Velvet Elvis Reflection 1

BEFORE YOU READ: This post will not make sense to you unless you have read Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell.

Regular readers of Army Renewal blog will know that I’m not particularly a fan of Rob Bell. I recognise too that the moment I offer any thought on his writings that people will have to restrain themselves not to a)brand me as a narrow fundamentalist or b)feel a sense of duty to defend his writings at all cost because….well, for whatever reason.

Yet, Rob, in his book Velvet Elvis does encourage readers not to take everything he is saying at face value. Moreover, he encourages critical engagement. The more time passes, the more people I am aware of who are being blown away by the message in the book. With all the honesty and thought I can muster, I still must confess that the message of the book worries me. But before I mention those again, I just want to say that there are a few things I agree with in his book (I’m trying to be dimplomatic here!!!). I’ve spent more time with the book and just want to comment.

Where we agree
– He talks about salvation going beyond just salvation of the soul. As a Salvationist I’m comfortable with that…of course I am. He goes on to talk about restoration, and whilst I don’t follow his escatalogical conclusions in that area, I believe the gospel is restorative.

– I do agree that we are always interpreting scripture, of course we are. I believe that there are right and wrong ways to do that, but of course, every time we read scripture we interpret it. I also agree with him when he says we must do this in the context of community, working out together how to live out Christian faith.

– I agree with him in that the war cry of the Reformation is not ‘reformed’ but ‘always reforming.’ The principle of ‘always reforming’ or ‘semper reformanda’ is key to the heart of orthodox Christian faith. The sad thing is that many reformed churches are not longer reforming, but are simply reformed…something that has happened instead of happening.

– I agree with his persective on ministry that we must kill superpastor or superofficer or superwhatever. It is biblically unnatural, unhelpful and unsustainable. Its enough to send a person insane, the perpetual demand to be super-Christian in the sense of ‘professional ministry’ or clergy centred ministry.

– I agree too that we too often create a sacred secular divide. We as Salvationist belief all life is a sacrament, it can all be holy if it is not unholy. So yes, I love to listen to some ‘secular music’ and hear spiritual messages resonate like the next person. ‘Where the streets have no name’ by U2, for example.

So, those are some areas where as I was reading again I found an ‘amen.’

Let me write again (for my sake if not yours) where I depart company from Rob.

– the ‘velvet elvis’ analogy is misleading. He talks about a picture of Elvis he has in his basement…its there because its a static peice of art…the creator has stopped painting and the painting never becomes a greater piece of art. He relates this to the Christian faith, saying that Christianity and the teaching of Jesus needs to be repainted, suggesting that folks perhaps a bit like myself who are not as fast and loose with their theology have simple stopped creating.

I just want to say that my study, theology and understanding of God is not something that I’ve completely uncovered and mastered. I view God and faith as an immense masterpiece, pre-created by The Creator. It is all in place, its beautiful, awesome and captivating but one which is uncovered piece by piece as we seek God, explore who he is, understand and meet with him. Its not that I need to repaint it, its that I need to discover more of who he is.

This is not simply semantics, I hope you can see the fundamental difference. I don’t need to recreate God or Christianity…what God has done and who God is is perfect…my joy is to find him. The trampoline for me too is teaching, ideas, which allow me to discover more of who God is, discover the plan (or the wall, as he describes it.)

– I don’t believe it is enough just to affirm God where he is, or point him out, and give truth applause where it turns up. Of course love, truth, goodness and all those things have their source in God, we are made in his image. But those things are not enought to produce righteousness in us. Like Bell said, Adams experience is our experience, we’ve falled, we’ve eated the fruit and that needs rectified. Adam, even in his lost state, knew God at work, because his conscience was still alive, he was still able to perceive God at work. But seeing God at work is not the same as having God do his continuing work in our lives in response to regeneration. I can watch a tap running with water all day and recognise its properties, benefits and potential for keep me alive, but its only when I drink it and keep drinking it that I remain alive.

The other aspect of this is that he talks about affirming truth wherever it is found in other religions. Yes, there are parts of God’s truth, simply fundamental truths about the world that will be inherent in all schools of thought, but I reject his notion that we can call those notions ‘God.’ His analogy with the couple about to get married is about humanism, universalism, making god of our own perceptions and experiences and has little to do with actually experiencing the I AM. It is never, never, enough to say that because a Muslim has a good value, or because a couple can love each other, or because non-Christian thinkers sometimes say truth that it ultimately all points to God. This is only a step away from saying there is salvation outside of Jesus Christ.

There are those, according to Jesus, who say ‘Lord Lord, we’ve done this and that in your name’ and he will say ‘depart from me, I never knew you, you worked for the enemy.’ Not everything painted as light is light….it can often be just paint, a poor imitation for light itself

– For Bell, Christian truth is relative. He advocates the view in Velvet Elvis that if one community says such and such a thing is right, it is just as good and valid as a community to who take a different stance. Its equally right in both cases…that is, until someone comes up with something better or a new angle. Through the book he is all about applying the message as people find it to be true, yet, consistently (although subtly) attacks Christians who don’t see it like him. If you think this is a crude summation of this aspect of his teaching, then I have simply offered it in the same tone that he criticises Christians who have clear biblically based moral teachings on certain subjects. He seems to be offended by universal Christian truth. If he says that God is truth, and as he affirms that Jesus is the way truth and life, and that Christian faith and practice is worked out in the context of community, but in the next breath suggests that faith and truth are relative and that there are some sections of community which haven’t earned or don’t deserve to be heard, there is a fundamental error.

