Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church near Grand Rapids, MI, has captured the attention of many youth pastors and pastors.  There is much to like.  He is a master story teller.  When he teaches he connects with his audiences. 

He strives to recapture the narrative that is present in Scripture and that resonates with postmodern ears.  I also commend him for raising the type of questions that the Church needs to address as we go forward.  I also appreciate recapturing an emphasis on social action within his congregation, and they have done much work with the poor both locally and globally.  In his latest book, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, he calls the church to reinvest themselves in showing the love of God through social action.  That is to be commended.

I can see that he takes the Bible seriously, and that he seeks to understand it in its original Jewish context.  I also can see his humility and transparency when he teaches.  His pastor’s heart in his NOOMA videos and his books is evident, and he has the ability to empathize with a variety of different people. 

But he is kind of a mixed bag with me.

One problem I have is in his attempt to read the Gospels and the Epistles in the context of early Judaism.  He doesn’t distinguish between early Judaism of the first century A.D. and Judaism influenced by rabbinic writings of the Mishnah and Talmud which came later.

This is seen in Bell’s treatment of Jesus as a rabbi.  Jesus was not like a rabbi like what was seen later on with Mishnaic and Talmudic Judaism.  When Jesus was called “Rabbi” or “Rabboni” in the early Jewish sense that word should be understood to mean “my master” or “my teacher,” but when we read “Rabbi” we tend to think more of a modern ordained rabbi which would be incorrect.

When I was in the midst of my study of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount I found that Jesus often drew contrast with, instead of citing, the oral traditions of the elders, such as Hillel or Shammai.  In Matthew 5:21-48 He actually clarifies and corrects much of the elders’ oral teaching that his audience was familiar with regarding subjects like murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation, and treatment of enemies.  He spoke on His own independent authority which made Him very unique among the other teachers’ of the day.

This colors his interpretation of the Gospels and the epistles.  He references “ancient rabbis” throughout his book, Velvet Elvis, and his entire chapter “Dust” (which was also the basis of a NOOMA video) was entirely based on the linking of Jesus with these later rabbis.

Another problem is his usage of  some of his source material in an non-critical manner.  One could, first off, question his sources for understanding the Jewish context of the New Testament.  For instance Bell cites many of Alfred Edersheim works which are considered outdated.

Another example is seen in his recent book co-authored with Don Golden, Jesus Wants to Save Sinners where they advance a preterist reading of Revelation:

Revelation is a letter written from John, the pastor, to his church during his time of exile.  He writes in a subversive literary style called apocalyptic.  It uses a vast array of symbols and images and stylized language to convey profound truths about how the world works.  John refers to a beast, which is his word for the corrupt, destructive system of violence and evil that is pervasive in our world.  He writes of a dragon, the one who does the work of the beast on earth.  And then he talks about a mark of the beast.

We can assume John’s audience knew what the mark was – how you bought and sold in the market.  The mark was a symbol of your participation in the military-economic complex of the Roman Empire.

They completely strip Revelation of any eschatological meaning.  While there is some scholarly support for this position; the way it is presented really misrepresents how complex apocalyptic exegesis is and how humbly we should approach it.  What concerns me most is the source for this little gem of “insight” into Revelation. 

The first is God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now by John Dominic Crossan.  An “authority” on the historical Jesus who says that the Gospels (or the Bible for that matter) are not to be read literally.  Denies the Divinity of Christ, and rejects the resurrection of Christ.  He was a co-founder of  the Jesus Seminar which a group of egomaniacs got together to essentially make mincemeat of the Gospels.

The other reference he cites is Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw.  While I respect Claiborne for his advocacy of the poor and his work in inner city Philadephia, a Bible scholar he is not (I’m not saying I am either, but I certainly wouldn’t go to him for a better understanding of Revelation).

I am also generally cautious about an approach to theology that seeks to reconcile with deconstructionist thought.  A couple of examples from Velvet Elvis:

Jesus at one point claimed to be “the way, the truth, and the life”.  Jesus was not making claims about one religion being better than all other religions.  That completely misses the point, the depth, and the truth.  Rather, he was telling those who were following him that his way is the way to the depth of reality.  This kind of life Jesus was living, perfectly and completely in connection and cooperation with God, is the best possible way for a person to live.  It is how things are.

Right before this passage Bell writes, “And God is the ultimate reality.  There is nothing more beyond God.”  Right on.  That is true, but he takes that statement and applies it to John 14:6 in which Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one can come to the Father except through me,” (ESV).  Bell’s interpretation of this verse is not, “no one can come to the Father.”  Instead he says, “nobody can approach ultimate reality – the way life is meant to be lived.”  That may be true, but it misses the point of John 14:6.  In the immediate context of this verse we see something different.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.  And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him, (John 14:1-7, ESV).

Jesus is speaking of heaven.  Jesus was telling his disciples that he was “preparing a place” for them.  This is a place where they will be also.  Thomas asks, “How do we get there?”  To that question Jesus replies that He is the way, the truth, the life.  No one can come to His Father apart from Him.  He is making an exclusive claim about who can enter into heaven.

Also in Velvet Elvis he implies that the doctrine of the Trinity is not based on Scripture.  Which he says he believes, but you wouldn’t know that if you don’t read the endnotes.  He also makes questionable statements about the Virgin Birth based on a possible translation of the word translated “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14 saying it could mean “several things.  And what if you discover that in the first century being “born of a virgin” also referred to a child whose mother became pregnant the first time she had intercourse?”

We know that isn’t the case with Mary.  Matthew 1:18 says that “she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”  In Luke 1 we see that Gabriel appeared “to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph,”(v.27).  She was not with child before that time and based on her question to Gabriel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (v.34), we can see that she had not yet had intercourse.

Bell later goes on to say he embraces the historic Christian faith, but he plays fast and loose with his understanding of Hebrew and Greek.  He also needs to write and speak with clarity when his words can be misunderstood or misconstrued.

So at least in view of his writings these reasons are why I’m not very “high” on Rob Bell.  This is also why I’m disturbed when it seems like his videos and materials are embraced by youth pastors and pastors without discernment.

