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» Ship of Fools   » Community discussion   » Purgatory   » Rob Bell's "What is the Bible?" - anyone else read it? (Page 1)

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Source: (consider it) Thread: Rob Bell's "What is the Bible?" - anyone else read it?
Snags
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Having just finished it, I'd be interested in the views of others, whether supportive or critical.

It's not saying anything particularly new: the core thesis is that the vast majority of people* approach the Bible in the wrong way, with the wrong emphases and preconceptions, and thus at best only get a fraction of what they could, and at worst totally miss the point; it's built on the premise of the idea of the Bible being a library of stories written by people, about God, which has a thrust and trajectory but is not a manual, user guide or fixed set of literal rules to live by - so far so very N T Wright etc.. But it's very accessible, and typical Rob Bell in style, so potentially reaches a wider audience.

To me, it makes a lot of sense, and based on the references/bibliography is clearly built on some not inconsiderable wider reading and supporting sources, and from some names at least that I recognise as being generally held in esteem.

I can see a few potential "Yeah, but" issues, one of the key ones being that at times it sounds like the start of a slope into complete relativism/Humpy Dumpty words/"And with one mighty bound he was free" when dealing with some of the complex/hot button issues. I don't think that's a fair criticism on deeper reflection, but it would be easy to fall the wrong side of a fine line.

I can also see why e.g. the review in Christianity gave it a hard time and relatively low score, because superficially it challenges the modern Evangelical orthodoxy (although I'd argue that read carefully it actually underpins and expands what that orthodoxy claims but doesn't itself follow through on).

Anyway, as I say, interested in the thoughts of others, if anyone else has read it.

*Where "people" is largely but not exclusively modern-day American Evangelicals and similar

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cliffdweller
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I read it with interest

As an evangelical, there were places where his somewhat low view of biblical inspiration was uncomfortable, but no more so then you'd find in an average discussion here on the Ship

Where he is brilliant and helpful, as always, is in asking the right questions

The other thing he does well is reshape how we'll see a narrative and how it fits into a larger narrative arc. He's not as troubled by some of the things that trouble me (e.g. Genocide in Joshua) because that's what you'd expect-- it's what our broken world is like. Rather, he asks us to pay particular attn to the things that don't fit, the things that are odd or unusual contextually-- suggesting that that's where we find God moving in unexpected ways. I find that an interesting rubric that helped me look at some problematic texts in new ways

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Martin60
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Does it say anything new? Anything I don't already embrace? That I haven't read on his feeds? Haven't already said here myself?

His low (and THEREFORE high) view of the inspiration of scripture is more than valid, it is essential, something we need discomforting of and I'd already got the pragmatism that explains Samuel's Final Solution to the Amalekite Problem.

So many of us are still scrabbling around on the literal theist false dichotomy line here. Fish or cut bait!

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cliffdweller
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I don't follow his feeds so I don't know if it's new in that sense. For me, his take on different narratives was definitely fresh and insightful. In typical Bell style it's a bit scattershot-- lots of short, stand-alone chapters (perfect for sermon illustrations--which I already have used). There's a couple of recurring themes (e.g. the "look for what's out of place" thing, the "this is people doing what people do, nothing to see here, move along" thing) but other than that they're fairly disjointed, which again is Bell's style. Much like Love Wins I'd say the primary value is in getting you asking the right/interesting questions and thinking about texts in fresh new ways.

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Martin60
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Thanks cliffdweller. It's a distillation of his Tumblr feed which I followed up to a year or so ago. I'll have to get it nonetheless.

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Love wins

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cliffdweller
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My copy was a gift from a friend who is also a friend of Bell's, so I got some interesting back-story stuff which is always fun. (This particular book-giving friend is like the friendly crack dealer who generously and cheerfully feeds your addiction with the newest stuff)

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Honest Ron Bacardi
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Martin60 wrote -
quote:
...the literal theist false dichotomy line here.
The what? You'll have to explain that one for me I'm afraid! (I'm not an evangelical).

[ 24. October 2017, 15:15: Message edited by: Honest Ron Bacardi ]

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lilBuddha
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quote:
Originally posted by Snags:
it's built on the premise of the idea of the Bible being a library of stories written by people, about God, which has a thrust and trajectory but is not a manual, user guide or fixed set of literal rules to live by -

I have not read Bell's book, but this is nothing new. It is, in my observation, the dominant view here on SOF.

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Martin60
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Well Honest Ron, on the Words of Paul=Jesus? and Saved by Faith and Goats and Sheep threads, despite what lilBuddha says above, narrow literalism and paring of Words predicated on 'high' views of the inspiration of scripture and tradition are at least as equally dominant. Damnationism therefore vies still to rule otherwise liberal hearts here. Because theism does. As it inevitably did in the man Jesus.

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cliffdweller
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quote:
Originally posted by lilBuddha:
quote:
Originally posted by Snags:
it's built on the premise of the idea of the Bible being a library of stories written by people, about God, which has a thrust and trajectory but is not a manual, user guide or fixed set of literal rules to live by -

I have not read Bell's book, but this is nothing new. It is, in my observation, the dominant view here on SOF.
Yes, as I said upthread his view on inspiration is pretty consistent with what you'll find here, although a bit unsettling coming as it does in an evangelical context (tho we've come to expect that from Bell. Cue the usual suspects with their torches ready to burn him at the stake. Cue Bell looking wholly bored by them).

