the question behind the question

I don’t want to blog too much about Love Wins, as I already put my thoughts into Christ Alone and I don’t want to overly contribute to Rob Bell fatigue. But I do think it’s important to say that many discussions about LW miss the point. LW is dangerously wrong about hell and post-mortem salvation, but these issues are merely symptoms of a deeper and more serious problem: LW presents a different gospel.

Many readers miss this because LW says that Paul says that Jesus “paid the price for our sins, so that we could go free” (126). Isn’t this the traditional, evangelical understanding of the gospel? No, and here’s why:

1. LW says that this “courtroom” scene of a guilty party going free is merely an analogy or simile that the first century Christians used to describe the cross. They weren’t describing what God actually did on the cross—a truth that would be true for all times and cultures—but were merely describing the cross “in language their audiences would understand” (128). “What the first Christians did was look around them and put the Jesus story in language their listeners would understand. It’s like this…  It’s like that” (129). In response, evangelicals would say that Paul’s doctrine of justification is more than a human analogy. It isn’t merely “like this” or “like that.” Rather, it is precisely what God actually was doing on the cross.

2. LW suggests that this evangelical “analogy” is no longer appropriate for us. If the theories of the atonement are merely human descriptions of the cross, then it makes sense that our understanding of the atonement would change as our culture changes. And so LW concludes that “the sacrificial metaphor”—where Jesus bears our sins in our place—no longer resonates with us, for we no longer live in a world where people sacrifice things to appease the gods. LW says “there are pockets of primitive cultures around the world that do continue to understand sin, guilt, and atonement in those ways. But most of us don’t” (128-29).

LW implies that modern people have grown beyond this traditional understanding of the cross. It’s rather “primitive” to “continue to understand sin, guilt, and atonement in those ways.” LW not only misses the point of Jesus’ sacrifice—the cross was the fulfillment of the Jewish sacrificial system rather than the correction of misguided pagan sacrifices—it manages to praise Paul’s “analogy” even as it dismisses it. LW explains:

“The point, then, isn’t to narrow it to one particular metaphor, image, explanation, or mechanism. To elevate one over the others, to insist that there’s a ‘correct’ or ‘right’ one, is to miss the brilliant, creative work these first Christians were doing when they used these images and metaphors. They were reading their world, looking for ways to communicate this epic event in ways their listeners could grasp” (129).

Here’s the point: while LW does mention that Paul said that Jesus died to pay for our sins, it quickly dismisses this as merely a human analogy that no longer speaks meaningfully today (except perhaps among “primitive” people). What model or theory of the atonement does LW put in its place? Existentialism. Modern people may not appreciate the “sacrificial metaphor,” but they do understand existential angst. This is the lens through which LW interprets the cross, and as I explain in Christ Alone, this contemporary lens produces a different gospel—one that is too weak to keep anyone from going to hell.






40 responses to “the question behind the question”

  1. david sims

    Thank you…right to the base…

  2. A very helpful explanation Dr. Wittmer. Thank you for clearly communicating these issues!

  3. Excellent point, Dr. Wittmer. Later in the book he describes the metaphors (“signs, glimpses, tastes”) of baptism and communion/Eucharist as “rituals that are true for us because they are true for everybody” (p 156-57). But I am not familiar with water submersion as a contemporary practice in today’s culture outside of the church. No one is getting “baptized” as initiation into any sort club or group that I am aware of. A good question for Bell might be, Why must we practice a metaphor of baptism as true for everybody and reject the alleged ‘metaphor’ of atonement as an antiquated relic?

  4. mikewittmer

    That’s a sharp insight, Aaron, and it demonstrates the inconsistency that is bound to arise in our theology when we take our cues from culture rather than Scripture. The obvious answer is that the rite of baptism can be interpreted to fit his existentialist system, while bloody sacrifices don’t work so well. Indeed, they are necessarily removed by it, for the whole point of being a Christian existentialist is to know that “the universe is on our side” (p. 137) or that “the gods aren’t angry” with us. The idea of sacrifice puts that in doubt, and so they must be dismissed as inappropriate for our enlightened age.

  5. You are correct about taking our clues from culture. John Stott, in ‘The Cross of Christ’, seemed to have been confronted with metaphor understanding of atonement when he wrote: “…propitiation, redemption, justification, and reconciliation. These are New Testament ‘images,’ metaphors of what God has done in and through Christ’s death. ‘Substitution,’ however, is not another image; it is the reality that lies behind them all” (p. 330). Thanks, Dr. Wittmer! 🙂

  6. Darrell Yoder

    Interesting. I haven’t read the Cross of Christ, but that quote raises a question for me, a little off the subject of Love Wins, but still relevant. Is “reconciliation” really just an image or metaphor and not a reality? Perhaps that’s not what Stott suggests.