– he talks about their being no place where God isn’t. This is true, of course. But we must take into consideration teaching about the Kingdom of God which actually isn’t established every where. Yes, the principles are established for all eternity, but they actually have to be worked out, applied, ushered in, established. Sure, God is there, but we cannot cannot cannot cannot say that the rule of God exists in every place. Its rarely the case of simply pointing out the rule of God, there are many places where hard fighting has to be done for the rule to be established.

These are but reflections from deeply reading the first two thirds of the book. I’ll be back with more when I’ve finished again………..

A Different Approach…

Lets try and approach this question in a different way. Its clear that I’m conservatively evangelical in theology and much of emergent stuff is not…that my main problem. We could discuss that til the cows come home. (Interestingly, I’ve heard that emergents are generous to everyone about everything except conservative Christans and their theology) :o)

Here is another question I’d like to invite as many people as want to to respond to:

What is it about emergent church that means that it needs to re-write classical evangelical theology? Why can it not emerge with classical theology?

Answers on a postcard (or hey, save paper and use the comments function!)

I guess we will either sum up that there is not reason as to why it can’t, or it will hang itself in the processs….but..lets see!

Here comes an unpopular post…

Rob Bell. You all heard of him? Yep…the Nooma guy. He’s very trendy, moreover, he has caught on to a fascinating and very effective tool for reachinga generation by way of his Nooma DVDs. The style is attractive and I can see how good they would be….

However, I believe we must sharpen our spirits when it comes to Mr Bell. His concept of salvation is worrying and typical with the rebranding of theology that is coming out of the emergant movement. I believe we need to emerge church into something new, not theology.

Anyway…a (not so) brief look at a couple of things. Bells ‘soteriology’ (understanding and teaching of the doctrine of salvation) is wonky. On page 108 of his book, Velvet Elvis, he comes out with this:

point of the cross isn’t forgiveness. Forgiveness leads to something bigger: restoration

As he elaborates further,

The Bible paints a much larger picture of salvation. It describes all of creation being restored. The author of Ephesians writes that all things will be brought together under Jesus. Salvation is the entire universe being brought back into harmony with its maker. This has huge implications for how people present the message of Jesus. Yes, Jesus can come into our hearts. But we can join a movement that is as wide and deep and big as the universe itself. Rocks and trees and birds and swamps and ecosystems. God’s desire is to restore it all (ibid., 109,110)

As for many emergents (in the theological sense) salvation is all about the here an now, yes heaven is still a hope, but the focus is on now. For the Rob Bells of the world, the whole universe was redeemed by Christ on the cross when he took punishment so that God could restore it. Its not clear exacly how God is doing it, but the main point is that all people have to do to be redeemed is become ‘followers of Jesus.’ (or not, as the case may be).

You need to understand that although Bell says that “Jesus can come into our hearts”, in Velvet Elvis, he spends the whole of the previous chapter speaking against what is normally meant by that phrase in evangelical circles, so he is meaning something different.

Its unlikely to hear Bell speak about being born again because in his thinking, all that is necessary is some type of decision to believe. Its not enough just to believe, there must be repentance, faith, regeneration…regeneraton comes at the stage of repentance and faith, its not something we just gradually become until the point we make a ‘decision.’

EC has gone way too far in the opposite direction, which would not be surprising when one considers the denial of the vicarious penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ on the Cross by virtually all of its leaders. The church must seriously begin to examine this question: How can someone even be saved by Jesus when they are denying the very means that God has established for being born again in the first place? And in 1 John chapter 2 God the Holy Spirit quite clearly tells the true follower of Jesus:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (vv.15-17)

There is very good reason for this beyond the obvious. That obvious would be that Jesus taught for one to even be born again in the first place he must “repent,” which is to turn away from “the world.” Another reason not to love the world or anything in the world is for the literal fact that everything in the world will pass away. This is what we read in The Old Testament, as evidenced by Isaiah 51:6 – Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. And this is further confirmed by the Apostle Peter, whom we must understand received this information from the Creator Himself. Whether taught in Person or by revelation Peter tells us with clarity:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. (2 Peter 3:10-12)

Undoubtedly we can see here that everything will be destroyed. The only way to ignore this truth is to follow men like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren who allegorize texts such as this. However, to do so is to think as a child who covers his face with his hands and exclaims: “You can’t see me!” The fact is no matter how loud an untruth is told, it will always remain an untruth. Better that we grow up and face the real world that is passing away and let those like Rob Bell who choose to ignore warnings such as this go where they will.

So, why would the Lord destroy something completely redeemed?

And, as for the hints of universalism in his understanding of how men and women can come to the saviour, best to watch out…its not the case of starting the journey until you decide you can believe, its repentance and faith, then regneration by the Holy Spirit.

More Velvet Elvis to close:

So this reality, this forgiveness, this reconciliation, is true for everybody. Paul insisted that when Jesus died on the cross he was reconciling “all things, in heaven and on earth, to God.” All things everywhere. This reality then isn’t something we make true about ourselves by doing something. It is already true. Our choice is to live in this new reality or cling to a reality of our own making. (146)

See what I mean? You’re already saved, you just have to start living as if you are. Thing is…its close to the gospel, could even be closely mistaken for the gospel, but I’m afraid it stops a little bit short.

Go on…shoot me down! :o)