His is actually a rather middle-ground, almost Barthian view of Scripture-- i.e. (reading between the lines, in typical Bell fashion he never lays it out directly) the Bible is a human book, written by humans, deeply wedded to culture, of their understanding and interactions with God... BUT every now and then (certainly not always) God shows up and moves in surprising and powerful ways.

It's what he does with that presumption that is interesting. It can come off highly relativistic (anything distasteful-- i.e. genocide-- is just "people being people, according to their culture; anything lovely-- inclusion, welcome, love-- is "God breaking in") but his overriding rubric of "look for something odd or out of place/pattern" is somewhat of a counter to that. The way he looks for patterns (e.g. "overturning") and brings together different texts from across the breadth of Scripture could feel scattershot or proof-texting-- or wonderfully insightful to the overall arc of Scripture.

As an evangelical, I found it helpful. Not something I'd cling to slavishly (predictably, too low a few of inspiration for my taste) but really helpful and thought-provoking.

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cliffdweller
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I am willing to bet a dozen of the best SOF mugs that John Piper is even now feverishly writing his sequel to "Why Rob Bell is Going to Hell and is the Anti-Christ Demon Seed Bringing About the Destruction of America and All that is Good and Holy". Coming soon to a bookstore (one of those Jen Hatmaker-banning ones) near you.

Which in and of itself is probably the best review I could ever write for Bell's new book.

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mr cheesy
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I listen to Rob Bell's podcast quite a lot.

I'm increasingly curious about why Evangelicals seem to think he is "theirs" - all the evidence to me suggests he has put himself out of the community.

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cliffdweller
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quote:
Originally posted by mr cheesy:
I listen to Rob Bell's podcast quite a lot.

I'm increasingly curious about why Evangelicals seem to think he is "theirs" - all the evidence to me suggests he has put himself out of the community.

Well, many/most hard-core evangelicals don't-- see my comments above re john piper and the torch-bearing hoards. But his background is evangelicalism, he pastored an evangelical mega church. But yeah since Love Wins he's been on the fringes at best (again, as noted above, I highly doubt that bothers him much). But I'd say his primary audience is progressive/ disaffected/ wandering evangelicals struggling to hang on to faith. That's holy and wonderful and desperately needed work among evangelicals today, but not apt to win him accolades among the inerrancy set
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Snags
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quote:
Originally posted by lilBuddha:
quote:
Originally posted by Snags:
it's built on the premise of the idea of the Bible being a library of stories written by people, about God, which has a thrust and trajectory but is not a manual, user guide or fixed set of literal rules to live by -

I have not read Bell's book, but this is nothing new. It is, in my observation, the dominant view here on SOF.
Well, indeed, hence saying it was nothing new elsewhere [Smile]

And also why I thought it might be interesting to get responses from Shippies who had read it. I suspect that a number of regular posters will have a lot of fellow-feeling with it, and to others it will be antithetical.

What it did for me in the nothing-new-but-still-interesting category was to pull these various thoughts and threads together in a tangible way, and do so built on what appears to be a deep and solid foundation.

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cliffdweller
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The interesting thing about the book is that despite his relatively low view of Inspiration, Bell's strong love for Scripture shines through. He begins with a strong and powerful (and very evangelical-ish) appeal for more Bible reading-- lots snd lots of it-- as key to transforming our hearts our lives and our world.

[ 24. October 2017, 17:08: Message edited by: cliffdweller ]

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Martin60
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Nothing new there.

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fletcher christian

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There was a time - not really very long ago - that Bell would have slotted perfectly into the evangelical view of scripture. I'm not sure why such a shift within evangelicalism occurred, but it has resulted in a weird confusion of evangelicalism and fundamentalism. When I first appeared on this ship, that 'old style' evangelicalism was still the predominant form where I live (with a few loons leaning in another direction), but now it seems that Bell's position is outside the pale and the 'evangelicals' have moved significantly away from it. It's noticeable too that it's not just Bell. N T Wright is increasingly seen as an enemy also, which demonstrates just how far they've moved down the line towards a hardened fundamentalism.

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goperryrevs
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quote:
Originally posted by cliffdweller:
The interesting thing about the book is that despite his relatively low view of Inspiration, Bell's strong love for Scripture shines through. He begins with a strong and powerful (and very evangelical-ish) appeal for more Bible reading-- lots snd lots of it-- as key to transforming our hearts our lives and our world.

I haven't read the book yet, but like Martin I read the whole tumblr feed, from which the book was edited.

The thing that came across most to me (as far as I can remember, it was a while ago) is that we have to approach Scripture as the Word of Man first and foremost. Once we accept that we can begin to discern the Voice of God between the lines.

Too many Christians have a view of Scripture akin to the Muslim view of the Koran. The Christian view of Scripture should never be that it's some kind of dictated Word of God. That's why I find the phrase 'Word of God' when applied solely to the bible unhelpful - especially when the Bible itself uses that phrase to refer to Jesus.