    Is our “relationship with Jesus” just a metaphor or do we really have a relationship in which we walk with, talk with, and commune with our Creator (Jesus)? I would argue reconciliation is a reality, not just a metaphor/image.

    BYW, thanks for your book, Christ Alone, Dr. Wittmer. It’s very helpful.

  7. Hi Mike,

    Can you explain “Existentialism” for me and then tell me what an existential atonement theory would look like?


  8. Nate Dawson

    Existentialism may be one lens through which Bell looks to interpret Scripture, but I disagree that he is preaching a gospel too weak to keep anyone from going to heaven.

    To summerize his thinking as liberal exestentialism seems to limit the redemptive work and faith Rob Bell himself has in the resurrected Jesus. Like Slanley Hauerwas, he is more concerned with what the resurrection calls Christians into as opposed to ones personal doctrinal statement. Or to put it another way, what we do as Christian is actually what we really believe. I would suggest that this is why Mars Hill welcomes people with differing theologies and why Bell calls the christian tradition a wide stream.

    Personally, I wouldn’t use the term orthodoxy to define this wide stream as he seems to do. Rather, I would just leave it at wide stream. But that wide stream does include existentialists and universalsists — even if one might disagree with them.

    I also understand your concern that he suggests all we need to do is live into our salvation. In one sense I agree with this because he is getting at the fact of the matter, which is that salavation is available to all. He often quotes Dallas Willard on this point. Unless one believes in double predistination, how can we argue with living into the salvation available to us? How is this differen than the ‘new birth’ language used by George Whitefield or “born agian” language by Billy Graham?

    Now, I understand this might not be the traditional notion of historic evangelicalism, but evangelicalism is a mixed bag these days. It includes all sorts (though this is probably your concern). Today we have evangelical universalsist. I just don’t see how going back to some pure evangelicalism rooted in Justifation by Faith and Scripture alone gets us anywhere.

    I was born into evangelicalism and chose to become an Anglican because of its creedal and episcopal rootedness — and its willingness to integrate Scripture, Tradition and Reason. But I see S,T and R in a Barthian and Catholic sense, where God is primarily revealed through Jesus and Scripture is a record of God’s revelation. Thus, S,T and R can be held together quite nicely.

    As I write this I can hear the Anglo-Catholic in me is coming out. I am sure some Protestant leaning Anglicans would take issue with some of what I’m saying here. They might want me to emphasize the more evangelical side of the Protestant Episcopal Church, but I prefer the more catholic leaning tendencies.

    I too am concerned that various atonement theories, even ones that are rooted in biblical motifs like substituion, are misunderstood and damaging within our cultural context. Yet, Bell is not dismissing the literary truth of it. Narratively, he is placing Jesus in a different light, focussing on other aspects of the biblical narrative, ones that are maybe easier to hear, but none-the-less, motifs. I may not communicate the same way he does, but in suggesting that Bell’s gospel is one that is too weak to keep anyone from going to hell, seems to suggest he and his friends who believe similar or even more extreme then him, are not Christians? Am I hearing you correctly?

  9. Nate Dawson

    Or, should I say hell — I botched that first paragraph.

  10. Rather than battle, I wonder this tonight:

    Perhaps you are correct. It may be a different gospel that Rob is preaching. While you continue to preach a gospel that is incapable of preaching at a local pub on any given night of the week, people who call themselves friends of Rob can be found throughout the city sharing life at pubs and living into the kingdom of God at any given time. People living outside the kingdom are taking notice and giving a listening ear.

    While your longing are for a pure gospel, I long for followers of Jesus to be willing to sacrifice their traditions for the sake of the kingdom. As the Apostle Paul would say, “I will become all things to all people for the sake of Jesus Christ.”

  11. I do not think that Paul would misrepresent God’s Word for the sake of Jesus, in fact I think that that is a huge contradiction. Scripture (pure Gospel) is not tradition, Jesus is the Rock and Scripture is the foundation of Christianity.

    Maybe Christianity Today misrepresented Bell when they quoted him, “discovering the Bible as a human product,” as Rob puts it, “rather than the product of divine fiat”

    It seems like these “innovative” leaders are more and more apt to disregard Scripture to be more and more “relevant”. What is relevant is the spiritual death and the need of salvation from Hell!

  12. Mike,

    When you write ‘different gospel’ it reminds me of Stotts old commentary ‘Only One Way’. In this commentary on Galatians he, (with the Apostle Paul) points out that ‘another gospel’ is no gospel at all and this person should be ‘under God’s curse’. Many of your comments about Rob Bell’s theology would lead me to believe that Rob is preaching ‘no gospel’. So then do you believe ‘anathema’ on Rob?

    Sometimes I am confused because you portray a gracious stance towards him…

    The relevant passage…

    ‘6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!’

