the Bible says

This week Jeff Cook posted a response to the trailer for Francis Chan’s upcoming response book to Rob Bell’s book. I’m not sure why it’s acceptable to respond to one book’s trailer and not another’s, and I’m not even sure why they call them trailers (usually a trailer follows along behind—if your trailer is out in front of your car, you probably didn’t hitch it properly). Mark Galli then responded to Cook, in part because he has a forthcoming response book to Rob Bell. If you don’t want to wait another month and a half for these books, you could read my thorough response to Love Wins (Christ Alone) which came out last month.

 Jeff Cook concluded his post by claiming that we conservatives aren’t allowed to simply say that our view is what the Bible says. He wrote: “However, it seems to me that those who affirm the traditional view of hell need to do more than say ‘this is what the Bible says and we’re just repeating it.’ Everyone involved in the debate about hell right now is saying ‘the Bible says.’ What those who affirm the traditional view must show is why that view is worthy of devotion.”

Cook is right that both sides are claiming the Bible for their view, but he is wrong to suggest that this means that conservatives cannot simply say that they are saying what the Bible says. Obviously we have to show that Love Wins wrongly interprets Scripture, but having done so (see Christ Alone), we may legitimately say that we are proclaiming the biblical view.

Last week Harold Camping declared that he had biblical support for his end time predictions, but his claim did not prevent anyone, presumably also Jeff Cook, from saying that the Bible says he was wrong (Matthew 24:36). I’m not saying that Love Wins has the same issues as Harold Camping, but I do think that their interpretation of Scripture is equally suspect. Love Wins variously omits the biblical passages that don’t fit its message (e.g., Revelation 20:11-15); offers offbeat, idiosyncratic interpretations for others (pp. 84-85—lighter judgment for Sodom means that everyone who ever lived there may be saved?); and sometimes even misrepresents what the biblical text actually says (p. 91—the Greek text of Matthew 25:46 is not what Love Wins says it is).

So yes, Love Wins declares that it is merely explaining what the Bible actually says, but so did Camping. And like Camping, the exegetical errors in Love Wins are obvious to nearly everyone. At least I have not yet heard anyone defend its use of Scripture.

We may defend our normal reading of Scripture as those on the political left defend their understanding of the U.S. Constitution or science. When they perceive that someone on the right is misreading the Constitution or the fossil record, they never say “I guess we have to do more than say, ‘this is what the Constitution says’ or ‘this is what science says.’ We must also show why our view is worthy of devotion.” They merely attempt to show that conservatives are wrong, and having perceived that they have done so, they then continue to say, “This is what the Constitution says,” or “This is what science says.”

Just as the political left is aghast at how some on the right read the U.S. Constitution and the fossil record, so theological conservatives are put off by the mishandling of Scripture in Love Wins. We don’t think that its interpretation of Scripture is equal to ours, and having demonstrated this, we will continue to say that our view is what the Bible says—and we will do so until someone can show us from Scripture where we are wrong. It really is that simple.

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23 thoughts on “the Bible says

  1. ..which gets us down to the foundational basics of hermanutical approach.. If modernity tempted us to use a wooden formula hermanutuc (get the scientific formula right and you automaticaly have the right interpretation), post-modernity leaves us a fuzzy vague existensial hermanutuc that in the end dosen’t tell us anything we can know for sure. How can there be any conversation on that basis?

  2. I saw Cook’s response and had some trouble as well.

    On a less serious side, I’m a little bored by overly critiquing any video trailer that is by design meant to peak interest and lead to book sales. It’s sort of like critiquing the promo bit on the inside flap of a book…or analyzing the summary paragraph on an Amazon listing. Let’s critique the substance of the book!

    On a more serious side, I resonate with Cook’s desire to get people to not just say “the Bible says so” because too often that just shuts down discussion and all sides dig in their heals. We need to say what the Bible says, and make a compelling case for it. However, it does feel a little weird to say we have to show why the Bible’s teaching is “worthy of devotion.” The discussion shouldn’t be about what’s worthy of devotion; it should be about what God has said. If God said it, it’s worthy.

    With that said, in my opinion, your book (Christ Alone) actually does what Cook seems to be looking for. You not only explain what the Bible says, you support it with reasons why it makes sense and is compelling even today. For example, you offer reasons why the traditional view of hell is just. You didn’t just say “Hell is real and eternal because the Bible says so” and stop there. Nice job!