I don't like the description of a 'high' or 'low' view of Scripture either. What does it even mean? I think it's hugely important to understand, value, study, treasure and respect (and read!) Scripture. Scripture is so important for transforming our lives. I think I have a very high view of scripture. I've read through the whole bible twice (and obviously, other parts read countless times). I've wrestled with the different messages it gives, had countless discussions and read endless books trying to understand Scripture.

If someone who tries to tell me I have a 'low' view of Scripture, just because I don't think it's infallible/inerrant, then screw them.

From my point of view, pretending that Scripture is something it's not by forcing it to fit some twisted systematic theology - or asserting that it's contradiction-free when it blatantly isn't... That's the low view of Scripture. That's not treating Scripture with respect.

(cliffdweller, this isn't directed at you - you're great. I'm riffing off what you said. But yeah. I spend a lot of time in evangelical circles, and I'm kind of fed up with the arrogance from the conservatives that say "We have a high view of scripture. They have a low view.")

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Martin60
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At up eff cee, go...

Is it because liberals just leave and all that's left are conservatives? Society will always generate (neo-)conservatives who run to the Church. I did. Via a cult for 30 years. Liberals aren't going to run to the church. I was liberalized in the Church by others who were remotely. Especially Bell and McLaren.

[ 25. October 2017, 11:32: Message edited by: Martin60 ]

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Snags
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Yeah, even as an (increasingly old school, by new measures) evangelical I could never work out how actually delving into scripture and hermeneutics and acknowledging a bigger picture was somehow taking it less seriously than adopting a literal view from a limited English translation.

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mr cheesy
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I think the interesting thing is how Evangelicals are held hostage by the most extreme and most conservative churches and authors - to the extent that John Piper* is somehow considered authoritative with respect to his own oxymoronic definition of a "high view" of scripture.

Especially given that some of those who seem to think that Piper-said-it-so-it-must-be-true are the very people that Piper wouldn't consider to be an Evangelical and maybe not even Christian.

I'd agree that Bell is an outlier in a different direction, but it seems to me that there is a real difference here; Bell has never stated (as far as I know) that he speaks for all Evangelicals or that his utterings are what all right-thinking Evangelicals ought to believe.

I suspect the truth is that Bell's main audience is of people who - like him - have fallen out of Evangelicalism and are groping around for something else to believe in.

*not just Piper, it seems to me that this phenomena seems to apply to several very conservative Evangelicals. Who cares what they think?

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SvitlanaV2
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quote:
Originally posted by Snags:


[This book's] not saying anything particularly new: the core thesis is that the vast majority of people* approach the Bible in the wrong way, with the wrong emphases and preconceptions, and thus at best only get a fraction of what they could, and at worst totally miss the point.
[...]

*Where "people" is largely but not exclusively modern-day American Evangelicals and similar

I'm not the target audience so I haven't read this book, but ISTM that its expectation of an American evangelical readership is surely important.

American evangelicals exist in an environment where their understanding of the Bible may be dominant, but this isn't true in the UK, or Continental Europe, so the author's concern about a widespread wrong-headedness seems very culture-specific.

On both sides of the Atlantic, though, one can easily access moderate, mainstream/mainline biblical material, so the main advantage of a book like Bob's, ISTM, is that one evangelical is giving other evangelicals 'permission' to so so. But the more he persists, the less evangelical he's going to look. So unless he's careful he'll lose his evangelical readership.

From a marketing point of view, though, I suppose post-evangelicals (or emerging evangelicals) are still a group distinct from moderate, mainstream Christians, and need books aimed specifically at them. Lucky the man or woman who can reach that niche demographic. So long as Western evangelicalism exists there'll be an steady supply of post-evangelical readers!

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Snags
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I think it's fair to say that the approach to the Bible that Bell (and those he draws on) are trying to move past/expand/replace is one which is common across vast swathes of Christendom, whether that's USA Con-Evo, UK Anglican, GAFCON, average Methodist etc.

It is certainly an approach that is immensely familiar to me, whose primary interactions have been with UK Christians from predominantly MOTR mainstream denominations (Baptist, Methodist, Anglican, assorted free church/non-denom). And as far as I can tell would not be wholly unheard of in Roman Catholic circles, just with extra bits thrown in. It's also an approach that I see in various overseas friends, although they mainly cover Australia, South African, the USA and a smattering of Eastern Europe and are predominantly white so have some historic touching points anyway.

I drew attention to his particular context in the OP just in case he's picking up on something that e.g. the Orthodox have done for years and I was ignorant of. Didn't want mousethief overheating [Smile] And, obviously, it is the primary context in which Bell is writing, and certainly the context where he started and from which he has journeyed.

Personally I would say that if you're used to seeing the Bible as a collection of rules, or as some kind of Haynes Manual For Life, or stamped through with "So Shall It Be", and you're thinking "Hrm, this doesn't quite stack up" then it's worth a read, whatever your churchmanship or background.

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SvitlanaV2
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quote:
Originally posted by Snags:
I think it's fair to say that the approach to the Bible that Bell (and those he draws on) are trying to move past/expand/replace is one which is common across vast swathes of Christendom, whether that's USA Con-Evo, UK Anglican, GAFCON, average Methodist etc.

You surprise me.

I'm a Methodist with ecumenical connections, and the implication that most of us don't value the Bible as a collection of stories (as you say in your OP) strikes me as strange.