38 comments
  1. I have seen some of Bell’s videos through contacts at Gospel Communications. He puts together stuff that seems to hold the attention of today’s youth better than some of the old films and videos but I am not sure it is as effective as he would want in a postmodern environment.

    I was not aware of the background to his thinking. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. I have seen some of Bell’s videos through contacts at Gospel Communications. He puts together stuff that seems to hold the attention of today’s youth better than some of the old films and videos but I am not sure it is as effective as he would want in a postmodern environment.

    I was not aware of the background to his thinking. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. I would go even farther, Shane

    I believe Rob Bell, along with many of the guys associated with Emergent Village, are false teachers in the actual Scriptural sense of the word.

    Of course they have some things to recommend them, but nobody ever starts with blatant heresy. Even the worst of false teaching has to contain a nugget of truth, does it not?

    I spent a year or so trying to listen to guys like Bell and McLaren, but I now believe it is a waste of time.

    There is value, as you pointed out, in the questions they ask and the objections they raise. And I would even go so far as to say that the seeds of Emergence have existed for some time, sown by Evangelicals, and have been waiting for the right climate to germinate.

    The failures of Evangelicalism have provided that climate. This is a mess of our own making.

    So despite what Emergence has to recommend it, and despite the fact that we have some things we had better learn from the movement, I personally have put Rob Bell, Tony Jones, Brian McLaren, et al in the category of apostates along with the likes of Benny Hinn and Mary Baker Eddy.

    Check out this video on Rob Bell:

  4. I would go even farther, Shane

    I believe Rob Bell, along with many of the guys associated with Emergent Village, are false teachers in the actual Scriptural sense of the word.

    Of course they have some things to recommend them, but nobody ever starts with blatant heresy. Even the worst of false teaching has to contain a nugget of truth, does it not?

    I spent a year or so trying to listen to guys like Bell and McLaren, but I now believe it is a waste of time.

    There is value, as you pointed out, in the questions they ask and the objections they raise. And I would even go so far as to say that the seeds of Emergence have existed for some time, sown by Evangelicals, and have been waiting for the right climate to germinate.

    The failures of Evangelicalism have provided that climate. This is a mess of our own making.

    So despite what Emergence has to recommend it, and despite the fact that we have some things we had better learn from the movement, I personally have put Rob Bell, Tony Jones, Brian McLaren, et al in the category of apostates along with the likes of Benny Hinn and Mary Baker Eddy.

    Check out this video on Rob Bell:

  5. The Revelation of John has no “eschatological value” because quite simply it isn’t a book of prophecy, but a highly symbolic book. Think about it, nobody even knows who the “John” guy is, let alone that he is a prophet. Doesn’t it make more sense that a pastor in the early church would write to his congregation in a popular and highly sensationalized literary form? Kind of like that “What if Church were like Starbucks” thing I saw on this blog a while back.

    I do, however, totally agree with you as far as Luke 1:34 and Matt. 1:18 are concerned. Luke clearly has Mary saying “How can this be? since I have not known a man.” (“known a man” being idiomatic of course) and Matthew clearly states that Mary became with child by the Holy Spirit *before* she came together with Joseph. So any alternative reading there would be straining the original Greek.

  6. The Revelation of John has no “eschatological value” because quite simply it isn’t a book of prophecy, but a highly symbolic book. Think about it, nobody even knows who the “John” guy is, let alone that he is a prophet. Doesn’t it make more sense that a pastor in the early church would write to his congregation in a popular and highly sensationalized literary form? Kind of like that “What if Church were like Starbucks” thing I saw on this blog a while back.

    I do, however, totally agree with you as far as Luke 1:34 and Matt. 1:18 are concerned. Luke clearly has Mary saying “How can this be? since I have not known a man.” (“known a man” being idiomatic of course) and Matthew clearly states that Mary became with child by the Holy Spirit *before* she came together with Joseph. So any alternative reading there would be straining the original Greek.

  7. “This is seen in Bell’s treatment of Jesus as a rabbi. Jesus was not like a rabbi like what was seen later on with Mishnaic and Talmudic Judaism. When Jesus was called “Rabbi” or “Rabboni” in the early Jewish sense that word should be understood to mean “my master” or “my teacher,” but when we read “Rabbi” we tend to think more of a modern ordained rabbi which would be incorrect.” (Shane)

    I disagree. Synagogues had existed many years prior to Jesus ever entering the scene – circa Babylonian captivity (the idea came about) – and by at least 300 BCE we are aware synagogues existed. The rabbinic ideas you claim exist after the rise of Christianity – has its roots way prior to Jesus lifetime. So the Talmud and Mishnah were not written – this is true – but the teachings existed – this is well known in Judaism.

    So when the term ‘rabbi’ is being used of Jesus – this is a calculated move by the writer’s. They make Jesus into this type of authority – which was wise of them – it was a messianic quality also. The idea a messiah would be authoritative on the law was not even a question – this was a given. Also, there were wandering rabbi’s going from village to village – since the temple and synagogues existed in various places. Jesus can be seen as a ‘wandering rabbi’ of a sort (maybe even as an Essene type).

    “When I was in the midst of my study of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount I found that Jesus often drew contrast with, instead of citing, the oral traditions of the elders, such as Hillel or Shammai. In Matthew 5:21-48 He actually clarifies and corrects much of the elders’ oral teaching that his audience was familiar with regarding subjects like murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation, and treatment of enemies. He spoke on His own independent authority which made Him very unique among the other teachers’ of the day.” (Shane)

    I am not saying Jesus is not written as a ‘break-away’ from those original rabbinic scholars (schools) – he is – but he is rabbinic in nature – namely in the sermon on the mount. Of course, it would have to be written that way – Jesus is making claims to be the messiah also – which would not divorce him from being a rabbinic scholar but that his claims were of merit on their own.

    I think divorcing Jesus from his Jewish heritage is a mistake – and Bell is trying to rectify this divorce. Jesus was called ‘rabbi’, Jesus addresses aspects of the law and teachings on it, challenges the known schools of his day (ie: Saducees, Pharisee’s), wore Jewish rabbinic garb (ie: tassels), used messianic Jewish theology, used the Tanakh as an authoritative religious teaching, etc.

