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!

About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on January 17, 2009, in Bible Thoughts, Book Review, Heresy and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Paul was never given the binding and loosing powers. Only the twelve. A light an an unrecognizeable voice can’t make anyone an apostle. Jesus’ teachings by themself are enough to show that the Law of Moses is passed away, for “the Law and the Prophets were until John” and Jesus clearly doesn’t teach a high view of the Sabbath, nor does he ever mention circumcision as necessary, but instead in Matthew 7:12 “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” The Law and the Prophets, according to Jesus, does not include circumcision, but only treating your neighbor properly! So, do we need Paul to fight circumcision for us with his false doctrine of justification by faith alone and faith alone that is given only to the elect who were randomly elected? No. Jesus defeated circumcision without inventing evil doctrines of predestination at random or justification apart from morality! Matthew 5:20 “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Our righteousness, according to Jesus who is Lord, must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. And no, this righteousness will not only be imputed to us by faith, as the liar Paul says. Rather, Jesus says in John 5:29 “And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” So, our righteousness is indeed based on works, but not the works of the Law as interpreted by the scribes and Pharisees, nor as interpreted by Paul, but as interpreted by Jesus in Matthew 7:12 — those who treat their neighbor as they would have their neighbor treat them are those who have “done good” and are resurrected to life, but those who have “done evil” are those who (mostly Calvinists) treat their neighbor’s like dirt, and so spit not so much on the Law as interpreted by the Pharisees (which they hold in high esteem, Paul himself being a Pharisee and worshiped as their new God) but on the Law of Christ!

  2. How can the normal interpretation of Paul, i.e. that the Law is unkeepable, be upheld when according to Jesus the Law is merely to do to your neighbor what you want him to do to you. The Law is not the sacrifices the Jews made up, or the nitpicky kosher rules, or the rule that says you can’t mix wool and linen in your outfit! The Law is to treat your neighbor right. Is that unkeepable? All who think so will burn in hell eternally, since they will not keep it. Jesus is the only way to heaven, because if you follow someone else, you will be confused out of the knowledge of good and evil. if you follow Paul, you will sin sin sin because he says its alright. if you follow Mohammed, you will kill all who disagree with you (much like if you follow Calvin). if you follow the pope you will trust in ceremonies to save you but will never live a good life towards your neighbor. if you follow billy graham, again you will live like a devil towards your neighbor but trust that you will be saved by praying the sinner’s prayer. but if you follow Jesus, you will actually fulfil the Law without keeping the ceremonies of the Law!

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