My sense is that mainstream Christians are quietly negotiating with the Bible all the time, sometimes for guidance about how to live life, sometimes as material for reflection on God, sometimes as a way of illuminating aspects of human nature. But most of us don't slavishly expect every decision we make to be mirrored by someone in the Bible.

Moreover, the widespread privatisation of faith, the fragmentation of mechanisms to police orthodoxy, the decline in Bible reading and church attendance (even among evangelicals) all seem seem to contradict the idea that Christians are somehow shackled to the Bible as a straightforward manual for everyday life.

So ISTM that Bell has overstated his case, the better to justify the existence of his new book. But I'm sure the book is valuable in itself (I see it has some good reviews on Amazon), and the author doesn't need to condemn everything that came before in order to make his point.

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SvitlanaV2
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Just thought I'd add a link to an interesting evangelical review of the book:

Between Irrelevance and Inspiration: Rob Bell’s “What is the Bible?”

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cliffdweller
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quote:
Originally posted by SvitlanaV2:

I'm a Methodist with ecumenical connections, and the implication that most of us don't value the Bible as a collection of stories (as you say in your OP) strikes me as strange.

My sense is that mainstream Christians are quietly negotiating with the Bible all the time, sometimes for guidance about how to live life, sometimes as material for reflection on God, sometimes as a way of illuminating aspects of human nature. But most of us don't slavishly expect every decision we make to be mirrored by someone in the Bible.

Moreover, the widespread privatisation of faith, the fragmentation of mechanisms to police orthodoxy, the decline in Bible reading and church attendance (even among evangelicals) all seem seem to contradict the idea that Christians are somehow shackled to the Bible as a straightforward manual for everyday life.

So ISTM that Bell has overstated his case, the better to justify the existence of his new book. But I'm sure the book is valuable in itself (I see it has some good reviews on Amazon), and the author doesn't need to condemn everything that came before in order to make his point.

I think you just demonstrated my point that Bell is writing to an American evangelical (or post-evangelical) context. Because, honestly, his approach is ground-shifting for us American evangelicals. Even for me (does that sound too pretentious?). While I've been around the block enough to know all the diverse approaches to Scripture out there, that "low"* view of inspiration was, as I said, unsettling for me. Which I think was the benefit-- it wasn't a new idea for me by a long shot, but hearing it in that context-- one evangelical speaking to another, with a rich and deep love and appreciation for Scripture-- it was unsettling-- in a good way. But a whole lot of my tribe just doesn't want to be unsettled.

Again, I think his primary audience is not "mainstream" (or mainline) Christianity, nor is it solidly comfortable evangelicalism. It's those on the fringes of evangelicalism-- "post-evangelical" or whatever Rachel Held Evans is calling herself these days. People who are struggling to hang on to faith, but just seeing too many holes in what they've always been told is the only Christian alternative. Again, I think that's desperately needed today (in a small way, I hope that's what I'm doing in my teaching at an evangelical college). But it's not particularly appreciated by the old-school, comfortably evangelical folks (again, I think Bell is way less concerned about their disdain that I would be. Which is tremendously freeing).

*appreciate the concerns re my use of "low"/"high" to describe his approach to Scripture. I said "low" view of inspiration rather than low view of Scripture for precisely that reason, but it still seems to have rankled. Can someone suggest an alternative? How would you describe the difference between verbal plenary inspiration/inerrancy and Bell's more Barthian human document-with-God-breaking in? (honest question)

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Snags
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He doesn't condemn everything that's come before. It would perhaps behove you to read it before making sweeping statements about what it says [Smile]

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Snags
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cliffdweller, I've sat through enough UK Methodist sermons to know that it would be ground-shifting for a lot of them too.

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cliffdweller
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I was trying to come up with a metaphor to explain why Bell's central thesis was so much more unsettling than the 100s of times I've heard something similar on the Ship or in an academic setting. The analogy I came up with is the first time your spouse throws the word "divorce" into a marital spat.

of course, you always knew divorce was a theoretical option. You had friends who had that word thrown into their marital spats. Some of them survived that land mine, their marriages strengthened as they addressed all the vulnerabilities revealed by the land mine. Others of your friends' unions did not survive. (I have experienced both).

But this time it's your marriage. And there is that gut-check moment-- that sharply inhaled breath as the land mine hits and all of those vulnerabilities, all those cracks that you had been comfortably ignoring are laid bare. Your entire safe conception of your marriage and your worldview has shifted. And you don't know what comes next.

Those cracks, those vulnerabilities, were always there, of course, whether spoken or unspoken. But the land mine reveals them, forces you to address them. Which can be a very good thing. But that is scary and unsettling.

That's perhaps a bit overwraught, but something similar to what Bell's thesis felt like. American evangelicalism is broken right now-- there are cracks and vulnerabilities that are incredibly obvious to everyone outside of it-- and to those inside as well (much ink has been spilled). But Bell is spelling it out in those sort of stark terms (as much as any writer who revels in obtuse, meandering wordplay can be considered "stark"). So yeah, as much as it's not new, something about it feels scary.

Which, again, may in fact turn out to be a Very Good Thing.

