If you’re at least even remotely familiar with my humble blog site—The Plow Boy—you know that I do my fair share of book reviews. Now, and this may seem basically clear to all, I always read a book and do my best to follow the arguments presented therein before I take up a position on the book itself. This, for example, includes me engaging authors from differing worldviews, especially the Reformed ones; and though I have initial apprehensions for their particular construal of the Gospel (they never seem to grasp this point) I do my absolute best to grant them a fair hearing based on a number of criteria that I run other’s arguments through—logical consistency, Scripture, historical considerations, experience (in no particular order), etc.
And I was under the impression that scholars, theologians, and yes, even pastors (these are not antithetical of course) follow the same methodology of fair-hearing; for example, I was impressed that Michael Horton was willing to be “chastised” when E.P. Sanders’ book made shock waves through the world of Pauline scholarship. He wasn’t persuaded, fine!—but at least he went in with an open mind. After all, Horton, and anyone publishing on anything for that matter, hopes others of varying positions will grant them a fair hearing before adjudicating on their publication.
But not Trevin Wax.
Wax recently published a post titled 3 Reasons I’ll Be Reading Rob Bell’s New Book (read it here) wherein he details his reasons for thumbing through Bell’s forthcoming publication. Now, let me be clear, I’ve not read a single volume by Rob Bell; so, this is not a pro-Bellian response. Rather, after reading his post, filled to the brim as it is with a priori assumptions, I figured a response was necessary on purely methodological grounds.
Wax’s first-reason for reading Bell’s book is: “I want to improve my ability to communicate the truth.” He writes:
That said, I want to improve my skills at communicating by watching how others get their message across. I want to see how they craft their stories, assemble their analogies, and wordsmith their prose.
Nothing whatsoever about granting Bell’s new book a fair reading; that maybe, just maybe, Bell may offer the world fresh insight into the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah. To the contrary, Wax wants to study Bell’s oral and literary aesthetics in order to display a more polished rhetorical version of his current form of Gospel presentation. Has Wax read 1 Corinthians? Would St. Paul, who defended his unpolished non-Bellian rhetoric before the Corinthians as an embodiment of the crucifixion waste five-seconds with such a concern? Now, to be sure, there is nothing wrong with wanting to improve one’s communicating skills, but this would not be a valid reason to pick up a book by, let’s say, John Piper, a master rhetorician himself.
Wax’s second-reason is: “I want to better understand the culture I live in.” Wax, taking his cue on his stance against Bell’s former book Love Wins continues:
At some point, if a book we see as “bad” resonates with people, we ought to consider the reasons why. Asking “why” gives us insight into our culture. It helps us get to know and love our neighbors. And it helps us anticipate the objections we will need to address in our presentation of the truth.
Wax’s method here is to assume that there are going to be “bad” things in Bell’s book; things that will help him better to assess the cultural issues of our day. There would be no specific reason to disagree with Wax on this point if he’d actually read the book and was able to identify specific theological problems with Bell’s thesis based on the actual presence of exegetical error, historical revisionism, logical discontinuity, etc., but this is not what Wax does. Would Wax, whom I’ve not read either, want me to approach his books with these same a priori in hand? It is doubtful.
Wax’s final point: “I want to be challenged to paint a better portrait.” Wax, as other Gospel Coalitioners are often guilty of doing, pooh pooh Bell’s book without having fully engaged it, but then implicitly and subtly slip in their own construal of the Gospel. He writes:
Rob Bell’s book may turn out to be a rehash of old school liberalism and its promise of “getting in touch with the divine.” So why read it? Because I want to be challenged to say, Why is the biblical portrait better? Why is the fiery, love-filled, glory-driven untamable God of the Bible so much more compelling, attractive, than the sentimental, sappy god so many in our culture find appealing?
No doubt that God is untamable. But is the Gospel Coalition’s version, and it is just that—a version, of the Gospel (this is a hotly contested word at the moment) to be accepted on a priori grounds as well? After all, I have my own biblical reasons for not seeing God as “glory-driven” as many from this camp do. It is obvious to those of us who are doing our best to fairly weigh out these sorts of discussions that Wax is guilty to two major-false assumptions: (1) assuming Bell’s book will be wrong and non-compatible with the untamable God of Calvinism, it may very well be, and (2) that your particular version of the Gospel is to be automatically equivocated with the God of the Bible.
We should, then, on purely methodological grounds be more patient and fair minded with those who we may have disagreed with in the past. Moreover, we should inculcate in our disciples the necessary skills and the wisdom to adjudicate on publications based on the gravitas of the thesis itself; and not based on a theological-a priori chimera.