Rob Bell – What Is the Bible?

I have just finished reading Rob Bell’s latest book, titled What Is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything. I really loved it and I think every evangelical should read it. The book does not say anything new, nor does the author claim to do so. It merely presents at a popular level what theologians and Bible scholars have said about it in the last hundred years.

You may ask, what is then so important about it? Here is my answer.

I believe that evangelicalism is in a deep crisis. The unquestioning support given by American evangelicals to Donald Trump is only a symptom of a more serious disease characterised, among other things, by:

  • a deep crisis of spirituality – reducing intimacy with God to ethicism – especially in sexual matters, to ritualism, if not merely entertainment, and superficiality;
  • a relentless engagement in ‘cultural wars’ – an expression of deep seeted nostalgia for Christendom and an attempt to impose narrowly defined ‘Christian values’ in our pluralistic societies;
  • a constant temptation of social withdrawal after each lost cultural battle – a fundamentalist reflex, proved by their emthusiastic reception of Dreher’s book The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation;
  • a perpetual anti- intellectualist and anti-scientific tendency – proven by the vehement rejection of evolutionism (even in its theistic version) or by buying into conspiracy theories related to climate change and other such matters.

Most of these pathologies are related to the (destorted and outdated) way evangelicals understand the nature of revelation in general and of the Bible in particular, as well as the hermeneutics they use when they engage with the sacred text. Two are, in my estimation, the essential problems that evangelicals have in this area:

  1. the evangelical understanding of the nature of the Bible is fundamentally a Docetic one – it overemphasizes the divine inspiration of the sacred text to such an extent that the its human dimension if totally obliterated; no surprise then that evangelicals see the Bible as a recipe book, that has automatic answers for any questions they may imagine;
  2. the dominant evangelical hermeneutic system is a literalist-fundamentalist one; it is dominated by biblicism – the conviction that the Biblical text is totally consistent, with no empty spots, contradictions or paradoxes; no surprise then that a lot of energy is wasted in order to support the rationalist concept of biblical inerrancy –  the view that  the Bible is ‘without error or fault in all its teaching’, not just in matters of religion or faith.

I am firmly convinced that evangelicalism will become obsolete (if it has not become already) and will disappear, if it does not renew its vision in matters related to the Bible and biblical hermeneutics.

Because of this convicttion, I have welcomed in the last years books like Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture, and Peter Enns, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It, and why I was so happy to read Rob Bells new book. I was even happier to hear that one of my favourite  authors, Rachel Held Evans, is working now on a book on the same topic, which motivates me to seriously consider writing one too, for the Romanian context. So help me God!

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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