB: I just always say I have a higher view of the Bible than that. To me, that’s what you argue about when you’ve already missed the point. Part of the problem is you have people spending all this energy trying to convince other people. That’s time you could spend actually reading it and getting caught up in it. I say, get out of the way and just let the Bible be the thing that has endured for all these years.

RNS: What do you say to people who have been harmed by the words in the Bible?

RB: Absolutely the Bible can be misused. It can be misquoted. It has been and is being used to justify all kinds of horrific behavior. What are the percentages on people who say that they’re Christians who voted for Trump? It’s crazy. There is something at the heart of my work that is rooted in trying to right a wrong and to call out an injustice, even when it comes to the Bible. These poems and letters and stories that have brought healing and hope and help. But they have become weapons of mass destruction for so many people.

RNS: It seems to me that what you’re saying is similar to the textual criticism that scholars have been doing for a long time. What is different about what you’re saying?

RB: I think millions of people who read the Bible aren’t aware of what you’re talking about. When I’ve shared this with people, they walk up and say, “How come nobody ever told me this? This is so much more interesting.” I’m passing this on in hopes that they see the Bible as more inspiring, personal, convicting, relevant, dangerous, subversive and a whole string of other adjectives.

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.

97 Comments

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  • A fiery never-ending torture – the ultimate manifestation of a loving and peaceful god. One of the few things I liked about Jehovah’s Witnesses was their lack of belief in a burning hell. I remember they had a pretty sound scriptual argument. Of course no burning hell would take the “fun” out of fundamentalism.

  • There’s a typo in the book title of Bell’s book. You use the word “Fell” when it’s supposed to be “Feel.”

  • Interesting news. Rob Bell is back on the big bestseller list, doing what he does best:
    feeding his own doubts and skepticisms about the Bible to multitudes of people. And doing so with enthusiasm.

    So Christians need to respond, calmly & caringly & clearly. It’s important.

    Let’s do Bell’s example. Did God push David into doing that census, or did Satan push David into doing it? Surely the Bible is contradictory there, right?

    Wrong. Bell is wrong about it. But how?

    Briefly, go right here. A 20-second answer, and it makes sense. Remember, the Bible is consistent & coherent, NOT contradictory.

    carm.org/bible-difficulties/joshua-esther/who-incited-david-count-fighting-men-israel-god-or-satan

  • The Bible is not contradictory only if you believe that, and have a mountain of hermeneutics to get you through the parts where it is.

    By twos or by sevens, ya know?

  • Fund-a-ism?
    Ya’ll came up with together? That’s pretty good. Hurts a little bit, but I’ll get over it when I quit laughing.

  • I read it and your right. David numbering his men makes complete sense now. I only have one question though. What does 1 Corinthians 10:13 mean?

  • Honestly, I have found that a person can knock out the majority of so-called “Bible Contradictions” with nothing more than a worm-eaten Wal-Mart Bible — IF one is willing to put some serious study on the gig when the skeptics make their move.

    Notice that the CARM guy, Matt Slick, was able to kill Rob Bell’s example quickly, using only the Bible itself, in plain English. No fancy “hermeneutics” needed. Watch out!!

    P.S….the skeptical “Two’s & Seven’s” objection has been Hydrogen-Bombed as well. Wanna see?

  • Sure, but if they did it the same way they hydrogened bombed the “how many people were at the tomb?” bit by saying “well, three includes one, doncha know” I’m just gonna laugh.

  • Great question. I remember the first time somebody showed it to me. Never seen it before.

    There was a Brand New Fresh Realization that God could and would clean me up and free me up from ALL my sins and messes. He knew about ALL my temptations, and none of them was His first rodeo. He promped a “way of escape” on all of them. I could finally escape my sin addictions.
    Freedom. Freedom!

    (They made me memorize it. I did.)

    See those first few words in that text. GJ? That’s astonishing stuff. Every single temptation you can think of, PERIOD, is actually common to humanity. To all of us.

    (Same-sex temptations too? Yes.)

    None of them are God’s first rodeo, God has made “a way of escape” for ALL of them, and HE custom-tailors every escape for EVERY person’s temptations, “feelings”, life situations, etc.

  • Unclean animals, two. Clean animals, seven; 3 mating pairs, number 7 for sacrifice after they disembark. Not contradictory at all; just mythology.

  • Of course it has contradictions. The writings started in the first millennium BC and ended around 100 AD written by dozens of men. Same reason they are scientifically and historically inaccurate. It’s to be expected, no shame in that.

  • I love Rob Bell. Love his humor and his depth. Can’t wait to read this book….. have ordered it and just waiting till it hits my mail box!!!

  • He said that. Maybe you didn’t understand? What SEEMS to be a contradiction, isn’t in light of historical arc. Stop dissing the guy, and write your own book! 🙂

  • Bad headline. I get that it might get you clicks “Bell doesn’t believe in the Bible now?!” but that’s not what is going on with this new book. Again and again Bell talks about how much he loves the Bible, how important it is to him and to the community which it shaped.

  • What makes you think that secular historians and scienctists are correct and the Bible is wrong?

  • There is very little external evidence for much of the historical claims in the Bible and some events have external proof that they likely didn’t occur as recorded. There is overwhelming scientific evidence contradicting Genesis. My favorite is god stopping the Sun for Joshua. That shows they believed (as most did) that it was the Sun moving and not Earth. God would have had to stop the Earth from rotating and that would have been catastrophic. I started out believing (or trying to) the Bible and ended up having to reject it.

  • Acts 4:27-28 is one of the verses used in the link you provided. If God is going to use man’s sin to accomplish His will the obvious question then is, how can one have an escape from temptation. You bother with the answer if you like, or you can skip ahead to my follow up question. Do you get anything out of reading the Bible that way?

  • What a rotten title for the article. “Takes aim at the Bible” sounds like he is attacking it. Nothing could be further than the truth. Thank you, Rob Bell, for writing this helpful, captivating adventure!

  • Interesting suggestion there at the end, Tracy. Also I saw your other post; I’ll probably look at the Willard youtube.

    But having said that, I did carefully read Bell’s explanation, and there’s no doubting Bell’s doubts.

    Bell clearly agreed that the “Incite David” text “completely contradicts itself”, unless you do an approach that **automatically denies** the historical accuracy and trustworthiness of the biblical events reported. That’s no good, Tracy.

    (In fact, Bell’s approach sounded much like a “Documentary Hypothesis” Casserole, straight from the skeptical oven.)

    So it’s not about dissing Bell. It’s about helping people to see that the Bible doesn’t contradict itself, and is historically reliable & trustworthy.

  • Science builds airplanes. Religion never built an airplane. Though it did have some flying men, religion has, however, flown airplanes into buildings, accused innocent women of flying on broomsticks, and frequently flown in the face of common sense.

  • I don’t want to compare Rob Bell the person to Einstein the person, but there is a similarity in that relativity changed how the physical world was understood. I see a space where understanding can happen. It is not a physical space, in a sense it is a ‘spiritual’ space in that no walls define it but it exsists in time. Relativity was and is a space to understand what has always been. It doesn’t explain the space that it is in if that makes any sense, but that place exsists. Another example of that space is after ww II. You have men who fought on both sides of the war who hated each other, but years later attitudes change and they share meals together. There is a place that that happens in and it is not just the passing of time that makes that happen. Race relations in this country have had plenty of time for attitudes to change. That ‘spiritual’ place, in my opinion, has been slow to be built, that is, time is too long and progress is too short to explain where we are at in this area.
    I think it is interesting that Jesus found it necessary to teach with parables instead of from what we would call the scripture of his day. He taught in word pictures. You saw attitudes in people, and at work in the people, and it forced you to put a face on the people. A conservative scripture skeptic, can refute anything that comes their way, especially if it is coming from a person like Jesus in the first or twenty first century. Their credibility will be called to question.
    Staying very generic here, Jesus taught how to build a ‘spiritual’ space that would bring about some new understanding when it came to different people. Like physical science I don’t think anything new will be invented, I think we will just better understand what has always been going on around us. Their will be ‘spiritual’ skeptics, I would call them them ‘conservative science skeptics’, and ‘conservative scripture’ skeptics’, and they will remain in the space they occupy now. That ‘space’ will grow smaller as this other ‘space’ grows.

  • Began typing a reply for you on this one, but needing to spend the rest of the night on another matter.
    Thanks for asking both questions, they are important. My post will essentially reply to both of them at the same time. Please check back tomorrow especially.

  • Like I suggested earlier, Bell IS enthusiastic about it. Can’t disagree with your last sentence.