    Christianity seems to forget Jesus was Jewish – not a gentile – and based his mission on the Judaic ideas of his day (and prior). It is very important to put Jesus back into the setting and understand it from there – if we want to get into the basis of our actual faith according to the disciples (who are seen palling around with the Pharisee’s in Acts 15). Something about what they were doing and living so resembled the Judaism of it’s day it made it possible for Jesus’ followers and Pharisee’s to ‘hang out’. Obviously they couldn’t have been too far separated in theology.

    “To that question Jesus replies that He is the way, the truth, the life. No one can come to His Father apart from Him. He is making an exclusive claim about who can enter into heaven.” (Shane)

    Christianity views this as literal – but it as obvious as reality itself Jesus is referencing himself – which means all he stood for, taught, or did – which can be encapsulated in his ‘teachings’. Cause the question that needs to be asked ‘what does it mean to be the way’?

    Let this also be known ‘the Jewish law’ called ‘halakah’ is known as ‘the way to go’. Maybe Jesus is making a comparison with such an idea – again found in one’s teachings. Jesus makes this clear in John 14:15, 21, 23, 24, and 26. I think Jesus is referencing his teachings when he makes that statement in John 14:6 about ideas like ‘the way’, ‘the truth’, and ‘the life’.

    “Also in Velvet Elvis he implies that the doctrine of the Trinity is not based on Scripture. “ (Shane)

    I agree – it isn’t.

    “He also makes questionable statements about the Virgin Birth based on a possible translation of the word translated “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14 saying it could mean “several things” (Shane)

    (a) The term ‘virgin’ is based on a loose translation of the Hebrew in Isaiah 7:14 (alma). Most experts agree that term is not ‘virgin’ – but ‘young woman’. In context, there is no actual reason to assume that term would so much as be considered ‘virgin’ – or had anything to do with a ‘virgin’.

    (b) The idea of a virgin birth is not a Judaic ideology – but a gentile one. The idea of the miraculous ‘virgin birth’ is something we find in gentile cultures of the day – including Roman ones. I also find it funny that this story (which appears in Matthew and Luke) does not appear in a single letter or teaching – including Acts – the supposed history of the church.

    (c) It’s obvious that it was not an important doctrine in it’s day – not to Peter, Paul, James, or John. So why make it one today?

    The problem you have with Bell are with ideas that, in my opinion, don’t mean very much in actual response to having faith in God. You debate whether Jesus was a rabbi, what the ‘way’ meant, Trinity, and the virgin birth. Which one of those things actually changes what one will follow concerning the teachings of Jesus as related in the gospels or letters? None of those are ‘big deals’.

  8. “This is seen in Bell’s treatment of Jesus as a rabbi. Jesus was not like a rabbi like what was seen later on with Mishnaic and Talmudic Judaism. When Jesus was called “Rabbi” or “Rabboni” in the early Jewish sense that word should be understood to mean “my master” or “my teacher,” but when we read “Rabbi” we tend to think more of a modern ordained rabbi which would be incorrect.” (Shane)

    I disagree. Synagogues had existed many years prior to Jesus ever entering the scene – circa Babylonian captivity (the idea came about) – and by at least 300 BCE we are aware synagogues existed. The rabbinic ideas you claim exist after the rise of Christianity – has its roots way prior to Jesus lifetime. So the Talmud and Mishnah were not written – this is true – but the teachings existed – this is well known in Judaism.

    So when the term ‘rabbi’ is being used of Jesus – this is a calculated move by the writer’s. They make Jesus into this type of authority – which was wise of them – it was a messianic quality also. The idea a messiah would be authoritative on the law was not even a question – this was a given. Also, there were wandering rabbi’s going from village to village – since the temple and synagogues existed in various places. Jesus can be seen as a ‘wandering rabbi’ of a sort (maybe even as an Essene type).

    “When I was in the midst of my study of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount I found that Jesus often drew contrast with, instead of citing, the oral traditions of the elders, such as Hillel or Shammai. In Matthew 5:21-48 He actually clarifies and corrects much of the elders’ oral teaching that his audience was familiar with regarding subjects like murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation, and treatment of enemies. He spoke on His own independent authority which made Him very unique among the other teachers’ of the day.” (Shane)

    I am not saying Jesus is not written as a ‘break-away’ from those original rabbinic scholars (schools) – he is – but he is rabbinic in nature – namely in the sermon on the mount. Of course, it would have to be written that way – Jesus is making claims to be the messiah also – which would not divorce him from being a rabbinic scholar but that his claims were of merit on their own.

    I think divorcing Jesus from his Jewish heritage is a mistake – and Bell is trying to rectify this divorce. Jesus was called ‘rabbi’, Jesus addresses aspects of the law and teachings on it, challenges the known schools of his day (ie: Saducees, Pharisee’s), wore Jewish rabbinic garb (ie: tassels), used messianic Jewish theology, used the Tanakh as an authoritative religious teaching, etc.

    Christianity seems to forget Jesus was Jewish – not a gentile – and based his mission on the Judaic ideas of his day (and prior). It is very important to put Jesus back into the setting and understand it from there – if we want to get into the basis of our actual faith according to the disciples (who are seen palling around with the Pharisee’s in Acts 15). Something about what they were doing and living so resembled the Judaism of it’s day it made it possible for Jesus’ followers and Pharisee’s to ‘hang out’. Obviously they couldn’t have been too far separated in theology.

    “To that question Jesus replies that He is the way, the truth, the life. No one can come to His Father apart from Him. He is making an exclusive claim about who can enter into heaven.” (Shane)

    Christianity views this as literal – but it as obvious as reality itself Jesus is referencing himself – which means all he stood for, taught, or did – which can be encapsulated in his ‘teachings’. Cause the question that needs to be asked ‘what does it mean to be the way’?

    Let this also be known ‘the Jewish law’ called ‘halakah’ is known as ‘the way to go’. Maybe Jesus is making a comparison with such an idea – again found in one’s teachings. Jesus makes this clear in John 14:15, 21, 23, 24, and 26. I think Jesus is referencing his teachings when he makes that statement in John 14:6 about ideas like ‘the way’, ‘the truth’, and ‘the life’.

