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 Amazon.com) 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 http://voxpopnetwork.com/vision/2008/03/31/the-trinity/ 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. 3:17â€“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 5:3â€“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.