    It’s just that Bell has gotten badly bogged down with the skeptical religion, no joke.
    The scholarly skeptical challenges have sown seeds of doubt and skepticism in Bell’s mind, and caused him to disbelieve the Bible’s historical and doctrinal trustworthiness.
    He no longer believes in the Bible’s accuracy & authority & infallibility. Bell doesn’t really agree with Christ’s view of Scripture such as in John 10:35 (“unbreakable”, “the word of God”).

    He is still enthusiastic about the Bible and still gifted, but now he’s full of doubt & skepticism too. The skeptical seeds (more accurately, weeds) have taken root. So now he has indeed “Taken aim at the Bible”, as the RNS headline said. That’s just the honest truth.

  • I have just started reading his book. It’s a bit lighter than most of what I tend to read, but he has some good points so far. I think Bell does take a more lighter approach to reach non believers, and his book is one I would probably give to an unbelieving friend to get them interested. Re the contradictions. They add to the validity of scripture and the bible does disagree with itself. Of course it does because different people wrote it! Solomon says he who finds a wife finds a good thing. Paul says He who marries does not sin, but he’s signed up for a life of pain. Those are contradictory thoughts. I would really recommend you listen to Shane. I have sent you the link. He’s awesome. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyOWg6dzYL8

  • If nothing else, Rob Bell makes you think. Even if you don’t agree with him there is nothing wrong with challenging what you believe and why you believe it – so many people just parrot what they’ve been told by other people but when their faith is challenged they have no idea how to defend it because they’ve never really thought about it they’ve just repeated what other people have told them they must think and have been made to fear if they dared think anything differently or questioned what they believe. I work with young people and I can tell you it’s going to be a challenge in the future keeping them in the faith – they have so little critical thought about anything that has to do with faith – they just parrot what someone else has told them and have no idea how to defend their faith, it quickly crumbles when challenged – many just reject out right in the end. I honestly think reading a book like Rob Bell’s and perhaps reading CS Lewis’s “Mere Christianity” would be a good combination to really dig into the questions we have about our faith in the Bible and what it all means. I grew up in a very fundamental type faith and never really thought much about what I believed – over the years I’ve dug deeper in the Bible, questioned, and listened to many different opinions – my Faith is stronger today because of that and I have a deeper and closer relationship with God because I’m not so fearful of all of the “what if’s” – I came to understand the simplicity of the gospel of Jesus Christ and quit worrying about the small details that sometimes don’t make sense – but they don’t have to make sense because they don’t change the simple truth of the gospel. We Christian sometimes spend so much time on all of the questions and things we don’t understand about the Bible and the little details that are confusing but we lose sight of the 10,000 foot view which is simple – God made man, man sinned, man struggled throughout the entire Old Testament to bridge the gap between us and God with works and sacrifices, God remedied that in the New Testament by sending his son Jesus Christ to die for our sins and show us how to live. Simple.

  • Science builds nothing. Neither does religion fly planes. People, of all religious and philosophical stripes, do those things. My husband is religious; he designs airplane components, and painstakingly analyzes and evaluates components designed by others, and flies out frequently to supervise intensive testing of those components to ensure that systems don’t fail and planes don’t fall out of the sky and kill people as they sit staring at their little screens and posting and re-posting tired cliches and anti-christian bigotry for hours on the internet. You’re welcome.

  • Jews replaced sacrifices with prayer, study and good deeds. I think that works and it doesn’t need to be remedied.

  • “What are the percentages on people who say that they’re Christians who voted for Trump? It’s crazy.” I had very little respect for Bell before he basically asserts that Christians who voted from Trump are crazy, but that he thinks Clinton was a better choice makes me not respect him at all now. I and my very conservative Evangelical church going family proudly voted for Trump. It’s a badge of honor if Bell thinks we’re crazy. MAGA!!!

  • By the way…

    Funny, I didn’t mention Christianity. Just religion. The same religions that you routinely denounce yourself, as do so many Good Christians (TM) on these very pages. now THERE is your mention of Christianity, so you may successfully label me an anti Christian today, but only today…

    But I do notice you are becoming increasingly thin skinned about it. But never thin skinned about the routine denunciations of so many of your fellow travelers. It’s almost as if you are not as compassionate and broad minded as you seem to think.

    Almost.

  • Mostly physics. The uncovering of the laws of which (as well as all the natural sciences) was regarded by the father of the scientific method, Francis Bacon, as a form of worship and Christian service.

  • “But I do notice you are becoming increasingly thin skinned about it.” Not a bit. Accusations of bigotry bother me not at all, for the word has very little meaning at this point — and in case you haven’t noticed, it has gone a long way toward sinking your political party. It is liberal and atheist hypocrisy that is the funny here. It is too entertaining to be allowed to pass unnoticed.

    “But never thin skinned about the routine d unciations of so many of your fellow travelers.” Well, as we all know and you have repeatedly demonstrated, the propriety of such “denunciations” hinge solely upon whether or not they come from one possessing the requisite views on homosexuality, so I will let you worry about it.

  • I read the Bible in a literary way. As a result i see the Bible as presenting a number of false ideas about God, denying them, and then moving on to better ideas about God. Ideas about God are also ideas about how humans should understand themsleves and related to others. The first false idea about God: The God of Eden,the God who puts aide the gift of human freedom, who takes agency away form humanity (represented by the literary fictional icons of Adam and Eve), who does everything for sybaritic Adam and Eve, who makes them childishly dependent, who claims the right to be the only agent on the scene. Fortunately Eve and Adam rebel, eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and take on the respnsibility of moral reasoning and decision making. They decide to become adults.

  • How can a guy who knows nothing about Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic be in any way qualified to write a book on what the Bible really should mean? You cant be an expert on a book when you have never read save for some translation, which is, an interpretation.

  • So, bible verse A (“God told David to take a census”) and bible verse B (“Satan incited David to take a census”) are just “two different passages … written … (to) reflect a growing sophistication in thinking … about the divine”? Or do you mean, “about the (anti) divine”, Rob Bell and Jonathan Merritt? But wait, “Satan” doesn’t even exist and isn’t even real for you guys, though, right? Sounds like much ado about nothing after all, then; this entire book, I mean. Oh, right, right, right, as per that spoil alert at the intro: “The book basically attempts to popularize historical-critical approaches that have been utilized by Bible scholars for a century or so.” Yeah, but let’s not forget that it was the same one “century or so” later that brother Rob Bell got converted by them good ol’ “historical-critical approaches” to what I’d like to call the holey bible, for being, let’s face it, a clerical invention that’s full of holes from the get-go. So, c’mon now, cut the newbie some slack for at least trying to catch up with the “historical-critical” pros and veterans while impressing them with all the damages he’ll do to you-know-who’s institution. He still has lots of post-white conservative Evangelical axes to grind yet, you see. Like he said, “There is something at the heart of my work that is rooted in trying to right a wrong” – namely, the “wrong” that is white conservative Evangelicals – all 81% of them, to be exact, “the percentages on people who say that they’re Christians who voted for Trump”. See that? Didn’t I tell you?

  • Okay, thanks for your inquiry GJ. It’s not a “bother” to me to answer Bible-related questions. (In fact, I like it a lot.) Here’s Acts 4:27-28:

    27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.
    28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.

    You asked, “If God is going to use man’s sin to accomplish His will…(then) how can one have an escape from temptation”? Also, “Do you get anything out of reading the Bible this way?” This post responds to both questions.

    There is no contradiction between Acts 4:27-28 and 2 Cor 10:13.
    God doesn’t take away your free-will power to make moral & spiritual choices. ALL of the conspirators in Acts 4:27, had 100-percent free-will power to choose. They freely chose to do a great evil, but they didn’t have to.

    But God’s got free-will too, and HIS free-will and loving-kindness is so extreme, so powerful, so caring, so invincible, a million chess moves ahead of anything that humans may choose to do, that HE can turn the worst possible sinful human deeds, and cause the situation to ultimately come out for good.

    And He accomplishes all this, without removing ANY of your free-will, at all.

    “…It is true, the Potter has power over the clay to do with it as He pleases (Romans 9:21). Ultimately, God’s power of choice trumps man’s.” — John W. Ritenbaugh

    So that is what Acts 4:27-28 really means, GJ. That’s why Acts 4:27-28 does NOT contradict the great promise that God gives you in 2 Cor. 10:13.

  • This is a good example why one cannot rely upon the English language in any attempt to interpret anything in any of the books of either the Hebrew Bible or the Christian Bible (or any variation of either of them).

    First of all, “verse A”, as you call it, comes from Second Samuel 24, which was, in all likelihood, written in the 7th C BCE. “Verse B”, as you call it, comes from First Chronicles 21, which was probably written in the late 4th or early 3rd C BCE, or about 350 years after the Book of Samuel. So, the first thing to recognize is that the authors were very different people. Herman Melville was not Shakespeare, any more than the authors of the Book of Job were the authors of Genesis.