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SvitlanaV2
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Snags

I was going on what you yourself said about the book! You gave the distinct impression that the author wants to correct the error into which the 'vast majority' of Christians have fallen. What's that if not a condemnation of earlier wrong-headedness? Maybe a gentle tut-tut...? [Smile]

The book does look interesting, though, and now you've pointed it out I'll have a browse if it turns up at my local CLC shop. However, I'm not exactly a struggling evangelical who needs to be told to take the Bible less literally. My Christian struggles aren't quite of that nature.

From what you said above, I suspect that the MOTR context I'm familiar with is simply less evangelical than what you have down in the South of England. The clergy and theologians I've known tend to be a bit sniffy about evangelicalism.

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Martin60
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Movingly put cliffdweller, movingly put.

Wish I was in your congo SvitlanaV2.

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cliffdweller
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quote:
Originally posted by SvitlanaV2:
Snags

I was going on what you yourself said about the book! You gave the distinct impression that the author wants to correct the error into which the 'vast majority' of Christians have fallen. What's that if not a condemnation of earlier wrong-headedness? Maybe a gentle tut-tut...? [Smile]

The book does look interesting, though, and now you've pointed it out I'll have a browse if it turns up at my local CLC shop. However, I'm not exactly a struggling evangelical who needs to be told to take the Bible less literally. My Christian struggles aren't quite of that nature.

From what you said above, I suspect that the MOTR context I'm familiar with is simply less evangelical than what you have down in the South of England. The clergy and theologians I've known tend to be a bit sniffy about evangelicalism.

Again, I think Bell is clearly speaking to evangelicals or post-evangelicals who have been taught that there is either verbal plenary inspiration or the Dreaded Evil of Secular Humanism, with no middle ground in between. These are the students I teach every day on the univ level-- most have never heard of the whole range of beliefs about Scripture, nor pretty much anything else. Heck, I still have to go repeat 800x why in our class we don't make comparisons between "Catholic" and "Christian" (and why there is this whole other animal called "Orthodox" that needs to be part of the conversation).

Perhaps it's best to think of Bell as standing just outside the tent of evangelicalism, describing to those of us still inside the tent what the world outside looks like.

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"Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid." -Frederick Buechner

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Snags
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SvitlanaV2 fair enough, although obviously my somewhat brief and erratic posts aren't a comprehensive summary of a full book (even when the book is a collection of tumblr posts/tweets).

I've done some time oop norf too, although admittedly in very similar congregations to darn sarf.

I think the interesting thing about Bell's approach is that he's kind of taking all of the standard evangelical oomph about the Bible, keeping it, but redirecting it into what appears to be a considerably more helpful and also justifiable position. So it's still very 'evangelical' in spirit (in one sense) whilst being utterly rejected by the increasing hard-core fundie evo community who, to my mind, are actually moving further and further away from embodying the things they purport to defend/represent.

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Martin60
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Well again HRB.

I said, '...the literal theist false dichotomy line here. '

And you said, 'The what? You'll have to explain that one for me I'm afraid! (I'm not an evangelical).'

And I replied, 'Well Honest Ron, on the Words of Paul=Jesus? and Saved by Faith and Goats and Sheep threads, despite what lilBuddha says above, narrow literalism and paring of Words predicated on 'high' views of the inspiration of scripture and tradition are at least as equally dominant. Damnationism therefore vies still to rule otherwise liberal hearts here. Because theism does. As it inevitably did in the man Jesus.'

Which doesn't look too helpful … but unfortunately does encapsulate what I think.

I think lilBuddha thinks that postmodern conservative liberalism – my take on Bell's view and all those not as far gone as Spong and Crossan; still creedal after all this time – is the dominant view here. I don't think so. Many if not most otherwise liberals here have their feet on traditional and/or conservative, i.e. historical-grammatical (and inevitably legalistic), 'high' view ground, as current threads demonstrate.

We need a quiz!

According to this, I'm

A Brian McLaren Christian

A.k.a. a Rob Bell, Phyllis Tickle, N.T. Wright, Tim Keller ['oo?], Eugene Peterson Christian. You subscribe to Sojourners or Relevant...or, more likely, Rolling Stone, Paste and The Atlantic. (And maybe even Geez!) Your [recent!] Christian history is rooted in St. Francis, who leads (through Gandhi) to Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. You emphasize social justice as an element of God's kingdom. You might be "emergent" [ / ] or "progressive" [ / ] but you're probably post-evangelical [ / ].

Right on Sojourers (some) and The Atlantic (more).

But back to my proposition that many liberal folk here are mired in theism – I've just discovered Paul Tillich (I know, I know, I get there in the end) and existential theology (we create the economic and immanent Trinity from the words of ancient men, including their faithful witness) - then the slightly smaller muddy circle of a surprising degree of literalism and/or exceptionalism: 'the Bible says', 'Jesus said'. By exceptionalism I mean that the rules of enculturated epistemology and hermeneutics that apply to the rest of us didn't apply to Jesus (the only human with a divine nature and whatever else of the Second Person goes necessarily with that). I've never expressed it – the fact that He made it up as He went along, including His own take on His mission - that way before.

I too have been scared. Of what I say. Ten years ago I said here that in the sacrifice of Christ I saw the apology of God. Saying that scared me. I saw it in print elsewhere. Someone quoting me unattributably. The hubris! The dread!! Of the corollaries of postmodernism, of Jesus' total, complete, constrained, ignorant, ancient Jewish, male humanity transcended by the perichoretic divine nature of perfect love. Of the almost overwhelming power of materialism. Of the complete absence of divine intervention in any meaningful way apart from The Incarnation. Of the fact that I cannot see the resurrection, see how it can be. His, yes. Mine, no. Of the unknowable pre-eternity and trans-infinity of ineffable God.

