Friday, October 24, 2008

The Things I Say

I don't mean to take away from the authority and benefit of the church, which is the body of Christ. I feel that community and fellowship are very necessary in a Christian life. Having said that, however, I also contend that the scripture alone is enough to save lives. People who are given the scriptures, even in the absence of a teacher, are able to find God.

People don't suffer from a lack of understanding as often as they suffer from an unwillingness to accept the message.

Rob Bell says, for instance, that the passage: Love they neighbor as thyself, is a difficult one. After all, who is thy neighbor? What does it mean to love? What does this involve?

He is following the path of those who questioned Christ about those words?
"Who is my neighbor?"

Christ explained by telling a story about a good Samaritan who befriends an unfortunate robbery victim. He doesn't address the question directly, but His point is obvious: You know well what I'm saying.

This propensity for asking: "Why?", "Why", and "Why" is not always an admirable trait. Carried to an extreme, it is simply a childish way of avoiding responsibility for the commandment.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Understanding Scripture

Part Four--Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis and the Emergent Church.

Bell, spends a good deal of time explaining that we cannot understand scripture as it stands. We each interpret it to fit our own viewpoint, and therefore we need a community to explain the scripture to us. He proves this by quoting some scriptures that are difficult to understand.

I do see the need for each of us to apply scripture to our own life, and, granted, there are some scriptures that don't really apply to us; they were for another people--addressing a specific need in another time. Also, some scriptures are difficult; they can be interpreted more than one way. We need the Holy Spirit to guide us in our understanding of them, just as Bell says.

However, there are also some concepts in the scripture that are very plain. They are only "hard to understand" because you disagree with them and want to make them say what fits your preconceived viewpoint.

To say that we cannot understand the Bible except through community is to take away the power of the Word of God to the individual. It is regressing. . . to a time when individual believers were told what to think by a larger community. Not only that. It's a little frightening: Usually, when someone tells you that you cannot possibly understand a thing this important without help, their next step is telling you what it means.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Interruption--a smile makes everyone feel better.

I'm taking a moment away from the serious topics that I've been discussing. One of my friends from Gunnison days just sent me a picture of her grandson Noah.

It's October. Such joys God brings into the world!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Part Three of What Could Turn into an Epic

Questions are a staple of this "Emergent" Christianity, and although, as an educator, I love questions, this extreme view of questioning troubles me.
I quote from Velvet Elvis:

"and that is why questions are so central to faith. A question by its very nature acknowledges that the person asking the question does not have all of the answers...Questions, no matter how shocking or blasphemous or arrogant or ignorant or raw, are rooted in humility."

Is this just hyperbole for shock effect? I hope so. I can think of a lot of questions that are not rooted in humility.
How about: "Didn't God say that you should not eat from any tree in the garden?"...the Serpent, his humbleness,
or "Am I my brother's keeper?" Cain in a moment of brotherly concern,
or "Wherein does your great strength lie?"... Delilah, trying to bolster her low self-esteem, in the presence of one she admired.
or "Am I a dog, that you should come against me with sticks?"...Goliath, in a great show of Philistine humility.

Well, all that aside, assuming Bell is talking about honest--although blasphemous-- God-seeking questions, I still have a problem with where he takes this:

He likens Christianity to a trampoline and compares the springs to doctrines of the Christian faith. They give and stretch, and should be challenged, added or removed. He insists that the doctrine of the trinity, for example, was added years after the New Testament was completed, and wasn't necessary as a belief before it was formally named. He also challenges the doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ, by attacking it, then affirming it, then asking (humbly, of course):

"if the whole faith falls apart when we re-examine and rethink one spring, then it wasn't that strong in the first place, was it?"

The doctrine of Christ's deity, however, is more than just a minor bounce enhancer on the trampoline of Christianity; it is a leg that supports the structure, and by the time one has finished twisting and stretching and chopping at that leg, the trampoline will be lying on the ground. True, you can still invite a lot of people over to play, but the jumping won't be so fun.

Reforming--and the Christian Faith

In his book, Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell proposes that we need to reform the faith. Claiming the precedent set by Martin Luther, he insists that his mission is not only valid, but vital.

Now, I'm not against reformation. I'm not against staying in touch with the needs and language of the population, I would love to see a revival and a return of passion in the church, but Bell isn't talking about that. He says:

By this I do not mean cosmetic, superficial changes like better lights and music, sharper graphics, and new methods with easy to follow steps. "I mean theology: the beliefs about God, Jesus, the Bible, salvation, the future. We must keep reforming the way the Christian faith is defined, lived, and explained.

The heart of Martin Luther's reformation was the Bible. He believed what it said, that man was saved by grace, not by works; that man could reach God through Christ and did not have to go through priests. Reading the scripture made him realize how far the church had strayed from the truth. His reformation was a calling back to basic scriptural principles.

In contrast, the Emergent movement, agnostic in nature--we cannot know God, we cannot understand scripture, we cannot explain--wants to twist and bend, and in some cases remove these cardinal beliefs.

Luther's word was "Faith". Theirs is "Doubt."

In fact, Bell's church sponsored a "doubt night" where people sat around baring their souls with their lack of understanding. I don't feel that it is wrong to ask questions; but I see no value in questions without answers. Yes, Abraham did question God, but it was not his doubt that was commended: it was his faith.

I can just see the children of Israel, sitting around in the desert for a time of sharing and dialogue to air their doubts about the giants in Canaan...oh wait, that's exactly what they did. It cost them too.

Job asked questions also, but it was his trust in God that brought about his victory!

We should not presume to "darken counsel without knowledge".

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Emergent Christianity

I've just finished reading Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell, one of the hugely-popular leaders in the emergent church movement. Sure, I've seen a couple of his "Noomas" in chapel, and appreciated the particular needs they addressed, so I thought this book would be interesting and intense.

Well, I was right on that count; Rob states his "cutting edge" views with intensity--as if they are the only possible views for modern Christians. In many places I found myself nodding my head in agreement. Christianity is about knowing Christ. It is relational, and that's a strong point in the book's favor. However, Rob's insistence that Christianity needs to be "re-painted" every few years is a potentially dangerous concept: In passage after passage of this book, I felt that "gospel" was being white-washed, spruced-up, garnished with shades of meaning that aren't really in the Biblical text. Why? So it will fit with the themes of popular culture. I feel there is a great danger in where this leads. In repainting God in our image, we become the creators.

Blogs are short, so I won't try to cover all my discussion in this entry. Instead, I will be addressing one issue a day for the next week or so.

Why criticize, you say; just let the man alone; if he believes in Christ, that is enough. I criticize because I'm seeing half-truths and perilous attitudes being showered upon the younger generation; I'm afraid that in their acceptance of the newest re-painting, they will lose the image of what is basic about the faith:

Christ, who is God, came in the flesh, died for our sins, and rose again to reconcile us with the Father. We can know God. We can understand the scripture. Faith is stronger than Doubt. These are cardinal. They are important.