    Second, the Hebrew word satan (שׂטן) is not a proper name. It is not a personal name. It simply means “adversary” or, in some contexts, “accuser” or “opposer”, as in Numbers 22:22 where an angel of god stood in the path of Balaam as an adersary, or opposed Balaam on the path. In Job, “satan” is used with the definite article “ha” making “ha-satan”, indicating a title or role. This entity is one of god’s entourage, one who has been appointed to take the opposing side in an argument.

    Now in the Hebrew Bible, “satan” without the “ha-” occurs only a very few times. And in all of those instances, it simply means “adversary”, with the legal implications of “advocate” or “prosecutor”, and perhaps an adversary sent by god. This meaning, it should be noted, is consistent with the meaning of the cognate “shaitan” in Persian and Arabic.

    So, in Chronicles, it would be improper to translate “satan” as Satan or the Devil. More properly “an adversary/advocate incited David . . . .”

    Now, when DID the Hebrew “satan” begin to take on the meaning of an evil power fundamentally oppposed to the God of the Hebrews? The first instance in print appears to be in the Book of Enoch, which was never included in the canonical texts. Enoch was written over time, from the start of the 3rd C BCE to sometime in the 1st C BCE. While rejected by Judaism for a number of reasons, it is the source of the concept of fallen angels in Christianity, and various books of the New Testament make reference to it, and even quote it.

    And why did this concept come into being after 300 BCE? Because of the Alexandrian empire, which brought Hellenism to the lands of the Jews and which also brought Zoroastrianism, which included the concept of an evil divine entity, Angra Mainyu, that would oppose the good divine entity, Ahura Mazda, until the final battle to end time, in which Angra Mainyu would be defeated.

  • “Maga” in Russian can mean “possessed by a sorcerer”.

    (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

  • Paragraph 1: Again with I’m rubber and your glue. Very tiring,

    Paragraph 2: No, I’m an equal opportunity atheist. I routinely comment on Christians denouncing other Christians for not being the right sort of Christian, not because they are for or against homosexuality, but simply, you might say– well, you wouldn’t but I would– because they want to be real ducks about it,

    But hey! I’m always happy to be whatever straw an you need me to be.

  • Religion can be a comfort, but most often it’s used as an excuse for organized hatred and violence against harmlessly different victims.

  • C’mon Ben. You already know that the Documentary Hypothesis stuff is a lying LSD + PCP hallucination with crack-cocaine on top.

    You might as well be smoking Rat Poison instead of accepting the Doc Hyp — at least the Rat Poison would go easier on your brain cells!!

    Meanwhile, here is the correct (and brief) answer to the “Two’s & Seven’s” gig:

    https://carm.org/how-many-kinds-did-noah-bring-ark-two-or-seven

  • Now see, that’s why Judaism is nowhere near as strong and vibrant as it could be.

    What’s wrong with just accepting the historical and doctrinal texts of the Hebrew Bible as accurate and authoritative, consistent and coherent, non-contradictory?

    Why not accept the Hebrew Bible as “unbreakable” and “the word of God”, like Jesus did in John 10:35?

    Why not accept God, the One who gave us the Hebrew Bible, as utterly accurate and totally infallible, unchangeable and totally consistent?

  • Pfft. Don’t even bother trying make excuses for your hypocrisy. You’ve exposed it too many times to be taken seriously now.

  • Because I couldn’t believe it. I would reject that.

    There are Jews who believe that the Hebrew Bible is “infallible, unchangeable and totally consistent”, but even they believe that the literal meaning of the Bible is just the first level of interpretation. They would wonder why the Bible seems to contradict itself and they would come up with very interesting interpretations of that particular passage. That is what keeps Judaism strong and vibrant. Unfortunately, the Jewish education system is nowhere as good as it should be and many Jews never learn about it.

  • So, in other words, were really so much alike that the I’m rubber you’re glue defense makes perfect sense.

    Thanks.

  • Insult, whether to a person or a position taken, is NOT argument.
    Richard Elliott Friedman in his book The Hidden Book in the Bible (1998) sets out the factors taken into account in establishing the various sources of strands in the Bible.

    First, is the name of god. The Jahwist, or Yahwist in English, always refers to the divinity as Yahweh. The Elohist and the Priestly authors always use either El or Elohim. The latter is the plural form of El. Why would the plural be used? Until about 1929, there was no real answer. Then the Ugaritic texts were found in what is now northern Syria. From these we learn that in the Caananite theology, El was the father and creator god, married to Asherah and having 70 children. Presumably, they only counted the males in those days. The two most important over time came to be Baal and Yahweh, both sky gods. So, when Genesis 1:1 says that Elohim began to shape the heavens and earth, that could be read as “The Els” (the way we would refer to the Rockefellers, the Kennedys or the Obamas). Alternatively, it could be read as “the El gods”.

    Second, one looks for doubles, as we have in the story of the flood. In Genesis, doubles abound. Doubles, especially when coupled with different names for god, are strong indications that two stories have been cobbled together.

    Third, there is linguistic analysis. Words used in the time of Shakespeare are not necessarily used now, and vice versa. The same goes for stories in the Bible that come down from different traditions at different times. Then there are the way words are used, which are repeated (sign of the same author), which differ in the double stories. There are allusions which are repeated by an author, just as Homer repeats allusions.

    But I am only giving a few headnotes to the 54 page introduction in which Friedman sets forth the whole panoply of methods of analysis used by scholars. You should read the entirety of it for yourself.

    I should also note that archaeology corroborates a lot of the documentary analysis. See Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Sacred Texts (2001).

  • I read Friedman’ book a few years ago. It was interesting in a lot of ways, especially how he teased out the different authors and strands. On the other hand, he went on and on and on and on about what a wonderful narrative this or that was, full of whatever it was full of, and it sounded even more boring and less human to me split up than joined together. I reminded me of when my little nephew tried to tell me a story he had read.

  • Yes, I wish I could have been the editor. All the self-promotion and self-adulation would have been taken out, as well as the unnecessary attack on Harold Bloom.

  • I doubt it. I speak modern Greek, have a Ph.D in classical language with areas of emphasis in patristics.

  • I just got the book but I am afraid to read it if he talks about God not existing. I recently lost my child and I can’t bear to think she isn’t in Heaven. Anybody have a great reaction after reading this? Does this make you truly believe in God?

  • The problem with Bell’s view is that despite what he says about having a higher view, he completely strips the Bible of all authority. If the Bible is just a human book, even if it is inspired by God in some secondary, indirect, very unclear way, then we can come away from it and take what we like and reject what we do not like. If the doctrine of the atonement presented in it inspires us, great, we can own that doctrine. But if that doctrine offends us, then we can reject it and try to look more “deeply” into what struggles the authors were going through that would have led them to assert this offensive doctrine and try to glean what we want from that.
    The problem is that the Bible never ever gives to us this option. The Bible constantly presents itself as teaching that God has revealed Himself through His prophets, and ultimately through the highest prophet, His Son Jesus Christ. And it presents this revelation as absolutely binding and when written as being collected in the Book of the Law which carried with it this absolute prophetic authority. The Book of the Law ultimately culminated in the Bible. Therefore, if the Bible is repeatedly wrong about what it asserts about itself then it is a fundamentally unreliable work and therefore it should be shunned and not gleaned for inspiration.
    Bell loves to say that the Bible is a human book. The church has never denied this. Even when certain theologians in the distant past often used careless words such as “dictated,” they never intended these words to take away from the fact that the Bible is a human book. The Bible is both God’s word and the word of the human prophets who wrote it and were inspired to do so by God. Therefore, the hardcore fundamentalist is wrong when she or he downplays the human element to Scripture, and Bell and Merritt are equally wrong, along with all other progressive Christians, when they downplay the divine element to Scripture.

  • I understand what you are trying to say, but your comment is laced with dogma and binary thinking. So at the end of the day, as you said “we can come away from it and take what we like and reject what we do not like”, or we can appeal to dogmatic statements about the Bible to arrive at our conclusions. My point would be that without some direct divine intervention to “settle these matters” neither your proposal nor Rob’s proposal carry any more weight than the other. And it seems to me that until lately, it’s been mostly the dogma put forth by the “gate keepers” that has steered the conversation. Now perhaps we are seeing a needed correction.

