Rob Bell, Mark Twain and the New Exodus Perspective Part 1

by on July 21st, 2011

Just for fun, let’s put Crossan’s method to work on Mark Twain’s book, Huckleberry Finn. If we merely read the book at face value, we will easily understand that it is the story of a boy that floats down the Mississippi River on a raft with a runaway slave named Jim. But once Crossan illumines Twain’s book with his postmodernist “searchlights,” Huckleberry Finn becomes the tale of a Japanese automaker who goes on an African Safari. Which story line would you think the author intended? The one that comes by a plain reading, or the convoluted, deconstructed one that comes out of an overactive imagination? If you believe the “Safari tale,” it certainly wouldn’t be Mark Twain’s fault, but your own, for putting some other person’s interpretation above the book itself. We might shorten it up a bit and call it a “fari tale.” “Fari tales” are for children . . . adults should just read the book for themselves.

The above quote comes from our 1998 MCOI Journal article The Hysterical Search for the Historical Jesus and is a tongue-in-cheek attempt at demonstrating the need to read literature in its historical grammatical context. John Dominic Crossan and other members of the The Jesus Seminar adopted their own methodology based on what is essentially liberation theology. This changes the normal understanding of the Scriptures. Theirs is an anthropocentric (man centered) approach to scripture rather than a theocentric (God centered) or more specifically Christocentric (Christ centered) understanding of the texts. It changes the metanarrative from being about God, His holiness, faithfulness, love, mercy, deliverance, interaction with His creation to being about evil oppressive governments (empire builders), greedy industrialists (another kind of empire builder), their oppression of lowly workers, cruelty to the poor, down trodden, sick and the illiterate.

As I began reading my review copy of Rob Bell and Don Golden’s book, Jesus Wants to Save Christians I had this strange feeling that I have been here before. I haven’t read the entire book at this point and will probably write a review fairly soon but a few things set off my alarm bells right in the beginning. In the introduction, P008, Bell and Golden are pretty upfront on the basis they will use to approach the biblical texts:

This book is our attempt to articulate a specific theology, a particular way to read the Bible, referred to by some as a New Exodus perspective. One New Exodus scholar is a British theologian named Tom Holland, who has done pioneering work in this approach.”

Holland’s “New Exodus Perspective” seems to be, like the Jesus Seminar, that everything has to be squeezed through the grid of a “deliver the downtrodden” and “free the oppressed” motif. The book of Exodus defines everything and all of Scripture is understood through this theological perspective. Therefore salvation as brought by Christ has to be seen only from a post millennial viewpoint and interpreted through the Exodus event. Everything is about setting people free socially. It seems to be all about social justice and liberation of poor and disadvantaged people. It fits perfectly with emerging church leaders like Brian McClaren and Rob Bell’s ideas of saving the planet, etc.

If we spend just a few moments this week looking at an excerpt of Holland’s book Romans:The Divine Marriage which Tom Holland provides on his website, we can see that he immediately gets into to trouble in Genesis. It will also help us next week with a short look at Bell and Golden’s following Holland’s lead.

Tom Holland begins outlining Paul’s use of the word “flesh” in Romans based on a definition Holland attempts to bring from the O.T. I think he get into to trouble in the 3rd paragraph when he writes:

“The provision of this relationship was Yahweh‘s response to Adam‘s loneliness and frailty.”

The text says that God said it is not good for man to be alone but does not state or even imply that Adam was lonely. There is no indication of “frailty” until after the fall when the process of death began. In fact, at each step of creation we see the recurring phrase “it was good.” It remained “good” until Adam sinned. Frailty, separation, fear, sickness, death, etc., did not even exist until after the fall. Holland’s discussion on this is, as I mentioned, in order to provide a New Exodus perspective on the definition of Paul’s use of the word “flesh” in the New Testament.

In any language, whether Hebrew, Greek, English, or whatever, words often have a range of meaning, sometimes they don’t translate well into other languages, but most often there are other words and phrases surrounding the word in question which gives it the meaning the author intended. For example, the Greek word “Bapto” simply means to place into or cleanse. Baptism may mean immersion but does not necessarily mean water is associated with it. John said he baptized with water (the agent is named as water) but One will come after him Who baptizes with fire the agent to be used is again named and is not water but fire. Paul writes that we are all baptized into one body by one spirit. The Holy Spirit is the baptizer; the Body of Christ is the agent, again no water. The same is true when it comes to the word “flesh.” Paul seems to use it primarily with regard to the natural unregenerate state of man but also as the physical body (1 Cor. 15).

