Velvet Elvis

Here’s another in the list of posts I am transferring over from Facebook for the benefit of those of you who distrust (or dislike) social networking sites.  It was originally posted on May 3rd.

So I got Velvet Elvis in the mail (suprisingly quickly even for the other day and read it over the course of the day. Here are my impressions.

First of all, it is difficult not to like Rob Bell. That is evident if you have ever read his stuff or seen one of the Nooma videos that has him in it. He is a genuine guy, who really struggles, and really seeks to follow Christ, and it is refreshing to see a pastor who doesn’t come off as (excuse the language) a prick who has it all figured out. So, for that, I am encouraged. Many pastors would do well to follow his example in terms of style and honesty.

I enjoyed the book. I enjoyed his diagnosis of many of the things that are wrong with a fundamentalist, bible-beating culture like that one I have seen more times than I would care to admit. I appreciate his honesty and the genuine concern he has for people to be transformed in their spiritual journey from a sense of duty to a sense of delight in God and who he is.

But I have a few questions that loom heavily over me as I read the book. In the “movement” (a clever name for “chapter” that he uses) called “Jump” I find both refreshing glimpses into a childlike faith and a dangerous undertone. He likens all of reality and theology to a trampoline. He says that the springs on the trampoline are meant to be our doctrines, like the virgin birth, the trinity, etc. And then he goes on to assert that Christianity, or Christ’s teachings, could go on even if those two doctrines are taken out and “examined.”

I’ll deal with the doctrine of the trinity (since I briefly dealt with the doctrine of the virgin birth in another note), and explain why I think that the trampoline itself falls apart in his metaphor if you take out the trinity. First of all, I think that if you look at the whole testimony of Scripture, the doctrine of the trinity is not only there, but necessary.

The doctrine of the trinity has the following distinctives: There is one God, and the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God. The three are distinct persons, but one God. These distinctives are found in the following scriptures (thanks to Mark Driscoll at for the following content)

There is One God:

* “… the LORD is God; there is no other besides him” (Deut. 4:35).
* “… there is no god beside me” (Deut. 32:39).
* “… you alone are God” (Ps 86:10).
* “Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me” (Isa. 43:10).
* “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God” (Isa. 45:5).
* “… the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God” (1 Tim. 1:17).
* “… there is one God” (1 Tim. 2:5).

The Father is God:

* “God the Father” (John 6:27).
* “… there is one God, the Father” (1 Cor. 8:6).

The Son is God:

* “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14).
* “Truly, truly, I [Jesus] say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).
* “Thomas answered him [Jesus], ‘My Lord and my God!'” (John 20:28).
* “… Christ who is God over all” (Rom. 9:5).
* “… our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
* “… Jesus Christ. He is the true God” (1 John 5:20).

The Spirit is God:

Note: It must be stressed that the Spirit is a “he” and not an “it.” The Spirit is not an impersonal force, but rather a person who can be grieved (Eph. 4:30), resisted (Acts 7:51), and outraged (Heb. 10:29).

* “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:17–18).
* “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? … You have not lied to men but to God'” (Acts 5:3–4).

So, did you get all that? My point is that the Trinity exists in scripture. It is not something that came about hundreds of years after scripture, as Bell claims.

If there is no trinity, then Jesus was not fully God. If Jesus was not fully God, he was either a liar who knew he wasn’t God, or a crazy person who thought he was God. Neither of those options makes Him worthy of worship.

The only other option would be that the writers of Scripture knowingly misrepresented Jesus’ words where he claimed to be God. And if we travel long down that road, we are left with some intriguing problems like “how can we trust any of the Bible if we can’t trust what it says about Jesus?” or “why did the writers of the gospels die for what they knew was an exaggeration?”

As a sidenote, I am reading Marcus Borg’s “Reading the Bible again for the first time” right now, and his “historical-metaphorical” approach to the Bible would mean that the writers of the Old and New Testaments created an entirely new genre of writing (that would later come about only in modern times) called realistic fiction. From my perspective, either they were telling the truth of what actually happened (in historical narratives like the gospels), or they were lying and we should throw our Bibles away. They really wanted us to think that Jesus rose from the dead, was born of a virgin, and was fully God. They didn’t intend the stories to be taken as metaphors. To believe that you have to have more faith than I do, faith that presses on in spite of the facts.

Furthermore, it is the height of academic and modernist arrogance to think that we are more advanced in our thinking than ancient Israelites, and they were just primitive, naive, unthinking people who would believe anything. Yes, we have the benefit of more advanced science, but they were no more likely to believe that a man could walk on water or raise from the dead. And they actually believe that those things happened, and encourage us to do the same.

