Rob Bell has been causing a stir for years by saying things that some other people disagree with. He has stated opinions on various subjects, and there are people in the world who don’t like his opinions. He has written books, and they’ve been the focus of outrage from some people who think that what he says is wrong.
In other words, Rob Bell has been doing exactly what every other high-profile pastor does…he says what he thinks about things. Then his detractors make wild claims, such as that he’s being used for “man-exalting evils”, or he’s “willing to trash parts of the Bible.”
I can’t speak for Mr. Bell, and I don’t know a lot about what exactly he teaches, but I have some thoughts on the whole situation. Why should people get so upset at him for calling Paul’s writings exactly what they are…2,000-year-old letters?
These outraged people aren’t seeing beyond their own thoughts and desires and emotions, and they certainly aren’t reading their Bibles objectively. Some say that “Scripture, and Scripture alone, is the infallible standard by which faith and life is to be judged…”
This, here, is the problem. They’ve become Pharisees, condemning others for not following what they think is a “clear, comprehendible [sic] teaching of scripture.” Someone who disagrees on the matter of same-sex marriage is “in extreme danger of possessing inauthentic faith.” Which is simply an obscure way to say that people who disagree with them are going to hell, just like the Pharisees condemned Jesus and his disciples for working on the Sabbath.
These people have added conditions to salvation…it’s no longer just believing in Jesus, but now you also have to believe that same-sex marriage is wrong. You have to believe that you’re saved by faith alone, and not works. You have to believe all sorts of things that are never given as conditions for salvation in their precious Bible. This is exactly something Jesus held against the Pharisees.
And worst of all, they’ve made the Bible an idol. They worship their 2,000-year-old book, and set it up as the only standard by which to live. They bow down to a god of ink and paper. Never mind real life experiences, never mind our innate, God-given emotions, they say. Never mind the entirety of God’s creation. Only the Bible holds truth applicable to our lives.
In the same article, Mr. Cooper insinuates that we progressives are just blown about by the whims of personal experience and emotion. He laments the lack of logical discourse. But here’s the problem: whenever I have presented logical discourse, I’ve been told that logic is always flawed so I shouldn’t be leaning on it for understanding. Of course, this is because logical analysis of the Bible itself, and of what it says, leads to conclusions that some people simply do not want to believe. If they can’t refute the argument, they claim that logic itself is worthless.
I’ve been reading Cynthia Jeub’s blog recently, quite enjoying it for the quality of writing and solid logic. She made an interesting observation about the circular claim that “the Bible is the Word of God and we know it is because it says so.” Cynthia says, “the Bible doesn’t say it’s the Word of God. It can’t–the Bible never mentions the Bible.”
So that’s what it comes down to. On one hand, we have people who look at the Bible objectively, and realize that it’s a collection of ancient letters and poems and stories written by fallible people and translated by other fallible people through several imperfect languages, ultimately communicating complex ideas through insufficient words. We consider what it says along with other evidence, and reach logical conclusions by using all available data.
On the other hand, we have people who worship the Bible as the only infallible source of wisdom available to us, totally disregarding the fact that their God is supposed to be a whole lot bigger than just one little book. Then they lash out at anyone who challenges the perfect little house of onion-skin paper they’ve built around themselves, claiming that everything in the Bible is perfectly clear. They lie to themselves about it because they need security; they’re so afraid of ambiguity and the unknown that any disagreement feels like a threat. They convince themselves that if I disagree, it isn’t because the Bible is super confusing and weird, but because I just don’t want to believe the truth. I’m supposedly following my emotions and “trashing” the Bible where it conflicts with what I want to believe.
They’re wrong; I want to believe the truth. I just know that the truth is a whole lot more elusive and complicated than they think it is. They’ve taken a journey and reached what they think is the endpoint, and they’ve sat down there and started shouting at everyone who doesn’t join them. I’m still moving onward, searching for new and better things, conscious of the fact that I am as eternally ignorant as everyone else.