Webster’s defines a lapdog as a, 1.) small dog that may be held in the lap, and 2.) a servile dependent or follower. As I think of the wayward pundits of postmodernism I can’t help but have the image of lapdogs in my mind. Anybody that has seen a lapdog knows they are usually fuzzy, yippy little things that always infect the air with an unpleasant odor. These dogs usually stand low to the ground and as a result generally wreak of their own urine. As the false teachers and vain philosophers of postmodernism seek to destroy the very notion of absolute truth they reveal whom their father is and on whose lap they sit. These vexatious teachers look harmless from a distance and perhaps even friendly and warm, but when one gets closer they feel the air become heavy with a putrid stench and their ears are bombarded by a belligerent bark.
These lapdogs have one goal in mind and that is to divert the glory that rightfully belongs to God and place it on autonomous man. At the heart of postmodernism is the rejection of modernity. There is the old dictum, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, but regrettably this is not the case with postmodernity. It is true that modernism was no friend of Christianity. Modernism sought truth without God and took every opportunity to attack God and the Christian worldview. Postmodernity has seen all the devastation which modernity has caused through world wars, totalitarian regimes and state sponsored genocide. Thus, postmodernity has rejected the cancerous effects of modernity. “The irony is delicious,” writes D. A. Carson, “The modernity which has arrogantly insisted that human reason is the final arbiter of truth has spawned a stepchild that has risen to slay it.”
Although postmodernity rightly criticizes modernity we must never become confused and see these teachers as friends of Christianity. This also goes for the ones that come to us claiming to bear the divine name of Christ and look as harmless as lapdogs. Where modernity sought truth without God postmodernity seeks God without truth. In all honesty, both are damned because they equally hate God.
If any postmodern eyes happen to run across this paper I am sure they will point to me and say, that is exactly what we are talking about! This guy is everything that is wrong with orthodoxy! To which I kindly respond with a smile. In order to disagree with my assessment one must first believe that I am wrong. In order to do this they must think and then respond in propositional form. If my assessment of postmodernism is wrong then they must believe that I have misinterpreted what they are saying. But in order for them to do this they must, at the same time, admit that they did intend to communicate meaning through their writings or their speech and that I don’t have the right to misconstrue what they were trying so desperately to communicate. Thus, they continually try to communicate truth claims to their audience but they do so under the false guise of neutrality. Like a master magician using the art of misdirection these seemingly harmless lapdogs attempt to gain our trust by striking down the false straw men they have created all the while bringing in an anti-Christian doctrine in through the backdoor.
These heretics call doctrine as interesting as grass clippings while creating and communicating doctrines of their own. Their problem is not with doctrine per se, but rather with Christian doctrine. The fact that one would have to render obedience to a divine Creator is repulsive to them. Thus, they seek to create their own doctrines. For all of their false humility they are really in open rebellion against God.
Postmodernism claims to be enlightened, and fundamental to their doctrine is the disciple of ethics. What they are really preaching, however, is really just moralistic therapeutic deism. After denying that truth exists, and putting the Bible on par with a fairytale these fuzzy mutts have no standard on which to base their ethic. Their constant appeals fall on deaf ears. How do I know what I ought to do? They can’t appeal to the Bible because they have admitted that it has no authority, and is errant, fallible, not revealed by God, subjective, relative, and mythological.
If they can’t appeal to the Scriptures to whom will they appeal? They can’t appeal to God. They have already affirmed that there are no absolute truths, and that we can’t be sure of anything that claims to be revealed by God. So how do we know how we ought to act? Is it an inner light? Perhaps a burning in the bosom? But without the Holy Scriptures they are left without any foundation to interpret this inner light. Maybe its God, maybe it is Satan, or maybe it is just indigestion! The fact of the matter is that without the Scriptures fallen man is left in the middle of the ocean without a life raft.
Postmodern writers like McLaren often quote Scripture, but this then presents the obvious question, Why? If the Bible is simply a series of stories that are not factual or historic why appeal to them at all to convince others your doctrine is correct? This is like saying, “This car accident never took place and let me tell you whose fault it is.” Statements like these make no sense whatsoever and yet postmoderns make them all the time.
Psotmoderns tell us that we should live better lives, and awaken the giant within. Why? I don’t know – they haven’t really provided an answer. This is in direct opposition to the Bible which presents an eternal Triune ontological God who is there and has chosen to reveal Himself by power and glory. He has created all things to reveal His glory. Thus, all of man is derivative and dependent. Man’s being is dependent upon God’s being. Man’s knowing is dependent upon God’s knowing. Man’s will is dependent upon the Divine will.
Adam denied this and sought to be autonomous and turned to the devil, who is the father of all lies, as his source of truth. Thus, man is in spiritual darkness and ethical alienation from God. All truth must correspond to God, and through God’s divine common grace He keeps man from the logical conclusion of their worldviews and allows them to function within the world He created. It is through God’s divine saving grace that one is able to know true truth – and have a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and thus have their minds illumined through the Scriptures. Any attempt at moralism outside of the Scriptures is a cry on deaf ears. Therefore, all gospel preaching requires that we first call sinners in ethical alienation from God to repent and believe in the source of all truth, Jesus Christ.
Postmodern teachers are spiritual vagabonds vacillating from place to place. They paint Jesus as a wise sage that looks more like Oprah upon closer inspection. They have created a theology that looks like Frankenstein’s monster and they have done so by raping Christian terms of their meaning. Because they have a thin veneer of Christian gloss they seem somewhat fuzzy and warm from a distance, but let us never forget upon whose lap these filthy little mutts are sitting!
When Jesus prayed the beautiful high priestly prayer to His Father in heaven He asked his Father to sanctify His disciples in the truth. He then clarifies for us that the Word of God is truth (John 17:14-19). Not only did Jesus presuppose that there was absolute truth, but He also presupposed that the pages of Scripture were the source of truth. Not only can we know that the Word of God is truth but we can know the things attested to therein for certain (Luke 1:4). Cornelius Van Til writes:
Created man see clearly what is revealed clearly even if he cannot see exhaustively. Man does not need to know exhaustively in order to know truly and certainly. When on the created level of existence man thinks God’s thoughts after him, that is, when man thinks self-conscious submission to the voluntary revelation of the self-conscious submission to the voluntary revelation of the self-sufficient God, he has therewith the only ground of certainty for his knowledge. When man thinks thus he thinks as a covenant creature should wish to thinks as a covenant creature should wish to think. That is to say, man normally thinks in analogical fashion. He realizes that God’s thoughts are self-contained. He knows that his own interpretation of nature must therefore be a re-interpretation of what is already fully interpreted by God.
All truth starts with an absolute God. Thus, Christians believe in an absolute Bible because the Bible is breathed out by God. Thus, all true knowledge is derivative knowledge and in order for a thing to be true it must correspond to what God knows. What God knows has been revealed to man in nature, the incarnation, and in the holy Scriptures, but it is the holy Scriptures which reveals to us the proper understanding of God’s revelation in nature and through the incarnation. Van Til writes, “Christ tells us in his word that nature was never meant to function by itself apart from the direct word-revelation of God.” Thus, through the Scriptures God can be truly known. By the indwelt presence of the Holy Spirit illumining the Word of God man’s knowledge can correspond with God’s knowledge and man can know a thing truly though not exhaustively. Therefore, there can be no knowledge other than Christian knowledge because only that which can be true can come from God. Those who labor without the Word labor without hope.
Even as some accept, so also others reject the Word of God’s grace. To them the Word becomes a savour of death. Then they, with their culture, are lost. The work of their hands, their science, their art, their philosophy, their theology, in short their culture, will ultimately profit, not themselves, but those who have obeyed the word of grace in Christ. To be sure none of the cultural efforts of any man will be lost, for all things are Christ’s and Christ is God’s. But there are men who will lose their cultural efforts. They will lose the fruit of their labors because they have refused to labor unto Christ. They will reap the reward of Baal who sought to curse Israel and, most of all, Israel’s God. They will seek in vain, to die the death of the righteous.
It is true that the Word of God has always had its enemies, but opposing worldviews generally could agree that there was something that absolutely existed. The smiling nihilism of our day is a relatively new development. Francis Schaeffer writes, “Thirty or more years ago you could have said such things as ‘This is true’ or ‘This is right,’ and you would have been on everybody’s wavelength. People may or may not have thought out their beliefs consistently, but everyone would have been talking to each other as though the idea of antithesis was correct.” Schaeffer continues, “We must not forget that historic Christianity stands on a basis of antithesis. Without it, historic Christianity is meaningless. The basic antithesis is that God objectivity exists in contrast (in antithesis) to His not existing.”
Therefore, the basic starting point of all life is that a Triune, ontological God is there as opposed to not being there and that He has created. Outside of this most basic presupposition or starting point there is nothing. This philosophical question/problem has plagued man since the fall; something is there as opposed to not there. As Aristotle said, out of nothing, nothing comes. This is not a problem for the Christian because we serve an eternal, Triune, ontologically distinct God who has chosen to create and reveal Himself. God is above time, space, and matter for He created all that is. He is not dependent upon His creation for love because He has perfect love and fellowship within the three persons of the Godhead. Thus, all other religious constructs fail at this point because they have no way to explain personhood, or love without at the same time creating a god who is totally dependent upon man to demonstrate that love. God has created because He has chosen to reveal Himself, thus, something exists. Hence, all that exists glorifies God. Even Satan and all his minions, despite their best efforts to the contrary glorify God through their existence. This is not to say that God at any point condones sin or is glorified in the sin act, but rather, this is to say all that is glorifies God by its very being.
