Friday, January 26, 2007

    Velvet Elvis

    What's with the crummy image above? I've been reading a short but interesting book entitled "Velvet Elvis:Repainting the Christian Faith." The text is written by Rob Bell, the young (well...younger than me) pastor of Mars Hill church in Grandville, Michigan (and perhaps best known for his cool NOOMA dvd series).

    For lack of a better term, I'd say that Bell is a progressive evangelical and some of his teachings do not sit well with his evangelical brethren -- particularly his embrace of doubt, an understanding of the Bible as a human response to God, and a focus on the love of Christ rather than the judgment of God. This past Sunday I shared some of Bell's writings with my college students and youth. In particular, I shared with them Bell's thoughts on imaging faith as either springs of a trampoline or a brick wall. On faith as a trampoline, Bell writes:

    When we jump, we begin to see the need for springs. The springs help make sense of these deeper realities that drive how we live every day. The springs aren't God. The springs aren't Jesus. The springs are the statements and beliefs about our faith that help give words to the depth that we are experiencing in our jumping. I would call these the doctrines of the Christian faith. They aren't the point. They help us understand the point, but they are a means and not an end. We take them seriously, and at the same time we keep them in proper perspective.(p.22)

    Bell goes on to suggest that the concept of the trinity is an example of one of these springs. Followers of Jesus existed for thousands of years without this explicit concept. Even as this doctrine today help us to think about God, it is a symbol that is able to withstand probing, questioning, and rethinking. Like a spring, it is flexible.

    On faith as a brick wall, Bell raises this issue of the virgin birth. If you found out tomorrow their was no virgin birth, would your faith collapse? If so, then this doctrine for you is less like a spring, and more like a brick:

    This is because a brick is fixed in size. It can't flex or change size, because if it does, then it can't fit into the wall. What happens then is that the wall becomes the sum total of the beliefs, and God becomes as big as the wall. But God is bigger than any wall. God is bigger than any religion. God is bigger than any worldview. God is bigger than the Christian faith.(p.27)

    On Sunday, using the above graphic of the trampoline jumper and the bricklayer, I invited the young folk (prior to a discussion of Bell's writing) to talk about whether they saw their faith life as more like jumping on a trampoline or building a brick wall, or both. There were lots of interesting and thoughtful responses. Some students said their faith had a strong foundation like a brick wall. Others said their faith was more like jumping on the trampoline, with lots of ups and downs. Some argued that the Church is like the trampoline, the way each person jumping affects the other. More than one student said the Church is like a brick wall, always building barriers instead of welcoming others.

    I suggested the trampoline image worked best for me because jumping on one can be dangerous, particularly if you are jumping with other people (how many kids across America have broken their arms falling off those things?!). In the same way, our faith can be dangerous if we radically follow the way of Jesus. The best answer, however, came from a visiting student. Looking at the image above, he said his faith was like a girl jumping on a trampoline who is watching a guy building a brick wall as a barrier. The girl jumps high enough to fly over the wall, landing in the man's arms. They immediately fall madly in love and run off to get married!


    J. K. Jones said...

    I find you notes on Bell's book and the graphic interesting. I find Velvet Elvis an interesting read, with many perspectives I share. I am bothered by his perspective on Scripture, however. It has to do with what the Bible is about.

    Rob says, “…this is why the Bible loses its power for so many communities. They fall into the trap of thinking that the Bible is just about things that happened a long time ago. / But the Bible is about today. / These stories are our stories. They are alive and active and teaching us about our lives in our world, today.” This view can directly inpact salvation, our right standing before God. Let me clarify.

    Jesus was clear in saying that the entire Bible was about Him (Luke 24:25-26). The intent is for us to know certain facts about things that have happened in the past and their bearing on us today. There is a reason for this. Our salvation; our right standing before God, eternal life, fellowship with God, and everything else that goes with it; was earned for us in the past.

    Martin Luther was right when he said that our salvation was extra nos, outside of us. Earned by Christ. Accomplished 2,000 years ago on a hill outside Jerusalem. We add nothing to this work. We through our faith are credited with what Christ did, and He is credited with our sin to suffer for (2 Cor. 5:21). If the Bible is not primarily about what happened in the past, then it is not about what Christ did for us in the past. If the Bible is primariyl about our here and now, it is not about those things which earn our salvation.

    Thanks for your post!

    J. K.