  • Hey what’s up Marc, thanks so much for taking the time to read my comment and to respond, I really do appreciate it. I want to open by saying that I am in no way trying to make unfair assumptions, but having been immersed in the progressive Christian world for about 7 years now and having just finished my book on progressive Christianity that will be released in just a few weeks (perhaps less), I want to make it clear (and if I’m wrong please by all means feel free to correct me) that your language leads me to believe that you are either a progressive Christian yourself (even if you happen to eschew that label as I know progressive Christians tend to hate labels) or are at least sympathetic to their concerns. I will try very hard to stay basically positive, but as I make very clear in my book my experience with progressive Christians has been almost universally negative. I also make clear in the book that I know many from that camp will accuse me of saying this only because I am trying to refute them in the book, but I make it quite clear that this isn’t the case. I share the gospel with anyone who will listen and in most cases I have found people from other worldviews to be quite nice. I just had three sister missionaries from the LDS church over to dinner last night with my family and they were exceedingly kind. So if I seem very firm it is only because my experience has led me to believe that this is necessary.
    With all due respect, you clearly do not fully understand what I’m driving at. As I make clear in my book, progressive Christians always start the conversations with me and other conservative evangelicals with the constant assumption that we are basically mindless dogmatic drones and I’m not trying to be overly harsh, but that is exactly what you did as well. This ever present presupposition within progressive Christianity only reveals its pharisaical nature. The fact of the matter is that in my experience I have not encountered any worldview or movement that is more narrow, absolutist, and dogmatic than progressive Christianity. This movement never tires of telling others what they must believe about social justice, race, immigration, homosexuality, egalitarianism, etc. And most often it is without any evidence or substantive argumentation, it is most often just said that this is how it is and anyone who disagrees is by definition a bigot, end of discussion. My friend, that is binary and dogmatic thinking to the max. And this entire approach is the very epitome of gate keeping and far surpasses anything I have ever seen within my own community that I have been laboring and fellowshipping within for seventeen years.
    Conservative evangelicals for the most part, at least its leaders, do not simply dogmatically assert things, but taken painstaking measures through apologetics to prove beyond doubt that the Bible is the word of God. I myself spend three chapters on apologetics in my book. For the most part our apologetic efforts are not addressed by progressive Christians, but are almost always simply dismissed. In fact, most simply say that to engage in apologetics simply misses the point. But then progressive Christians will constantly try to use the lame and worn out secular arguments from critical scholars to prove their position that the Bible cannot be taken at face value. This is hypocrisy and inconsistency at its very worst. You simply cannot have it both ways, and this gross inconsistency is exactly what is rampant throughout Bell’s latest work.
    You are correct though that at the end of the day, without evidence neither side carries more weight than the other. But, as I’ve said, we have repeatedly shown that the outside evidence is decidedly on our side. Furthermore, as I pointed out in my first comment and which you did not in any way refute, even if we were to grant Bell’s argument that the Bible cannot be read at face value, this would certainly crush my beliefs (I fully grant that), but what is so missed by progressive Christians is that it completely shreds their own beliefs as well. If the Bible is fundamentally an unreliable book then they cannot constantly quote it to assert their doctrines when it suits them. Many will say no, we only quote the reliable portions based on critical methods of interpretation. But this never works. Critical scholars are by no means even close to agreeing on what are authentic statements of Christ. So you cannot repeatedly tell us that we need to be more like Jesus when your methods of interpretation cannot even tell us what exactly Jesus said and did and what He did not. Many very credible critical scholars don’t even believe that Christ was all that concerned with social justice, the very thing that progressive Christians say was at the center of His ministry. Many say that these things were later accretions and that Jesus at His core was a revolutionary apocalyptic preacher who died realizing that He had been completely wrong. So why on earth should I believe in the progressive version of Jesus at all? According to progressive Christians it is because they say so. Marc, I’m sorry, but that is truly binary and dogmatic thinking at its absolute ugliness. No thanks, I’ll stick with the fully biblical Jesus. Bell’s chopped up version has no appeal because it is not real, it is an idol.

  • Wow Dan, no other way for me to say this, but that was a long winded response. It reminds me of when I run into folks who still attend a church, and I tell them I no longer go, and, without any context or conversation, they already have a fully prepared statement for me about all the problems about not going to church. If you want to label me a progressive Christian, go ahead, it is entirely irrelevant to me. Telling you that your comment is laced with dogma is not the same as calling you a “mindless dogmatic drone”. Anyways, I have neither the time nor energy to respond to your entire post (and I’m sure the internet is rife with appropriate counter arguments to all your points), but a couple of things stood out:

    “Conservative evangelicals for the most part, at least its leaders, do not simply dogmatically assert things, but taken painstaking measures through apologetics to prove beyond doubt that the Bible is the word of God. ”

    Really? For the most part? And you arrived at that conclusion how? Who are the ordained appointed leaders of conservative evangelicalism? Did God ordain them? Prove it. By painstaking measures, do you mean proof-texting? Just because something sounds good and convincing to you doesn’t prove anything. That is probably why you get labeled as a dogmatic drone.

  • Since you clearly cannot handle substantive responses, but consider them long winded, I’ll keep this one short. Your response is nothing but a dismissal, plain and simple. And that shows that you are the dogmatic drone that only listens to arguments that sound good to you. And no, that’s not me labeling, that’s a very straightforward statement of fact.

  • “Since you clearly cannot handle substantive responses, but consider them long winded” — Wrong. Your response was not substantive, but boilerplate. You responded to my 9-line comment with a diatribe and a whole host of assumptions. I read your entire response and have seen the same type of response elsewhere and it’s a back and forth that has no real value. I dismiss you and you dismiss me. Is that really how you want to spend your time? You think I’m a dogmatic drone? Big deal, life goes on.

  • Nope. I absolutely gave you a substantive response and you completely dodged it by saying that you are sure the internet is littered with rebuttals to what I said. With all due respect, that is a joke of a response. Show me one place on the internet, just one, that gives a sufficient answer to what I said regarding the way progressive Christians attempt to use critical scholars. And the only assumption I made was that you at the least seem to have sympathies with progressive Christianity and I was very careful to say that you can please feel free to correct that. The rest of what I said was directed towards progressive Christianity as a whole and is not based in any way on assumptions, seven years of hard research and difficult interaction. You are the one who at every point makes assumptions and if you want me to demonstrate that point by point I would be happy to do so. Just let me know. But we both know you won’t because you’re not interested in actual dialogue and interaction based on outside evidence (and no not on proof texting; what an absurd statement that completely betrays how it is you who is making the assumptions and have never even attempted to engage conservative evangelical apologetics), but only in dismissals. I’m more than willing to continue the conversation in an in-depth, intellectually credible manner here or anywhere else with you if you are interested. If you say no, which you will almost assuredly do, you COMPLETELY prove my points utterly irrespective of any other comments you attach to your no. If you do say yes, just tell me how you want to continue. If you say no I won’t respond as there will be no point and in that case I do wish you the best Marc. I said a prayer for you last night and I genuinely don’t mean that in a condescending fashion.

  • Okay let’s start with this:

    >”you clearly do not fully understand”
    >”you are the dogmatic drone”,
    >”dodged”
    >”joke of a response”
    >”You are the one who at every point makes assumptions”
    >”you’re not interested in actual dialogue and interaction based on outside evidence”
    >”absurd”
    > “If you say no, which you will almost assuredly do, you COMPLETELY prove my points”

    My goodness.

    Dan, just look back at your original response. Here’s what you said:

    “I want to make it clear (and if I’m wrong please by all means feel free to correct me) that your language leads me to believe that you are either a progressive Christian yourself (even if you happen to eschew that label as I know progressive Christians tend to hate labels) or are at least sympathetic to their concerns.”

    My comment was 9 lines.

    First of all, let ME be clear: I DO NOT CARE what you think progressive Christianity is. That’s your thing and it doesn’t interest me in the least. So in your quote here, yeah, you do the whole obligatory “correct me if I’m wrong”, but then you basically go on to say even if I don’t like the label, I’m probably a progressive Christian. You seem to have a hatred (or extreme dislike) for progressive Christianity, and you probably think God hates it too. From what I’m reading, it sounds personal. But in your response, if you really wanted a dialogue, your better move would have been to stop there and be patient and wait. But no, you had to go on your boilerplate diatribe, which is why I called it long winded. In a normal conversation, the participants usually will go back and forth and exchange ideas and thoughts (at least that is what I am used to). If one side goes on a rant, that pretty much ends the conversation. Just look at the length of our responses…get the picture? And in case you didn’t notice, I DID actually respond to one of the statements you made in your post, which you completely ignored. So there’s that. Look, I respect the fact that you do a lot of hard work to put together a strong argument to defend your points. And I’m sure you believe that all your arguments are solid and credible and others are not. But what is the end game here? Let’s say you stamp out progressive Christianity. Then what?

    Finally, if you are interested in knowing where I spend most of my limited time reading/listening online, here you go:

    Internet Monk (including linked blogs)
    The Bible For Normal People Podcast (Pete Enns)
    Nomad Podcast
    Deconstructionists Podcast
    Liturgists Podcast

    Maybe that labels me progressive, maybe not. Again, I don’t care.
    You’ll notice most of it is podcasts. That’s because where I am now (Christian for almost 30 years), I enjoy listening. Sure, some points I agree with and resonate with me and others do not, but I don’t really care as much who I think is right and wrong. I just enjoy listening and learning.

  • Not exactly a yes or a no. And who’s long winded and ranting now. Again, I can give you a full response to everything you’ve said, but if you are not interested and are just going to say everything is long winded why should I waste my time. As far as back and forth I’ve repeatedly said I’m all for back and forth, why are you so hung up on length, I gave you a full response out of respect for you, I was and still am perfectly happy to dialogue. And pointing me to general sites does not come even close to providing an actual answer.

  • Where am I ranting?

    My answer to you is that if you want to knock down progressive Christianity, more power to you. I am not a spokesperson for it nor do I feel any need to defend it. That’s why I almost laughed when you tried to paint me as one. And I probably would agree with you, there is dogma on both sides. Both sides can be “pharisaical”. But that’s just it, BOTH sides….so your side too. And I think your dogma has been around a LOT longer, but that doesn’t make it more accurate or trustworthy. My guess is that most progressives were previously conservatives and rose up against it to point out its flaws, despite having it’s own flaws. Seems that people are flawed and short-sighted in general. What I am trying to help you understand is that I believe more and more folks like myself, who were in conservative evangelicalism for decades, went to church every Sunday, studied the theology as intensely as you have, had all the answers lined up, are now comfortable without all of that. We have questions and issues that your carefully crafted theological arguments do not satisfactorily answer. And we are OKAY not having all the answers. Again, at the end of the day it’s your opinion vs. mine. So we could dialogue and go back and forth and you’ll believe you are right and I’ll believe I’m right. In fact, to go even further, I’ll concede that you would probably be more convincing than I would, because you obviously spend more time on this than I do (I mean after all, you’re the one writing a book). So naturally your arguments will sound better and more well thought out. But again I ask, Don, what’s the end game?

  • I would just reply to your latest comment, but it appears it has been deleted. You’re just evasive bro, whether you want to see that or not.

  • Not deleted by me….it’s an issue with Disqus. Well, if I’m evasive, then you’re abrasive.

  • Dude, you were abrasive with your very first comment about my comment being laced with dogma and binary thinking and since that point you have provided no proof of that other than condescending statements about how both sides are dogmatic, but you are so above it all. Just give a yes or no answer: do you want a full response to all of your comments or will you just dismiss that as long winded.

  • And I quote: “You are correct though that at the end of the day, without evidence neither side carries more weight than the other. But, as I’ve said, we have repeatedly shown that the outside evidence is decidedly on our side.”

    Repeatedly shown what outside evidence?

    And I quote: “The problem is that the Bible never ever gives to us this option. The Bible constantly presents itself as teaching that God has revealed Himself through His prophets, and ultimately through the highest prophet, His Son Jesus Christ. And it presents this revelation as absolutely binding and when written as being collected in the Book of the Law which carried with it this absolute prophetic authority. The Book of the Law ultimately culminated in the Bible. Therefore, if the Bible is repeatedly wrong about what it asserts about itself then it is a fundamentally unreliable work and therefore it should be shunned and not gleaned for inspiration.”

    Here you present a specific view of the Bible that you believe is absolutely true (dogma). Why do you believe your view is true and others are not? Did God specifically tell you that you have the correct view? And so you reach the “other” conclusion, that if you are wrong, then the Bible should be “shunned”. (binary thinking). Maybe there are other alternative views that you aren’t considering or taking seriously. So what am I missing here? Are you denying that your original comment contained dogma and binary thinking?

    And (again) I quote: “Conservative evangelicals for the most part, at least its leaders, do not simply dogmatically assert things, but taken painstaking measures through apologetics to prove beyond doubt that the Bible is the word of God. ”

    Prove beyond doubt? Perhaps you should read what you are writing, instead of just reacting. Apologetics does not prove anything. If it did, the church wouldn’t be as divided as it is. Again, dogma.

    Dude, the thing is, I’m not even saying you’re necessarily wrong. In fact, for many years I believed as you did. Just that the way you write it’s as if you think you’ve proven yourself right. That’s where I got off the train. I am now okay with being uncertain about what I believe. Apparently you are not, and have a need to prove you are right.

  • You can continue to talk at me all you want, but I’m just gonna keep asking until you answer. Do you want a full response or not?

  • So in other words, you’re evading? Answer my questions. Or don’t. What other choices are there?

  • I’m not going to give a partial response, but I’m not going to give a complete one if you’re just going to dismiss it as too long. So I’ll answer every question and every other relevant point. Is that what you want or no?

  • SMH man….you can’t answer the most basic questions and you think I’m evasive? Okay, let’s take it back to square one. My original response to your post was that it was laced with dogma and binary thinking. You apparently took that as “abrasive” and asked me to show you where, and I did. In case for whatever reason you can’t see my earlier comment, here it is again for your convenience:

    “(In your original post) you present a specific view of the Bible that you believe is absolutely true (dogma). Why do you believe your view is true and others are not? Did God specifically tell you that you have the correct view? And so you reach the “other” conclusion, that if you are wrong, then the Bible should be “shunned”. (binary thinking). Maybe there are other alternative views that you aren’t considering or taking seriously. So what am I missing here? Are you denying that your original comment contained dogma and binary thinking?”

    So here’s my simple question. Show me how it is not dogma and binary. Now either answer that very simple question, or post your entire book. And now I’ll take a page out of your playbook and say, if by now you don’t answer (or are unwilling to answer), then you don’t really have an answer and are just hiding behind all this conditional nonsense.

  • You are a piece of work man. I’ll just give you a full response and you can do with it what you will. I’m taking my kids to Great America in CA and won’t be back until Tue night. So I’ll respond on Wed. If you would rather take this off this forum, which would probably be best, although I’m not in the least afraid to keep it here, my email is [email protected] and you can email me your email and I’ll send my response there. Whichever you would prefer, just let me know.

  • “You are a piece of work man.” Hahaha…look in the mirror buddy. Anyways, you can just post it here, take all the time you need. Unless the mods object….I doubt anyone else is reading this.

  • All you had to do was give a yes or no answer and like ten times you refused. So yeah, you’re a serious piece of work. Talk to ya Wed.

  • He and his books are a real bore. He has done everything in his power to dismiss, minimize and insult Jesus and His word. The mere fact that he and Oprah are on the same sheet of music should be proof enough that he should not be trusted regarding spiritual issues.

  • Got in way too late last night, so I’m way too beat and I have a ton of work to catch up on tomorrow, Fri, and Sat. So it will have to be Mon, but I will respond.