Because God has chosen to reveal Himself through creation we can know something truly, and we know something as true truth when it corresponds to what God knows about a thing. Schaeffer writes, “It is plain, therefore, that from the viewpoint of the Scriptures themselves there is a unity over the whole field of knowledge. God has spoken, in linguistic propositional form, truth concerning Himself and truth concerning man, history and the universe. Here is an adequate basis for the unity of knowledge. The unity encompasses both the upstairs and the downstairs. This is the answer to the discussion of the unity between nature and grace and modern man’s question of knowledge above and below the line of anthropology. The unity is there because God has spoken truth into all areas of our knowledge.”
Thus, we can truly know what God has revealed of Himself. This is true for the simplest of minds to the greatest of minds. For example, let us look at mathematics. In the first grade a young mind can learn addition and subtraction. They can learn that two plus two equals four, and they can know this truly. No one would say that a first grader has an exhaustive, comprehensive, or even basic knowledge of mathematics, and even with this being said we can easily say that they can know truly that two plus two equals four. Knowledge is not an either/or proposition, i.e., either you know something exhaustively or not at all. This approach is not only nonsense but it rules out any functionality for any finite being. Thus, we can have confidence and enjoy certainty in what we know even though our knowledge of that thing may be low indeed. D. A. Carson applies this example to the Holy Scriptures, “Even a child may believe and understand the truth of the proposition ‘God loves the world,’ even when the child’s knowledge of God, love, and the world is minimal, and her grasp of Johannine theology still less (John 3:16). With patient study and increased learning and rising experience, a believer may come to understand a great deal more about the proposition ‘God loves the world’ than does the child.”
Our God is altogether infinite, but He is also personal and thus, we may truly know what He has revealed of Himself. “The living God is the God who speaks for himself and shows himself,” writes Carl F. H. Henry. Thus, Jesus could tell His disciples, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. ‘And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’” (John 8:31-32). This is not to say that all one needs to be right with God is to believe that the Bible contains propositional truth claims. Even the demons believe in the God of the Bible (James 2:19). Simply knowing that I am married to my wife does not make a marriage, and likewise, knowing as fact that the God of the Bible exists does not make one a Christian. Becoming a Christian cannot be reduced to propositional truth claims, but it definitely involves nothing less.
Postmodernisms blithesome attempt to destroy revelational truth is not only an attack on God but is an attack on man. Carl F. H. Henry brilliantly illustrates:
More is sacrificed by defecting from the truth of revelation than simply the truth about God and man and the world; loss of the truth and Word of God plunges into darkness the very truth of truth, the meaning of meaning, and even the significance of language. To sever the concerns of reason and life from the revelation of God as the final ground and source of truth and the good accommodates and accelerates the contemporary drift to nihilism. It is not merely Christianity that stands or falls with the reality of revelation. To avert a nihilistic loss of enduring truth and good, only the recovery of revelation will suffice. It should tell us something that amid American abundance four to eight million Americans suffer from mental depression, and that the wish for death plagues multitudes gripped by psychological poverty. Relativism begets pessimism, and pessimism begets nihilism. There is an abiding lesson in the scriptural sequence of the serpent’s “Yea, hath God said…?” and the Lord’s query to fallen man, “Adam,…where art thou?” (Gen. 3:1,9 KJV). The stench of moral death hovers over a generation that seals itself against enduring concerns of truth and conscience. A culture that welcomes its own glaring inconsistencies as inescapable will inevitably suffocate for lack of spiritual oxygen and find human existence devoid of worth and meaning. It is man who dies, not God, when the truth of truth and the meaning of meaning evaporate.
Every attempt to make man autonomous has disastrous effects for man. This is seen in the optimism of modernity where truth was sought without God, and now in postmodernity where God is sought without truth. Postmodernity asserts that absolute truth does not exist and they also have a bitter distain for propositions. First of all, if they are correct – they prove their own assertions wrong. Second, everything they assert is in complete opposition to what our Lord Jesus Christ taught. It is really not that complicated. We confuse ourselves by getting caught up in language games. The Bible tells us that the truth has come through Jesus Christ (John 1:17), and those who receive His testimony certify that God is true (John 3:33). Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him” (John 14:6-7). Paul tells us that those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 18) exchange the truth of God for a lie and worship and serve the creature rather that the Creator (Rom. 25).
All of this leads John MacArthur to say, “Clearly, the existence of absolute truth and its inseparable relationship to the person of God is the most essential tenet of all truly biblical Christianity. Speaking plainly: if you are one of those who questions whether truth is really important, please don’t call your belief system ‘Christianity,’ because that is not what it is.” In opposition to the truth that is in Jesus Christ is the Devil who is the father of lies. Jesus told us plainly, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God” (John 8:44-47).
Postmodern teachers often come to us as wolves in sheep’s clothing. They pirate Christian terminology which gives the biblically illiterate a resemblance authority, but in actuality they are nothing more than heretics, and worse than that they smile while perverting the Word. Paul warned Timothy of such men, “For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was” (2 Tim. 3:6-9). We also read in 2 Peter, “And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words [stories]; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber” (2 Pet. 2:2-3).
As Christians we have completely forgotten that we are at war. We are not fighting a war of flesh and blood. Rather, we are fighting a war of ideas, but a war nonetheless. Those who are in Christ fight for truth, and those who are sons of Satan seek to deconstruct truth. The words of Charles Spurgeon serve us well here:
The church of Christ is continually represented under the figure of an army; yet its Captain is the Prince of Peace; its object is the establishment of peace, and its soldiers are men of a peaceful disposition. The spirit of war is at the extremely opposite point to the spirit of the gospel. Yet nevertheless, the church on earth has, and until the second advent must be, the church militant, the church armed, the church warring, the church conquering. And how is this? It is in the very order of things that so it must be. Truth could not be truth in this world if it were not a warring thing, and we should at once suspect that it were not true if error were friends with it. The spotless purity of truth must always be at war with the blackness of heresy and lies.
The church of Jesus Christ has grown fat. But with all the material prosperity, the mega-churches and brilliant sound systems that we enjoy we cannot come to grips with the fact that death lies at our doorstep, and with it will come the judgment of a righteous God. We have exchanged the truth of God for a lie and with it we will do anything to maintain our peace and personal affluence. As postmodern pundits spew lies from their mouths with brazen bravado we not only sit back and smile, but we welcome them into the church. They tell us that the Word of God is not good enough for educated men and women today and that what we really need to save the day are stories. Stories will be our Savior. Thus, the gospel truth of Jesus Christ is put on the same plain as Alice in Wonderland. The apostle Paul would not tolerate such heresy in his day and neither should we. He writes, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:6-9).
Let us not be fooled by the fake humility and smiling faces of postmodern preachers for at their core is wicked unbelief. MacArthur writes, “Postmodernism is simply the latest expression of worldly unbelief. Its core value – a dubious ambivalence toward truth – is merely skepticism distilled to its pure essence. There is nothing virtuous or genuinely humble about it. It is proud rebellion against divine revelation.”
Our Reformation forefathers would not tolerate such filth. Many gave their lives to protect the Word of God. They realized that if the truth of God’s Word is not defended on all fronts then we do not have the right to bear the divine name. Martin Luther writes, “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”
The battle lines are drawn. Every attempt to dialogue with the devil is an attempt to minimize the authority of Christ. Postmoderns like McLaren tell us that it is more important to know the way than the words of Jesus. Such statements are the epitome of stupidity. This is the equivalent to saying I want to know my wife, but could really care less about anything she has to say. How is it that one can know the way of Jesus if they don’t take seriously everything that He said? Ridiculous as it may be, this is the nature of postmodernism. Satan will use all the means at his disposal to pervert the truth and these parasites are the latest example of that.
As Christians we should not fear postmodernity, nor shy away from their attacks for although they are flaming arrows they cannot stand against the Word of God. “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:12-13). “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:13-17).
 Francis A. Schaeffer writes, “The Christian does have an adequate universal he needs in order to be able to discuss the meaning of love. Among the things we know about the Trinity is that the Trinity was before the creation of everything else and that love existed between the persona of the Trinity before the foundation of the world. This being so, the existence of love as we know it in our makeup does not have an origin in chance, but from that which has always been.” Ibid., (Francis A. Schaeffer, The God Who is There), 105.
 Ibid., (D. A. Carson), 122. Carson goes on in further detail, “The diligent student of John’s gospel soon learns the “world” in John in usually a term that describes the moral order : human beings in rebellion against God. God’s love is wonderful, in John 3:16, not because the world is so big, but because the world is so bad. Further study would show that God’s love for the world is declared in context that affirms his wrath upon the world (3:36), and this will lead to serious study of God, and of atonement passages in the Johannine corpus (e.g. 1 John 2:2). But would it not be incorrect to say that the child misunderstands the proposition? The proposition as John gave it, I would argue is true; as grasped by a child, it is truly understood, even if not exhaustively understood. The child may have (and probably has) adopted some false associations along with her understanding – associating love, perhaps, with a good cuddle, or with a kind parent. But the heart of the matter is nevertheless rightly said to be understood, even if there is further explanation (and demonstration!) of God’s love to come in the child’s experience.”
Aleksander Solzhenitsyn once said, “One word of truth outweighs the entire world.” I think it is more fitting to say, the One who is truth outweighs the entire world. By restating this we can see that all truth has a source. Thus, any attempt to deconstruct the written word, and personalize truth is nothing more than an attack on Jesus Christ and the revelation of Scripture. So when faced with a statement like that given in Acts 4:12, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” the postmodern thinker says, “that’s great for you, but not for me.” There is absolutely no regard for the authoritative Word of God or the Christ which the Scriptures reveal.
It has not been addressed up to this point, but it would seem obvious that any holding to a postmodern ideal would not call themselves Christian, right? If the tenants of postmodernism are true and there is no worldview or meta-narrative (creation, fall, redemption, consummation), then there can be no purpose, no plan, no meaning to life whatsoever. If there is no such thing as universal truth, than logic, mathematics, and language would not be possible. The logical conclusion to postmodern thinking is suicide, but fortunately postmoderns don’t believe in logic. Given the absolute conflict between the truth claims of Christianity and the truth claims of postmodernism it is hard to believe that anyone could hold to be both postmodern and Christian.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. In recent years the church of Jesus Christ has been violently infected by the insidious filth of postmodernism. Far from the intellectual elite found in the ivory towers of academia, this brand of postmodernism is resonating with the person in the pew and seems to be procreating at rabbit speed. These false teachers include Grand Rapids very own Rob Bell, and the godfather of this rapidly growing rebellious cult, Brian D. McLaren.
In order to get an idea of what “postmodern Christianity” looks like I would like to take a look at some of Brian McLaren’s writings. McLaren is a prolific writer/speaker and much of what he says is widely accepted among those who call themselves Christians today. The reason I think it is important that we address McLaren is because he is specifically addressing the common man and thus, he has a much greater audience than does someone like a David Griffin. McLaren is also a perfect example for us to look at because, through him, we can see most of the basic tenants of postmodern thought already discussed.
Given that absolute truth is inherit in Christianity and the lack thereof is inherit in postmodernism how does this play out in the work of McLaren?
We must admit that our quest for ultimate and absolute truth is impossible, if not for the reasons postmodern philosophers raise, then for this reason: the ultimate truth is not an objective concept, not an objective principle, but rather a Person, the Subject of such splendor, dignity, wonder, winsomeness, and glory that to know him is to love him, worship him, enjoy him, and seek to please him with one’s very existence. When God comes to us, God doesn’t say, “Seek for absolute, objective, propositional truth,” but rather, “I am the way, the truth, the life.”
At first glance, many may think this sounds great because he disguises his foolishness in colorful and romantic language, but like any other wolf in sheep’s clothing when you get close enough you realize how incredibly hideous he really is. It is almost hard to imagine that someone so profoundly ignorant could sell so many books, but unfortunately this is the culture we live in.
First, McLaren claims that “the quest for ultimate and absolute truth is impossible.” Do you think he believes that to be absolute? He is using an absolute to affirm that absolutes do not exist! Next, he claims that ultimate truth is not an objective concept but a Person. Christians would not disagree that the source of truth is the person and work of Jesus Christ, but we believe this because God has revealed it in propositional form. So when McLaren goes on to say that, “God doesn’t say, ‘Seek for absolute, objective, propositional truth,’ but rather, ‘I am the way, the truth, the life’” he is to dense to realize that it is not necessary to say, seek for absolute, objective, propositional truth because everything He says is in propositional form, and He is saying it to creatures that have been designed to think propositionally. McLaren proves this very point when he says that God says, “I am the way, the truth, the life” – this is a proposition! The late great apologist, Francis Schaeffer illustrates the danger of abandoning propositional truth:
Christianity demands antithesis, not as some abstract concept of truth, but in the fact that God exists, and in personal justification. The biblical concept of justification is a total, personal antithesis. Before justification, we were dead in the kingdom of darkness. The Bible says that in the moment that we accept Christ we pass from death to life. This is total antithesis at the level of the individual man. Once we begin to slip over into other methodology – a failure to hold on to an absolute which can be known by the whole man, including what is logical and rational in him – historic Christianity is destroyed, even if it seems to keep going for a time. We may not know it, but when this occurs, the marks of death are upon it, and it will soon be one more museum piece. To the extent that anyone gives up the mentality of antithesis, he has moved over to the other side, even if he still tries to defend orthodoxy or evangelicalism.
Because Brian McLaren believes that there is no such thing as absolute truth he thinks that when presenting the gospel we should not simply present objective evidences that demand a verdict. Rather, we should offer a story that can’t be objectively proven, but which can subjectively ring true and make sense of our lives. Not only is this complete existentialism, but it presents the obvious question, “What authority does the Bible have?” McLaren, himself says, not even .01 percent of the Bible presents itself as objective information about God. If this is the case than why would anybody read the Bible if it’s just another book?
McLaren claims to have a very high view of the Bible but what does he mean when he says this?
Interestingly, when Scripture talks about itself, it doesn’t use the language we often use in our explanations of its value. For modern Western Christians, words like authority, inerrancy, infallibility, revelation, objective, absolute, and literal are crucial. Many churches or denominations won’t allow people to become members unless they use these words in their descriptions of Scripture. Hardly anyone realizes why these words are important. Hardly anyone knows about the stories of Sir Isaac Newton, Rene Descartes, the Enlightenment, David Hume, and Foundationalism – which provide the context in which these words are so important. Hardly anyone notices the irony of resorting to the authority of extrabiblical words and concepts to justify one’s belief in the Bible’s ultimate authority.
Perhaps McLaren has a good point. Maybe we should also do away with the word Trinity as well! Given this, it should come as no surprise that McLaren writes elsewhere that postmodern minds like his think that doctrine is about as interesting as grass clippings, and that there are so many other things to do with the Bible other than study it. Really! What! Unfortunately, McLaren provides no real examples.
How does McLaren then interact with verses like 2 Tim. 3:16-17, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” If we should not use words like authority, inerrancy, infallibility, revelation, objective, absolute, and literal to describe the Bible, and doctrine is about as interesting as grass clippings than would we be right to conclude that the Bible is not inspired and that the apostle Paul is a liar?
Amazingly, McLaren still has the audacity to use the word inspired when speaking of the Scriptures, but his definition is far from a biblical understanding. He writes, “The Bible is an inspired gift from God – a unique collection of literary artifacts that together support the telling of an amazing and essential story.” What does this mean? What McLaren means by inspired is that in this primal, sacred narrative the creative breath of God gives permission to whatever possibilities might become actual.
A Bible full of errors obviously leads to a Christ full of errors. However, McLaren feels the error is on the part of orthodoxy with their rigid view of sin and salvation. He feels the emphasis on grass clippings has led us to misinterpret the text. Of course, one has to ask how confident he is in that assessment given that there are no absolutes, there are errors in the text, and everybody’s interpretation is correct. This doesn’t seem to stop McLaren from putting the message of salvation into his own words. According to him, Jesus is really saying something like this:
Salvation doesn’t mean slitting Roman throats and getting power. Salvation means being liberated from the cycle of violence, liberated from the need for power. God wants to save you from your present life of hatred and fear, and instead reconnect you with God’s original plan for the descendents of Abraham. Even as an oppressed people, you can be a blessing. Instead of slitting a Roman soldier’s throat, carry his pack for him. Instead of cursing him, pray for him. I am here to save you from the whole system of insult and revenge – not by giving you political victory (as you wish I would), and not by telling you to give up on this life and instead focus on salvation from hell after this life (as some people are going to do in my name) – but by giving you permission to start your participation in God’s mission right now, right where you are, even as an oppressed people. The opportunity to start living in this new and better way is available to you right now: The kingdom of God is at hand!
It is clear in McLaren’s theology that Jesus is a liberator, but a liberator of what? What is Jesus liberating His people from? Bad feelings or attitudes? Fear or hatred? Discomfort, or sickness? In seeking to elevate man to god-like status as Adam did in the Garden, McLaren completely reduces the doctrine of original sin into bad-feelings. In his book with Tony Campolo titled (ironically enough), Adventures in Missing the Point, McLaren wrote a chapter on sin where he never once uses the word sin, guilt, imputation, damnation, wrath, hell, punishment, guilt, sorrow, redemption, salvation, Savior, Jesus Christ, atonement, the cross, and so on. Although, he does tell us an emotional story about his son who suffered from Leukemia.
In an age of global terrorism and rising religious conflict, it’s significant to note that all Muslims regard Jesus as a great prophet, that many Hindus are willing to consider Jesus as a legitimate manifestation of the divine, that many Buddhists see Jesus as one of humanity’s most enlightened people, and that Jesus himself was a Jew … A shared reappraisal of Jesus’ message could provide a unique space or common ground for urgently needed religious dialogue – and it doesn’t seem an exaggeration to say that the future of our planet may depend on such dialogue. This reappraisal of Jesus’ message may be the only project capable of saving a number of religions, including Christianity, from a number of threats, from being co-opted by consumerism or nationalism to the rise of potentially violent fundamentalism in their own ranks.
It is no wonder that McLaren believes that one can be a follower of Jesus Christ and still remain a Buddhist, Hindu, or a Jew. And to think, all this time we have really been fighting over nothing! After all, what’s in a name? I wonder how Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists feel about being followers of Jesus? Let us never forget that Jesus was never accused of being sinful, or of not being a great teacher. Jesus was nailed to a cross for claiming to be God, and unless one confesses with their mouth that Jesus was the Christ the Son of the living God and repents of their sins the punishment they will experience in hell will be much worse than being nailed to a cross.
For all of McLaren’s adroit speech and emotional language he presents a vacuous doctrine that has no meaning at all. He dresses up in sheep’s clothing and vigorously appeals to the disposition of fallen man. He tells them that he has discovered a secret gospel. This is not the violent, militant, and authoritative orthodoxy, Oh no! This is nice gospel in which people are called to live better lives. However, for all of McLaren’s moralistic appeals he is really just a spiritual vagabond vacillating from place to place and pirating Christian terms.
He claims to be a Christian, but unfortunately, he looks a bit more like Frankenstein’s monster. Regrettably, for McLaren, this is not a story. No matter how many dead ideas and vain philosophies he tries to sow together he will not find a living breathing doctrine outside of the pages of God’s authoritative, inerrant, infallible, revelatory, objective, absolute, and literal text. Going out to the impoverished multitudes McLaren doesn’t share the gospel of Jesus Christ as given in the divine Word of God. Rather, he tells a story about a man who lived long long ago in a galaxy far far away. As those living a spiritually imperiled life hear this perverse doctrine they store their hope in jars of clay ignoring the inevitable damnation that awaits the unrepentant heart.
Brian McLaren’s moral appeals at building a better world like Jesus wanted to do but couldn’t are destined to fizzle like cotton candy in the mouth. It presents a spiritual high to the depressed heart but in the end there is no sustentative value. Without the norm and standard of Word and truth all of man’s endeavors only lead him deeper in debt. Like a man who tries to dig his way out of a hole – he doesn’t realize he is digging his own grave. Carl F. H. Henry points this out:
Why is it that the magnificent civilizations fashioned by human endeavor throughout history have tumbled and collapsed one after another with apocalyptic suddenness? Is it not because, ever since man’s original fall and onward to the present, sin has plummeted human existence into unbroken crisis of word and truth? A cosmic struggle between truth and falsehood, between good and evil, shadows the whole history of mankind. The Bible depicts it as a conflict between the authority of God and the claims of the Evil One. Measured by the yardstick of God’s holy purposes, all that man proudly designates as human culture is little but idolatry. God’s Word proffers no compliments whatever to man’s so-called historical progress; rather, it indicts man’s pseudoparadises as veritable towers of Babel that obscure and falsify God’s truth and Word.
In our day more than 70 percent of Americans don’t believe in any form of absolute truth. It is no wonder why false prophets who come to us postulating some new secret or vain philosophy that appeals to fallen man would find listening ears. But how are we to respond? Satan has been attacking the church ever since the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. It is obvious that he attacks the church from without but he is most effective when he attacks the church from within. This is clearly seen with church split after church split, but who could have ever imagined a day when people who call themselves Christians would attack the very notion of truth. How is it then that a Christian should respond to this heresy in such a morally and intellectually impoverished time?
What is Postmodernism?
In order to determine what exactly postmodernism is there are a few preliminary statements that must be made before we can begin. First, by its nature postmodernism is a movement that is by no means uniform. In it’s intellectual formation there are four primary strands. In their book, Varieties of Postmodern Theology, Griffin, Beardslee and Holland evaluate these different strands quite thoroughly. Given the nature and objectives of this paper it will not be possible to cover any of these varieties in any detail. However, I do feel it is important to see the different directions this movement is taking in the academic realm.
Second, we must also note that many have made the distinction between postmodernism and postmodernity:
As we try and understand our contemporary world, it is necessary, I believe, to distinguish between postmodernism and postmodernity. The former is an intellectual formulation of postmodern ideas on the high end of culture. It is their expression in architecture, in literary theory, philosophy, and so on. Postmodernity, by contrast, I am taking as the popular, social expression of the same assumptions but in ways that may be unselfconscious and often not intellectual at all, making this a diffuse, unshaped kind of expression. If the one is found in books and art, if it is debated on campuses and in the academy, the other is found in rock music, in the malls, on television, and in the workplace.
I will not make such a distinction between postmodernism and postmodernity for purposes of this paper. I mention this distinction because scholarship is making this distinction and it is important to note. However, I only wish to look at some common tenants of postmodern thought. These basic tenants will show themselves in the academy and in pop culture whether or not the origin of thought can be traced back to one or the other. Trying to determine whether or not the academy influences pop culture or visa versa is a bit like trying to determine which came first, the chicken or the egg. Therefore, I will use the terms postmodernism and postmodernity interchangeably throughout.
Although postmodernism comes in all shapes and sizes there are some basic tenants which can be seen as a common thread throughout. Foundational to postmodern thought is that it rejects all tenants of modernity. Thus, postmodern pundits see modernism as dead and believe a new age of thought has been ushered in. Hence, the designation, post-modernism, or after-modernism. One can begin to understand the antagonism that runs throughout postmodernism if they see that it is really an anti-movement as opposed to any new revelation in thought or discovery. This distinction between modernism and postmodernism reveals itself in many forms.
Of the many distinctions that have been attempted between modernism and postmodernism, perhaps this is the most common: modernism still believed in the objectivity of knowledge. In its most optimistic form, modernism held that ultimately knowledge would revolutionize the world, squeeze God to the periphery or perhaps abandon him to his own devices, and build an edifice of glorious knowledge to the great God Science. But this stance has largely been abandoned in the postmodernism that characterizes most Western universities. Deconstructionists have been most vociferous in denouncing the modernist vision. They hold that language and meaning are socially constructed, which is tantamount to saying arbitrarily constructed. Its meaning is grounded neither in ‘reality’ nor in texts per se. Texts will invariably be interpreted against the backdrop of the interpreter’s social ‘home’ and the historical conditioning of the language itself.
Basic to modernism was that there was such a thing truth. Not only truth, but absolute truth, and not only did the modernist believe in absolute truth but they believed it could be discovered through scientific inquiry. Postmoderns vehemently deny any such thing as absolute truth. One may even say they hold to this claim absolutely! The desecration of absolutes has led to the abandonment of worldview, truth, and purpose.
One of the most popular American postmodern philosophers is the deconstructionist, Richard Rorty. Rorty is a weird combination of deconstructionist, and social pragmatist. As a deconstructionist he finds commonality with the French philosopher, Jacques Derrida’s understanding of words. Basically words have no meaning and are viciously self-limiting. In short, words only refer to other words. Rorty writes, “This is exactly what I take language to be like. It is indeed a seamless web, which can best be understood if we abandon the traditional distinctions. A conception of language as smooth and homogeneous is just the right one to have, and adopting it does indeed lead to quietism.”
One may think that Rorty, as well Derrida would deny that any meaning can be derived from the text. Surprisingly, both argue that meaning can be derived from the text. But this is not an objective meaning which the author intended to communicate using linguistic symbols. Rather, this is whatever meaning the interpreter assigns to the text. Since there are no absolutes there is no criteria by which to judge one interpretation superior to another and thus, all interpretations are equally valid. Rorty states, “For a quietist like me, there is no discourse, debate, theory, or vocabulary that is devoid of meaning. I try to avoid the expression devoid of meaning. Any linguistic expression, even an expression like ontological status, has a meaning if you give it one. To give meaning to an expression, all you have to do is use it in a more or less predicable manner – situate it within a network of predicable inferences.”
On the surface, it is not hard to see the absurdity inherit in the hermeneutical deconstruction of postmodernism. First, if there is no correct criteria by which to interpret text, and all interpretations are valid then they really have no basis on which to expound or defend their claims. If their view is correct how could they defend their own view? They should expect that all who read their work would not agree with them because all interpretations are independent and determined by the interpreter. If words only refer to other words then why bother writing books or giving speaking engagements to try and convince others that your approach to literary studies is the correct one. I highly doubt that these authors write with the intentions of people making up whatever they want them to say. In fact, the every act of responding to criticism and engaging in debates would point to the contrary.
Second, one also must question the sanity of a person who claims that words have no meaning while using words to communicate the ideas that one believes to be true. Carl F. H. Henry writes, “Those who resort to words to tell us that words distort reality and truth engage in a futile of self-refuting activity.” This is the equivalent to saying, “I don’t believe in speech or truth and let me tell you why!” Not only does this position make all communication impossible, but it simply does not chide with personal experience.
In the real world, for all the difficulties there are in communication from person to person and from culture to culture, we still expect people to say more or less what they mean, and we expect mature people to understand what others say, and represent it fairly. The understanding is doubtless never absolutely exhaustive and perfect, but that does not mean that only the alternative is to dissociate text from speaker, and then locate all meaning in the reader or hearer. True knowledge of the meaning of a text and even of the thoughts of the author who wrote it is possible, even if perfect and exhaustive knowledge is not. That is that way things are in the real world – and that in turn suggests that any theory that flies in the face of these realities needs to be examined again.
Another sign (or symptom), of postmodernism is the growing tolerance/acceptance of other religions. It is true that other religions have always been a part of our culture, but due to the cancerous concepts postulated by postmodernity, especially that there are no absolute truths, only personal truths, religious pluralism has found a great degree of acceptance among the popular culture.
This overarching theme of religious acceptance is a new development within Western culture. Harold Netland explains, “Until recently it was assumed that since incompatible truth-claims are being made not all of the claims made by the various religions can be true. At least some must be false. Thus, it has traditionally been held that the Muslim and the evangelical Christian cannot both be correct in their beliefs about the identity of Jesus.” With the loss of objective truth we are left with nothing more than extreme subjectivity. When this is played out in the marketplace of ideas it makes any religion that claims to be absolutely true seem intolerant, insensitive and even extreme. Thus, the enemy of the many is not one more, but rather the One!
Within postmodernism, any religion that claims to be exclusivist will necessarily be perceived as being evil or at least extremely bigoted. On the surface, one would initially think that this position would rule out all religions because at the heart of every religion is an exclusivist position. Every religion makes an absolute claim, even if that absolute claim is that they absolutely affirm to not make any absolute claims. This, however, is not a problem for postmoderns.
Postmoderns don’t see this as a problem because in order to bring harmony to the conflicting religious truth claims, they simply look for areas of mutual understanding, and disregard the differences. There are two major forms in which religious pluralism can be represented. The first is that of Wilfred Cantwell Smith. Smith thinks that it is completely arrogant and even ignorant to think that Christianity is any more true than Islam. He sees this as a result of Enlightenment thinking. Smith rejects prepositional truth claims in favor of “personalistic” truth claims. He writes, “It is a surprisingly modern aberration for anyone to think that Christianity is true or that Islam is – since the Enlightenment basically, when Europe began to postulate religions as intellectual systems, patterns of doctrines so that they could for the first time be labeled “Christianity” and “Buddhism,” and could be called true or false.” Smith’s position is a completely existential position which can be seen more clearly in statements like this, “Christianity, I would suggest, is not true absolutely, impersonally, statically; rather, it can become true, if and as you or I appropriate it to ourselves and interiorize it, insofar as we live it out from day to day.”
Another form of religious pluralism that has become popular is that of John Hick. Hick realizes the need for prepositional truth and thus does not reject it out right. Given this, he also realized that not every claim that all religions make can be true, but he rejects the notion that this makes some of the religions claims false. Netland writes, “Hick proposes a comprehensive theory that allegedly portrays the distinctive nature of each religious tradition, recognizes significant differences in claims being made by each religion, and yet does not necessitate our concluding that at least some of these claims must be false. His theory calls for nothing less than a revolution in the way in which we think about the relation between religions.” So for Hick, every religion is simply making a human response to the “Eternal One” and these human responses are conditioned by culture. So Yahweh, Allah, Krishna, Shiva, Brahman, and so on are just different manifestations of the “Eternal One.”
How do we respond to these differing pluralistic positions presented? First, the idea that there is no such thing as prepositional truth and only personal truth is ridiculous. All truth by definition is exclusive. If a given statement is true than a statement which contradicts the true statement must then be false. This is basic logic. If all A is A than A cannot be non A. Man cannot simply do away with prepositional truth simply because they don’t like the outcome. No matter how much fallen man would like to abandon prepositional truth it is simply impossible. In fact, to make the statement that all truth is personalistic truth is in itself a proposition. Also, it should be noted that one cannot accept a truth to be personal unless they have first accepted it as a proposition. Netland points this out as follows, “The belief that Allah is a righteous judge will only “become true” in a personalistic sense if the adherent of Islam first accepts the proposition expressed by “Allah is a righteous judge” to be true. Similarly, religions such as Islam or Buddhism can only “become true” in a personalistic sense if certain relevant beliefs are accepted by the respective adherents as true in a propositional sense.”
Second, the claim that all religions are really just different manifestations of the same “Eternal One” is not only wrong, but foolish. Although Hick desires to create a comprehensive philosophy, similar to Hegel’s attempts, he still is confronted with conflicting truth claims. For example, Christianity claims that God is ontologically distinct from all creation. He is eternal and everything else is created. Also, the Christian God is a Triune, self-contained, personal God who has revealed Himself. This means that God can be known truly though not exhaustively. There is no common ground between the Christian God and the nothingness of Buddhism, or the impersonal god of Islam. So when the Lord Jesus Christ told His disciples, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known the Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him” (John 14:6-7), He was making an exclusive claim.
Jesus did not leave room for other interpretations of who He was. Either He was God incarnate or He was insane. He cannot be God and yet not God. Christ was not simply playing language games when He said that He was God. Therefore, any attempt to find common ground with other religions is nothing more than an attempt to alleviate the crushing burden of sin that one experiences at the foot of the cross. This is why in every pluralistic system Jesus is nothing more than a good guy – it takes away any form of moral culpability. But this means that one has to then believe in imputed moral guilt before a Holy God. Though, fallen man vehemently denies this all of their actions point to the contrary and their desire to suppress the truth leaves them guiltless before God.
As was mentioned above, this is by no means a comprehensive summary of postmodernism or postmodern thought. This movement is very splintered by its very nature. I do, however, feel that we now have enough of an idea of the main points that postmodernism is pontificating to respond, but before we do so let us take a look at what it means to be a postmodern Christian.
Constructive – this type of postmodern theology rejects all the characteristics of late modern theology. While it recognizes that Western culture is still overwhelmingly shaped by the modern worldview, it believes that this situation is rapidly changing. The change is coming about in part, it holds, because the objective (rational-empirical) approach to reality no longer supports the modern worldview, but is pointing instead toward a postmodern worldview. And it believes that theology must in our time become public in both senses: it must make its case in terms of the criteria of self-consistency and adequacy to generally accessible facts of experience, and it must be directly relevant to matters of public policy.
Deconstructive – This type pf postmodern philosophy believes that an objective approach to the facts of experience proves, paradoxically, that an objective approach is not possible, and that this realization undermines the modern worldview along with every other worldview. It believes that we are moving into a postmodern age in which this relativistic outlook will increasingly undermine the modern worldview. The two forms of theology based on this type of postmodern philosophy have quite different ways of going public in relation to it. Taylor [Mark C.] takes the deconstructive postmodern outlook as definitive of the context for theology, which must thereby become “a/theology.” No private revelation or alternative perspective can circumvent the negative conclusions of the deconstructive analysis. Although positive motives generally lie behind this postmodern a/theology, its direct relevance to public policy is primarily negative: it is content for the most part simply to undermine the social structures that have been based on modern assumptions. The theology of Cornel West, by contrast, provides positive support for movements for human liberation. It has done this, however, by apparently retaining one of the features of late modern (and premodern) theology : an appeal to a particular ( the Christian) community’s faith which is not evaluated in terms of criteria of self-consistency and adequacy to generally available facts and experience. Unlike constructive postmodern theologians, West does not point to a postmodern worldview; unlike Taylor, he does not limit the theologian’s affirmations to those consistent with deconstructive analysis. West’s position involves an interesting combination of liberationist faith and eliminative postmodern philosophy.
Liberationist – While Cornel West provides one version of liberationist postmodern theology, Harvey Cox provides a second. Unlike the other types of postmodern theologians, Cox does not raise the issue of whether an objective analysis of the facts of experience undermines the modern worldview. But he does argue that theologians should not be constrained by the cultural mind-set that has been shaped by this worldview. The primary concern of a postmodern theology, in Cox’s view, is to be liberationist, and for this purpose it can build most effectively, upon the premodern piety of the religious communities. While Cox’s theology is clearly postmodern in seeking to overcome the privatization of faith, it retains late modern theology’s rejection of the need for theology to be self-consistent and adequate to the various facts of experience.
Restorationist – Rutler’s [George William Rutler] restorationist postmodern contains much that resonates with the opinions of constructive postmodern theologians. Much of this agreement involves the features of modernity that are rejected. Rutler rejects modernism’s relativism, subjectivism, reductionism, scientism, and sensate empiricism, together with its assumption that it is the final standard of all truth and value. He wants to overcome modernity’s utilitarianism, consumerism, individualism, loneliness, alienation, dependence on independence, and loss of memory. Rutler rejects both the totalitarianism in socialist countries and the sensuality and moral indifference in capitalist countries to which these features of modernism and modernity lead. Some commonality is also found with regard to the kind of postmodern world vision. Much of this commonality is constituted by the obvious opposites of the rejected features of modernity just mentioned. Besides these features, Rutler looks forward to a new union of religion and politics, and of theology and science, and thereby to a transformation of the pluriversity back into a university.” David Ray Griffin, William A. Beardslee & Joe Holland, Varieties of Postmodern Theology, (New York: State University of New York Press, 1989), 3-5.
 Although I haven’t taken this position in this paper I find the Schaefferian model of dissent useful. In this model each step represents a certain stage in time. The higher is later and the lower earlier. It was in this order that the shift in truth affected men’s lives. Schaeffer begins with philosophy first and then works his way through art – music – general – culture – and finally theology. Francis A. Schaefer, “The God Who is There,” in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaefer, (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), 8. As I said, I find this model useful, but I am not entirely convinced there is really anyway to prove that an idea was not already existent in art before philosophy and so forth.
Perspectives: Viewpoints From Trinity Journal, Douglas Moo, ed. (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1997), 83.
 Francis A. Schaeffer writes, “Hegel’s thinking led to this: Let us no longer think in terms of antithesis. Let us think rather in terms of thesis – antithesis, with the answer always being synthesis. All things are relativized. In so doing, Hegel changed the world. A central reason Christians do not understand their children is because their children no longer think in the same framework in which their parents think. It is not merely that they come out with different answers. The methodology has changed – that is, the very method by which they arrive at, or try to arrive at truth has changed. It is not because rationalistic man wanted to make this change. It was made out of desperation, because for hundreds of years rationalistic thought had failed. A choice was made, and the choice consisted in holding on to rationalism at the expense of rationality. It is true that Hegel is usually classified as an idealist. He hoped for a synthesis which somehow would have some relationship to reasonableness and he used religious language in his struggle for this, but this ended only in religious words rather than in a solution. He opened the door to that which is characteristic of modern man: truth as truth is gone, and synthesis (the both – and), with its relativism, reigns. Francis A. Schaeffer, “He Is There and He Is Not Silent,” in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaefer, (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), 233.
Truth is a concept that has always plagued the mind of fallen man, and modern man is no exception. As the Lord God Almighty stood before the authorities of this world, Pilate asked Jesus if He was a king. Jesus responded by saying, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:37). Pilate responded, “What is truth?” (John 18:38).
Standing eyeball to eyeball with the Creator of all life, the Lord Jesus Christ, Pilate could not see that the standard of truth and righteousness was standing before him. As those redeemed in Christ we have the grand privilege of seeing the arrogance and blindness of the fallen mind. We often look at Pilate as being the epitome of such blindness, but Pilate is no different than any other son of Adam.
Today, we would like to think that we are much different. After all, we do have the fullness of revelation through the resurrected Christ and the sixty-six canonical books of the Bible. We also have over two thousand years worth of philosophy recorded and at our disposal. Unfortunately, all of the annals of time, the insights of man, and the breakthroughs discovered in science have not satisfactorily answered this question. Rather, all they have done is create further and further diverging lines of thought.
As a new millennia has dawned, the church of Jesus Christ finds herself being brutally attacked by the disparity and sarcasm in those asking the very same question Pilate asked our Lord. “What is truth?” is not an evil question in and of itself. Rather, when asked honestly this question can direct one to a fuller understanding of our Lord, which in turn allows us to further glorify Him through the proper use of our mental capacities. When asked under improper motives, this question becomes nothing more than an assault on the sovereignty of God because fallen man holds himself to be the final determinate of truth. Instead of acknowledging that all knowledge derives from God, man makes himself the final source of all knowledge.
By making himself the final source of all knowledge man cursed all of his progeny thereafter. Thus, at the heart of the fall was the concept of truth. Is truth derivative or does man make it up as he goes along? Up until recently, approximately the last forty years or so, there was a common belief among philosophers and theologians that there was such a thing as absolute truth and that it could be discovered, whether through the mind of natural man or through revelation. Today, it is of majority opinion that there is no such thing as absolute truth, while some still struggle to hold on to the idea of communal (small “t”) truths.
Many have called the cultural landscape that we find ourselves in, postmodernity, or after-modernity meaning the philosophical underpinnings that defined modernity are dead. What exactly is postmodernity? Is it a philosophical movement or simple a term given to describe the cultural times, or perhaps both? Is this something that is good or bad for Christianity? How are Christians to interact with this worldview that is so prevalent today? These are just a few questions that will be addressed throughout the course of this paper.
Postmodern philosopher, Pascal Engel asks the question, “Why, if we no longer believe in truth, is there such a longing for it?” It is the purpose of this paper to reflect and dissect the basic philosophical underpinnings of the postmodern movement and determine what exactly it means for the community of the redeemed. In order to do this we must first begin by asking the question, what is Postmodernism?
 Cornelius Van Til writes, “ In paradise, Eve went to as many as possible of those who were reputed to have knowledge. God and Satan both had a reputation for knowledge. Apparently God did not think well of Satan’s knowledge and Satan did not think well of God’s knowledge but each thought well of his own knowledge. So Eve had to weigh these reputations. It was for her a question as to, How do we know? The problem that Eve faced was a difficult one. God told her that she would surely die if she ate the forbidden tree. Numerically there was only one in favor of one and only one in favor of the opposite point of view. Thus she could not settle the matter of reputation by numbers. She herself had to decide this matter of reputation by motion and a vote. God claimed that he was Creator. He claimed that His being was ultimate while Satan’s being was created and therefore dependent upon God’s Being. He told her she would decide the question, How do we know? Without asking the question, What do we know? He said she should be neutral with respect to his interpretation and God’s interpretation of what would take place if she ate of the forbidden tree. Eve did ignore the question of being in answering the question of knowledge. She said she would gather the opinions of as many as she could find with a reputation for having knowledge and then give the various views presented a fair hearing. We should observe particularly that in doing what she did Eve did not really avoid the question of What do we know? She gave by implication a very definite answer to that question. She made a negation with respect to God’s Being. She denied God’s Being as ultimate being. She affirmed therewith in effect that all being is essentially on one level. At the same time she also gave a definite answer to the question How do we know? She said we know independently of God. She said that God’s authority was to be tested by herself. Thus she came to take the place of ultimate authority. She was no doubt going to test God’s authority by experience and reflection upon experience. Yet it would be she, herself, who should be the final authority.” Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1967), 33-34.
Tony: I am 39 years old, I have 3 kids, and been married for 10 years. I grew up Minnesota and I live there now.
I went to a public high school then on to Dartmouth College and from there went to Fuller seminary in California. Now I am working on a PhD at Princeton Seminary.
2. What exactly is your ministry/job?
Tony: I am the National coordinator of the emergent village, and I am also a speaker and writer.
3. Who were some of your mentors or idols in life?
Tony: My youth pastor, my Latin and Greek professor, also a guy named Bob Guelich who wrote a great commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, and others are Nancey Murphy, Jim McLendon, and Miroslav Volf.
4. How do you view the gospel?
Tony: I would say, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Actually, Genesis through maps, it is the whole bible. It’s all about the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the story of that event.
5. Do you believe the gospel is meant for believers or unbelievers?
Tony: I would say that it is meant for all of creation. It is made to be our liberation and transformation. It’s for everyone
6. What do you think the emergent village is doing in helping the means of the gospel in today’s culture?
Tony: We are opening up space to help the people in today’s culture act or live out the gospel. Today’s people have problems with 20th century church and we are trying to make space on what it means to be a Christian so that they can live that out.
Tony: We use media, and blogs, cell phones and social networking sites. It’s always been the poor and women that didn’t have a voice. So we want to give everyone a chance to be heard. We also have people getting together at events, parties, face to face conversations, and just talk with one another. Christianity has always been an ongoing conversation, about who Jesus is and what theology is. So we are just trying to make that happen.
Tony: Yes, I have had some contact with him and have a great deal of respect for him.
Tony: I would say that there are a lot of emergent churches that follow Tim Keller’s approach. Since the emergent church does have just one method, we tend to take after others such as Dr. Keller.
10. Lastly, what do you believe the emergent village has to offer this country in America, that we so badly need?
Tony: Off the top of my head, the American culture needs to see the way we understand God, bible and truth, is a fluid thing. It is a process of ever changing thought, and it continues to grow constantly through history. The American culture needs to see God the best way they can, and we are all on the quest to figure out who God is.
Bell and Luther do not have much in common when it comes to the Scriptures. Bell sees that time shifts in culture should lead to a change in Scriptural revelation. He may use trendy terms or ways that may seem cool or hip to today’s audiences, but a man without Scripture alone, or a substandard view on the doctrine of Scripture alone, leads to a different gospel. Believing that culture may change interpretation and meaning certainly changes the gospel. Looking for changes in the doctrines of God, Jesus, the Bible, theology and future, change the good news told of in the Scripture. And to alter doctrines and deconstruct the Bible from its original intentions is disdainful to the Lord. You cannot bend the picture too far before it is distorted. One cannot change the message of the gospel in any way, shape, or form. If the message of the gospel has been changed, truth has been changed. In John 14:6, Jesus says “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” If we have changed the basic doctrines of Jesus, truth, Scripture, and what is the way and the truth, then how can man even come to life? False saviors, false views of the Bible and false systems of theology lead to a false gospel.
Luther started the Reformation when he saw the importance of Scripture and its authority. He did not change doctrines that were good but rather he revised bad doctrines back to their original truths and greatness. From the beginning of the Reformation Luther placed Scripture first and foremost before all of his work. Luther states in the beginning of his studying in Scripture:
The writings of all the holy fathers should be read only for a time, in order that through them we may be led to the Holy Scriptures. We are like men who study the sign-post and never travel the road. The dear fathers wished, by their writings, to lead us form the Scriptures, but we so use them as to be led away from the Scriptures, though the Scriptures alone are our vineyard in which we ought all to work and toil.
A correlation between Bell and Luther’s view of Scripture alone is not visible. It would seem that they do not come from the same tradition. Luther dealt sternly with liberal theologians such as Erasmus, saying, “I read our Erasmus and my enthusiasm for him decreases daily… I fear he does not sufficiently exalt Christ and God…; things human count more with him than things divine.” The same can be said for Rob Bell. “I read our Bell and my enthusiasm for him decreases daily… I fear he does not sufficiently exalt Christ and God…; things human count more with him than things divine.”  Hugh T. Kerr, ed. A Compend of Luther’s Theology, 13.
 Luther, Luther’s Works, 12.
I had e-mailed Mars Hill about contacting Rob Bell on this topic. After my first email, his sectary emailed back saying, that I could e-mail the question(s) to her and Rob Bell would answer them. After I had sent the question of, what is Rob Bell’s stance and view on the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. I was given back an e-mail stating, that Rob Bell was now unable to meet. Although, I could send an e-mail to a committee and they would be able to answer my question. At this point I sent my question to them, and this idea that they had proposed now would not be able to happen. From there Rob Bells sectary e-mailed me back saying, if you would like, all I can do is lead you in the direction of one of Rob Bell’s associate pastors. After 2 weeks Nate Dawson, e-mailed me back with their stance. And he stated:
“I realize that you are particularly asking the question of “sola scripture” but as you know that is a reformed doctrine and we have no statement on that specifically.”
Number one, “that is a reformed doctrine”, what in the world is this guy thinking! “Reformed doctrine” Rob stated in the beginning of his book Velvet Elvis, that he was a part of this tradition in his introduction.
Number two, if you have no statement about that “specifically”, then why claim to be a part of what Martin Luther started! This is quite upsetting to me, due to the fact that he claims one thing and then says another!
Number Three, he ended the e-mail to me with this verse:
Is. 1:17 – Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, and plead the case of the widow.
I’ll assume that he is referring to just seek after God and do not worry about troubling issues or doctrine’s in this case. And to this, I am absolutely speechless…
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. 
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.” 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. And that is something that Luther never was.
 Bell, Velvet Elvis, 54.
 Bell, Velvet Elvis, 67-68.
 Bell, Velvet Elvis, endnotes 64-65, 185.
 Bell, Velvet Elvis, 68.
 Bell, Velvet Elvis, 40-44.
“By Scripture alone” is the essence of the of the sixteenth-century doctrine. Many scholars see this doctrine as the main principle of the Reformation. For this is where the Roman Catholic Church erred. The Roman Church in their apostasy and perverted popes had distorted this doctrine and tried to find revelation in other means than the Scriptures. Luther by no means tried to repaint this doctrine but rather restore it to its biblical mandate. Keith A. Mathison wrote this about Luther and this key doctrine of the Scriptures:
Men like Martin Luther and John Calvin did not create a new doctrine when they began to combat the tyranny and apostasy of the Roman Catholic Church with a call to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. The classical Reformers were, in fact, calling the church back to its earlier teaching, back to a one-source concept of revelation, back to Tradition. They asserted that Scripture was the sole source of divine revelation, and they denied the existence of a supplementary source. They also asserted that Scripture was to be interpreted in and by the church, in accordance with the ancient rule of the faith, as summarized in the Christian creed.
The reason that Mathison can say this is because Luther himself had said this before. Mathison, as well, uses a letter written on the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, written by Martin Luther himself.
This article moreover has been clearly believed and held from the beginning of the Christian Church to this hour – a testimony of the entire holy Christian Church, which, if we had nothing besides, should be sufficient for us. For it is dangerous and terrible to hear or believe anything against the united testimony, faith, and doctrine, of the entire holy Christian Church, as this hath been held now 1,500 years, from the beginning, unanimously in all of the world. Whoso now doubted thereon, it is even that same though he believed in no Christian Church, and he condemneth thus not only the entire holy Christian Church as a damnable heresy, but also Christ himself and all the powerfully attested this article, where we say, “I believe in a holy Christian Church”; Christ namely, Matthew 28:20:” “Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the world”; and Paul, 1 Timothy 3:15: “the Church of God, which is the pillar and ground of truth.”
Luther did not bring about something new to the Christian Church. Luther’s intentions of reforming the church were to bring back what was found in Scriptures. Luther’s passion for Scripture alone is seen all throughout his work. He saw that Scripture was the final authority of the church and made this clear in many of his paradoxes that he used to make known the gospel. He illustrated the paradoxes of Scripture like the hidden God and the revealed God, theology of glory and the theology of the cross, outer man and the inner man, and faith and assurance. But his main two that dealt with Scripture alone were the paradoxes between law and gospel and the distinction between the word and the spirit. Luther saw that separating either of these two from the other led to what had happened to the Roman Church. Luther strongly emphasized the fact that when preaching the Word, you cannot separate the Word and Spirit. He made a point to show that Scripture must be taught in accordance what the Spirit had done in the Scriptures. Luther’s cry for the gospel by Scripture alone was a passion he carried throughout all of his works.
So it is not at all in keeping with the New Testament to write books on Christian doctrine. Rather in all places there should be fine, godly, learned, spiritual, diligent preachers without books, who extract the living Word from the old Scriptures and unceasingly inculcate it into the people, just as the apostles did. For before they wrote, they first of all preached to the people by the word of mouth and converted them.
Luther’s passion of the Word was something he could never separate from the Spirit. He believed that bringing the Spirit and the Word together demonstrated the gospel. Luther states:
Gospel… means nothing but a sermon and a crying out of the grace and mercy of God, earned and won by the Lord Jesus Christ with his death. And it is really not what is in books and composed in letters, but is more an oral sermon or the living word, a voice which sounds in all the world and is publicly cried out so that one hears it everywhere.
Luther saw the importance of Scripture alone. He saw the importance because he lived in a time period in which the Scriptures were not read, practiced, or even heard of. He knew this first hand, and would not back down from making the Scripture clearly shown, so that the gospel would further in its work. Luther believed that the Scriptures were enough to bring man fully to God and that no other book and writer compared to that of the divine writers and books of the Bible. Luther based his doctrines all on Scripture alone. Luther, when writing to Erasmus, shows us not only his beliefs in the sufficiency of Scriptures alone, but goes further in showing his fear of how Erasmus would use other means in revealing the Scriptures. Luther was in fear of men that used the popes’ words as equal standing to the Scriptures. He recognized the pride of men who claimed the Spirit’s name but used their own spirit in interpretation of the Scriptures. He says:
Here is my answer to you. What you say is part truth, but not all of it. It is true that we shall not detect the spirits by appeals to learning, life, abilities, majorities, distinction, or to ignorance and lack of education, or numbers, or standing. However, I do not applaud those who take refuge in bragging about the Spirit. I fought last year, and am still fighting, a pretty fierce campaign against those fanatics who subject Scriptures to the interpretation of their own spirit.
Luther in fear of himself misusing the Scriptures was conscientious of those who would divide doctrines because they were hard to handle. Luther dealt with this much in his time, especially with Erasmus. Erasmus viewed some truths as clear but he was still searching for the wisdom of God in other truths. Luther explains first that God and His Scriptures are two different doctrines. He then goes on to explain how God is incomprehensible to man; many things are hidden. But to speak of Scripture the same way would be incorrect. Luther states this problem in dealing with Scripture in his day. Today dealing with the emergent movement is similar for they are looking to find ideas and doctrines that are not revealed. Luther states this at its best:
But the notion that in Scripture some things are recondite and all is not plain was spread by the godless Sophists (whom now you echo, Erasmus) – who have never yet cited a single item to prove their crazy view; nor can they. And Satan has used these unsubstantial specters to scare men off reading the sacred text, and to destroy all sense of its value, so as to ensure that his own brand of poisonous philosophy reigns supreme in the church. I certainly grant that many passages in the Scriptures are obscure and hard to elucidate, but that is due, not to the exalted nature of their own subject, but to our own linguistic and grammatical ignorance; and it does not in any way prevent our knowing all the contents of Scripture. For what solemn truth can the Scriptures still be concealing, now that the seals are broken, the stone rolled away from the tomb, and that greatest of all mysteries brought to light- that Christ, God’s Son, became man, that God is Three in One, that Christ suffered for us, and will reign for ever? And are not these things known, and sung in our streets? Take Christ from the Scriptures- and what more will you find in them? You see, then, that the entire content of Scriptures has now been brought to light, even though some passages which contain unknown words remain obscure. This it is unintelligent and ungodly too, when you know that the contents of Scripture are as clear as can be, to pronounce them obscure on account of those few obscure words. If words are obscure in one place, they are clear in another.
Luther’s view of Scripture alone is not a new song or a new idea. It is not repainting the Scriptures, but restoring them to their rightful authority in the believer’s heart and then to life. Luther dealt with the Scripture like no other. Luther’s desire was not to repaint a doctrine, but we see from his writings that his goal was to bring the church back to its biblical authority. Scripture was to be the final authority in the Christian life. To say Luther repainted his time or this doctrine is preposterous. It is outrageous to even think that the man called a “reformer” or any of the “reformers” would have wanted to be known for bringing new doctrines to the table of Christendom. Luther attempted to reform the Roman Catholic Church and its theology. He left whatever was not Scriptural. Luther was reforming at the time, and now we say “reformed,” not because he was coming up with something new, but because Luther reformed the church from the corrupt popes, councils, doctrines, and theology that the Roman Catholic Church created and used for its own pleasures. Luther summarizes Sola Scriptura to Erasmus:
But, if many things still remain abstruse to many, this does not arise from obscurity in the Scriptures, but from [our] own blindness or want [i.e., lack] of understanding, who do not go the way to see the all-perfect clearness truth… Let, therefore, wretched men cease to impute, with blasphemous perverseness, the darkness and obscurity of their own heart to the all-clear scriptures of God… if you speak of the internal clearness, no man sees one iota in the Scriptures but he that hath the Spirit of God… If you speak of the external clearness, nothing whatever is left obscure or ambiguous; but all things that are in the Scriptures, are by the Word brought forth into the clearest light, and proclaimed to the whole world.
Rob Bell parallels Erasmus in many ways. If Luther did not even think of Erasmus as a believer, surely a man such as Rob Bell cannot call himself a contemporary of Luther nor claim to be a part of the tradition that Luther started.
 Ps. 119:1; Ps. 138:2; II Tim. 3:14-17.
 Keith A. Mathison, After Darkness, Light (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2003), 35.
 Philip Schaff, The Principle of Protestantism, Vol. I. (ed. Bard Thompson and George H. Bricker, Lancaster Series on the Mercersburg Theology, (Philadelphia: United Church Press, 1964), 117n.
 Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 33 (ed. by Philip S. Watson Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972), 26.
 Luther, Luther Works, Vol. 30, p. 3.
 Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, (Translated by J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston. Grand Rapids: Revell, 1957), 123-25.
 Luther, The Bondage, 124.
 Luther, The Bondage, 70-74.
 Matt. 24:36; John 13:18; Acts 1:7; 2 Tim. 2:19.
 Luther, The Bondage, 71.
 Luther, The Bondage, 25-29.
When reading the works of both Bell and Luther it seems that there is a clear distinction between the two. Although a multitude of major differences exists between Bell and Luther, looking at one of the major doctrines will be sufficient to reveal that there is no theological unity amongst them. The five solas of the Reformation are “Scripture alone,” “God’s glory alone,” “Christ’s work alone,” “grace alone,” and “faith alone.” To be a part of this “movement” Bell would need to believe all these core doctrines. The doctrine of Sola Scriptura is the doctrine that when addressed will show the differences between Luther and Bell. Luther’s reformation was against the Roman Catholic Church. And to be a part of this Reformation or as Bell puts it, “tradition” one must stand firm on the same core doctrine that had started it all. The question would be if Rob Bell believes in Scripture alone as a core doctrine.
II. A History Overview of the Doctrine of Sola Scriptura
The doctrine of Sola Scriptura means “by Scripture alone.” It is the belief that the Bible is the Word of God and is clear to any reader. Scripture interprets Scripture and it is the sole source of Christian doctrine. Luther above all other theologians during the Reformation and today is known for standing firm on this doctrine. But Luther did not repaint this doctrine of Sola Scriptura but restored it back to its proper doctrine. Although Luther in the sixteenth century was first to bring the doctrine to the forefront, the apostolic and early church fathers held to the same doctrine. The apostolic fathers saw Scripture as their authority because they sat under the feet of the apostles and their writings. Keith Mathison states, “Scripture and tradition were co-inherent concepts.” The apostolic fathers would have not seen a difference in their doctrines because they were strictly all from the apostles and their writings. They did not need a systematic doctrine of Scripture alone, for they already believed in Scripture alone, for that is where their practices came from. During the second and third centuries the church fathers, mainly Irenaeus, fought for the correct view of Scripture and their traditions at the time against the Gnostics. Also in the second century Clement of Alexandria wrote a letter called the Stromata of Clement of Alexandria. In chapters 16 and 17 of this letter Clement defends the absolute authority Scripture has over everything. In addition, men such as Tertullian, Hippolytus, Cyprian, Athanasius, Hillary of Poitiers, and Cyril of Jerusalem, Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, and Augustine all believed in the authority of Scripture and that Scripture was the only authority to be given in the life of the Christian faith.
During the Middle-Ages when the development of the papacy had taken over, the need for Scripture declined. Between A. D. 500-1000 the popes and their councils replaced the authority of Scripture. Around A.D. 1300, the doctrine of the papal infallibility was in place, for there was no reason to have Scripture when people believed that the pope could tell them all they needed. With the late Middle Ages, scholasticism and humanism brought a whole new way of looking at Scripture. In the first 500 years of church history, the church was the sole truth of faith for it interpreted the Scripture. Now men like Thomas Aquinas and Duna Scotus began a new way of looking at Scripture. Their view differed in that they relied on extra-scriptural sources of revelation as equal and as authoritative as the Scriptures. This made a number of changes in the late 1300’s to many different areas for the church and empire.
As Scripture’s role changed during the Middle Ages, Martin Luther’s fight was to bring it back to its authority in the Christian faith. His intent was not to repaint the faith. Luther’s first hint of restoring the church’s view of Scripture was stated at the Diet of Worms, when he says:
Since the Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simply reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason- I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.
Luther would not die for anything but what he believed to be true in the Word of God. Luther as well as standing firm in his belief stood firm on restoring the Christian Church and reforming it back to its rightful state. Luther wanted to echo that which the ancient church had stood so strongly for. The 1500’s would become the time of this well-known doctrine. During the next 300 years Scripture was seen as the final authority, and not many questions arose.
Since the Reformation the doctrine of Sola Scriptura has been more heavily debated than ever before. The Enlightenment in the late 1800’s brought a philosopher mind-set and led to attacks of the revelation of Scripture. Then with the modern mind-set in America and movements like higher-criticism, people continued questioning what exactly was true in Scripture. In post-modern times we have individuals even asking what “truth” is because many people have been influences by these ideas or lines of thinking. Today’s postmodern culture has led to everyone’s own personal definition of truth. Exactly when the doctrine of Scripture alone came to be an actual doctrine in the churches can be argued. However, the importance is not when the doctrine came in to the church or not when someone repainted the view of Scripture but that Sola Scriptura has actually been a part of the Christian church since its origins.
Rob Bell states:
There are endless examples of this ongoing process, so I’ll describe just one. Around 500 years ago, a man named Martin Luther raised a whole series of questions about the painting the church was presenting to the world. He insisted that God’s grace could not be purchased with money or good deeds. He wanted everyone to have their own copy of the Bible in a language they could read. He argued that everyone had a divine calling on their lives to serve God, not just priests who have jobs in churches. This concept was revolutionary for the world at that time. He was articulating earth-shattering ideas for his listeners. And they heard him. And something big, something historic, happened. Things changed. Thousands of people connected with God in ways they hadn’t before.
Although there is no apparent problem within this statement made of Luther and the beginning of his reformation, Bell goes on and adds:
But that wasn’t the end of it. Luther was taking his place in a long line of people who never stopped rethinking and repainting their faith. Shedding unnecessary layers and at the same time rediscovering essentials that had been lost. Luther’s work was part of what came to be called the Reformation. Because of this movement, the churches he was speaking against went through their own process of rethinking and repainting, making significant changes as a result. And this process hasn’t stopped. It can’t.
Would Luther agree with Bell’s analysis of the situation? Luther would assuredly see himself rethinking the faith, but it is highly unlikely that he saw himself repainting the faith for indeed he did not. To clearly understand Bell’s statement one must know his definition of “repainting.” It appears that by “repainting” he means to change, correct, or bring something new in to the situation. Bell’s following comment supports this theory.
By this I do not mean cosmetic, superficial changes like better lights and music, sharper graphics, and new methods with easy-to-follow steps. I mean theology: the beliefs about God, Jesus, the Bible, salvation, the future. We must keep reforming the way the Christian faith is defined, lived, and explained.
Bell’s idea of repainting faith is to change doctrines, theology, and truths. Arguably, however, if one changes the truths of God he ends up with a different God. If one repaints Jesus, there is a different Jesus. If one changes the truths of the Bible, the natural consequence is the doctrines of God and Jesus are changed. And to repaint salvation causes the gospel to be something of man’s own making. Luther would disagree vehemently with such actions.
Bell goes further in his view of Luther and the Reformation stating:
I’m part of this tradition. I’m part of this global, historic stream of people who believe that God has not left us alone but has been involved in human history from the beginning. People believe that in Jesus, God came among us in a unique and powerful way, showing a new kind of life. Giving each of us a new vision for our life together, for the world we live in. And as a part of this tradition, I embrace the need to keep painting, to keep reforming.
Bell’s flaw is that he equates “repainting” with “reformation.” Furthermore, he claims the Reformation repainted theology. The Reformation did nothing of the sort. It may be more accurate to say Luther “blew the dust of the painting.” Luther did not bring new doctrines and theology into play, but blew the dust that was covering the church for much of the medieval time period between 650-1400 A.D. Luther brought the church back to life and restored that which had been corrupted during the Dark Ages. Luther’s Ninety-five Theses were not to repaint the faith. His goal was to restore the faith. He was beginning to blow the dust off the church which the Dark Ages had covered; this was the magnum opus of Luther’s life. Luther from the time he stated his Ninety-five Theses to the end of his life never tried to create or bring new doctrines into the church; he did not attempt to repaint but rather restore that which was already written in the Word. In fact, if Luther’s intent was to repaint the faith he would have continued in Catholicism. At the time the Roman Catholic Church had repainted the church. With the tradition of popes, councils, and indulgences over a period of 800 years they watered down doctrines and theology. Biblical truths began to be covered by the dust of popes, councils, the oneness of church and state, and rules regarding sacraments and indulgences. If Luther wanted to repaint God, Jesus, the Bible, theology and the future he would have stayed with what the Roman Church was doing at the time. Luther did not repaint anything. He restored the faith of early church fathers like Polycarp, Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Constantine, Athanasius, Basil, Jerome, Augustine, Patrick and Columba.
Luther stood not only for what he believed to be true at the time, but what had been true throughout time. He did not tolerate new doctrines but restored doctrines that had been covered or forgotten about by the Roman Church. Luther stood firm for the faith that was already revealed. He did not ask questions to lead him to new doctrines or new theological systems. Luther’s work was to restore what had been forgotten. In some ways reform did bring many questions to the table. Some of them would have gone like this: Who is the mediator between man and God? When Christ said, “Repent” is that meaning a one time or constantly? Who is the forgiver of sins? Salvation and grace comes through whom? These could have been some of the questions Luther asked at the time of the Reformation. In contrast, Bell’s outlook on Luther’s reforming the church is quite different than restoration. He states:
In fact, Luther’s contemporaries used a very specific word for this endless, absolutely necessary process of change and growth. They didn’t use the word reformed; they used the word reforming. This distinction is crucial. They knew that they and others hadn’t gotten it perfect forever. They knew that the things they said and did and wrote and decided would need to be revisited. Rethought. Reworked.
Bell makes a point in his statement that the contemporaries of Luther were continually changing. It is important to consider what they are changing. Are they changing theology for theology’s sake or are they changing what had been practiced and taught incorrectly in the Roman Church at the time? The answer is clearer when the difference between the two words “reformed” and “reforming” are meted out. “Reformed” is to change for the better. “Reforming” is simply the process of doing that. The contemporaries of Luther were in the process of changing the doctrines of the church. A key point, however, is that they did not try to make something new to appease the cultural change from the medieval time period to the reformation period. Much change was due to the lack of knowledge of in the Roman Catholic churches. Luther and his contemporaries were in the process of changing doctrines but not in the process of creating new ones. They were in the process of correcting what had been wrong. They were in the process of restoring what the Catholic Church had cleaned out of their churches. These men wanted to right what had been wrong. Their intentions had nothing to do to the changing of doctrines like God, Jesus, the Bible, and theology.
Bell goes on right after his statement about Luther’s’ contemporaries to say, “I’m part of this tradition.” One would conclude, therefore, that Bell must look at the doctrines of God, Jesus, the Bible, and theology the same as Luther did. Furthermore, he must promote change according to Scripture alone. He must desire change for God’s glory alone. He must have a theology of grace alone and faith alone. These are what Luther believed and lived. Luther did not repaint the Reformation with these doctrines but restored them in the churches at the time and so did his followers. Bell’s book Velvet Elvis does not indicate that these are doctrines he holds to.
Luther stood for all these core doctrines in his process of restoring the church during the Reformation. He saw them as an importance in Scripture. For these were not new doctrines of God, Jesus, the Bible and theology. Theses doctrines of the five solas were always in Scripture. Bell’s claims of comparison to Luther are erroneous if he does not agree with Luther. During the Reformation Luther wouldn’t have anything to do with groups that differed from him in beliefs such the Jews, Anabaptist, Catholics, and peasants. Would Luther work with Rob Bell? Zwingli and Luther agreed on almost every doctrine but on one occasion after three days of discussing theology, Luther found his difference in the Lord’s Supper. He henceforth refused to work with Zwingli in the Reformation. It is hard to envision Luther allowing Bell to work with him in these processes of restoring or as Bell says, “repainting” the Christian faith. Bell cannot be compared to Martin Luther, the founder of the Reformation.
 Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 11.
 Bell, Velvet Elvis, 11.
 Bell, Velvet Elvis, 12.
 Walther von Loewenich, Luther’s Theology of the Cross (Belfast: Christian Journals Limited, 1976), and Jan D. Kingston Siggins, Martin Luther’s Doctrine of Christ (New Haven and London 1970: Yale University Press, 1970).
Bell, Velvet Elvis, 12.
 Bell, Velvet Elvis, 12.
 Bernhard Lohse, Martin Luther’s Theology: Its Historical and Systematic Development (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), 167-77.