Q & A: vicious blogs and doctrine …

I wish I could respond personally to all the interesting questions and comments that come in, but I can’t. In the coming weeks, I’ll post some questions and responses in small batches. Here are two questions that came in recently. The first deals with vicious commenters on blogs, and the second asks four questions about my beliefs – and does so in a non-vicious way, by the way.
My replies are in the text
— like this.

Right now I am struggling. My fiancé is having a hard time with how volatile people have become to my blogging. She says that it discourages her in her view of Christians and she becomes disgusted with their words and harsh criticisms. Certainly I recognize that people say some stupid things and I am able to handle it, but I don’t think she is able to handle it. She told me today, after I told her a story from one of my co-workers “confronting me” on the issue of emergent ideology, that she doesn’t want to hear those stories anymore and that she doesn’t want to read my blogs, not because she is mad at me but because she cant handle the stupid comments. I started to think that maybe I should just stop writing these blogs and read to myself and not engage. This would kill me. I am coming to you as a husband, friend, and a writer with whom I have gained a lot of respect for. Do you have any suggestions?
— I wish I had better ones, but here are a three thoughts. First, I’d respect your fiance’s desire to be shielded from the harsh rhetoric. Frankly, I avoid a lot of sites for the same reason: it makes me want to disassociate from Christianity when I see the way many Christians argue, fight, attack, insult, etc. For the sake of my soul, I just stay away. Second, if you feel you can’t or shouldn’t stop writing the blogs, perhaps you could create some “rules of engagement” so that the responses to your blog become more civil. This is one of the reasons I don’t allow comments here: I would feel guilty giving “air time” to some of the vicious and ugly responses that come, and I don’t have time to monitor responses – which would involve sending warnings to people who don’t follow stated guidelines, “banning” some commenters, etc. (There are plenty of other sites that devote a lot of time to commenting on my work – so being deprived of air time here won’t limit their freedom of speech across the blogosphere!) If you have the time to create guidelines and monitor adherence, you will help people practice civil communication in the spirit of 1 Corinthians 13 and in line with “the fruit of the Spirit.” Third, since you’re getting married, you may need to seriously curtail a practice that causes pain to your future wife, or find a way to continue that she not only can tolerate but feels good about. She’s the most important person in your life.
I was recently listening to an interview that you did on “Bleeding Purple” radio show. It was very interesting to say the least, and I had some questions that I would like to ask you about your beliefs:
A. – In the interview, you had made many different statements about the doctrine of hell ultimately stating that it was not true.
— I’ve raised questions about the conventional doctrine of hell, but that doesn’t mean I am denying anything Jesus said. I’m questioning the ways we have interpreted what Jesus said – an important difference! I’ve written a whole book on this subject, which you might find helpful. It’s called “The Last Word and the Word After That,” and it just came out in paperback so it’s pretty inexpensive.
Your answer for all the hell and Gehenna statements that Jesus used was referring to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70AD. Is that true, and if so where do you get your exegesis for such a statement? Also, what do you do with the entire book of Revelation that describes the last days? It definitely speaks about hell in that book, or does that fall under the same explanation as Jesus’ statements on hell?
— I don’t believe I said that all of those statements necessarily refer to AD 70. I believe that many of them do, perhaps a strong majority. Some of Jesus’ statements seem to use “hell” as a figure of speech as a short-hand for judgment – for example, when he calls Pharisees “sons of hell.” As for Revelation, if you hold an early date for Revelation (in the 0060’s), it may refer to AD 70. If you hold a late date, say in the 90’s, I think it refers to the downfall of the Roman Empire, and by extension, to all systems of human domination. A number of theologians are exploring these approaches to the text – from R.C. Sproul to Tim King to N. T. Wright to Andrew Perriman to many others.
B. – You also seemed to indicate that we need to get rid of (deconstruct) the old narrative of the bible and create a new narrative. Would you be the one to give us this new revolutionary narrative of the bible? That way doctrines like hell can be taken out and re-interpreted.
— I am not for deconstructing the Bible, but rather the human constructions by which we have read the Bible. That’s an important difference. Many of us are grappling with the challenge of reading the Bible in ways that we believe are more truly faithful to its history and message. I think you’re misrepresenting me and them to imply that the reason we’re doing so is to “take out” doctrines like hell from the Bible. Instead, we’re trying to read the Bible faithfully and wisely, and doing so challenges us to rethink what we have been taught that the Bible teaches about hell. Note: we’re not questioning the Bible: we’re questioning what we have been taught about the Bible – we are giving the Bible itself a higher authority than traditions of interpretation.
My book “The Story We Find Ourselves In” is an attempt to see the Biblical narrative in a faithful and fresh way. And my book “The Secret Message of Jesus” looks at the story of Jesus, which for me is central and climactic to the Biblical narrative.
C. – Another topic that I would like to bring up in the interview is the divinity of Jesus Christ. The interviewer stated that he believed that Jesus was not God, and that Paul never spoke about Jesus as the son of God. You did not disagree with him nor correct him, so it is my assumption that you believe the same way. As for Paul’s teaching of Jesus as God, have you ever read Colossians 1:15-19 where it talks about Jesus creating everything on heaven and earth? The old testament speaks of God creating the heavens and the earth by Himself (Isaiah 44.24). These are two texts that Trinitarians put together to show that Jesus is God. This is only one example of this, or do you deny the doctrine of the Trinity as well? Also, Paul did speak of Jesus as the son of God (Romans 1:4; 2 Cor 1:19; Gal 2:20; Eph 4:13).
— No, I do not deny the Trinity at all. I write about it in several of my books, although not in great detail. By the way, I do not raise my voice to disagree with people at every point where we disagree, especially when I’m a guest on their podcast or radio show and I’ve been invited on to answer their questions. I assume that people will be fair-minded enough to let me speak for myself about what I believe, and not practice “guilt by association” in determining my beliefs.
D. – Lastly, I would like to ask you a follow up question that is on your website under the FAQ section. There was a question about the inerrancy of the word of God in the bible. You answered that you believe the Bible is uniquely authoritative for Christians, but you never answered the question of its’ inerrancy. Do you believe that the bible contains the inerrant word of God?
— I’ve written about this in some detail in other questions, and in my book “A Generous Orthodoxy.” I prefer to use words the Bible uses to describe the Bible’s authority. “Inerrancy” isn’t a word used in the Bible about the Bible. It is a word that derives its meaning from a modern Western school of philosophy called “foundationalism.” Since I don’t feel bound as a Christian to define my faith in terms of a school of Western philosophy, I don’t use the word inerrancy, although I respect those who like to use it. I believe that the Word of God comes to us truly through the Bible, and especially in Jesus, to whom it bears witness. I hope that helps.