  13. Michael

    “The Catholic Church is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.” G.K. Chesterton (his writings were instrumental in leading C.S. Lewis out of Atheism. Chesterton himself was a unitarian universalist before becoming Catholic.) The Catechism of the Catholic Church maintains the language that Christ paid for our sins. And their doctrines will not change with popular trends. As I wrote to you personally, Rob Bell’s flippancy with historical Christianity is in my view a symptom of a larger problem that began with Luther who went beyond merely urging for Church reform, but basically said “to hell with apostolic succession and ordination” and made jump in believing that each person has the authority to individually interpret Scripture. That is why Origen’s teaching on universal atonement were not accepted, but rejected IN COUNCIL with the rest of the Church because of the belief that Christ works through the catholicity of the Church to maintain and lead the Church in all truth (as he promised his disciples.) This is all seems very obvious now. So ever since Luther said “to hell with apostolic authority”, protestant Christianity now drifting into the spirit of the age and saying “to hell with hell”. And if you take a close look over the last four hundred years of the splintering into 30000 denominations, every protestant denomination has slipped into theological heresy and imbalance (emphasizing one teaching at the expense of the others.) And this is nothing new. When people pull themselves out from under the worldwide ecclesial authority of the Church, they become ships adrift. That is why Lutheran worldwide synod has signed a joint declaration on justification with the Catholic Church (and most believe they are close to being reunified) and now the Anglican Church is beginning to see movement back to the Catholic faith. (with even many clergy placing themselves under the petrine apostolic offfice.) These groups are coming to their senses and seeing the writing on the wall. This is what Cardinal Newman and to a lesser degree C.S. Lewis were pushing for in the Orthodox movement of Anglo-Catholicism. You might be surprised after reading the book “C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church” by Joseph Pearce (it was at the downtown library.) There are some surprising quotes gathered from Lewis and his friends. After reading that book, there is little doubt in my mind that Lewis would be Catholic today. It also addresses the flaw in Lewis’ concept of “mere Christianity” and where Lewis’ desire to write this book came from. The chapter on that I think is called “Mire Christianity”… The closing lecture included at the end of the book given by Lewis at an Anglican Seminary shortly before he died is very prophetic to what we are seeing today. I’d love to engage in some good interaction on these things with you Dr. Wittmer…

  14. Michael Bowers

    Dr. Wittmer, I am half through your latest book, Christ Alone and it has been an encouraging book to read through. So often when books are “in response” to another book you get done reading and you know more about what the author stands against rather than what he/she stands for. You have not only found a balance, but you very clearly state what you and what evangelical theology stands for. The fact that the theology and not the person is under scrutiny is a breath of fresh air.

    One a side note, it is sad when fellow brothers and sisters do not think high enough of the gospels to think that they can be communicated clearing in “secular” (i.e. pubs, work, school, etc.)atmospheres. If Jesus thought that the gospel was worth it enough to present to his culture (as offensive as it may be) without having to water it down; we as followers of him should be encouraged by that.

  15. mikewittmer

    Thank you for your kind words, Michael! I pray that the book will encourage Christians with the hope that we have in Jesus. And I agree with your comments about the gospel. A watered down gospel simply leaves people where it finds them–and so it is no gospel at all.

  16. I appreciate the spirit with which you write this book, Mike. And I much respect your knowledge and gift in communicating truth. But I too share in concerns expressed both by Nate and Daryl. As well as wonder if your book is a critique which is dependent on a Calvinism which I’m sure you see as resonant with scripture.

    I must add that while I gave your book a good look over, and read parts of it, I am reticent to read it, just as I find myself reticent to reread “Love Wins.” But I think I will do so. You certainly do write in a reader friendly way without watering down so as to lose the essence of what you’re saying, or talking about.

  17. mikewittmer

    Thanks, Ted. My central concern with Love Wins–that it minimizes sin and removes the necessity and meaning of Christ’s work on the cross and resurrection–should be a concern shared by any and all orthodox Christians. I realize that some Christians may be troubled that I have pointed this out, but then I am troubled that they are troubled. This discussion is not about people or personalities–so we don’t have to turn this debate into who is and who isn’t a wolf in sheep’s clothing–but my goodness, if we can’t stand up and defend the gospel of Jesus now, then we’ve probably already lost it.

  18. Mike, Thanks. Well, in it Rob suggests or at least seems to leave light to believe that he does accept the gospel as it has been received from scripture by the church. But that he suggests a different outworking of it.

    The way he writes is not my cup of tea, but it may be what resonates in his view, and others. But he does leave himself open to some serious questions, which he would do well to answer forthrightly, I think.

    When I read scripture, I see God’s wrath in judgment against sin in terms of God acting, and not only the result of human sin. Etc. Rob does seem to skirt some matters in the book, sad to say. And while he may be approaching it from just one slant, it ends up being the end all for readers, I’m afraid.