So, back on point, without the Trinity, we lose Jesus, or a Bible we can trust, or both. That “spring” is pretty necessary. In fact, I’d call it the frame, not the spring. There are only three doctrines that I fight for. One is the Trinity. Another is the deity of Christ. The last is the supremacy and inerrancy of Scripture. It is not my only authority (it has no good tips on how to change your oil, for example) but it is the highest authority.

So now I am trying to walk the fine line of holding to those three doctrines without being an arrogant, know-it-all prick. I certainly don’t know it all. And there are still passages in the Bible that make me very uncomfortable. But I would think that something written by God would either make me uncomfortable, or I am not reading it right, or He’s a pretty small God.

I like Rob Bell. I like his passion, and his drive to be something more than just a Bible-thumping pastor who cares more about the numbers of folks coming to his church than he does about being a transformational force in culture. I couldn’t possibly like that more. But I am genuinely concerned that his questions, if not carefully answered, could cause more damage than good. The thing that is transformational about Christianity is that it offers a God who can sympathize with us, because he came to us and lived the life we couldn’t live, died a death we deserved, and
rose from the dead. Without that, we are hopeless.

Please be gentle in the comments. I am not trying to fight.

Kids as weapons.

I use my 2-month old son as a weapon.

Please read the rest of the post before calling social services… it’s a metaphor.

I didn’t even realize I did it, but I use things like the fact he slept 8 hours in a row one night like a little conversational dagger.  What I want to happen is for people to surrender that Benjamin is the coolest kid ever (or at least cooler than their kid), and that by association I must therefore be a great parent and consequently a good Christian.  I want people to submit in our conversational engagement to my superior skill, intellect, and charm.  It’s not even about Benjamin Jr.  He’s just the weapon.  It’s about me.

What clued me in to how I do this wasn’t even me doing it.  Recently a friend reported telling a friend about how Benjamin sleeps though the night.  Instead of being happy for us, that friend-of-a-friend actually got mad, because they are a parent of a significantly older infant who is still not sleeping through the night.  How silly.  They treated the fact that our son sleeps through the night (at least once) as an attack on them.  As our friend relayed this information to us, it made me smile, and even wish I had been there.  I missed out on someone surrendering!

The saddest part of the whole thing is that it doesn’t stop (or start) with my kid (although it is the latest manifestation).  Everything in my life is a competition.  My sentences too often start with the words “I”, “Me” or “My.”  (yes, I wrote that sentence intentionally ironic.)

What is great about the gospel (in this instance) is that it frees me from slavery to me.  I no longer have to compete with others.  I am not accepted by God based on my ability to parent.  I am accepted because of Christ.  What freedom from the competition!

Now, if I could only remember that when somebody asks how he is sleeping at night…

Straight from the Cowboy’s Mouth.

Hundreds of people knelt in the audience.  The leader said “On the count of three, I want everyone to jump, raise their hands, and shout!”  Then, with hands raised high in obedience the ones who knew the songs sang the loudest, and others clapped along.  It definitely had too much of a mega-church, over-produced worship sort of feel for my tastes.  But then again, worship isn’t supposed to be about me, either.  But I had a strange feeling it wasn’t supposed to be about a sweaty, overweight man screaming “I’m gonna beat these drums like I am in bed with my girlfriend:” as the smell of cigarrettes and bodyodor wafted through the humid night air.

See, I wasn’t at a church.

I saw Cowboy Mouth perform on Saturday night, and as I told my brother and cousin when we drove away, I have only seen someone have that kind of control over an audience a few times in my life.  Make no mistake, Fred LeBlanc was a worship leader on Saturday night.  Kind of a worship leader who is a strange mix of Jack Black, Chris Farley, Space Ghost,(seriously he sounds just like SG when he talks:) and cocaine (as I twittered live from the show).

What I saw on Biltmore Avenue Saturday night was worship.  Worship of several little gods who can’t satisfy.  Gods like happiness, freedom from rules (which is in reality a new type of bondage), alcohol, and self.  At one point, Fred told us to just celebrate that “we can do whatever the hell we want to.”—the great American god of autonomy.

The Bible doesn’t discuss atheism.  It discusses idolatry.  Others have written far more eloquently on the subject, but I was struck by how true this is.  It’s not that we don’t believe in something (or someone) that is able to save us from our sin: it’s that we think that some created thing can save us from our sin (alcohol, music, cigarettes, money) or that we can ignore our sin (eastern philosophy) or that we can do enough to pay for our own sin (religion).  All three of those things are idolatry.  The last two are self-idolatry.