Phobos (Greek) is a good example. it is always translated “fear”. When used of judgment on the unsaved it is correctly translated with dread, or terror. when used of the saved it swings to the opposite nuance and means reverence. All that range is in one word and only the context can determine its meaning.

Olam is another instance in Hebrew. Used of God it means unending. Of man and earthly things means unknown duration or very long period of time.

Flesh often used by Paul (sarx) is simply flesh or meat – our literal body. When used of the sin nature Jay Adams in his book More than Redemption (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishers, 1979, p 160-164) discusses the negative use of flesh in Romans 6 “the body plunged into sinful practices and habits” — “a body habituated to do evil.” It means the body as addicted to sin. Our bodily members that act out sin. It is both the inclination and the carrying it out through our bodily members – Romans 6:12-13.

I asked my friend and MCOI Advisory Board member, Pastor G. RIchard Fisher, Retired, about this and his response was:

Holland seems to be using flesh and frailty in an anachronistic way arguing it back to before the fall. The text would not support that. I take it that God knew what Adam would need in the future for starters. Also by adding Eve God added a bit more blessing to an already complete state. If everything was “good” before the fall I don’t think the text supports in any way that Adam was this poor, frail, lonely, incomplete guy desperately in need of more. I think Eve illustrates God’s abundance. I think Holland is reading into the text to prop up an agenda.

It is an agenda which Bell and Golden readily admit they are propagating in Jesus Wants to Save Christians. Next week we will see how this influences their thinking when I look at their Introduction where they begin with Genesis. It is Scripture with a twist.

5 responses to “Rob Bell, Mark Twain and the New Exodus Perspective Part 1 ”

  1. Steve says:

    These hermeneutical points about range of meaning are very important, because when we err in these matters, we can quickly find ourselves quite far from the truth.

    Most Evangelicals will fight very strongly concerning inerrancy. However, we often let our guard down when it comes to hermeneutics. An inerrant Bible won’t help us much if we interpret it using a defective hermeneutic.

    The issue of words and their range of meaning is fertile ground for those attempting to propagate false views. I look forward to the next article.

  2. Jonathan Miles says:

    The new exodus perspective. Looks like we have a new word for Marxist theology. Hmmm?

  3. G. Fisher says:

    Good work! May your tribe increase. I think the bell tolls for Rob.

  4. Tom Holland says:

    Hello Don,

    I read your comments on my books with great interests.

    May I ask a simple favour? That you reserve writing about and expressing opinions on any book you have not read for your self. To assume that I say the same things as people who quote me is hardly fair. No author can be responsible for what others do with their writings.

    If you were to read my writings you might find yourself surprised. I am both conservative and orthodox in my views. You will find that I make the case that most evangelical commentators have swallowed dangerous methodologies that have come out of liberal reasoning and that this has seriously damaged the church and her message. I am passionate about rightly dividing the Word of Truth and in doing this I am committed to revisiting texts of scripture that appear to conflict with other biblical texts to ask why this is so. What drives me in this is that I believe that as the One God of Truth has inspired the whole of his word, any apparent conflict is in our reading and not the message the writer gave to the original recipients. If this brands me dangerous, then so be it. But what I am certainly not, and no one who has read my books has ever accused me of being, is a liberation theologian.

    Your readers can judge for themselves as I have posted the entire unedited MSS of my Contours of Pauline Theology on my web site http://www.tomholland.org.uk along with about 30 reviews, both the supportive and the negative.

    Also, early reviews of my Romans commentary, Romans:The Divine Marriage, can be seen on http://www.romansthedivinemarriage.com

    Once they have been read, I welcome all the criticism any one wants to make.

    Yours in Christ

    Tom Holland

  5. Peter says:

    I’m disappointed that Tom Holland commented on your post and yet completely ignored your concerns regarding his description of Adam as lonely and frail.

    While I do appreciate his desire for you to read his book from cover to cover before commenting on it, I have to wonder why reading the entire book is a necessary prerequisite. I would be shocked to find that later in his book he changes his opinion regarding Adam’s condition.

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