That's all probably just as unhelpful too!

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fletcher christian

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Posted by Martin:
quote:

Is it because liberals just leave and all that's left are conservatives?

But this suggests that they are really liberals after all, and they aren;t, are they? They aren't in the same vein as the 'great' liberals of Biblical scholarship of the last fifty years, none of them it seems to me espouse the liberal theology of the liberal systematicians and none of them seem to be anywhere near the revisionist junket of the likes of Spong. In fact, Bell et al looks awfully like Barth-lite to me. How could anyone describe that as liberal? If you were to place a finger on enlightenment orthodoxy for the modern world you'd be very hard pushed to take your finger off Barth. But no; now Barth and all like him are outside the pale - that's how far its gone; to such a shocking extreme and it's like it's crept on on everyone without them noticing.

Last spring I was chatting with self professed evangelicals from differing denominations over a very pleasant dinner. I know evangelicals and a pleasant dinner party...who'd have thought one could enjoy such a thing. But anyway, I did enjoy it and the conversation invariably turned to talk of God and the state of the church. Now they are all 65+ but at one point while discussing this 'new evangelicalism' one elderly soul uttered, 'I am an evangelical and always have been, but now even my own church makes me feel like a stranger in a strange land'. I thought that was incredibly sad.

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leo
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An evangelical discovers liberalism. How quaint!

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My Jewish-positive lectionary blog is at http://recognisingjewishrootsinthelectionary.wordpress.com/
My reviews at http://layreadersbookreviews.wordpress.com

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SvitlanaV2
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quote:
Originally posted by Martin60:

Is it because liberals just leave and all that's left are conservatives? Society will always generate (neo-)conservatives who run to the Church. I did. Via a cult for 30 years. Liberals aren't going to run to the church.

Sociologists note that strict churches (which in this case means more theologically conservative) tend to become less strict over time. Some members will go along with this, while others will reject it, and go off to join or start stricter churches.

But on a more basic level, strict churches have higher expectations, and while this puts off the lukewarm or the theologically independent, others are motivated to prove themselves by offering a high level of commitment. By contrast, tolerant churches may be comforting, but they're also relatively easy to walk away from.

(The institutional benefits of theological conservatism are discussed in quite a famous essay here.)

This being so, if I could meet Rob Bell I'd ask him what advice he has for churches and church leaders. How does he address the problem that re-orienting evangelical approaches to the Bible won't necessarily make their churches stronger, even if it provides comfort to some individuals?

And if the 'vast majority' of believers have the problem he addresses, why start with the most difficult of the bunch? Why not market this book at the United Church of Christ, or the Presbyterians first (or the URC in Britain)? Surely they're closer to the Promised Land of biblical liberation than the Southern Baptists??

[Devil]

[ 25. October 2017, 19:29: Message edited by: SvitlanaV2 ]

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Martin60
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You are NEVER to be underestimated. Ask Steve Chalke. He'd respond.

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cliffdweller
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quote:
Originally posted by fletcher christian:
In fact, Bell et al looks awfully like Barth-lite to me..

Wait-- I just said that! Twice!


quote:
Originally posted by fletcher christian:

Last spring I was chatting with self professed evangelicals from differing denominations over a very pleasant dinner. I know evangelicals and a pleasant dinner party...who'd have thought one could enjoy such a thing.

hmmmm... doesn't bode well for a dinner invite for me, I guess then... : (


quote:
Originally posted by fletcher christian:
Now they are all 65+ but at one point while discussing this 'new evangelicalism' one elderly soul uttered, 'I am an evangelical and always have been, but now even my own church makes me feel like a stranger in a strange land'. I thought that was incredibly sad.

I'm only slightly younger than that, and I would say that describes my feelings in some ways. In other ways, it's more the opposite. As an American lefty evangelical, I've always been a sort of odd-duck-- neither here nor there. It worked to a small extent as long as my diverse denomination (PCUSA) held together-- I could vote with my liberal friends on some things and with my evangelical friends on others, causing some surprise/consternation for some. Once that diverse body broke up it got more & more uncomfortable. (I currently serve in a different denom.)

In the last year it has become clearer and clearer that my evangelical tribe has sold it's soul to the devil, and is going down a very very dark path that does not bode well. We have strayed very far from our progressive roots in the 2nd great awakening-- I imagine we'd be all but unrecognizable to those pietist ancestors. That has, indeed, caused that deep deep sorrow expressed by your dinner companions, along with the reluctant conclusion that the name "evangelical"-- with it's (IMHO) rich and honorable heritage-- has become irretrievably tainted, such that lefty evangelicals such as myself really can't use the term any more (I'm trying on "Wesleyan" instead these days). There's real sorrow in that.

