A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Exegesis Is Hell: Once Again, Rob Bell on Hell

My friend and colleague at Ashland Theological Seminary, John Byron, is posting a multi-part series on Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins. His review focuses on three areas: exegesis, the concept of hell, and the salvation of humanity.

From the second part of his review that he posts today, John writes the following:
He [Bell] simply is not careful in the way that he uses scripture. At times he uses scripture to prop up his ideas in the same way that a school play will create a stage. From the front it all looks fine. There might be a few blemishes here and there, but for the most part it communicates the setting of the story. A quick glance, perhaps from a distance, could give you the impression that this is a first rate production put together by those who clearly know what they are doing. But upon closer inspection you notice that the set is held together by masking tape and coat hangers. A well-aimed kick at just one of the props and the whole set is in danger of collapsing on itself.

The set the Rob Bell creates from the Bible looks “ok” and perhaps even “logical” with a quick glance from the distance. But the biggest hindrance to the way he reads scripture is his failure to observe context.

...adding to his unfortunate use of scripture, Bell moves from his conclusions about Sodom and Gomorrah to providing a string of scripture verses in which God has promised restoration, reconciliation and return. He is correct. These statements are there. But the context makes all the difference in the world. These promises are not for a generic people. They are made to a specific people, to Israel and Judah. God’s chosen covenantal people. To suggest that these are timeless promises, to all peoples, that refer to the possibility that ultimately all people will restored to God regardless of their obedience or lack of obedience to God (which is what Bell ultimately suggests p. 91) is just not sustainable.

As Karl Barth said, exegesis, exegesis, and yet more exegesis!
The last point that John makes about promises to a specific people instead of a generic one strikes home with me. I have frequently argued on this blog, and will do so in my soon-to-be-released book, The Politics of Witness, that when it comes to politics and ethics, too many Christians from all political and moral leanings read the moral adomonitions of Scripture as if they are meant for a generic people instead of a specific people-- the people of God Israel and the Church. That is off in a different place from where John is headed in his review, but it is another reminder of the singular significance of the rigorous exegetical work necessary when it comes to interpreting and utilizing Scripture.
Check out the rest of John's second post here, with yesterday's first part, linked here. And check his blog the rest of the week for his further thoughts on hell and salvation.


betty newman said...

Things like this just make my head hurt. We, the laity cry out from the pews because not only do we not understand, but we don't know who to believe anymore. Our church has gone off in so many directions that we're just left tired and confused. With each pastoral change, we might get a totally different view of scripture. The pastor can tell the DCOM one thing and preach something opposite from the pulpit.(At least in our Dustrict, the DS never comes to hear the pastor, so they have no clue what is being taught.) We (the congregation) have to trust someone... we just don't know who any longer. No wonder church attendence and membership is declining, who knows what to believe? Please Holy Spirit, teach me and direct my heart. I have no one here to trust any more. Amen.

OrigamiGirl said...

Talking of out of context... I think that reviewing a section of his book without telling us more about the book in general seems a little unfair. Also to say that God's promises are only for his 'chosen people' seems to go against much of what Jesus says. Perhaps Rob Bell did miss te rhetoric of some of these passages but that doesnt mean the message of redemption is not apt.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Did you read both of Dr. Byron's posts?

Craig L. Adams said...

I commented to someone recently that Rob's book is not heretical it's half-baked. The handling of Scripture is the main problem, but he is also rather vague about what he really thinks. I am in general sympathy with what (I think) Rob is saying. I just wish this were a more careful and credible book.

Craig L. Adams said...

Oh, and I am very much in sympathy with Betty's dilemma. I don't trust anyone in the UMC either, and I'm sorry I ever did.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Betty and Craig,

A nerve has obviously been struck. If you are willing to do so, I would like for you to go into a little more detail.