Chapter Two of Velvet Elvis
I’m reading Velvet Elivs: Repainting the Christian Faith by Rob Bell, one of the leaders of the Emergent Church. Bell brings up several problems with sola scriptura in the second chapter of the book, titled “Yoke.”
At first, I wondered why he chose such an unusal name. As I figured, it’s named after Matthew 11:30 where Jesus tells his disciples that his yoke is easy and his burden light. But there’s a deeper meaning to the name. The Bible, Bell argues, is a very difficult book to grasp. When you’re wrestling with it, you bring your own experiences and interpretations to it. No one reads the Bible for what it says, Bell insists, all you’re doing is giving your interpretation of the words. It was no different in ancient times.
Every rabbi had his own interpretation of the Bible. This was called his “yoke.” Every once in a while, a rabbi would come on the scene with a brand new yoke. Before anyone would take the new yoke seriously, the rabbi would have to have hands laid upon him by two established rabbis. That, Bell argues, is the significance of the passage where Jesus has both John the Baptist baptize him, and the voice from Heaven declares that he is the Son of God.
That, Bell says, would be recognized as the two established rabbis laying their hands on Jesus, and that Jesus’ new yoke was legitimate. The problem inherent in this Bell’s interpretation of the facts is that this seems to relegate Jesus to the role of teacher or role model. It doesn’t declare that Jesus’ “yoke” is the yoke; instead, this description allows for it to be one yoke among many.
Bell shows his hand here. The Emergent Church is hesitant to declare that Jesus is the only way to God, and some recognize other religions as pathways to God. But Scripture declares that the only way to God is through Jesus Christ.
Now Bell goes on to explain the terms “binding” and “loosing,” essentally saying that Jesus laid his hands on the apostles to interpret his teachings for the people, and by extension, the Bible itself. This is a good argument for Roman Catholicism, but the context of the binding and loosing passage is forgiveness, which I disucss here. I think that Bell got the meaning of this passage really messed up, and has opened a can of worms.
The apostles are no longer with us. As I’ve argued before, the bride of Christ, the church, then lives out the promises that Christ made to the apostles. This means that the church has the authority, through councils and consensus, to bind and loose as Bell defines the terms. But Bell never defines that authority here, which leaves it up to the individual to decide–and I’ve argued that that is not a good thing at all.
This book alternates between heresy (as above) and good teaching. The good part of the chapter comes next, where Bell explains that the Bible is alive today. The stories in the Bible are more than just stories, they are our stories, lived out every day of our lives. This means that the Bible is more than a dusty ornament on our bookshelves, it is a contemporary manual of Christian living.
The text of the Bible, Bell explains, is like a fine gem with many facets. As you turn the gem, you see something in it that you never saw before. I’ve heard this similie used before, and it is for that reason that Bell disagrees with anyone who says that they have a particular passage “nailed.” We may never uncover all of the meanings of all of the passages, but that doesn’t mean that we should stop trying. The Bible was written to be multi-faceted.
In the next section, Bell argues that the Bible is a human book written with a human agenda, under the divine superindendance of the Holy Spirit. Here, again, Bell and I do not see eye-to-eye. The Bible, for me, is primarily a divine book that had to pass through human pens in order to be written. What’s the difference? If the Bible is primarily a human book, what hope do we ever have for interpreting it correctly? Even if we do, what if that particular passage was tainted by the human touch? Would we ever know?
Weather the Bible is primarily divine or primarily human aside, Bell does make an excellent argument for interpreting the Bible in the historical culture and context in which it was written. There we agree.
I have no doubt that Bell believes in the inspiration of the Bible, and that it is the inerrant word of God. However, I have to wonder if he believes that the stories in are literal history, or just narrative fiction that contains timeless truth. Bell never makes that point clear. It seems to me that he leans toward the narrative side of things, but I could be mistaken.
Bell then argues that sola scriptura is not the way to go, a section of his book that has Roman Catholics cheering, I’m sure. In some ways, he’s right, but he has the definition of sola scriptura wrong. Sola scriptura says that the Bible is the only infallible source of faith and morals. Saying that Scripture alone is our guide, with no consideration paid to other sources of morality. Bell does a great job of refuting that strawman, but fails to deal with the definition of sola scriptura.
Finally, Bell encourages his readers to wrestle with the Scriptures, something that I can agree with.
In all, another mixed bag of good teaching and doctrinal poison. I have to admit, I’m really wondering where this book is leading, and I’m looking forward to the next chapter, titled “True.” Bell seems to have a postmodern definition of truth, so it will be very interesting to see how he defines the concept in this chapter. I hope he proves me wrong!