And yet, in the days following the election, I had conversations with fellow lefty evangelicals which I hadn't had in 20 years. Most, though not entirely, younger evangelicals. Similarly, I've seen a shift in the young evangelical students I teach. Yesterday in particular I had an amazing conversation with my class about justice and what's happening in the world and where to find God in such a dark, dark time-- much deeper than I've ever had in 14 years of teaching on the univ. level. I feel connected and a part of a distinctly progressive evangelicalism (or post-evangelicalism, or Wesleyanism, or whatever the heck we end up calling ourselves) in a way I never have before.

And the younger generation of evangelicals... they give me hope.

And Lord, we need hope.

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cliffdweller
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quote:
Originally posted by SvitlanaV2:

And if the 'vast majority' of believers have the problem he addresses, why start with the most difficult of the bunch? Why not market this book at the United Church of Christ, or the Presbyterians first (or the URC in Britain)? Surely they're closer to the Promised Land of biblical liberation than the Southern Baptists??

Well, honestly, I don't think he's marketing the book to Southern Baptists any more than he is to UCC or Presbyterians.

But to answer your question, I'd say because the UCC and the Presbyterians don't need what he's saying. As noted above, they have plenty of authors who are helping them read Scripture in ways other than verbal plenary inspiration. (Although Bell has an interesting writing style that will appeal to some on that merit).

And the Southern Baptists don't need him because they've got that verbal plenary thing nailed down well at this point. (And the writing style is apt to just piss them off).

It's the other group I mentioned that need Rob Bell-- the group that is desperately clinging to the faith of their childhood, but finding huge holes in it, but don't really know what to do with them. The group that loves certain cultural aspects of evangelicalism-- we of course have our own cultural norms, our own liturgy, our own distinctly evangelical ways of looking at things-- and there is something (for us) to love there, something that helps us follow Jesus. And yet they also find it isn't working. The neat-and-tidy systematic theology is not all that neat-and-tidy once you look under the hood. They are looking for hope, in what seems like a very dark land.

These are the young evangelicals I teach every week in an evangelical college. They are hungry for a lifeline that feels real and solid and viable. Bell is speaking to them in ways that are meaningful and help make that bridge into a faith that is deeper, more thoughtful, more honest and real.

As I said above, it doesn't seem to me that Bell is all that worried about the people who don't like what he's saying (unlike Eugene Peterson). And he's not all that concerned about echoing the people who are already saying what he's discovered. It's these lost and struggling ones he's speaking to.

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SvitlanaV2
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cliffdweller

I was being a bit facetious in that paragraph, as my smiley indicated. In reality, I do understand where you're coming from.

Nevertheless, I was also harking back to Snags' previous posts, in which he's insisted that Bell's work is applicable to the 'vast majority' of Christians, not just to American evangelicals.

I agree that all Christians can benefit from being challenged, but it does sound as if American evangelicals are likely to get the most out of the book, which was my position at the beginning of the thread.

Martin60

Steve Chalke would be certainly be interesting from the British perspective, although I don't think he's quite as theologically 'out there' as Rob Bell.

Chalke simply doesn't need evangelicalism any more. Thanks to his high degree of motivation, productivity, organisational skills, leadership skills, and vision he's been able to pursue his calling very successfully without the support of the evangelical 'brand'. Those less self-confident and/or less gifted clergy are far more cautious, I'm sure.

Indeed, I think cautious is what they're frequently hired and trained to be. Abruptly upsetting their congregations with radical new approaches isn't what they're expected to do. This is what makes me wonder how Bell envisions his book to be used in a congregational setting. How are its ideas to be incorporated into worship, prayer, liturgies, hymns and worship songs? What does he want ministers and lay preachers to say in the pulpit? Or is it really just about individuals at home sitting down to read a book?

Interestingly, the book review I posted earlier has made me think of John H. T. Robinson's 'Honest to God' - another book I've only read about but haven't actually read. A commentator on Amazon USA states that Bell references 'Honest to God'. But if Bell does indeed lean in a 'Robinsonian' direction then it's hard to see what kind of interaction he can get out of institutional evangelicalism - and even the plain old MOTR constituency has avoided going for the full on Robinson treatment (though perhaps American Christian liberalism is further along the way).

Overall, this sort of thing seems to be for individuals not institutions.

[ 26. October 2017, 01:04: Message edited by: SvitlanaV2 ]

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Snags
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For the record I'm not insisting anything, certainly not in any faintly pejorative way. My experience and general observations merely indicate to me that it isn't a book with relevance just for the evangelical sphere. I may be wrong. Bell may be wrong.

I also don't think he's written the book for anyone in particular, as such. He's just written a book. Given Bell's status within US evangelicalism he's unlikely to be marketed hard into that group; he's basically been chucked out in the cold by the gatekeepers of purity years ago.

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Golden Key
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Snags--

quote:
Originally posted by Snags:
Yeah, even as an (increasingly old school, by new measures) evangelical I could never work out how actually delving into scripture and hermeneutics and acknowledging a bigger picture was somehow taking it less seriously than adopting a literal view from a limited English translation.

From my fundamentalist background: They *do* delve into scripture and hermeneutics. And those terms are used a lot. They dig into the original languages. They study the scriptures, and pray for understanding.

This difference is they view the Bible as a user's guide, straight from the Creator and Manufacturer. They believe that God directly dictated it, verbatim. So it's really important to understand the original edition of the user's guide, because that's straight from the Source--and anything later is human confusion and meddling.