Fred is a very gifted drummer and vocalist, Cowboy Mouth is a very talented band, and I mean them absolutely no disrespect in this post.  I enjoyed the show, even.  But what caused me to enjoy the show was outright rejecting some of the things that he said.  I can’t do whatever the hell I want to do.  Praise the Lord I am not left to that wonderful “freedom,” since at times the things I want to do are self-destructive and wrong. Me left to my own devices is certainly not a blessing for me or anybody who comes in contact with me.

I can enjoy his talent as a drummer and singer without imagining that he will ever have the ability to save me.  I can celebrate the beautiful sounds of his music only because I am a slave to a much more beautiful God.  I can experience happiness and a taste of freedom from enjoying a cold beer on a humid July evening only because I know and love the Source of true delight who created those things for me to enjoy.

Don’t fall for the lie that says getting drunk and bucking the system while listening to New Orleans rock is the path to freedom.  It’s the path deeper into despair.  Jesus is far more satisfying, in the long run.

Golden Compass

I just watched the golden compass. Well produced film. It’s pretty sad that Christians made such a fuss out of not going to see this film, since that directly plays into the bias of the filmmakers. They are trying to make the point (as far as I can tell) that the church is in the business of surpressing the truth. What better way to prove their point than to protest their film? As Christians (and especially Protestant Christians) we ought to be about people seeing this film. It promotes standing against forces that keep us from discovering the truth. Sure, there is an anti-church agenda going on, but it is secondary to the pro-truth agenda. And of all things, I think the church should be about uncovering and exposing the truth. I agree with the filmmakers when they make the statement that the truth is far more valuable than church tradition. Furthermore, I agree that there has been some pretty jacked up corruption in the church, historically. Let’s expose the truth.

Posted with LifeCast

Bumper Stickers

Yesterday as we were driving back from SC visiting family, we saw a car (pictured in the previous post below) that was literally covered from roof rack to bumper in what appeared to be poster boards.  On the boards were hand-written all sorts of spiritualisms, various Bible verses yanked out of context, and even some strange things that appeared to be personal revelations or prophecy that this guy had received.  (“I permit Issac (couldn’t make out the last name) to preach at any time to anyone…” was the one I caught most of…)

There is a serious temptation to unload both barrels of orthodoxy on Issac (the name we will give him based on that partial reading) and really pick apart all the ways and levels on which this is so unbiblical.  But as I started mentally doing just that, I realized that I do the same thing, and simply dress it differently.

I am relatively certain that Issac didn’t wake up the morning of the extreme car Bible-makeover and say “You know what, I think I am going to go out there and transform my car into a parallel-parking, crankable declaration of the heresy that has infected my theology.”  He was trying to help people.  What if somebody, somewhere is touched by something that they read on the bumper of his car?  It might, after all, be the only verse they ever read from the Bible.  So it just stands to reason that instead of just having a bumper sticker that says “John 3:16” he ought to write out the whole chapter of John 3 on cards and stick them all over his car.  And, since he had received what he saw as relevant personal revelation, why not go ahead and slap that on the car, too?

There are several issues going on here, and I see them all in my own heart.  I’ll look at two of them here.  The first and most glaring is the “drive-by evangelism” that is going on.  In his case, it is literal, but I also do the same thing.  This is not at all to downplay the movement of God the Holy Spirit in placing people who need to hear in “random” evangelistic scenarios.  I believe in a God who regularly amazes me with the people he has cross my path.  But when I set up a system that totally relies on the “random,” it downplays the fact that God more often works through relationship and other means.  Far more people come to faith as a result of a friend’s initiative than the result of a stranger sharing their faith with them.  So my approach to evangelism must be primarily a relational approach that is at the same time open to “random” people with whom I had no prior relationship hearing and responding, on occasion.

The other issue I saw was that Issac relied on out-of-context truth to convey his message.  Like screaming “Grephical Tranglunitude!” in a crowded shopping mall, to tell a postmodern audience that they have a sin problem and need to be reconciled to God through the blood of Christ is to speak a thoroughly foreign and undecipherable language.  Issac tried to give his truth a context, by putting a LOT of it on his car, but it still comes across as something totally foreignToo often our message on campus comes across as blubbering nonsense, because we fail to give our (valid) truth a context.  We address needs, but not felt needs.  And felt needs are the only context you can address needs in!  To say “Jesus Saves” or “You need Jesus” will do no good until you at least show some desire to tend to the needs that people feel, like the need for a ride to the grocery store or the need for something to do on Friday night.  (making the socials team a really REALLY integral part of any overall ministry, btw)

So while it was tempting to throw stones, it only took a few minutes of introspection to see that I’d just hit myself.