I’ve written some pretty critical views in past posts about Rob Bell’s views of the Bible, specifically as they relate to his view on homosexuality and the authority of the Bible in general:
- How Did Rob Bell Become So Arrogant?
- How Rob Bell contradicts the Bible in “Love Wins” & where that led
- Rob Bell offers a Bibleless Jesus and Bibleless Christianity
- I love Rob Bell, and am going to stop blogging about him
Within the past week, I’ve been blogging about four different ways a person can view the Bible (specifically the Old Testament). Within these four views, there definitely exists a gradual spectrum where one slowly turns in to another. In reply to these posts, as well as out of concern for a friend of mine struggling with the way they see the Bible, someone emailed me some recent blog posts by Rob Bell that related to what I was writing about what the Bible is.
Because of how critical I’ve been of Rob, I thought it would be helpful to also pass along some helpful insights he made in these posts about the Bible, specifically it’s early chapters of Genesis, and how I think they could really help people like my friend who are in danger of abandoning their faith in Jesus due to their struggles with the way they’ve been taught to read these early passages of Scripture.
I definitely don’t agree with everything Rob wrote. And I think yes, he is able to write some things and proclaim some things now that he is no longer a pastor leading a congregation under the authority of the Bible (and is now open about that). This freedom from the accountability and responsibility of pastoral leadership does allow him to express a wider range of views about the Bible. In this range of diversity, I definitely think it’s possible for mature Christians to comb through his material with discernment and pluck out what’s helpful and reject what is wrong. And in all honesty, someone like Rob is going to help someone like my friend who is at risk of throwing out his faith altogether, more than someone who is teaching and preaching the orthodox views of Scripture (like myself) my friend has heard his/her whole life. And I’d rather give my friend that to hold on to because it’s still Christ-centered, than have him throw out his faith altogether. Here are some snippets of what I thought was helpful from Rob’s blog article entitled “What is the Bible?” as it relates to using helpful hermeneutical (how we interpret the Bible) tools…
Someone wrote something down.
Obvious, but true. And an important starting point.
The Bible did not drop out of the sky, it was written by people.
Again, obvious, but it helps ground us in how to begin thinking about what the Bible is. Many of the stories in the Bible began as oral traditions, handed down from generation to generation until someone collected them, edited them, and actually wrote them down, sometimes hundreds of years later. That’s years and years of people sitting around fires and walking along hot dusty roads and gathering together to hear and discuss and debate and wrestle with these stories.
These writers, it’s important to point out, were real people living in real places at real times. And their purposes and intents and agendas were shaped by their times and places and contexts and economies and politics and religion and technology and countless other factors.
We’ll get to words like inspiration and revelation and God-breathed later (which I’m a believer in-but I’m getting ahead of myself), but for now it’s important to begin by stating the obvious: The Bible is first, before anything else, a library of books written by humans.
I say this because there is a stilted literalism that many have encountered in regards to the Bible that makes great claims about its divinity and inspiration and perfection but then doesn’t know what to do with its humanity.
You start with the human. You ask those questions, you enter there, you direct your energies to understanding why these people wrote these books.
Because whatever divine you find in it, you find that divine through the human, not around it.
(Back to me typing)
I don’t agree with many of the conclusions Rob makes about his questions, which you can read in the post I linked to, and in his follow-up links on Noah and Jonah. I think he takes them too far down the spectrum (which I also talk about at length in my previous posts about Rob’s views of homosexuality and the Bible, see bullet points at top). But I do think he is asking the right questions about how we need to approach what the Bible is (at least in the parts I quoted above). Which is honestly just Hermeneutics 101 that you’d learn in any conservative Bible college or seminary, it’s just making sure we stay honest with where these questions actually lead us, not just regurgitating what we learned in Sunday School.
In this honesty, it’s important to maintain both humility (There are some things from “the way things were back then” that can’t be proven and we need to acknowledge that and lay out all the options, rather than clinging to the one we like…conservatives fall into this trap, as do Rob and other progressives on many occasions) and also an understanding of the this-didn’t-come-out-of-nowhere tradition of the Scriptures being authoritative, told to us plainly by Jesus in Matthew 5:17-18, held by the Apostles and the early Church (2 Peter 3:15-16; 2 Timothy 3:16), and seen over and over again throughout the Old Testament, most of which was written by prophets in real time.
My hope in my post on Fact or Fiction: 4 View of the Old Testament was to show how these questions can still lead to a foundational view that the entire Bible is the authoritative Word of God, while still being honest with who wrote it and why it was written, and what the message God intended for us to receive from it.