  • Ok, here we go. You can take my comments out of context to make me look harsh all you want, but everything I said has been completely warranted by your approach. You say no one else is reading our dialogue, but that isn’t true, I’ve referred it to others that I believed would be interested and they’ve seen the same thing. You can say well of course they see the same thing, they are on my side. That is of course true to an extent. But one girl who is extremely kind and nonjudgmental said that she couldn’t help but say that you come off like a little kid with his fingers in his ears yelling so he can’t hear anyone else. You repeatedly say how much you don’t care what I think of you as if this is some noble position. But not caring what others think on any level shows someone who is coldhearted and arrogant, believing himself to be above others. I do care what you think because I was trying to be kind from the get go with my initial response to you because I care about all people, yourself included, but you have made it near impossible. If all you mean is that you don’t care in the sense of whether or not I think you’re smart or cool, then I couldn’t care what you think of me either, times 100. I have no interest in winning arguments simply for the sake of winning arguments. My goal is always to preach the gospel. You ask a few times what the end game is, that is the end game. To see people converted to Christ and to bring God glory. The preaching of the gospel always brings Him glory even when people ignore it or reject it. It is never a waste of time. You often act as if argumentation is pointless, that everyone only ever believes their side and no progress is ever made. But this is historical gibberish. Entire intellectual movements have taken place because so many people changed their minds based on solid argumentation. I have personally changed my position on issues countless times because I have been bested in arguments. The fact that it seems you do not change your mind easily only proves what I said about you being the dogmatic one.
    You can spurn the label progressive Christian all you want, you can laugh at me until the cows come home for making the tentative assumption that this is where you are coming from, all you want, but everything you have said makes it clear that whether you realize it or not you have a strong affinity with that movement. You clearly claim to be a Christian, but you have at least for now rejected church going, you articulate yourself in ways that have a clear affinity with postmodern and relativist thought, and you say that you are comfortable with your conclusions and clearly your conclusions are for the most part subjective emotive landing points rather than ones that were arrived at by objective argumentation because you make it clear that you believe objective argumentation is irrelevant. You can say those are just assumptions all you want, but I have read your comments very carefully and there is no denying it. But even if I am wrong, I again reiterate that I only tentatively came to that conclusion and I told you that you could repudiate it and my focus was on progressive Christianity irrespective of your stance towards that movement because that is the movement that Bell is part of. And you made plenty of assumptions about me. Saying I am binary, dogmatic, that I only offered boilerplate, that evangelical apologetics only engages in proof texting. I have been studying theology and history from all perspectives for almost 20 years, you know nothing about me or my background. And if you had come to some of these conclusions after a few comments that would be more understandable, I would simply deconstruct the accusations, but you came out this way from the get go, which was ridiculous.
    You say that I offer boilerplate, but simply dismissing my comment as binary and dogmatic is about as boilerplate as it gets. Of course my statements were binary and dogmatic on some level, I in no way deny that. To say anything concrete at all is to be binary and dogmatic on some level. And everyone knows that conservative evangelicals are staunch advocates of absolute truth, so of course I am going to be binary and dogmatic to some degree. But you think that is saying anything of substance whatsoever? You have to be kidding me. That’s like responding to a Mormon by saying, “I see what you are saying, but your response is laced with LDS presuppositions.” Well duh, he or she is a Mormon!! I was trying to give you the benefit of the doubt and thought you were saying that the statements were overly binary and dogmatic, which is just a dismissal of conservative evangelical thought as not being very deep, a very common ploy amongst progressive Christians. But now after reading your comments you seem to be saying that anything that is remotely binary and dogmatic is somehow bad. But to make any positive statement at all is to be binary and dogmatic on some level. And at that point you are simply defending hardcore relativism. But if that is what you are defending, why defend it at all. Your position is true, my position is true, and we should just leave each other alone. But if that is the case, why on earth did you respond to me in the first place and why have you continued to respond to me?? The very statement that my comments were binary and dogmatic is itself a binary and dogmatic statement and so it is utterly self-defeating. You seem completely blind to this.
    At this point, I am sure you are going to say that I am being longwinded again. You can call me longwinded all you want, it is just another evasion and dismissal. I utterly reject with every fiber of my being the common assumption of our day that if something can’t be said in a tweet it is not worth saying. These are complex issues and at every point I have kept my answers as short as possible, but yes often a lot has to be said in order to correct all the nonsense that is out there.
    At this point, you are probably going to say that I’m being abrasive again. I have my many sins and I look at myself in the mirror more than you know, I often feel very guilty for how far I fall short. I find it very interesting that you describe your Christianity as comfortable. That is always the goal in progressive Christianity: people’s comfort. But Christianity and Jesus are anything but comfortable. My walk with God is brutally difficult, but that is in keeping with what Jesus said that walking with Him means a cross, not comfort. You constantly say things like I only believe arguments that sound good to me or because my dogma is old or things along these lines. No, I believe the Bible because it is God’s word and because that is where the evidence consistently leads. But there are all sorts of things in the Bible that cause me to struggle immensely, but that is faith. God knows better than you or I. And while I do struggle with many sins, I generally don’t struggle with being abrasive or rude, etc. Whether you believe it or not the overwhelming majority of people I have known and worked with over the years have always found me to be extremely nice and approachable. You can say oh man this guy is so full of himself all you want, but that is the genuine truth and was true of me well before I was saved. That’s just my personality. It’s honestly pretty much just progressive Christians that always think I’m a jerk because they hate conservative evangelicalism so much.
    You can say, no, it is you who seem to hate progressive Christianity, as you have already said. I do hate it, I loathe, detest, and despise it. But I feel that way about all false religions because they are leading people away from Jesus and straight into hell. But I don’t hate the people in those religions. My grandparents were devout Mormons, my parents are liberal Protestants, and I loved or love all of them so much. But yes, I hate their religions because they are so false. I will say though that I have found progressive Christians the most difficult to deal with because they are so arrogant and at the same time so blind to their arrogance because they are so convinced that they are the tolerant ones. But when their views are questioned, they are anything but tolerant.
    You say that apologetics proves nothing otherwise the church wouldn’t be so divided. This is a shallow response. The vast majority of what claims to be Christianity around the world is anything but Christianity. So most of the divisions prove nothing. I have attended conservative evangelical churches around the world and I have worked within this community for almost twenty years, and while we have our very real disagreements, we are for the most part united on the essentials of the faith that flow from the Bible. And obviously I can’t provide a fully orbed apologetic for the faith here, entire encyclopedias have been written dealing with the philosophical, historical, archaeological, textual, scientific, and literary issues. And they spend pages and pages of time on the outside evidence and so the fact that you constantly act like there is none only proves that you have not interacted with these works and that you are a palpable liar regarding your comments that you have read and studied as much as the rest of us. And if you say that statement is harsh, prove it. Take one classic Christian apologist and point to one argument that you believe doesn’t pass muster and we’ll unpack it together. Since you have clearly read Irenaeus, Tertullian, Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Wycliffe, Hus, Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, Bucer, Bullinger, Knox, Tyndale, Turretin,the Puritans, Edwards, Hodge, Bavinck, Berkhof, Archer, Gerstner, Sproul, Geisler, and Groothuis, let’s hear one of your objections.
    You can say that I am binary and dogmatic all you want, but it is nonsense. I am well aware of how complex academic subjects can be. One of the examples I use in my book is the study of the conversion of the Vikings. My oldest son also loves history and we have been discussing this topic for some time as he is so into the Vikings and he knows that I am a student of church history. So we have been putting our heads together to discuss this extremely complex, intricate, and nuanced topic. Obviously, some of what we are going to say is going to be binary and dogmatic, it is the very height and epitome of absurdity to think otherwise. The Vikings existed, they were white, they were Northern European, they were pagan in their religion, they were brilliant ship builders and warriors, they wreaked havoc on Western Europe for two centuries, eventually most of them were at least outwardly converted to medieval Christianity. These are facts, and to not be binary or dogmatic about them is to be an ignorant fool. That is not harshness, it is just reality. But on so many other issues, countless ones, I would never be binary or dogmatic, there are just too many open questions based on the limited amount of data. This is why my son and I debate and go back and forth.
    The same is true with the Bible. There are endless amounts of brain twisting issues with the Bible and I in no way deny them or try to explain them away. Neither does any knowledgeable conservative evangelical. But just as with the Vikings, there are certain things that are undeniable. The Bible teaches certain things beyond doubt. One of these things, as stated in my first comment to Merritt, is that God has spoken through His prophets in such a way that the prophets words are God’s words and that this revelation was eventually written down in the Book of the Law and that this book is not to be added to or taken away from unless it is done so by a genuine prophet. You can say that’s just your opinion or that’s so dogmatic and binary all you want, but to deny this is simply literary gobble goop. It’s like saying that the Koran doesn’t teach the reality of prophets and that Muhammed was the ultimate prophet. You can say oh no silly there are alternative positions out there that you just don’t seem open to and we don’t have to only listen to those overly dogmatic Muslims who take the Koran too literally. But again, this is just ridiculous. Even if you try to allegorize huge bits of the Koran, no one can come away from that book with an ounce of credibility and say that it doesn’t teach the reality of prophets and that Muhammed is the ultimate prophet. And that teaching is either reliable or it is not. That’s not binary and dogmatic in any negative sense, it’s just a fact. And if that teaching is not reliable then the Koran is not reliable. It may still say a lot of really beautiful, true, and inspiring things, but overall it is not a reliable book.
    The same is true with the teaching of the Bible regarding the prophets and the Book of the Law. This pervasive teaching is either reliable or it’s not. If it’s not reliable then the Bible is not a reliable book. And if it’s not a reliable book, why should I believe so much of what it says about Jesus. Bell and others will respond by saying because so much of what it says is so inspiring even if it is not an overall reliable work. But if we can all come to the Bible and simply take what inspires us and leave what we do not want how can progressive Christians be so dogmatic about their own dogmas that they take from the Bible? Why don’t they just leave us conservatives alone to believe what inspires us from the Bible. If the Bible’s teaching on the gospel inspires us, why do they question that and never tire of telling us that we have it wrong and have missed the overarching themes of the Bible, something Bell emphatically propounds in this latest book. If the Bible is not an overall reliable book why the heck should I care what its overall themes are????? Those themes could be woefully mistaken!! This is precisely the inconsistency I was pointing to that you have in no WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM come anywhere close to addressing. Don’t point me to websites, point me to concrete refutations of this particular point. Don’t dismiss it as boilerplate, prove that it’s boilerplate. If it is boilerplate, and you are as studied as you say you are, you should have no problem proving that it is boilerplate.
    And don’t be evasive by saying that my arguments will inevitably sound better because I’ve studied more, after all I wrote a book on the subject. If that is your strategy then you shouldn’t be making accusations about my points being boilerplate when you clearly wouldn’t know if my argument was substantive or valid or not because you have not studied these issues sufficiently. If that is the case, you shouldn’t have been responding the way you have been this entire time.

