One of the accusations that seems to be continually leveled against the critics of Rob Bell (the emergent church fellow who has recently made headlines for teaching universalism in his new book) is that they are being Pharisaical for holding him to what Scripture says. Doctrinally sound Christians are just being too technical in how they understand the Bible. Why can’t they just loosen up? Jesus, I keep hearing, was always condemning the Pharisees for being so rigid in their interpretation of Scripture. But is this really an appropriate characterization of the oft-cited conflict? Should Bell’s critics really see themselves on the wrong side of this conflict?
As it turns out, this understanding of Jesus (like so many others) is severely at odds with the actual record of his teachings. After going through the Gospels, I found no less than 19 instances (13 unique events) in which Christ explicitly condemned the Pharisees for not being strict enough in their adherence to Scripture. I found only 2 where Jesus implies they are being too rigid in how they understand the Bible. Even in the two examples of excess rigidity, Jesus condemned a superficial understanding of what was said, not specifically over-zealousness in trying to be Biblically sound. The more characteristic Pharisaical error (by a wide margin) is to ignore half of what Scripture says while adhering to an amalgamation of the other half of Scripture and the traditions of men (you know, kind of like ignoring everything the Bible says about Hell and the reality of people going there in order to maintain our own culture’s views about tolerance and judgment.)