    I, too, would love to see this all lead to full and open discussion (with all sides at the table) about hermeneutics and the respective presuppositions we bring to the text. We are all claiming the Bible. Let’s help each other claim it more faithfully.

  3. In a 1545 letter to his wife Martin Luther writes about the Reform…

    “Let us get out of this Sodom…We experience it daily that the people are seven times worse today than ever before under the Papacy; they are more avaricious, more unchaste, more envious, more intemperate, more dishonest”… [John Laux, CHURCH HISTORY, p.431]

    http://www.davidmacd.com/catholic/pope.htm

    Good site titled “Catholic Bridge” by a husband and wife, both converts Catholic. He’s also from Canada, so he sees what has become of the protestant movement up there.

  4. Michael:

    I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I’m really not going to convert to Roman Catholicism. Why don’t you spend your energies on trying to convert those who don’t know Jesus? I think you would agree that I’m a Christian, so why not share your faith with those who aren’t?

  5. Because oftentimes believers need conversion just as much as unbelievers. Reading Acts, Paul continued to reason with God fearing Jews and also those in the Church. Life is one of conversion to Truth. And I believe the things I am articulating directly address the issues you are raising. In addition maybe those reading your posts might find Truth in a Catholic response. If Protestantism is full of persistent confusion and contention as I have tried to suggest, then maybe others as, just as I Did, might find solace in the unity found in the Catholic church. I guess the question then arises about whether your blog is open for counter positions or only those who affirm the solutions you present to problems presented. I do not and never have taken you as such a person. I never presumed my comments were directed solely toward you. Other people are reading and I they can also reason and make choices regarding the issues brought up on this blog. Plus, if I could spend 27 years as a happy protestant only to become happier and satisfied (with the sacraments), I never presume upon anyone as a lost cause. When we both appear before Christ’s thrown we will both be judged for our actions. It might be what you take as annoyance and stubbornness, could be perseverance and persistence. The same is true for you Dr. Wittmer. By you outright saying ‘Ill never…’ can also be considered stubbornness or perseverance. But I will at no point consider any person Christian or otherwise not worth reasoning with. I think we too quickly give up on one another and can act very rash in this age. Same with Rob Bell. I don’t as Piper says, “Goodbye Rob..”. Implying that he is no longer a Christian. I pray for Rob and I pray he might encounter Catholic Christianity because he will not only be better in my view, he will spare his followers from following into further heresy, or worse apostasy. I am always willing to talk; in person or through mediums as this. The truth will always shine through and may Christ use the light of Truth and Christian community to bring us more in conformity with it. Peace in Christ.

  6. “If Protestantism is full of persistent confusion and contention as I have tried to suggest, then maybe others as, just as I Did, might find solace in the unity found in the Catholic church.”

    Unity? What unity? There is such a wide swath of doctrinal belief within the RCC as to render the word ‘unity’ almost meaningless.

  7. That’s not been my experience at all. The Catechism is the same everywhere. Ordination is united under apostolic authority in the line of bishops. The missal is the liturgical norm for the entire church while worship styles may vary based on culture. The seven sacraments, God’s grace in action, are practiced everywhere. Being in the army and having the chance to travel has shown the contrast of confusion in evangelicalism compared with the consistency in Roman Catholic theology and worship practice. Luther was also famous for later saying: “there are now as many Heads as their are beliefs. One denies the incarnation, while another denies Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. A person claims to have received this or that word from the Spirit of which there is no end.” I think Tim a little reading would better inform you perception of things. “On Being Catholic” by Tom Howard is a good one to start with. Or Chesterton’s “The Catholic Church and conversion.”. I love Chesterton’s quote “The Catholic Church is the only thing which keeps a man from becoming a child of his age.”. Chesterton had a huge impact in leading C.S. Lewis out of atheism. Another good read is “C.S Lewis and the Catholic Church” by Joseph Pearce. He collects a lot of records from close friends of Lewis and collects a lot of small family anecdotes that are missed in a lot of his more popular works.

  8. Michael:

    Here’s the thing: your posts are ridiculous to the point of being embarrassing. You can barely go a sentence without engaging in an ad hominem or non sequitir. Your continued attacks on Luther and Protestants in general are disrespectful. Do you really think that taking Luther’s quotes out of context is going to convince anyone to convert to Roman Catholicism? Or pointing out that Lewis had a lot of Roman Catholic friends will somehow convict people to convert? If you are truly interested in trying to convert us to Roman Catholicism, you would do better to address the theological issues that led us to protest in the first place: the veneration of Mary and the saints, purgatory, merit-based salvation, the infallibility of the pope, all those extra books you have in your Bible, and, since you enjoy bringing it up, what about those five extra sacraments you practice – when did Christ institute extreme unction as a means of grace?

