I am a close friend of rapture forums user Grape on the Vine. I followed many of the posts regarding alleged heretic Rob Bell, and was deeply disturbed by much of what I read. I don't know if many of the same users who posted on the thread concerning Mr. Bell have read this thread, but I wanted to try to offer some of my thoughts on what I took to be some very serious issues, and this seemed (given the tone of the afformentioned thread) to be the place.
The first issue I wish to address is that of sola scriptura (i.e., the idea that the bible alone is the sole repository of truth). I think many of the users were quite correct to say that the bible should be the ultimate authority. I would even agree that all other truth claims must be tested in light of God's inspired word. That having been said, I cannot agree that it is the only means by which one can know truth. First, if that were the case, we could not take with any sort of confidence many other truth claims that we know in fact to be true. It would mean we couldn't say that any other event recorded in history could be considerred believeable because the bible didn't say so. It would mean that knowledge of mathematics and science couldn't be accepted because the bible doesn't say so. This, I submit, is ludicrous.
The common proof text brandished here was 2 Timothy 3:16: "16(A)All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;". Some translations even put it that the scriptures are usefull for training in ALL righteousness. Now I take this to true with every fiber of my being. But what I cannot accept is what the text does not say, viz., that scripture ALONE teaches truth. It may teach all truths (at least those relevant to correction, divinity, and moral/spiritual formation), but that it is the only thing that does this (even if we grant that all of it does this without error), is simply not in the text. It is a frightening analogue to pharasaical thinking to assert that it does.
Moreover, the scripture itself cites approvingly extra biblical sources. Jude (whom tradition tells us was a physical half-brother of Jesus) quotes the book of Enoch (Jude 9,14) as depicting truth about the spiritual realm. Yet both the Roman Catholic, and Protestant churches reject Enoch as divinely inspired; and they classify it as pseudapigraphical. If the human agents, just so many willing pens in the hand of the Holy Spirit, could assert spiritual truths from sources not found in their own cannon, why are we so leary about proclaiming truths found in other texts and religious movements outside of our own? None of this is to deny that Christian Theism is absolutely true, or that other religious views are true to. I believe in the absolute nature of truth, and that the opposite of true is false. As such, I agree that if a worldview is diametrically opposed to Christianity, it must be false. This, however, does not mean that there aren't grains of truth that we can take (and dare I say learn from) in other religious movements.
Secondly, I want to confront the oft repeated remark that all sin is the same in the eyes of God. To be modest, if that remark were transposed into a question (viz., is all sin the same?) the answer would have to be yes and no, depending on what you mean. Most of the commentors on the issue on the thread in question never bothered (at least that I noticed) to actually offer any scriptural support for their position. One possible hanger to rest their harmartiological coat on would be Paul's quotation of Deut.27:26 in Gal 3:10. Here, Paul affirms that those who do not abide by all that is written in the law are cursed. A stretch, but possible. Perhaps more clearly, we could've quoted James (another half-brother of the Lord) in the tenth and eleventh verse of the second chapter of his book. There, James clearly states, "Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, 'Do not commit adultrey,' said also, 'Do not kill.' If you do not commit adultrey but do kill, you have become a transgressor of the law."
Now I strongly believe that scripture, rightly understood, does not contradict itself. As such, proponents of the "all sin the same" view must deal with verses which talk about greater punishments for certain evils, greater sins, weightier matters of the law, etc. (cf. Ezek 8:6,13,15; Matt 5:19; 23:23; John 19:11). Moreover, I would agree that the idea that shoplifting a stick of gum is morally equitable to the rape of a two year old girl is an absolue afront to our moral intuitions.
So how do we unravel this apparent contradiction? the yes-or-no-depending on what you mean answer may be found in the second half the quotation from James. As grape on the vine pointed out, all sin is the same IN THE SENSE THAT it all is a transgression of the law. It is all a shape of disobedience to God. That does not mean, however, that all sin is disobedience to God IN THE SAME WAY. There are number of ways to kill a man. Perhaps you slip him a simple drug that lulls him into a terminal coma. Fairly painless. But, you may torture him to death while convincing him with psychological tactics that his family never really loved him. It is a depraved logic indeed that asserts both modes of murder are the same. True, if you killed a man, you killed a man. But one shape is much more insidious than the other. This seems to me, at least, to be painfully clear.
Finally, I want to challenge the claim that Rob Bell does not believe in the virgin birth as a road to get us to his salient point. In the immediately preceeding passage from which that Bell quote is taken, Bell AFFIRMS every jot and tittle of the Nicene Creed. Bell is offering what philosphers call a thought experiment. He is appealing to carefull analysis of what history could show, along with what a carefull analysis of what scripture could actually be saying when considerred in it's native language and context. Would we have the guts to go where the truth led us? Martin Luther did. The other Reformers did. So what is our problem?
Have we fallen so in love with our traditions that when someone carefully reading both the bible and nature even suggests that they might be wrong, we can't give up on it? Is not the replacement of Gods truth with our traditions really just a type of idolatry? As Martin Luther said, "Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your god." I would prefer to follow the truth wherever it led me. As Luther also said to the tradition idolaters of his day, " Here it is, plain and unvarnished. Unless I am convicted [convinced] of error by the testimony of Scripture or (since I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or councils, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves) by manifest reasoning, I stand convicted [convinced] by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God's word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us.On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me." And finally, to quote contemporary Christian poet Aaron Weiss, "...we hunger, though all that we eat brings no relief. We don't know quite what else to do! We have all our beliefs, but we don't want our beliefs! God of peace, we want you."