  19. mikewittmer

    Ted–we’ll probably have to disagree about how “open” LW is to the gospel. But just to show that it’s not just Calvinists who are saying LW is in trouble on this score, here’s a quote from Scot McKnight’s recent article in Relevant magazine: “Frankly, Rob Bell’s book called into question the Gospel essence evangelicalism has defended since the Reformation. That is the fundamental reason why this book caused such a storm.”

  20. Mike, My major complaint with the book is that Rob seems to want to say that scripture says what it does not say. In regard to those who never hear the good news.

    I leave some, or perhaps much of what he is claiming to be truth as areas we cannot know from scripture, i.e., hidden things which belong to God.

    And he seems to want to skirt over other things(?). Maybe a different view of scripture, I don’t know. We must live on what is revealed, and I have to acknowledge that I am not enthusiastic about “Love Wins” on that score. I think the good news is certainly tied to all of scripture so that we must be careful that we see Jesus as the fulfillment in ways the New Testament does. Just voicing my thoughts.
    Thanks, Mike.

  21. Clearly you have not answered the questions that Nate and I asked about your comments on Rob preaching ‘another gospel’ (see post above).

    So I will reiterate the post verbatim. It seems important to me. It is more about clarity than personality.


    When you write ‘different gospel’ it reminds me of Stotts old commentary ‘Only One Way’. In this commentary on Galatians, he, (with the Apostle Paul) points out that ‘another gospel’ is no gospel at all and this person should be ‘under God’s curse’. Many of your comments about Rob Bell’s theology would lead me to believe that Rob is preaching ‘no gospel’. So then do you believe ‘anathema’ on Rob?

    Sometimes I am confused because you portray a gracious stance towards him…

    The relevant passage…

    ’6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!’

  22. ‘May we all practice the charity of clarity: say what we mean and mean what we say.’

  23. mikewittmer


    You make a pretty convincing case for orthodoxy! I have limited my comments to the content of “Love Wins,” leaving the possibility and the hope that Rob believes more and other than what he has written there. So I will say this: the “gospel” of LW is under God’s anathema, as you rightly point out. Since I don’t pretend to know the content of Rob’s head and heart, I will follow Machen’s example in “Christianity and Liberalism” and leave his personal standing to God to sort out.

  24. Nate Dawson

    I am thankful, Mike, that you leave the possibility open that Rob believes more and other than what he has written in Love Wins. Of course, I find it quite odd that anyone would critically evaluate a book like Love Wins, since it has no footnotes.

    It is clear to me that you and Bell have different hermeneutical approaches and interpretive tools to go about making a point. That is the real issue at stake here, I think. Theology for Bell is much more about contextual interpretation of Scripture, that is, its cultural situatedness then and the important role of the reader’s situatedness today.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems that you have a greater interest in discovering dogmatic truth. That is, your concern exegetically is to emphasize authorial intention, like Vanhoozer.

    Moreover, a place like Mars Hill starts with the presupposition that what one does, lives out, missionally — is what one really believes. And, that Scripture informs its people of the important to embody Scripture for the life of the world.

    Finally, if your posture resonates with a post-concervative type of thinking, that is critical of liberalism. I think it is appropriate to associate the similar tendencies of Bell with post-liberalism, in the sense that he too would critique modern liberalism.

    All this is to say that to suggest Bell falls into the category of existentialism i.e. liberal protestantism shows me your over-relience on modern categories. Bell, I think, would be much more interested in transcending the reformational, evangelical, protestant tendencies by emphasizing the catholicity of the diverse history that makes up the broad scope of the Christian tradition.

  25. mikewittmer


    I don’t think that is the difference at all. I also emphasize the cultural context of the first century (essential in determining authorial intent) and believe that we must embody what we say we believe. I don’t think Rob or Mars Hill has an advantage over conservative Christians or churches on this score.

    I think the problem runs much deeper, and here’s a hint. I don’t mean this in a snarky way, but I think it’s telling that even the defenders of LW don’t praise it for its careful handling of the biblical text. They typically tell us to ignore its exegesis and focus on the questions it raises.

    You are right that it is difficult to critically interact with LW, and its absence of footnotes is just one of the reasons. But whose fault is that? The book is exceedingly popular, so it merits a response.

  26. Nate Dawson

    Thanks Mike,

    I didn’t intend to suggest you don’t emphasize the cultural context of the first century or that you don’t believe we should embody what we believe. I surely don’t believe anyone has an advantage over another on that score. Neither do I think your remark was snarky. I think your concern for careful exegesis is important. Though I am less interested in building my exegesis on the first century context and more interested in the role of the reading community today. So, yes, “telling” might be the right way to describe my focus on the questions. I am happy for that to remain a critique of my interpretive interests, not Bell’s.

    Honestly, I may project some of my own hermeneutical interests on what it seems like Bell is doing. I am much more interested in the philosophical hermeneutics of Gadamer and Racour, who will over-emphasize the role of the reader, today.