    As to Dr. Wittmer’s request that you stop proselytizing on his blog, this is also a matter of respect, both to Dr. Wittmer and to those of who engage on this blog. This is Dr. Wittmer’s forum, not yours. Please stick to the topics presented and stop trying to highjack every post. If you wish to present a Roman Catholic perspective on these topics, please do. We would welcome that. But your insistence on changing the topic of conversation to how evil Luther and Protestants are is just unacceptable in this forum.

    And regarding Tim’s point on unity, by your argument Protestantism is just as unified as Roman Catholicism, since all Protestant Christian denominations adhere to the same creeds (Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian), we all celebrate the same two sacraments, and we can claim apostolic succession, too. Your unwillingness to admit that Roman Catholicism is a very broad umbrella that covers a wide range of theological viewpoints, some of which come in conflict with one another, betrays your lack of understanding of the foundational issues that separate Protestants from Roman Catholicism. Perhaps you should read some Kung, Rahner, and Ratzinger, in light of Vatican II, keeping in mind that Vatican II jettisoned the theology of Thomas Aquinas in favor of unnamed contemporary theologians, making the Roman Catholic Church a true child of its age.

  9. “Jeff Cook concluded his post by claiming that we conservatives aren’t allowed to simply say that our view is what the Bible says. He wrote: “However, it seems to me that those who affirm the traditional view of hell need to do more than say ‘this is what the Bible says and we’re just repeating it.’ Everyone involved in the debate about hell right now is saying ‘the Bible says.’ What those who affirm the traditional view must show is why that view is worthy of devotion.” Cook is right that both sides are claiming the Bible for their view, but he is wrong to suggest that this means that conservatives cannot simply say that they are saying what the Bible says. Obviously we have to show that Love Wins wrongly interprets Scripture, but having done so (see Christ Alone), we may legitimately say that we are proclaiming the biblical view.”

    The problem isn’t proclaiming “the biblical worldview.” The problem is the widespread presentation of the biblical worldview is presently quite ugly for many of us who want to believe. This is why all those who wish to present the biblical God need to focus strongly on making that God desirable.

    I love this quote from Pascal, “Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it maybe true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is: It is worthy of reverence because it really understands human nature; attractive because it promises true good.”

    This is a healthy, fruit-focused place to begin.

    Much love

  10. Thanks, Jeff. Of course I agree that we should try to show people why the biblical view is attractive and deserving of their embrace. But I don’t think that is the right place to “begin.” We must begin with God’s revelation–choosing to believe whatever it says there, whether we like it or not–and only then should we attempt to show why it’s also attractive. And if perchance we are not able to satisfactorily do so, we must still continue to embrace the biblical teaching, as unattractive as it may seemingly be.

  11. Well said, Mike.

    Jeff, we need to focus on what’s true, which I take to be what God has said about himself. Truth may not always be attractive or desirable, since what we find attractive/desirable may often be conditioned by our sin or the emotions of the moment. I’d say this is true both culturally and personally. When I realize I’ve been speeding, the truth about the speed limit is not at all attractive or desirable. But that doesn’t matter. I was speeding.

    When you say, “all those who wish to present the biblical God need to focus strongly on making that God desirable.” I’m sure you don’t mean it this way, but this sounds like you are saying the biblical God is by definition not desirable and we need to cloud over the truth in order to make him desirable. Instead, I would say we should focus on learning why the biblical God (with all the hard parts) is in fact desirable and worthy of our worship.

  12. The one correction/reminder I appreciate from this Jeff is that as we present the biblical God according to what he has said about himself (Scripture) we do need to focus hard on presenting all the data in the way he has presented it….without becoming imbalanced or exaggerated in any direction.

  13. This discussion reminds me of pictures that missionaries to India had shown of idols being made in the marketplace to be sold to the individual watching as the idol was made; who would later worship it.

  14. Randy:

    I warned you before that I will not tolerate you attacking my character, so any of your posts that do so will continue to be deleted.

  15. Randy, I would love to engage what you said in your (now deleted) post about the OT God not being desirable if you care to re-post (without the jab at Mike).