    “Also in Velvet Elvis he implies that the doctrine of the Trinity is not based on Scripture. “ (Shane)

    I agree – it isn’t.

    “He also makes questionable statements about the Virgin Birth based on a possible translation of the word translated “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14 saying it could mean “several things” (Shane)

    (a) The term ‘virgin’ is based on a loose translation of the Hebrew in Isaiah 7:14 (alma). Most experts agree that term is not ‘virgin’ – but ‘young woman’. In context, there is no actual reason to assume that term would so much as be considered ‘virgin’ – or had anything to do with a ‘virgin’.

    (b) The idea of a virgin birth is not a Judaic ideology – but a gentile one. The idea of the miraculous ‘virgin birth’ is something we find in gentile cultures of the day – including Roman ones. I also find it funny that this story (which appears in Matthew and Luke) does not appear in a single letter or teaching – including Acts – the supposed history of the church.

    (c) It’s obvious that it was not an important doctrine in it’s day – not to Peter, Paul, James, or John. So why make it one today?

    The problem you have with Bell are with ideas that, in my opinion, don’t mean very much in actual response to having faith in God. You debate whether Jesus was a rabbi, what the ‘way’ meant, Trinity, and the virgin birth. Which one of those things actually changes what one will follow concerning the teachings of Jesus as related in the gospels or letters? None of those are ‘big deals’.

  9. So, in Isaiah 7, what is so remarkable about a ‘young woman’ being with child? How is that a sign?

    I think young women being with child was probably a relatively common occurence. A virgin being with child, however, is another thing entirely. Don’t give into the temptation to demythologize.

    There are in fact clues in the text that ‘alma’ means virgin in this usage.

  10. So, in Isaiah 7, what is so remarkable about a ‘young woman’ being with child? How is that a sign?

    I think young women being with child was probably a relatively common occurence. A virgin being with child, however, is another thing entirely. Don’t give into the temptation to demythologize.

    There are in fact clues in the text that ‘alma’ means virgin in this usage.

  11. @Steve and others You raise an interesting issue.

    First, I think its wrong to conflate McLaren and Rob Bell. Although they represent similar trains of thought, to me Rob Bell seems to get the Word more and be a tad more genuine. To me its a category mistake.

    I think a category mistake revolved around what it means to be Emergent. We do ourselves and future generations a grand mistake to miss this huge distinction (its on par when the media groups all evangelicals or all people from a geographical area of the country together or any stereotypes for that matter)

    From what I’ve learned in the last 24 hours, there are 5 strains of Emergent. McLaren seems to be the movement leader of the most revolutionary (and I would argue misguided) group. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/february/11.35.html
    I believe Shane to his credit did a fantastic job of integrating an openness and humility to the point of view he represents and a respect for his dignity and voice, which I applaud.

    Second, was it Time, Newsweek, or US News that said Rob Bell was the next Billy Graham. Even outside of that Rob Bells influence with his church, his podcast, and his books is hard to wrap your mind around. To ignore him, is hardly going to work.

    I do have a question. From my understanding, the book is about a turn in the way we interpret scripture. Is Bell’s playing fast and loose with the Greek mean that his entire thesis is flawed, or does at least some of the interpretative theology still hold?

    Thanks for such a great piece Shane. I really think this is an important dialouge, especially when we approach issues from a combination of Scripture and humility.

  12. @Steve and others You raise an interesting issue.

    First, I think its wrong to conflate McLaren and Rob Bell. Although they represent similar trains of thought, to me Rob Bell seems to get the Word more and be a tad more genuine. To me its a category mistake.

    I think a category mistake revolved around what it means to be Emergent. We do ourselves and future generations a grand mistake to miss this huge distinction (its on par when the media groups all evangelicals or all people from a geographical area of the country together or any stereotypes for that matter)

    From what I’ve learned in the last 24 hours, there are 5 strains of Emergent. McLaren seems to be the movement leader of the most revolutionary (and I would argue misguided) group. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/february/11.35.html
    I believe Shane to his credit did a fantastic job of integrating an openness and humility to the point of view he represents and a respect for his dignity and voice, which I applaud.

    Second, was it Time, Newsweek, or US News that said Rob Bell was the next Billy Graham. Even outside of that Rob Bells influence with his church, his podcast, and his books is hard to wrap your mind around. To ignore him, is hardly going to work.

    I do have a question. From my understanding, the book is about a turn in the way we interpret scripture. Is Bell’s playing fast and loose with the Greek mean that his entire thesis is flawed, or does at least some of the interpretative theology still hold?

    Thanks for such a great piece Shane. I really think this is an important dialouge, especially when we approach issues from a combination of Scripture and humility.

  13. @Steve – I agree with Nathan – I’m not quite comfortable lumping Bell in with McLaren and his ilk. I wouldn’t call him a false teacher, but I would say that he is wrong in a number of areas.

    I say that with a caveat – I’m basing that statement on Velvet Elvis and Jesus Wants to Save Christians (at least what I’ve read so far, I’m not done yet). I also haven’t read Sex God. I’ve listened to a few of his sermons, but haven’t heard all his teaching. Perhaps he’s said or written something I’m not aware of?

    I do agree with you that the failures of evangelicalism has made the ground ready for the Emergent movement. Of which my main beef are those representing the Emergent Village. Bell doesn’t identify himself with them.

    @YHC – I respectfully disagree. While I think it is foolish to say we’ve got it all figured out and have an absolute timeline set. I think it is equally foolish to say it is just pure symbolism. Why would it make sense for a pastor to do that. If they wanted to send a message to the church for then – why not just say it? Epistles were written and received while undergoing persecution.

    So are you saying as well that Christ will not be returning? How far do you take that? I’m a futurist when looking at Revelation, but I would be more inclined to accept a Historicist position than I would a Preterist, mainly because of their handling of Revelation 20-22.

    Regarding authorship of Revelation- there is no consensus on this one way or the other. Imagery, literary forms, liturgical framework and symbolism that there are similarities with Revelation and the Gospel of John and John’s epistles.

    Also early and widespread testimony attributes the book to the apostle John, and there really hasn’t been a convincing argument that has been advanced against this view. Regardless of authorship, the Church has come to acknowledge Revelation as divinely authoritative, inspired Scripture.

