Month: September 2007

Ben Witherington on Rob Bell

New Testament scholar Ben Witherington has excellent reviews of Velvet Elvis, Sex God and the first ten Nooma DVDs.  His main criticism of Bell is some sloppy exegesis and some misunderstandings of the New Testament context. Witherington is very convincing! Overall, he is extremely positive about Bell. Witherington’s comments on Bell on homosexuality attracted 75 comments; I didn’t read them all but the conversation seems intelligent and well mannered. (Probably a lot of moderating went on.)

 For a standard Reformed kneejerk reaction against the Nooma videos, visit Ed’s Fallible Thoughts. His basic contention: he doesn’t talk about the Bible or Jesus enough. (Not true!) I like one of the responses to this – ‘You mean he doesn’t talk about substitutionary atonement’.

BTW, this blog is not going to be about Rob Bell forever! I’m just very excited by his work.

Nooma DVD 012 – Matthew : a short review

This Nooma sees Rob Bell in sombre mode; he doesn’t reach those heights of joyful intensity I saw in the previous Nooma I watched – Breathe – instead, he talks about grief and loss.

He tells the story of a friend of his who died – Matthew – and then he goes on to talk about the effects grief can have on people. The way we may find it impossible to move on.

He brings in the story of Jesus coming to see Lazarus and weeping, and how sometimes we just need to ‘get it out’.

Finally, Rob finishes by presenting God’s promise in the Bible that things will be set right one day, that we will be reunited with our loved ones.

I think the topic of grief is a good thing for a church or small group to devote time to, and this DVD (and the discussion booklet) are a good way to start people thinking and hoping.

Mark Strom’s new book

Back in 2001, Mark Strom’s book Reframing Paul was a hugely influential book on my life. It was the best critique of the current state of evangelical churches I had read and it offered some positive alternatives of ‘grace filled conversations’.

Finally in 2005, I wrote a long email to Mark telling him how much his book had meant to me, how it had got me in trouble with Christian Union, and helped me start dating my future wife. (Ie: I told her to read it and she loved it too.) He didn’t get back to me, and I was scared he’d dropped off the radar altogether.

But just now I got a bulk email from Mark, now in New Zealand, announcing his new book, The Arts of the Wise Leader. It seems a very different sort of book from his previous one:

Arts of the Wise leader contains simple words conveying profound and practical ideas tested and honed in the realities of tough public schools, government infrastructure and major businesses. Perhaps more significantly, the ideas contained in Arts of the Wise Leader have brought hope and heart to families and communities.

I developed an allergic over-reaction to the idea of leadership while being involved in house church, and I’ll be interested to find out Dr Strom’s thoughts.

Interpreting the Bible in Velvet Elvis: binding and loosing

From an Anabaptist perspective, what excites me most about Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis is the way in “Movement two: Yoke” it talks about using ‘binding and loosing’ to interpret the Bible together.

In Jesus’ world, it was assumed you had as much to learn from the discussion of the text as you did from the text itself. One person could never get too far in a twisted interpretation because the others were right there giving her insight and perspective she didn’t have on her own. Jesus said when he was talking about binding and loosing that ‘where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.’

Community, community, community. Together, with others, wrestling and searching and engaging the Bible as a group of people hungry to know God in order to follow God. (52)

What was new to me was Rob Bell’s claim that a ‘yoke’ was a particular rabbi’s way of interpreting scripture (‘binding and loosing’) and that this is the background to Jesus’ claim to have a light yoke.

Different rabbis had different sets of rules, which were really different lists of what they forbade and what they permitted. A rabbi’s set of rules and lists, which was really that rabbi’s interpretation of how to live the Torah, was called that rabbi’s yoke. When you followed a certain rabbi, you were following him because you believed that rabbi’s set of interpretations were closest to what God intended through the Scriptures. And when you followed that rabbi, you were taking up that rabbi’s yoke.

One rabbi even said his yoke was easy. (47)

 This is wonderful stuff. In this chapter Bell:

  1. Uses the postmodern insight that no text interprets itself; instead, it is always interpreted by people.
  2. That we need to recover the Jewish and early Christian practice of interpreting the Bible together – and that this in itself is a safeguard against excesses and false teaching.
  3. That understanding the Bible is completely tied up with understanding what the Bible calls us to do. Ethics are where the Bible gets lived out.
  4. That Jesus told us to carry on this process together – Matthew 18:15-20.

Bell’s explanation of it is much more accessible than Yoder’s treatment, or even my simplification of Yoder’s treatment! I’ll be recommending people start with it to understand binding and loosing.

(He doesn’t cover the disciplining side of binding and loosing, but he doesn’t need to, not in what he is trying to do here.)

For the text of the talk I gave on binding and loosing at the 2007 Anabaptist conference, go back to here:

For my simplification of Yoder’s Body Politics – including binding and loosing, the first chapter, go to here: