When you hear people say they are just going to tell you what the Bible means, its not true. They are telling you what they think it means. They are giving you their opinions about the Bible … / The problem is, it is not true. / I’m actually giving you my opinion, my interpretation of what it says. And the more I insist that I am giving you the objective truth of what it really says, the less objective I am actually being.
It sounds as if Bell has decided that we can no longer find the one true meaning of a passage of Scripture because we all have different perspectives on the passage. We all bring “baggage” and “agendas” with us that cloud our interpretation. This is a massive change in the way we interpret the Bible (hermeneutics). It has debilitating consequences. It is based on a philosophical perspective on the way we know truth (epistemology) that is untenable.
Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks, in their book When Skeptics Ask, address the philosophical issue at hand:
Many people will tell you that all truth is really true from a certain way of seeing things or perspective…the statement. ‘All truth is perspectival,’ is either an absolute statement of a perspectival one. If it is absolute, then not all truths are perspectival. If it is perspectival, then there is no reason to think that it is absolutely true – it is only one perspective. It does not succeed either way.
Mark Driscoll, in his book The Radical Reformission, addresses the consequences of the interpretative issue (I am quoting a general statement of Driscoll’s. The application of it to this particular instance is my idea.):
Postmodernity is tough to pin down, though, because it changes the rules of hermeneutics but keeps the Bible. Some postmodern pastors keep the Bible but reduce it to a story lacking authority over us, feeling free to play with the interpretation and meaning of particular texts. They do not believe in a singular truthful interpretation. They believe that the interpreter ultimately has authority over the text and can therefore use it as he or she pleases rather than submit to it.
Driscoll also touches on the philosophical issue when he writes, “… they reject any claim to truth, other than their claim that there is no such thing as a valid truth claim.”
Granted, it is difficult to determine the meaning of certain passages. Granted, we all must be careful that our personal perspective might cloud our judgment. But that does not mean that there is no discernable meaning in the passage.
The gospel message in the Bible is easy to understand. I understood it well enough at seven years of age to accept it, and I was not precocious. The old-timers called this the perspicuity of Scripture. The plain message that Christ lived a perfect life to earn our righteousness, suffered a violet death He in no way deserved to pay for our sins, and rose from the grave to demonstrate His power our sin and death must not be obscured by interpretive games.
I promised in an earlier post to come back to positive things I found in Bell’s book. The best thing this book does is to give people permission to ask questions. It is a conversation starter. That is worth much. He is willing to question even the basic tenants of our faith. These things can stand our questions. They have stood the test of time.
Another positive thing is the instance that all truth is God’s truth and the way that plays out in our culture. It reminds me of Luther’s insistence that all vocations are sacred. Bell my be onto something as well when he says that young people leave our churches never to return when they are confronted with truth in sciences and philosophy and sociology that they are not prepared to own in their Christian worldview. We should affirm truth wherever we find it.
My favorite quote in the whole book is: “The thought of the word church and the word marketing in the same sentence makes me sick.” I’m with you there, Mr. Bell, but it’s a whole other post.