  • “You can take my comments out of context to make me look harsh all you want, but everything I said has been completely warranted by your approach.”

    – Okay. –

    “You say no one else is reading our dialogue, but that isn’t true, I’ve referred it to others that I believed would be interested and they’ve seen the same thing. You can say well of course they see the same thing, they are on my side. That is of course true to an extent. But one girl who is extremely kind and nonjudgmental said that she couldn’t help but say that you come off like a little kid with his fingers in his ears yelling so he can’t hear anyone else.”

    – Everyone is entitled to an opinion. –

    “You repeatedly say how much you don’t care what I think of you as if this is some noble position. But not caring what others think on any level shows someone who is coldhearted and arrogant, believing himself to be above others. I do care what you think because I was trying to be kind from the get go with my initial response to you because I care about all people, yourself included, but you have made it near impossible. If all you mean is that you don’t care in the sense of whether or not I think you’re smart or cool, then I couldn’t care what you think of me either, times 100.”

    – IMO, in general, when people on the internet say “I don’t care what you think”, it’s simply a way of saying don’t waste your breath (or keystrokes). It’s meant to save time. But obviously, at the end of the day, it’s yours to waste. –

    “I have no interest in winning arguments simply for the sake of winning arguments. My goal is always to preach the gospel. You ask a few times what the end game is, that is the end game. To see people converted to Christ and to bring God glory. The preaching of the gospel always brings Him glory even when people ignore it or reject it. It is never a waste of time. You often act as if argumentation is pointless, that everyone only ever believes their side and no progress is ever made. But this is historical gibberish. Entire intellectual movements have taken place because so many people changed their minds based on solid argumentation. I have personally changed my position on issues countless times because I have been bested in arguments. The fact that it seems you do not change your mind easily only proves what I said about you being the dogmatic one.”

    – I don’t think argumentation is necessarily pointless. Only that in this case, it seems to matter more to you than it does to me. Do you believe that, as an conservative Christian, you are winning the intellectual arguments? Who are you winning against? The progressives? Is it in the court of public opinion? Out of all the rhetoric you’ve posted, this is what I don’t understand. You write as if you have some sort of objective leverage, or that your arguments are better than others. Who is qualified to objectively judge on that? –

    “You can spurn the label progressive Christian all you want, you can laugh at me until the cows come home for making the tentative assumption that this is where you are coming from, all you want, but everything you have said makes it clear that whether you realize it or not you have a strong affinity with that movement. You clearly claim to be a Christian, but you have at least for now rejected church going, you articulate yourself in ways that have a clear affinity with postmodern and relativist thought, and you say that you are comfortable with your conclusions and clearly your conclusions are for the most part subjective emotive landing points rather than ones that were arrived at by objective argumentation because you make it clear that you believe objective argumentation is irrelevant.”

    – Again, “objective argumentation”. Objective according to who? How does all this rhetoric make your points stronger? It’s not about being “objective”, it’s about being convincing. I was a conservative evangelical for about 24 years. I probably would have agreed with you on the essentials. They were convincing to me during that time. But I like reading different viewpoints. I found some of those alternative viewpoints convincing as well. So I started to question my previous views. But I don’t think you can objectively prove one over the other. –

    “You can say those are just assumptions all you want, but I have read your comments very carefully and there is no denying it. But even if I am wrong, I again reiterate that I only tentatively came to that conclusion and I told you that you could repudiate it and my focus was on progressive Christianity irrespective of your stance towards that movement because that is the movement that Bell is part of. And you made plenty of assumptions about me. Saying I am binary, dogmatic, that I only offered boilerplate, that evangelical apologetics only engages in proof texting. I have been studying theology and history from all perspectives for almost 20 years, you know nothing about me or my background.”

    – What does that prove? If we listed all the post modern/progressive voices out there, you don’t think they’ve been studying theology/history for as long or longer than you have? If we look back at all your responses since your original post, where are your apologetics? I’m mostly seeing rhetoric and lots of salty language. –

    “And if you had come to some of these conclusions after a few comments that would be more understandable, I would simply deconstruct the accusations, but you came out this way from the get go, which was ridiculous.
    You say that I offer boilerplate, but simply dismissing my comment as binary and dogmatic is about as boilerplate as it gets. Of course my statements were binary and dogmatic on some level, I in no way deny that. To say anything concrete at all is to be binary and dogmatic on some level. And everyone knows that conservative evangelicals are staunch advocates of absolute truth, so of course I am going to be binary and dogmatic to some degree. But you think that is saying anything of substance whatsoever? You have to be kidding me. That’s like responding to a Mormon by saying, “I see what you are saying, but your response is laced with LDS presuppositions.” Well duh, he or she is a Mormon!! I was trying to give you the benefit of the doubt and thought you were saying that the statements were overly binary and dogmatic, which is just a dismissal of conservative evangelical thought as not being very deep, a very common ploy amongst progressive Christians. But now after reading your comments you seem to be saying that anything that is remotely binary and dogmatic is somehow bad. But to make any positive statement at all is to be binary and dogmatic on some level. And at that point you are simply defending hardcore relativism. But if that is what you are defending, why defend it at all. Your position is true, my position is true, and we should just leave each other alone. But if that is the case, why on earth did you respond to me in the first place and why have you continued to respond to me?? The very statement that my comments were binary and dogmatic is itself a binary and dogmatic statement and so it is utterly self-defeating. You seem completely blind to this.”

    – Wrong. The core difference between you and me (at least how I perceive it) is that you insist that you have the objective angle, that your arguments prove you are right. I do not claim to be able to prove anything. Here is what you originally said:

    “Conservative evangelicals for the most part, at least its leaders, do not simply dogmatically assert things, but taken painstaking measures through apologetics to prove beyond doubt that the Bible is the word of God.”

    – Apologetics do not prove anything, let alone beyond doubt. That is my basic point here. –

    “At this point, I am sure you are going to say that I am being longwinded again. You can call me longwinded all you want, it is just another evasion and dismissal. I utterly reject with every fiber of my being the common assumption of our day that if something can’t be said in a tweet it is not worth saying. These are complex issues and at every point I have kept my answers as short as possible, but yes often a lot has to be said in order to correct all the nonsense that is out there. At this point, you are probably going to say that I’m being abrasive again. I have my many sins and I look at myself in the mirror more than you know, I often feel very guilty for how far I fall short. I find it very interesting that you describe your Christianity as comfortable.”

    – Where do I do this? What I’m comfortable with is not having all the answers and being realistic about what is knowable and provable. In a general spiritual sense, I’m probably less comfortable than you, since you believe you have proof and are convinced you are right. –

    “That is always the goal in progressive Christianity: people’s comfort.”

    – That’s your opinion, and once again, does nothing to further your argument. –

    “But Christianity and Jesus are anything but comfortable. My walk with God is brutally difficult, but that is in keeping with what Jesus said that walking with Him means a cross, not comfort. You constantly say things like I only believe arguments that sound good to me or because my dogma is old or things along these lines. No, I believe the Bible because it is God’s word and because that is where the evidence consistently leads.”

    – It leads there, in your opinion. –

    “But there are all sorts of things in the Bible that cause me to struggle immensely, but that is faith. God knows better than you or I. And while I do struggle with many sins, I generally don’t struggle with being abrasive or rude, etc. Whether you believe it or not the overwhelming majority of people I have known and worked with over the years have always found me to be extremely nice and approachable.”

    – I don’t understand the need to bring this up. Majority of people say that about me as well. Do you need references? –

    “You can say oh man this guy is so full of himself all you want, but that is the genuine truth and was true of me well before I was saved. That’s just my personality. It’s honestly pretty much just progressive Christians that always think I’m a jerk because they hate conservative evangelicalism so much.”

    – Again, wrong. I think you’re projecting this onto yourself and trying to convince yourself it’s not true. I am not qualified to know one way or the other. –

    “You can say, no, it is you who seem to hate progressive Christianity, as you have already said. I do hate it, I loathe, detest, and despise it.”