    @Society – not trying to divorce the Gospels from it’s Jewish context. Just saying that Jesus did not advance Mishnah and Talmudic rabbinic practices. I think you need to read some of Bell’s work to know what I’m talking about. I am not the only one to critique him on this. I’ve not yet read a review of Velvet Elvis by a New Testament scholar that did not critique him regarding this. They are not denying Jesus’ Jewish roots, but rather that the traditions that he has specifically referred to were not widely practiced at that time.

    Regarding your explanation of “the way” while I obviously agree that the way of Jesus is demonstrated in the verses you cite you are still taking that verse out of its immediate context.

    Regarding the Trinity… you are right. The word Trinity is not mentioned. The doctrine is implied in numerous areas however. Most notably in Matthew 3 at Jesus’ baptism.

    Regarding the virgin birth… it isn’t a minor doctrine:

    The virgin birth made possible the uniting of full deity and full humanity in one person. This was the means God used to send His Son, (John 3:16; Galatians 4:4).

    The virgin birth also makes possible Christ’s true humanity without inherited sin.

    Regarding Isaiah 7:14 – the verdict is still out on that. Steve brings up a good point

    Regardless the context of Matthew 1 and Luke 1 demonstrate that Mary was indeed a virgin as we think of the word.

    I would also like to point out that the New Testament was also written to gentiles as well as the Gospel is for all peoples, not just the Jewish people. What troubles me most with Bell’s and your’s is this notion that you have to be intimately familiar with rabbinic literature in order to understand New Testament scripture. That isn’t the case. While it is helpful and will give some insight it isn’t the end all and be all of biblical interpretation. A handle on the historical context, social life, economy, political situation, different groups are all helpful in understanding context. Knowing the Old Testament is also important, I do believe in interpreting scripture with scripture.

    My main thing while as interesting as the Mishnah and Talmud may be – they are not inspired. They are commentary.

    @Nathan – I’m not sure I would put Bell in that light. The same has been said of Rick Warren which I think would be more likely at this point. Honestly I don’t think we’ll see anyone with the type of influence that Billy Graham had again. I could be wrong on that though.

    Regarding interpretative theology – note the last paragraph on my remarks to Society.

    What Bell does that we definitely need to take note is connect with youth and young adults. I don’t think it is his usage of rabbinic literature that does this, but his storytelling ability – capturing the narrative present in the Bible. That’s my two cents.

  14. @Steve – I agree with Nathan – I’m not quite comfortable lumping Bell in with McLaren and his ilk. I wouldn’t call him a false teacher, but I would say that he is wrong in a number of areas.

    I say that with a caveat – I’m basing that statement on Velvet Elvis and Jesus Wants to Save Christians (at least what I’ve read so far, I’m not done yet). I also haven’t read Sex God. I’ve listened to a few of his sermons, but haven’t heard all his teaching. Perhaps he’s said or written something I’m not aware of?

    I do agree with you that the failures of evangelicalism has made the ground ready for the Emergent movement. Of which my main beef are those representing the Emergent Village. Bell doesn’t identify himself with them.

    @YHC – I respectfully disagree. While I think it is foolish to say we’ve got it all figured out and have an absolute timeline set. I think it is equally foolish to say it is just pure symbolism. Why would it make sense for a pastor to do that. If they wanted to send a message to the church for then – why not just say it? Epistles were written and received while undergoing persecution.

    So are you saying as well that Christ will not be returning? How far do you take that? I’m a futurist when looking at Revelation, but I would be more inclined to accept a Historicist position than I would a Preterist, mainly because of their handling of Revelation 20-22.

    Regarding authorship of Revelation- there is no consensus on this one way or the other. Imagery, literary forms, liturgical framework and symbolism that there are similarities with Revelation and the Gospel of John and John’s epistles.

    Also early and widespread testimony attributes the book to the apostle John, and there really hasn’t been a convincing argument that has been advanced against this view. Regardless of authorship, the Church has come to acknowledge Revelation as divinely authoritative, inspired Scripture.

    @Society – not trying to divorce the Gospels from it’s Jewish context. Just saying that Jesus did not advance Mishnah and Talmudic rabbinic practices. I think you need to read some of Bell’s work to know what I’m talking about. I am not the only one to critique him on this. I’ve not yet read a review of Velvet Elvis by a New Testament scholar that did not critique him regarding this. They are not denying Jesus’ Jewish roots, but rather that the traditions that he has specifically referred to were not widely practiced at that time.

    Regarding your explanation of “the way” while I obviously agree that the way of Jesus is demonstrated in the verses you cite you are still taking that verse out of its immediate context.

    Regarding the Trinity… you are right. The word Trinity is not mentioned. The doctrine is implied in numerous areas however. Most notably in Matthew 3 at Jesus’ baptism.

    Regarding the virgin birth… it isn’t a minor doctrine:

    The virgin birth made possible the uniting of full deity and full humanity in one person. This was the means God used to send His Son, (John 3:16; Galatians 4:4).

    The virgin birth also makes possible Christ’s true humanity without inherited sin.

    Regarding Isaiah 7:14 – the verdict is still out on that. Steve brings up a good point

    Regardless the context of Matthew 1 and Luke 1 demonstrate that Mary was indeed a virgin as we think of the word.

    I would also like to point out that the New Testament was also written to gentiles as well as the Gospel is for all peoples, not just the Jewish people. What troubles me most with Bell’s and your’s is this notion that you have to be intimately familiar with rabbinic literature in order to understand New Testament scripture. That isn’t the case. While it is helpful and will give some insight it isn’t the end all and be all of biblical interpretation. A handle on the historical context, social life, economy, political situation, different groups are all helpful in understanding context. Knowing the Old Testament is also important, I do believe in interpreting scripture with scripture.

    My main thing while as interesting as the Mishnah and Talmud may be – they are not inspired. They are commentary.

    @Nathan – I’m not sure I would put Bell in that light. The same has been said of Rick Warren which I think would be more likely at this point. Honestly I don’t think we’ll see anyone with the type of influence that Billy Graham had again. I could be wrong on that though.

    Regarding interpretative theology – note the last paragraph on my remarks to Society.