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Golden Key
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FC--

quote:
Originally posted by fletcher christian:
Posted by Martin:
quote:

Is it because liberals just leave and all that's left are conservatives?

But this suggests that they are really liberals after all, and they aren;t, are they? They aren't in the same vein as the 'great' liberals of Biblical scholarship of the last fifty years, none of them it seems to me espouse the liberal theology of the liberal systematicians and none of them seem to be anywhere near the revisionist junket of the likes of Spong. In fact, Bell et al looks awfully like Barth-lite to me. How could anyone describe that as liberal? If you were to place a finger on enlightenment orthodoxy for the modern world you'd be very hard pushed to take your finger off Barth. But no; now Barth and all like him are outside the pale - that's how far its gone; to such a shocking extreme and it's like it's crept on on everyone without them noticing.

FWIW: In my fundamentalist background, someone like NT Wright was a flaming liberal. Barth was, at best, lost in the wilderness. At worst, apostate and somewhere near Gehenna. As far as his theology, anyway.

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--"Oh bat bladders, do you have to bring common sense into this?" (Dragon, "Jane & the Dragon")
--"Oh, Peace Train, save this country!" (Yusuf/Cat Stevens, "Peace Train")

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Golden Key
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Svitlana--

quote:
Originally posted by SvitlanaV2:
Steve Chalke would be certainly be interesting from the British perspective, although I don't think he's quite as theologically 'out there' as Rob Bell.

Chalke simply doesn't need evangelicalism any more. Thanks to his high degree of motivation, productivity, organisational skills, leadership skills, and vision he's been able to pursue his calling very successfully without the support of the evangelical 'brand'. Those less self-confident and/or less gifted clergy are far more cautious, I'm sure.


You alluded to his theology in the first paragraph. But your list of qualifications in the second paragraph doesn't mention faith nor belief. Are they not currently part of the package for him?

Not criticizing him. But theology doesn't necessarily equal belief.

Thx.

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Martin60
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Having been in their company, together, I'm not aware how there could be any theological differences of any significance.

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mr cheesy
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I agree. Rob Bell is mates with Steve Chalke, I don't think there is more than the width of a piece of paper between them theologically.

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moonlitdoor
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quote:

posted by Cliffdweller
Bell is speaking to them in ways that are meaningful and help make that bridge into a faith that is deeper, more thoughtful, more honest and real.

Can I ask where you think the depth, honesty etc come from ?

From my perspective Rob Bell's ideas are quite pessimistic rather than optimistic. Suppose there isn't much divine inspiration in the writing of scripture or in church tradition. What do we have to fill in the gap, to make up for what we have lost ?

My answer is nothing. Beyond where scripture and tradition take us, we cannot go, so if they don't take us far, we have little to offer the world.

The answer which Martin60 seems to favour, that we fill in the gap with the piercing insights of our own intellects, strikes me as shallow rather than deep. Even if scripture and church tradition are entirely without divine inspiration, they are far more likely to cast some light on the nature of God than anything I might come up with.

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Karl: Liberal Backslider
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But what has our ideas of divine inspiration of Scripture and Tradition given us? Conflict. War. Hatred. Oppression. All that Spanish Inquisitioning, Crusading, persecution of Heretics, bombing each other because of which road in Belfast we grew up on. All that guilt and terror of Hell we've engendered in generations of Christians to make them toe the line, behaviourally and doctrinally. And when that's failed, the Church's history is of turning to the State to enforce its vision for it on those who won't submit voluntarily. Still doing it, demanding its members vote against equal marriage, for example.

By contrast accepting that much of this is of human origin, so we should be less sure of insisting that other people should believe what we do (whether by threats of eternal hellfire or threats of earthly stake-fire), and instead offering Not Being A Knob, aka Jesus' reduxed version of the Law, and the hope of an inclusive community founded on love rather than an exclusive one founded on doctrine.

I'm not sure it'll work any better, but I don't think it could work much worse.

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Might as well ask the bloody cat.

Posts: 17938 | From: Chesterfield | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
cliffdweller
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quote:
Originally posted by Golden Key:
Snags--

quote:
Originally posted by Snags:
Yeah, even as an (increasingly old school, by new measures) evangelical I could never work out how actually delving into scripture and hermeneutics and acknowledging a bigger picture was somehow taking it less seriously than adopting a literal view from a limited English translation.

From my fundamentalist background: They *do* delve into scripture and hermeneutics. And those terms are used a lot. They dig into the original languages. They study the scriptures, and pray for understanding.

This difference is they view the Bible as a user's guide, straight from the Creator and Manufacturer. They believe that God directly dictated it, verbatim. So it's really important to understand the original edition of the user's guide, because that's straight from the Source--and anything later is human confusion and meddling.

Yes, this. One of the misconceptions I've seen here on the Ship is the assumption that evangelicals or even fundamentalists don't go in for critical scholarship. But we do-- we use the same or similar tools as those used by our more liberal colleagues. sometimes obsessively so. The difference comes in the set of assumptions we bring to that work. We all bring assumptions, of course, evangelical assumptions are somewhat different from fundamentalist assumptions which are quite a bit different from liberal assumptions.

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"Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid." -Frederick Buechner

Posts: 11242 | From: a small canyon overlooking the city | Registered: Jan 2008  |  IP: Logged



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