Sola Scriptura and Bell
In chapter two of Velvet Elvis Rob Bells tries to relay how difficult it is to come to grip with and interpret the Scriptures. Bell’s view of Scripture seems to encourage all people to believe what they want. His interpretation of Scripture tends to lend itself to multiple meanings. His use of epistemology ends up deconstructing the text. This ends up leading to a pluralistic relativism view of Scripture. Luther would never have agreed to this way of hermeneutics, nor did he ever practice this in his preaching or teaching of the Scriptures. Bell comments like this:
But let’s be honest. When you hear people say they are just going to tell you what the Bible means, it is not true. They are telling you what they think it means. They are giving their opinions about the Bible. It sounds nice to say, “I’m not giving you my opinion; I’m just telling you what it means.”
Bell’s view here is that men can have many views of the way people teach the Scriptures. Which one is right is left up to the individual. Bell implies that Scriptures cannot have just one meaning or interpretation. Bell’s view of people giving opinions leads to nobody ever being able to hold to a truth as absolute. Previous to this statement he says, “When we are serious about dealing with the Bible as the communal book that it is, then we have to be honest about our interpretations. Everybody’s interpretation is essentially his or her own opinion. Nobody is objective”. Although the Bible may be a “communal book” its purpose is to glorify God by the work and redemption of the Savior Jesus Christ through the enabling of the Holy Spirit. It is not a subjective book left to each reader’s or preacher’s interpretation. All believers must adhere to the truths of the Bible. They should know what they believe and know with surety the truths contained in its pages.
Lastly, Bell’s view of Scripture so sharply contradicts Luther’s view that clearly Luther would not have worked with him. Luther would not work with individuals that differed with him in anyway. Luther refused to work with men of God like Zwingli and Bucker. And it could be argued that Luther would have not worked with Calvin either due to the differences on the Lord’s Supper. One can conclude, therefore, that Luther would have never worked with a man that would say such remarks as this:
This is part of the problem with continually insisting that one of the absolutes of the Christian faith must be a belief that “Scripture alone” is our guide. It sounds nice, but it is not true. In reaction to abuses by the church, a group of believers during a time called the Reformation claimed that we only need the authority of the Bible. But the problem is that we got the Bible form the church voting on what the Bible even is. So when I affirm the Bible as God’s Word, in the same breath I have to affirm that when those people voted, God was somehow present, guiding them to do what they did. When people say that all we need is the Bible, it is simply not true.
[2] [3]
Bell’s remarks bring into question what truth is and what its origin is. Bell, as a postmodernist, has a fixed view. After the church has stood on truth and the Bible for nearly 2000 years the postmodernist now believes it is not true. Bell contradicts himself on this view of Scripture. After he says Scripture does not have to be a part of the Christian faith, he makes this remarkable statement: “At some point we have to have faith. Faith that God is capable of guiding people. Faith and God has not left us alone. Faith that the same Spirit who guided Paul and Peter and those people in a room in the 300’s is still with us today. Guiding us, showing us, enlightening us.”[4] Bell seems to not have a Scripture alone mind-set, but it is likely that he believes he will find new truths or a new meaning in the Scriptures. Again, this contradicts the tradition he claims to be a part of. Luther never found Scripture to change over time based on the culture. Rather, Luther stood for one truth, one interpretation, and one meaning. Not only has Bell left truth up for grabs but he has completely become a deconstructionist.[5] And that is something that Luther never was.

[1] Bell, Velvet Elvis, 54.
[2] Bell, Velvet Elvis, 67-68.
[3] Bell, Velvet Elvis, endnotes 64-65, 185.
[4] Bell, Velvet Elvis, 68.
[5] Bell, Velvet Elvis, 40-44.


  1. Clark says:

    one issue i have is that you seeding to be reading movements and pholosohpy into Bell’s writing that isn’t there, making connections that can’t so esily be made. You are using words that are common in the postmodernism discussion (absolute truth, subjectivity, relavatism) and fitting them into Bell’s belief. You also stated “Bell is a postmodernist.” How can this be? The connection sees to be “he is somehow affiliated/has friends in the emergent movement, the emergent movement is about postmodernism, all emergents are postmoderns”. This is far bridge to cross. One cannot be completely a postmodernist and still a Christian. One can see truth in postmodern thought, but not be givenm wholly to postmodern doctrine.

    When we stop trying to get Bell to say what we want him to say, it is just plain common sense.

    While Bell realizes that our own interpretations each unique, a product of biases and insights, he does NOT say that they are all CORRECT, in a relavatistic fashion. In fact, that’s why he sees communal interpretation as so important. None of us are completly correct, but if we get together and discuss and wrestle with the text, we are much more likely to come to clarity. However, it is subjective in some senses, because a text could have multiple layers of context and inference and theme, which could lead two people to have two correct, though incomplete, interpretations.

    Also, when Bell, in the Scripture alone section, uses the canon process as proof that we are trusting in multiple authority, not merely scripture itself, he does not do it to prove that Scripture’s value is lessened because of it. You said, “…he said that Scripture does not have to be a part of the Christian faith.” Whoah! A casual reader of even this section of the book can see this is not the case. Or the fact that Bell uses much Scripture through the rest of the book, or that at the beginning of ever Sunday, he says, “turn in your Bible’s to…we’ll start there”, and usually relentlessly discusses multiple passages every week.

    But the bigger point is that this quote from the book is in a section that deals with where we can find truth, and simple fact that God did not enclose every morsel of truth ever to be dicovered in one book. Bell says that all truth is God’s truth and Christians should be people who embrzce everything that’s true. He uses mutliple where Paul embraced this idea as well, using pagan literature, poetry, etc.

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