    What Bell does that we definitely need to take note is connect with youth and young adults. I don’t think it is his usage of rabbinic literature that does this, but his storytelling ability – capturing the narrative present in the Bible. That’s my two cents.

  15. Hey, all

    I appreciate the pushback.

    I am aware of the various streams of Emergence, and have heard Driscoll try to explain it. While I was not aware thet Rob Bell did not associate himself with Emergent Village, I still believe that he and McLaren are more alike than unlike.

    In one of his Nooma videos he talks about Peter walking on water and how he failed because he did not have faith in himself. It was a startling injection of humanism disguising itself as teaching Scripture. It’s the link I gave you guys in my earlier comment.

    It’s one reason I categorize Bell the way I do.

    A pretty good book on this is “Why We’re Not Emergent” by DeYoung & Kluck. It’s a reasoned, gentle spanking of both Bell and McLaren (along with some others) that has a fair amount of research behind it.

    I must maintain that in spite of Rob Bell’s strengths, his rather profound liabilities outweigh them. I know that sounds graceless, and I know such harshness is not always helpful in discussions such as these, but there is a lot at stake.

    And I did not mean to give the impression that I’m ignoring Rob Bell or any facet of Emergence. Sorry if I caused you guys to misread me. I was saying that I’m not going to try to listen closely and take them seriously, as I think that is unprofitable for me personally.

    It is very much worth engaging their ideas, however. The beauty of this movement is that it forces Evangelicals with any integrity to engage. It is tonic, in that sense.

    Heck, I lead a group of young adults in the heart of Chicago. I would ignore Emergent guys at my own peril!

  16. Hey, all

    I appreciate the pushback.

    I am aware of the various streams of Emergence, and have heard Driscoll try to explain it. While I was not aware thet Rob Bell did not associate himself with Emergent Village, I still believe that he and McLaren are more alike than unlike.

    In one of his Nooma videos he talks about Peter walking on water and how he failed because he did not have faith in himself. It was a startling injection of humanism disguising itself as teaching Scripture. It’s the link I gave you guys in my earlier comment.

    It’s one reason I categorize Bell the way I do.

    A pretty good book on this is “Why We’re Not Emergent” by DeYoung & Kluck. It’s a reasoned, gentle spanking of both Bell and McLaren (along with some others) that has a fair amount of research behind it.

    I must maintain that in spite of Rob Bell’s strengths, his rather profound liabilities outweigh them. I know that sounds graceless, and I know such harshness is not always helpful in discussions such as these, but there is a lot at stake.

    And I did not mean to give the impression that I’m ignoring Rob Bell or any facet of Emergence. Sorry if I caused you guys to misread me. I was saying that I’m not going to try to listen closely and take them seriously, as I think that is unprofitable for me personally.

    It is very much worth engaging their ideas, however. The beauty of this movement is that it forces Evangelicals with any integrity to engage. It is tonic, in that sense.

    Heck, I lead a group of young adults in the heart of Chicago. I would ignore Emergent guys at my own peril!

  17. Shane, respectfully I think you are missing my point. It isn’t really important whether intended audience took the John’s apocalypse literally or even whether the author of Revelations himself believed it.

    Second century Apocalyptic literature is more like science fiction than prophecy and if you asked any pious Christian of the era they certain wouldn’t have put it on the level of the OT prophets.

    If you really take a look at the book itself and not the traditions of so called “experts” there is only one conclusion: isn’t prophecy.

  18. Shane, respectfully I think you are missing my point. It isn’t really important whether intended audience took the John’s apocalypse literally or even whether the author of Revelations himself believed it.

    Second century Apocalyptic literature is more like science fiction than prophecy and if you asked any pious Christian of the era they certain wouldn’t have put it on the level of the OT prophets.

    If you really take a look at the book itself and not the traditions of so called “experts” there is only one conclusion: isn’t prophecy.

  19. YHC –
    There are some clear differences from other apocalyptic books:
    1. Unlike other apocalyptic books, Revelation clearly claims to be a book of prophecy (1:3; 22:7; 10, 18-19). This identified the message of Revelation, as in the OT prophetic tradition, with the Word of God, (1:2; 19:9).

    Other apocalyptic books used the literary form of prophecy to trace the course of history from ancient times down to their own day. This method isn’t followed in Revelation. John clearly places himself in the contemporary world of the first century and speaks of the future consummation in the same way you see in Ezekiel and Jeremiah.

    2. Other extrabiblical apocalyptic literature are clearly pseudonymous, Revelation is attributed to John.

    3. Many of the other apocalyptic books blame the plight of God’s people on the presence of evil in the world, not on their unfaithfulness. Revelation does encourage, but it also urges the churches to repent.

    4. Those other apocalyptic books are pessimistic concerning the outcome of God’s present activity in the world, and looks only to the eschatological end. Revelation is different. You see some aspects that are already complete. The victory of the slain Lamb, (ch. 5). The Lamb’s victory is being worked out in the present suffering of his followers, (12:11; 15:2). Their deaths are seen in Revelation as a part of the victory over evil that God is already working out in the world.

    So you see this partial victory by the saints is then combined with the final victory of God at the end of history.

    Any relation to apocalyptic literature of that era is pretty much superficial.

    You say that the early church held a preterist view of Revelation. That is not the case. Some of the earliest expositors were Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Hippolytus. The preterist system didn’t even exist until the 17th century.

    So don’t know what early church document you are reading to come to your conclusion.

  20. YHC –
    There are some clear differences from other apocalyptic books:
    1. Unlike other apocalyptic books, Revelation clearly claims to be a book of prophecy (1:3; 22:7; 10, 18-19). This identified the message of Revelation, as in the OT prophetic tradition, with the Word of God, (1:2; 19:9).

    Other apocalyptic books used the literary form of prophecy to trace the course of history from ancient times down to their own day. This method isn’t followed in Revelation. John clearly places himself in the contemporary world of the first century and speaks of the future consummation in the same way you see in Ezekiel and Jeremiah.

    2. Other extrabiblical apocalyptic literature are clearly pseudonymous, Revelation is attributed to John.

    3. Many of the other apocalyptic books blame the plight of God’s people on the presence of evil in the world, not on their unfaithfulness. Revelation does encourage, but it also urges the churches to repent.