    – Then you self-admittedly have bias. Conversely, I do not hate evangelicalism.-

    “But I feel that way about all false religions because they are leading people away from Jesus and straight into hell. But I don’t hate the people in those religions. My grandparents were devout Mormons, my parents are liberal Protestants, and I loved or love all of them so much. But yes, I hate their religions because they are so false. I will say though that I have found progressive Christians the most difficult to deal with because they are so arrogant and at the same time so blind to their arrogance because they are so convinced that they are the tolerant ones. But when their views are questioned, they are anything but tolerant.”

    – I think you’ve created a straw man and I also think you have too small a sample size. –

    “You say that apologetics proves nothing otherwise the church wouldn’t be so divided. This is a shallow response. “

    – If you haven’t already, I suggest reading Christian Smith’s “The Bible Made Impossible”. Regarding inerrancy, check out “Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy” (Mohler, Enns, Bird, Vanhoozer, Franke) –

    “The vast majority of what claims to be Christianity around the world is anything but Christianity.”

    – Your opinion. You’re one in a long line of people throughout history who think they have the real deal. And yet in 2000 years, God has not personally vetted any of them, especially not the ones where they used to burn people at the stake for being “heretics”. –

    “So most of the divisions prove nothing. I have attended conservative evangelical churches around the world and I have worked within this community for almost twenty years, and while we have our very real disagreements, we are for the most part united on the essentials of the faith that flow from the Bible. And obviously I can’t provide a fully orbed apologetic for the faith here, entire encyclopedias have been written dealing with the philosophical, historical, archaeological, textual, scientific, and literary issues.”

    – Of course you can’t, but that’s not being evasive is it? Scientific?? Show me one that is in any way convincing. So you believe that God intended for all these encyclopedias to be written across time in order to “prove” the Bible. Really? Is that your “outside evidence”? –

    “And they spend pages and pages of time on the outside evidence and so the fact that you constantly act like there is none only proves that you have not interacted with these works and that you are a palpable liar regarding your comments that you have read and studied as much as the rest of us. “

    – Deflection. You keep making claims about things I’ve said that I haven’t said. At least quote my comment to back yourself up. Here is how I originally responded: “Repeatedly shown what outside evidence?” How can I act otherwise if you don’t point me to the “evidence”? What are “these works”? What do they prove and how do they prove it? –

    “And if you say that statement is harsh, prove it. Take one classic Christian apologist and point to one argument that you believe doesn’t pass muster and we’ll unpack it together. Since you have clearly read Irenaeus, Tertullian, Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Wycliffe, Hus, Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, Bucer, Bullinger, Knox, Tyndale, Turretin,the Puritans, Edwards, Hodge, Bavinck, Berkhof, Archer, Gerstner, Sproul, Geisler, and Groothuis, let’s hear one of your objections.”

    – Wow, you copied and pasted a lot of names there, impressive. Okay. Prove to me that the events in the book of Genesis are factual and historical events. –

    “You can say that I am binary and dogmatic all you want, but it is nonsense. I am well aware of how complex academic subjects can be. One of the examples I use in my book is the study of the conversion of the Vikings. My oldest son also loves history and we have been discussing this topic for some time as he is so into the Vikings and he knows that I am a student of church history. So we have been putting our heads together to discuss this extremely complex, intricate, and nuanced topic. Obviously, some of what we are going to say is going to be binary and dogmatic, it is the very height and epitome of absurdity to think otherwise. The Vikings existed, they were white, they were Northern European, they were pagan in their religion, they were brilliant ship builders and warriors, they wreaked havoc on Western Europe for two centuries, eventually most of them were at least outwardly converted to medieval Christianity. These are facts, and to not be binary or dogmatic about them is to be an ignorant fool. That is not harshness, it is just reality. But on so many other issues, countless ones, I would never be binary or dogmatic, there are just too many open questions based on the limited amount of data. This is why my son and I debate and go back and forth.
    The same is true with the Bible. There are endless amounts of brain twisting issues with the Bible and I in no way deny them or try to explain them away. Neither does any knowledgeable conservative evangelical. But just as with the Vikings, there are certain things that are undeniable. The Bible teaches certain things beyond doubt. One of these things, as stated in my first comment to Merritt, is that God has spoken through His prophets in such a way that the prophets words are God’s words and that this revelation was eventually written down in the Book of the Law and that this book is not to be added to or taken away from unless it is done so by a genuine prophet. You can say that’s just your opinion or that’s so dogmatic and binary all you want, but to deny this is simply literary gobble goop.”

    – What does calling it “gobble goop” add to your argument? At the end of the day, any argument you make about the Bible is going to be circular. Which is fine, if that is what you find convincing. I was a conservative evangelical for probably as long as you’ve been and I’ve always understood that. I’ve made the exact same arguments as you have. So really, I get it. But for whatever reason, you think your arguments are proof. That’s why I wrote my original response. At the end of the day, you’re just going to end up winning the argument in your head. But look, if you believe and are convicted by God to be doing something, then there’s nothing I can say. More power to you.-

    “It’s like saying that the Koran doesn’t teach the reality of prophets and that Muhammed was the ultimate prophet. You can say oh no silly there are alternative positions out there that you just don’t seem open to and we don’t have to only listen to those overly dogmatic Muslims who take the Koran too literally. But again, this is just ridiculous. Even if you try to allegorize huge bits of the Koran, no one can come away from that book with an ounce of credibility and say that it doesn’t teach the reality of prophets and that Muhammed is the ultimate prophet. And that teaching is either reliable or it is not. That’s not binary and dogmatic in any negative sense, it’s just a fact. And if that teaching is not reliable then the Koran is not reliable. It may still say a lot of really beautiful, true, and inspiring things, but overall it is not a reliable book.
    The same is true with the teaching of the Bible regarding the prophets and the Book of the Law. This pervasive teaching is either reliable or it’s not. If it’s not reliable then the Bible is not a reliable book. And if it’s not a reliable book, why should I believe so much of what it says about Jesus. Bell and others will respond by saying because so much of what it says is so inspiring even if it is not an overall reliable work. But if we can all come to the Bible and simply take what inspires us and leave what we do not want how can progressive Christians be so dogmatic about their own dogmas that they take from the Bible? Why don’t they just leave us conservatives alone to believe what inspires us from the Bible.”

    – Why don’t you stop reading them? Oh that’s right, you believe that if you don’t show people the error of their ways they will be tormented by fire for eternity. –

    “If the Bible’s teaching on the gospel inspires us, why do they question that and never tire of telling us that we have it wrong and have missed the overarching themes of the Bible, something Bell emphatically propounds in this latest book. If the Bible is not an overall reliable book why the heck should I care what its overall themes are????? Those themes could be woefully mistaken!! This is precisely the inconsistency I was pointing to that you have in no WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM come anywhere close to addressing. Don’t point me to websites, point me to concrete refutations of this particular point.”

    – Once again, point me to your “outside evidence”. Let’s have a look at it. I’d ask you to point me to websites or books (as if that somehow makes the argument less convincing), but apparently, that’s off the table. Of course, websites are probably off the table because many of them have comment sections where people have already made the standard objections. But of course you’d rather rehash them out here. –

    “Don’t dismiss it as boilerplate, prove that it’s boilerplate. If it is boilerplate, and you are as studied as you say you are, you should have no problem proving that it is boilerplate.”

    – It’s boilerplate because it was mostly rhetoric. Your boilerplate argument is that progressive Christianity is bad and you prove it by saying you have “apologetics to prove beyond doubt that the Bible is the word of God”. Then you throw in a bunch of philosophy. But I haven’t seen any actual apologetics. Again, what am I missing? –

    “And don’t be evasive by saying that my arguments will inevitably sound better because I’ve studied more, after all I wrote a book on the subject. If that is your strategy then you shouldn’t be making accusations about my points being boilerplate when you clearly wouldn’t know if my argument was substantive or valid or not because you have not studied these issues sufficiently. If that is the case, you shouldn’t have been responding the way you have been this entire time.”

    – Once again, your opinion. I think it’s pointless to tell people on the internet what they should or shouldn’t be doing. Speaking of your book, who’s the publisher? –

    Okay, here’s how I’m going to end this. I honestly don’t see the point of me continuing. And please, save the speech about me being evasive. As I keep saying, at the end of the day all this ad hominem and rhetoric does nothing to advance your argument. I already know it and spent a good deal of my life defending it. So I’ll give you the last word and feel free to post all the apologetics you want. Post websites, books, whatever. If I haven’t already read it, I’ll check it out.

  • Rob Bells answers are some of the most evasive, diffusive and laborious aversions I have ever witnessed n answer to question a 1st year bible school student could answer better.
    Hey Rob…For the prophecy of scripture did not come about by the prophets own interpretation but they wrote as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

    If you dont think thats true just say so and stop with all the cowardly coded Bellisms designed to perpetually keep you on the fence about everything.

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