    Moreover, I am interested in how interpretation of Scripture can be less about embedded truth claims within the text and more focused on action oriented claims that the text holds over us, the community of Jesus.

    Well, I think I clarified my position a bit. Does it makes sense? Again, I’m happy to be engaged critically on my interests and willing to suggest these interests may not be Bell’s. Thanks.

  27. Mike,

    Thanks for taking time to respond. I want to ask some questions in reply.

    You indicate that you choose to follow Machen’s example. Do you want to follow the Apostle Paul’s example? Paul clearly did not separate the message of the false gospel from the messenger. So to agree with or follow Paul’s example would mean we cannot divide the two. We don’t appear to have the liberty to do that.

    When I was in an Introduction to Theology course I remember Dr. Lubertus Oostendorp saying in a clear, forthright manner, ‘we cannot separate the sin from the sinner…it is not as if God condemns the sin casting it to hell…no the sinner is the one who is cast into hell.’ He was commenting on the then popular slogan ‘God hates sin but loves the sinner’. He was indicating that we do not have the liberty to separate the two.

    It seems to me, that when we put one’s ‘gospel’ under anathama we also must place the teacher under the same. To do less is to ignore the Apostle Paul and the scriptures.

    I am just trying to be clear.

  28. Alan

    Wow Daryl, that’s some pretty strong language. Here’s the definition of the word “anathama” I found online:

    1 something or someone that one vehemently dislikes
    2 a formal curse by a pope or a council of the Church, excommunicating a person or denouncing a doctrine.

    So you think it necessary to either vehemently dislike and/or have the person who’s theological conclusions are different than yours, excommunicated? In this case (I assume) excommunication would mean taking his books off all Christian bookstore shelves, along with making certain no “proper” church sell them there either? I’m thinking that we burn him, along with his books, at the stake! Before that, however, I think it’s necessary to torture him until he confesses the error of his ways!!

    I mean, who does this guy think he is bucking years of religious tradition, Luther?

  29. mikewittmer


    One last time, I don’t know the author’s head or heart, but if it becomes clear that he doesn’t believe more or other than what he has written in Love Wins, and if he unapologetically continues to proclaim the same, then yes, Paul’s words would apply to him.

  30. David

    I am preaching form this text today:

    “I am astonished that you are aso quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. 10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Gal 1:6-10)

    Contrary to popular opinion, the Christian faith is not like going to a Salad bar!

  31. Alan

    Contrary to popular opinion, Christian faith is a salad bar!

    What, you say?

    I doubt there is one among us who hasn’t chosen what to believe based upon their understanding, and what they themselves deem to be true. Sure, historical opinion and current teaching influences our decision on what is true, but what exactly we believe is a choice. Salad Bar Christianity makes for a nice soundbite, but the fact is it’s what all of us do … we choose what part of the narrative we’re going to accept as true.

    Nothing makes my eyes roll in my head faster than when I hear people say “I just believe what the Bible says”, or “My church just teaches what the Bible says”. Everybody interprets words their own way, and the notion that the Bible, consisting of words, can only be read and understood to mean one specific thing to everybody who reads them, is fooling themselves.

    That’s not a denial that the Bible is 100% the Word of God, it’s a denial that words can ever be 100% clear and carry 100% of the same meaning to 100% who read them.

    I don’t know Rob Bell, but my guess is that he believes that he’s interpreting the Scripture as it was truly meant to be interpreted, just as much as his detractors believe they are interpreting Scripture accurately.

    I’m not interested in convincing people that Rob Bell is at least partially correct in his interpretations, although I believe he is, but I am interested in honest debate.

    If our stance on Scripture is threatened by such debate, than I would argue that it’s not grounded on solid belief. When I hear people cover their eyes and yell “nana nana boo boo, I can’t hear you”, it’s a sure sign to me that they fear that’s exactly the case with them.

  32. Wow. Here we go again.
    “Everyone interprets words their own way, and the notion that the Bible, consisting of words, can only be read and understood to mean one specific thing to everybody who reads them, is fooling themselves”.

    Let me see – so what you are saying is that we should molest little children and eat poor people. I like your train of thought here – so much freedom. The meanings just spin and twist with the multiplicity of possible interpretations. Thanks oh pomo giants – heroes of the people – thanks Nietzsche, Heidegger, Gadamer, Derrida, Barthes and the emergent clowns who wish to be seen as profound with them.
    It is always sad to see the elvish cloak of hiddenness thrown over what was written primarily by fishermen and farmers and a few religious guys thrown in there. Where do I get my decoder ring so as to get any meaning out of such a obtuse book?
    I wish there was a Holy Spirit who could guide us into truth, but sadly that doesn’t seem to be an option anymore. Oh well the deconstruction project must go on regardless of the cost – and who will deconstruct the deconstructors? The mind shrivels at the thought. Surely St. Derrida has shown us the way! Certainly St. Ricouer has the holy words and his words bring freedom.
    Sorry, sometimes the satire button gets stuck on and I keep going. Hope the point was clear enough…

  33. Alan,
    Clearly you don’t know me. That’s ok.

    I know you may feel I am being difficult. And I admit I am being ‘dogged’ on this point. But this is a very important issue in scripture. Preaching a ‘different gospel’ was very serious to the Apostle Paul.