    4. Those other apocalyptic books are pessimistic concerning the outcome of God’s present activity in the world, and looks only to the eschatological end. Revelation is different. You see some aspects that are already complete. The victory of the slain Lamb, (ch. 5). The Lamb’s victory is being worked out in the present suffering of his followers, (12:11; 15:2). Their deaths are seen in Revelation as a part of the victory over evil that God is already working out in the world.

    So you see this partial victory by the saints is then combined with the final victory of God at the end of history.

    Any relation to apocalyptic literature of that era is pretty much superficial.

    You say that the early church held a preterist view of Revelation. That is not the case. Some of the earliest expositors were Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Hippolytus. The preterist system didn’t even exist until the 17th century.

    So don’t know what early church document you are reading to come to your conclusion.

  21. I certainly don’t want to add to the fray, too much. . .or do I? I actually have a strong fondness for Rob Bell and his teachings, which I think are quite grounded in history and Godly wisdom. I think some of the questions brought up here didn’t seem to be represented properly, but I’ve been listening to his sermons for the past 4 years. I think this gives me some clarity into the man behind the short quotes.

    That’s kinda a big point, though. Do you read something, interpret it through your own lens, and then judge it, or do you try and dig deep and understand the message behind the words. One instance is the virgin birth thing, he never said that Mary wasn’t a virgin, quite the opposite. He did, however, bring up a phrase that would have been used during that time that might help you understand the context better. Regardless, I think he would be appalled that some think he doesn’t believe in the virgin birth.

    Also, he has told interviewers that not every single thing he talks about is a personally held belief. He purposely takes it to an extreme sometimes so that people will at least start to dialogue (like we’re doing). This is much like what Mclaren does. You may not like it, but it certainly does provoke thought. Personally, I don’t fall in and support Emergent because they have gone too far with a concept that started as very good. Even McLaren (a founder of Emergent) said to a reporter that it has turned into something it was never meant to be.

    Final thought, I love what Rob and McLaren do, they get dialogue going. I preach/teach by asking alot of questions. I was told once that a pastor is supposed to give answsers, not questions. I humbly suggest that it is our job to inspire people to discover, not spoon feed them like little babies. Maybe if we did more of that, we wouldn’t have so many people wandering around looking for a church that “feeds them”. What a disgusting phrase to be uttered by a Christian!

    Okay, I wrote more than I thought I would. Rob, good. Shane, good. All thoughts and points of view on this topic have value. Can both sides be “right” at the same time?

  22. I certainly don’t want to add to the fray, too much. . .or do I? I actually have a strong fondness for Rob Bell and his teachings, which I think are quite grounded in history and Godly wisdom. I think some of the questions brought up here didn’t seem to be represented properly, but I’ve been listening to his sermons for the past 4 years. I think this gives me some clarity into the man behind the short quotes.

    That’s kinda a big point, though. Do you read something, interpret it through your own lens, and then judge it, or do you try and dig deep and understand the message behind the words. One instance is the virgin birth thing, he never said that Mary wasn’t a virgin, quite the opposite. He did, however, bring up a phrase that would have been used during that time that might help you understand the context better. Regardless, I think he would be appalled that some think he doesn’t believe in the virgin birth.

    Also, he has told interviewers that not every single thing he talks about is a personally held belief. He purposely takes it to an extreme sometimes so that people will at least start to dialogue (like we’re doing). This is much like what Mclaren does. You may not like it, but it certainly does provoke thought. Personally, I don’t fall in and support Emergent because they have gone too far with a concept that started as very good. Even McLaren (a founder of Emergent) said to a reporter that it has turned into something it was never meant to be.

    Final thought, I love what Rob and McLaren do, they get dialogue going. I preach/teach by asking alot of questions. I was told once that a pastor is supposed to give answsers, not questions. I humbly suggest that it is our job to inspire people to discover, not spoon feed them like little babies. Maybe if we did more of that, we wouldn’t have so many people wandering around looking for a church that “feeds them”. What a disgusting phrase to be uttered by a Christian!

    Okay, I wrote more than I thought I would. Rob, good. Shane, good. All thoughts and points of view on this topic have value. Can both sides be “right” at the same time?

  23. Shane – I’m in full agreement with you and have the same concerns and feelings on the subject. People have itching ears.

    Scriptures seem to be clear that teachers are held to a higher standard and I’m concerned that some emerging pastors may be irresponsible in how they “start dialogue” on the nature of Jesus and the Scriptures. I hope they don’t cross the line if they haven’t already.

  24. Shane – I’m in full agreement with you and have the same concerns and feelings on the subject. People have itching ears.

    Scriptures seem to be clear that teachers are held to a higher standard and I’m concerned that some emerging pastors may be irresponsible in how they “start dialogue” on the nature of Jesus and the Scriptures. I hope they don’t cross the line if they haven’t already.

  25. It’s good to ask questions, and it’s really good to get people thinking. No argument there. Amen.

    However, the idea behind asking questions is ostensibly to find answers, is it not?

    I like the fact that the Emergents are questioning assumptions. Evangelicals have far too many.

    What I don’t like is the fact that despite their “anti-conclusionism”, they come to goofy conclusions. One example: “The only thing we can know for sure about God is that we can’t know anything for sure about God” (my paraphrase of one Emergent guy).

    Or McLaren saying that systematic theology is like “freeze-drying and shrink-wrapping God.” I know he’s trying to be provocative, but I really think his approach is a bit juvenile. Not to mention the fact that he’s wrong.

    It’s OK for one to have questions, and even to question his own faith. Indeed, we’re exhorted to examine ourselves to see whether we’re in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5).

    But the job of a teacher is ultimately to lead people to the truth – an iffy concept for some postmoderns, unfortunately. A good teacher uses questions – much like Jesus did – to get people to see for themselves.

    What I think is a serious issue with a lot of Emergent guys is that they seem to be having a very public crisis of faith in the role of de facto leaders, pastors and teachers. While that may appear “genuine” or “authentic”, I think it’s much better to get the big stuff sorted out before you take on the mantle of leadership.

    Otherwise, all you end up doing is undermining confidence in revealed truth.

  26. It’s good to ask questions, and it’s really good to get people thinking. No argument there. Amen.

    However, the idea behind asking questions is ostensibly to find answers, is it not?

    I like the fact that the Emergents are questioning assumptions. Evangelicals have far too many.

    What I don’t like is the fact that despite their “anti-conclusionism”, they come to goofy conclusions. One example: “The only thing we can know for sure about God is that we can’t know anything for sure about God” (my paraphrase of one Emergent guy).

    Or McLaren saying that systematic theology is like “freeze-drying and shrink-wrapping God.” I know he’s trying to be provocative, but I really think his approach is a bit juvenile. Not to mention the fact that he’s wrong.

    It’s OK for one to have questions, and even to question his own faith. Indeed, we’re exhorted to examine ourselves to see whether we’re in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5).

    But the job of a teacher is ultimately to lead people to the truth – an iffy concept for some postmoderns, unfortunately. A good teacher uses questions – much like Jesus did – to get people to see for themselves.

    What I think is a serious issue with a lot of Emergent guys is that they seem to be having a very public crisis of faith in the role of de facto leaders, pastors and teachers. While that may appear “genuine” or “authentic”, I think it’s much better to get the big stuff sorted out before you take on the mantle of leadership.

    Otherwise, all you end up doing is undermining confidence in revealed truth.

  27. “There are in fact clues in the text that ‘alma’ means virgin in this usage.” (Steve)

    What clues? That comes from Isaiah 7 – what clues could possible exist to show that means virgin? I guess I am all ears on this one.

    “Regarding your explanation of “the way” while I obviously agree that the way of Jesus is demonstrated in the verses you cite you are still taking that verse out of its immediate context” (Shane)

    The context is about a question concerning the afterlife (heaven). Now I am pretty sure Jesus is not some super-highway (in a literal sense) to that place. If this was so – we could just find some pathway called ‘Jesus’ and walk up it into heaven. To me, the passage is in context – in its chapter or surrounding writings. To me, it seems clear Jesus breaks down more what this ‘way’ is about – and it seems to be about what he taught his followers.

    “Regarding the Trinity… you are right. The word Trinity is not mentioned. The doctrine is implied in numerous areas however. Most notably in Matthew 3 at Jesus’ baptism.” (Shane)

    Implied? Is this what makes for solid doctrine? Trinity as a concept is not something that was taught through-out the 27 books of the NT – and within the 39 books of the OT has no mention either. I find it a tad odd most Christian denom’s have this as part of their first article of faith when it is an ‘implied’ doctrine with no substance in 66 books.

    “The virgin birth made possible the uniting of full deity and full humanity in one person. This was the means God used to send His Son, (John 3:16; Galatians 4:4).” (Shane)

    The so called ‘god-man’ unity. On one level that makes no sense – because if Jesus is part God while on earth – how is it he can be tempted? Also, how is this person considered fully human? No human I ever met had a piece of ‘god’ in them. On some levels that doctrine is questionable.

    “Regardless the context of Matthew 1 and Luke 1 demonstrate that Mary was indeed a virgin as we think of the word.” (Shane)

    True, those 2 passages speak to that idea. But they base it on ideas from the Tanakh – namely the Isaiah verse in 7:14 (which is debatable that is what was meant in that passage). Also, why isn’t the virgin birth so much as mentioned in Acts or in Paul’s letters? Is it even mentioned outside those 2 gospels?

  28. “There are in fact clues in the text that ‘alma’ means virgin in this usage.” (Steve)

    What clues? That comes from Isaiah 7 – what clues could possible exist to show that means virgin? I guess I am all ears on this one.

    “Regarding your explanation of “the way” while I obviously agree that the way of Jesus is demonstrated in the verses you cite you are still taking that verse out of its immediate context” (Shane)

    The context is about a question concerning the afterlife (heaven). Now I am pretty sure Jesus is not some super-highway (in a literal sense) to that place. If this was so – we could just find some pathway called ‘Jesus’ and walk up it into heaven. To me, the passage is in context – in its chapter or surrounding writings. To me, it seems clear Jesus breaks down more what this ‘way’ is about – and it seems to be about what he taught his followers.

    “Regarding the Trinity… you are right. The word Trinity is not mentioned. The doctrine is implied in numerous areas however. Most notably in Matthew 3 at Jesus’ baptism.” (Shane)

    Implied? Is this what makes for solid doctrine? Trinity as a concept is not something that was taught through-out the 27 books of the NT – and within the 39 books of the OT has no mention either. I find it a tad odd most Christian denom’s have this as part of their first article of faith when it is an ‘implied’ doctrine with no substance in 66 books.

    “The virgin birth made possible the uniting of full deity and full humanity in one person. This was the means God used to send His Son, (John 3:16; Galatians 4:4).” (Shane)

    The so called ‘god-man’ unity. On one level that makes no sense – because if Jesus is part God while on earth – how is it he can be tempted? Also, how is this person considered fully human? No human I ever met had a piece of ‘god’ in them. On some levels that doctrine is questionable.

    “Regardless the context of Matthew 1 and Luke 1 demonstrate that Mary was indeed a virgin as we think of the word.” (Shane)

    True, those 2 passages speak to that idea. But they base it on ideas from the Tanakh – namely the Isaiah verse in 7:14 (which is debatable that is what was meant in that passage). Also, why isn’t the virgin birth so much as mentioned in Acts or in Paul’s letters? Is it even mentioned outside those 2 gospels?

  29. By the way, Bell's book is titled, “Jesus Wants to Save Christians” not “…sinners” (about 9 paragraphs down). I have to say, I think you, too, miss the point a bit. Do you disagree with Bell in his statement that Jesus is the “ultimate reality – the way life is meant to be lived”? How do you know for sure Jesus was talking soley about heaven? Bell spoke truth in that passage and every passage example you have used. I find your concern for youth pastors embracing Bell is unremarkable. Perhaps you should be more concerned with larger issues…say, the poor and the oppressed?

  30. Lacey, thanks for joining this thread about three months late.

    I didn't say I disagree with everything that he says and does, and if you looked I commended him on his work on behalf of the poor and oppressed.

    Which, by the way, is what I do full-time – work with poor and oppressed high risk kids. So please don't think that you know me.

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