    Thoughtful discussion should also be generous discussion. No one wants to talk to someone who keeps poking them in the eye.

  16. I loved Christ Alone. I read Love Wins so that I could overcome the “have you read the book?” objection that inevitably comes in such discussions. I thought that you were very respectful and yet stayed on task and did not shy away from the difficult issues. I have been wondering lately, however, if the universalist mindset is not something that has developed as a result of the eternal torment message. I have, in recent years, switched to believing in conditional immortality. I think it behooves the church to examine this doctrine (consulting John Stott might be a start). I challenged myself to try to find as many scriptures as I could, that conclusively state that unbelievers are tormented forever. Even “punished with eternal destruction” does not absolutely mean eternal punishing – or eternal destructing. I was astounded that I had put my belief in a doctrine that has so little biblical support.
    Back to my original point: perhaps universalism is an over-reaction to an equally false belief system. I prefer now to believe that unbelievers perish a la John 3:16. It fits with scripture and it fits with the character of a loving God….

  17. Thanks, Peter. I can’t go as far as conditional immortality because of Rev. 20:10 and 14:11. Granted these are only two verses, but that’s still one more than I need. The only way to avoid the everlasting suffering in 20:10 is to say that Satan is not an actual person but merely the personification of evil. And the most natural reading of 14:11 is that “their” torment is unceasing. This is not a fun doctrine to hold, but I don’t know a convincing way to explain these verses.

  18. Would some theologians (I’m thinking Barth here, and perhaps Calvin) view creaturely beginning and sustaining as God’s gracious (unearned) activity?

    If that is correct, there is a perspective from which annihilation would actually be ungracious.

    I’m not saying I’m agreeing with Messrs. Barth and Calvin on this point, but it is worth investigating how God’s loving character may differ from absolutized views of fallen human love.

  19. I hear you Mike. I will have to look further into those verses later. But for now, I remember having an extensive email discussion with Gary Armirault a few years ago. He has a universalism website. He would tell me about a few verses in Romans about how all would be saved. Despite telling him that “all” could mean “all kinds of people” or “both Jews and Greeks”, I remember saying that one didn’t have to be an exegete to accept the fact that, in the logic of everyday language, one would not try to make a few obscure statements (or verses) fit to the bulk of evidence for the plain evidence. Rather, they would accept the large amount of plainly evident meaning and then wrestle with trying to fit the obscure verses to the other more plainly evident meaning…

    That’s where I got to in all this: I couldn’t let the lack of clarity for a few verses cloud my judgment and cause me to ignore the collective weight of many, many scriptures indicating perishing and destruction rather than ongoing torture…

  20. Hi Mike,
    I looked over the 2 verses in Revelation that you quoted. If we are looking for a significant irrefutable text to prove eternal torment, I would suggest that 20:10 might be a stretch – in the sense that it could be said that the treatment for the beast, the devil and the false prophet will be different than for people (could be the same but hard to tell from this verse). Since we are mortal now, God would have to give unbelievers immortality in order to keep them alive in order to make their suffering endlessly continuous…
    Similarly, in v. 14:11, (and given the fact that Revelation is replete with symbolism) the “smoke of their torment” could just be figurative language for saying that its a done deal – the destruction is complete. In other words, one could easily argue that smoke going up forever is not the same as saying their torment goes on forever. It could be that smoke is a reminder (in a figurative sense).
    I know I can’t present a compelling argument in a few paragraphs (and it took me a long time to convert) but I think if it were a court of law, the eternal torment doctrine would not stand up when put up against so much evidence for “perishing” and “destruction”.
    The fact remains that if it is a wrong belief system, it will have been the cause of many having turned their back on the gospel message (as it was presented to them complete with fire and brimstone) and needlessly so, as they could not serve that kind of a God…
    I guess my point is that the church needs to look at this a lot more closely than it has done – and not just discard it as a “kooky” doctrine that is promoted by the JW’s.
    After all the Mormons believe in eternal torment. I guess my hope for the church is that we will examine this a little more closely – given the fact that it is such a critical issue for everyone involved.

  21. If anybody is serious about doing a serious, honest investigation about whether or not the Bible actually espouses as true, the traditional view of eternal torment, I discovered an excellent teaching on-line:

    http://www.edwardfudge.com/written/fire.html

    scroll down to the section that says “Watch”

    I listened to this yesterday and was amazed at the accuracy of his teaching.

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