    You wrote, “but these issues are merely symptoms of a deeper and more serious problem: LW presents a different gospel.”

    So I replied with The Galatians scripture since you used the term ‘different gospel’. Being who you are I am guessing that you knew that phrase is in Paul’s letter and employed the words with forethought.

    You replied by indicating that you didn’t know the man’s head or heart. I believe that since you do know Rob Bell on a certain level you ‘at the very least’ know him as well as Paul knew those who were throwing the church of Galatia into confusion. Not only that but you have much more than Paul when you have Rob’s written words to quote from. Paul even says later in his letter ‘who is bewitching you’ as if he doesn’t know the person personally at all.

    At any rate, Paul is concerned with the false gospel leading people down the wrong way. He says that if anyone (no matter their head or heart or sincerity…including himself or his own friends) preaches a ‘different gospel’ they are cursed. He does not seem concerned with their head or heart. He does not seem interested in ‘more or other than’.

    Paul, (and you I think, and I mean this in a very charitable manner), are concerned that people are being misled so strong words are necessary.

    I am guessing (I could be mistaken) that this is why you wrote “Christ Alone”.

    Perhaps you will choose to respond to this. Either way, I will trouble you no further.

  34. Alan

    I wrote: “Everyone interprets words their own way, and the (people who hold the) notion that the Bible, consisting of words, can only be read and understood to mean one specific thing to everybody who reads them, are fooling themselves”.

    To which Bill responded: “Let me see – so what you are saying is that we should molest little children and eat poor people. I like your train of thought here – so much freedom.”

    Umm, no, that’s not what I’m saying. To say your “paraphrase” of what I wrote is a stretch is one enormous understatement.

    What I’m saying is that people, Christians, here specifically, interpret what the Bible is saying, differently. Unless you’re of the opinion that the numerous sects of Christianity, or even the various Churches within those sects, teach the very same thing regarding what they believe the Bible says?

    What I specifically did NOT say was that any old interpretation is as reasonable as another. Obviously when the Bible says God punishes sin, for instance, even those who subscribe to the “eternally saved or eternally condemned” camp often disagree what “condemned” refers to, i.e. never ending punishment vs annihilation. That being just one of many cases in point.

    Nor did I say the Bible is obtuse. Going back to my previous illustration, while reasonable people could disagree on what they believe “condemnation” consists of, it would not be at all reasonable to posit the idea that it meant getting the ice cream of your choice every day for eternity, and never tiring of it.

    So I’ll see your “wow, here we go again” and raise you a big fat “boggle”. Perhaps the dots connect somewhere for you, but I’m at a loss to understand how you got from “A” to “Putterfish”.

  35. Ok boggle – lets go through this. Your statement was that “everyone interprets words their own way”. I responded by interpreting them my own way. You object – Are you objecting to what you think I wrote or are you implying that you KNOW what I meant? Well if you want to play the reader response game then you really ought to let other play by the same rules. Contrary to Humpty, words are not the servants of whoever is master – but they do have specific meanings. Even Derrida get hoisted on his own petard on this one. If you want to respond and say that some interpretations are more “reasonable” than others – then fine – how does one know this? Who determines what is more reasonable? Is there some sort of measuring stick (ie a canon perhaps) that we have access to which might adjudicate meaning in these cases? Bell wants to play the game and then deny others who play it against him – but the same problem comes up with him as it does with Derrida and the pomo clowns. Is it merely your interpretation that everything is an interpretation? And if so then why should anyone else pay attention to what you say? I mean if Nietzsche was right that everything is a perspective – then of course that is just his perspective. So if he is wrong who cares what he says and if he is right – who cares what he says?
    Frankly the whole thing is worthy of nothing but ridicule. Nor am I claiming 100% knowledge of anything – another Maclaren straw man. But when the Bible says, for example, “And Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, in a city of Juda” – I don’t think one needs a special magisterial decoder ring to understand. And speaking of that to your earlier post – are you really wanting to compare Bell to Luther??? Luther called people back to the Bible, which virtually all people were forbidden to read or if they could read it – were forbidden to interpret it – where as Bell calls people to abandon it in favor of new metaphors more acceptable to todays audience.
    I used a reductio to show how you don’t get to say that everyone just interprets, but somehow some interpretations are more reasonable than others. Once you open the hermeneutic genie and bid it “free” – please don’t complain about what happens next. Perhaps your entire defense of Bell’s heresy and complaints about Wittmer’s response is merely your misinterpretation of Mike inviting Rob out to lunch – I mean who is to say what is a reasonable understanding of this.
    So I hope you now understand. Play the interpretation whirlwind if you want, but don’t be surprised when others choose to respond from a position outside of the storm.

  36. Alan

    Ok Putterfish, let’s go through this indeed. ;-p

    Despite your protestation to the contrary, your reply was still a non-sequitur. Your entire argument rests on whether or not you’ve demonstrated that my assertion was not true, to wit, “everyone interprets words in their own way”. Some more reasonably than others, as I readily admitted, having already granted you that point. It’s also true that what’s reasonable to some people is unreasonable to others.

    You asked “how does one know this?” I leave that to your imagination, my intent was not to demonstrate what particular measurement should be used to determine reasonableness, but rather to restate the obvious, that people do indeed interpret things differently. The fact that people often disagree about what some particular passages in the Bible mean, for instance, being a case in point.

    What I did not say was that any old interpretation is as valid as another, obviously there are simply some arguments that are more cogent than others. I don’t care to get into a discussion about who determines what makes a cogent argument and what doesn’t, there are some things that are self-evident to most people.

    I’m hardly “surprised” that you believe you “responded from a position outside the storm”, I’m surprised you attempted to get away with such a red herring. Attempting to dismiss an obvious truth that’s uncomfortable for you by claiming “Well, if words can mean different things you’re saying we should molest children and eat poor people” is classic Reductio Ad Absurdum.

    As for me “not getting to say that everyone just interprets” (you inserted the word , is if to imply I suggested some things aren’t fairly clear to most people), but somehow some interpretations are more reasonable than others”, sure I do!

    Furthermore, I’d backed up my statement with an illustration, one you chose to ignore, I have to assume, specifically because it supported my claim.

    I’ll repeat it here because ignoring it won’t make it magically go away: “… while reasonable people could disagree on what they believe ‘condemnation’ consists of, it would not be at all reasonable to posit the idea that it meant getting the ice cream of your choice every day for eternity, and never tiring of it.”

    It’s clear to most reasonable people (I’ll leave it to you to figure out what “reasonable” means), simply by perusing some of the numerous commentaries on Scripture, that clearly not all Christians agree on what some particular verses mean. And to support my assertion, I’ll merely mention two little words, and let you ponder their implication whilst relating them to the argument at hand, (that people interpret words differently), and then, rest my case with them: “Arminian”, and “Calvinist”.

    You can play the everything written can only be interpreted one way game, but don’t be surprised when some numerous illustrations to the contrary jump up and bite you in an unpleasant place.

  37. Alan

    P.S.: The 5th paragraph should have said “you inserted the word
    -just-, but for some reason the actual word “just” just didn’t show up when I posted. Ghost in the machine? 😉

  38. david sims francis chan on Hell….may he’s got a book in the works, too?

  39. Ok Alan. I will make this quite plain. The point of the reductio was that if your assertion “Everyone interprets words in their own way” is true in a meaningful sense, then there is no “reasonable” interpretation available – You won’t answer that objection because there is no answer. If it is all interpretation – and that is true of the universe and not just another silly french pomo marxist interpretation, then no position is any higher, better, closer to true, more reasonable, etc ad infinitum. You don’t get to play it both ways.
    Your point on Calvinist, Arminians, etc, reflects the problem here. You are confusing obvious pluralism – There are many different interpretations reflected in the Christian community, which is of course obvious, with philosophical pluralism – the idea that the plurality of options/answers means by definition that there is no singular truth. Picture a kindergarten class where the teacher asks the question 2 plus 2 equals _______? The answers come in 7,2,14, the square root of Pi, oatmeal, George Bush is evil, 29, a gazillion, 4 and so on. Is the appropriate response of the teacher “Why yes kids you are all correct! I just roll my eyes whenever I hear some other math teacher or some school say that 2 plus 2 equals 4. How narrow minded – How arrogant to argue that there is only one answer and that they know it! Don’t they realize the multiplicity of options means by definition that everyone must be accepted and all points of view must be tolerated?
    Why yes that is why I stated I used a reduction against your argument. And no you don’t understand the red herring if you think thats what I gave you. I merely pointed out the logical inconsistency of claiming all we have is interpretation and then turning right around and saying that some interpretations are more cogent, reasonable, self-evident and so on. I ask you how that works and you decline to offer how that could be. This is the same self-referential incoherence that plagues Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Derrida and all their fan club today. If all there is, is perspective, subjectivity, choice, construction or by whatever synonym you want to use – then by what measuring stick do you determine which is the better perspective, or more reasonable subjectivity or the self-evident construction? If you do believe that there is a reasonable or self-evident or more cogent understanding – then that is great and I welcome you out of the Rob Bell herd.
    My last philosophy class was entitled “Beyond Deconstruction” at the University of Denver. I took this class almost ten years ago now. It is amazing how it still holds up. The whole point of the class was now that we have deconstructed everything (speaking of the western academic world including all possible subjects) what is left? The rest of the pomo students basically argued that there is only that and gave up on the knowledge quest itself. (my paraphrase of what they did!) I answered that the only out of the deconstruction swamp was never to go into it in the first place. Much like War Games where the only way to win in the game of Thermo Nuclear War is not to play. That is what my point about the storm was about. The only way to avoid to the vicious hermeneutic circle game, with the acid eating out the understanding of the Bible, literature, science and all the rest, is to never play in it. Read Roland Barthes, good deconstructionist that he was, and see if I am making this up. The point of the real pomos was a war against God and all that flows from God – reason, value, ethics, science and so on. Thats why the pomo grandfather is Nietsche and the father is Heidegger – two truly corrupt individuals who both hated God with all their hearts. Then you add the marxists frenchies, Derrida, Barthes, Ricouer, Lyotard and so on and the swamp only got worse. That the emergents think these guys give a proper understanding of anything is more depressing than reasonable.
    Bell just comes along and pretends he has a foot in both worlds. I could argue he doesn’t really understand other, but that sells him too short. He does understand, thanks Maclaren, the value of dismissing Christian orthodoxy and how well that will sell.
    Your turn

  40. Alan

    Hello again, Bill.

    You said: “If all there is, is perspective, subjectivity, choice, construction or by whatever synonym you want to use – then by what measuring stick do you determine which is the better perspective, or more reasonable subjectivity or the self-evident construction?”

    That’s clearly not what I believe to be the case, and if I implied it by my statement then it’s time to back up and restate what I said previously. I do believe there is objective truth. God, as the prime example, isn’t subject to our subjectivity, but our understanding of Him, and the words we use to describe that understanding is.

    Words are two steps removed from reality. Taking God again as an example, He exists. God’s Being is what it is, regardless of the level of comprehension what have of His Being. God’s very Being-ness is reality. Which leads next, to our thoughts about God. Obviously our thoughts about God are not God, but rather our interpretation, or understanding, our awareness of Him. So on we go to the words we use to describe the thoughts we have of what God, Himself, actually is. Few would argue that even our thoughts about God can truly grasp the God’s Being, and certainly, by extension, the words we use to describe those thoughts are even further away from what God is than the thoughts we hold about him.

    My argument is not some sort of new-age “God is whatever we perceive Him to be”, or “all thoughts about God are equal”, or “all paths lead to God”. From reading “Love Wins”, I truly don’t believe that’s Bell’s argument either. Nor have I (or Bell, as far as I can tell), maintained that everything is perception, and that therefore one perception is the same, or equal, as another.

    What I do maintain is that we all bring interpretation to words, regardless if they’re strictly mans words, or even God’s words. I made the reference to Arminianism vs Calvinism to make the point that one clearly has to interpret words one way to arrive at an Arminian, free will, God wants everybody to be saved, yet some will choose against God, yet interpret another way to believe that they say that only an elect group are will be saved, and further, that they were predestined to be so.

    Same Bible, same words, very different interpretations of those words, hence very interpretations of the Bible. None of that to say that more than one interpretation is correct, if we agree with the premise that the Bible is God breathed, than only one interpretation can be true. And that is not to say that there aren’t layers of truth to be found, like peeling the layers on an onion, we can go deeper and deeper into truth.

    You joked about what you’d perceived to be the silliness of needing some sort of magic decoder ring, and while I’d agree there’s no need for magic, we do need a decoder ring of sorts.

    One setting would be correct and understandable translation. I added understandable because somebody reading the words “more than one way to skin a cat” hundreds of years from now in another culture and another country would need to know the idioms of the culture they were reading to understand the meaning of the words, even if they were in his native tongue.

    Another setting would be context, within the verse, within the particular book of the Bible, and within the Bible itself.

    Yet another setting would be even single words themselves. As a case in point, atheist used to mean “against God.” More recently, it became either the belief that God does not exist, (as in the case of strong atheism), or a lack of belief in god/s, (as in weak atheism). In other words, what did the words mean in their culture and at that time.

    Finally, do you really believe that Bell intentionally dismisses orthodoxy, and then, for the distinct reason that it will sell? I find that rather cynical, and from what I can see, unfounded.

    This is the sort of thing that brought me into the discussion to begin with. I’m fine with people disagreeing with his assertions, I don’t agree with some of them either. What concerns me is both the failure to address his actual arguments, (for instance, discussing his take on scripture and pointing out specifically what one disagrees with, and why), and further, to then assign motives to his writings that very possibly do not exist except in the mind of the accuser.

    Perhaps that’s not what you’re doing. It’s possible I interpreted your words differently than how you meant them? 😉

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