Archive for April, 2008

Velvet Elvis has Left the Building- III

April 30, 2008

Credit where credit is due. Rob Bell’s chapter on holistic Christianity and the need for leaders not to seek validation through their ministry is better than the earlier chapters of the book. But still the questions linger about his understanding of the Christian faith.

For example what does he mean when he speaks of ‘a new kind of Christian faith…for the new world we find ourselves in’? What is wrong with ‘the faith once for all delivered to the saints’? If the world is changing rapidly does that mean that Christianity has to change with it? Is there something wrong with my faith because I do not see things the way Bell does?

Then there are the New Age type of comments, ‘The energy in the place was unreal.’ What exactly does that mean? Whose energy? Where did it come from? Or ‘We have to listen to what our inner voice is saying.’ Do we? I’m not sure that’s a biblical category? Surely our need is to listen not to ourselves but to the voice of God.

Also there are the statements which play fast and loose with doctrine, ‘It is possible for the cross to have done something for a person but not in them.’ That is not an interpretation of either the atonement or the Christian life that I find anywhere in the Bible- that a person can be truly justified and yet not have their life transformed by the power of God.

It seems to me that there are several possible to understanding Bell’s throw-away lines. One is that he is theologically ignorant-which I doubt. Two, these really are throw-away lines and Bell does not realise what he is saying.  But his work is too well-crafted for that. Thirdly, and most likely, Bell is trying to reinvent the historic language of the Christian faith. He is either doing this because he is trying really hard to be hip- yuck! If that is true he is arrogant and deliberately seeking to alienate other Christians. Or he is reinventing the language because he is reinventing the faith. Only time will fully tell where Bell is going.


April 29, 2008

With the media obession that seems to follow here everywhere Miley Ray Cyrus aka Hannah Montana has created a feeding frenzy. This because of her decision to pose semi-nude for Vanity Fair magazine. The shoot has caused controversy for a number of reasons. In the first instance it has caused a furore because Miley’s demographic is 9-14 year old girls. What message does this send out? It has caused problems for Miley herself who says shes is embarrassed by the pictures and was conned into them. Obviously getting undressed in front of a photographer didn’t ring any alarm bells then! Furthermore, Miley’s actions have caused controversy coming on the back of her stance as a self-confessed born-again Christian who derives strength and direction from her faith- rewind to Britney Spears. Sadly the question she now faces is whether she has simply sought to trade on her ‘faith’  to bolster her girl next door image which now lies in tatters.

However badly Miley comes out of this those who really come out badly are  her family to whom she ascribes her Christian values. For they are prepared to see their teenage daughter sexualised in the quest to further her career and to keep the golden goose laying.

Miley Cyrus has again shown the perils of using the Christian faith as little more than a marketing tool where Christianity is seen as a market to be wooed. She will undoubtedly be lambasted by some but hopefully she will also hear words of grace. Hopefully the spotlight will move from her to her acquisitive family and they will be called to account. Hopefully too some in the Christian world will take a long hard look at the kind of Christianity that creates poster girls like Miley who are built up for commercial purposes and allowed to be sucked into the show biz beast

Velvet Elvis has left the Building-II

April 24, 2008

I managed another chapter of Velvet Elvis. It struck me as Schleiermacher for the 21st century- Schleiermacher being widely acknowledged as the father of theological liberalism. According to Bell, like Schleiermacher, all our experiences of transcendence are experiences of God. Its difficult not to conclude that Bell’s theology is taking him in the direction of either pantheism or panentheism. It one point he tells the story of a couple getting married who choose a scene of outstanding beauty to exchange vows because ‘something holds it together.’ They agree that same force also brought them together and they agree to call this ‘glue’ God. The problem of course is whether this ‘glue’ bears any correlation to the triune God of the Bible? What authenticates Christian ‘experience’ from all other experience?

Its not hard to see where Bell is going. I imagine little will be said in this book about sin impairs our capacity for spiritual understanding let alone our relationship with God. His arguments will unless I am much mistaken will lead towards inclusivism.

Velvet Elvis has left the Building

April 23, 2008

At long last I have got around to reading Rob Bell’s ‘Velvet Elvis’ -well, starting to read it, I’ve managed the first two chapters and haven’t decided if I’ll bother with the rest. It’s a great title, well laid out and written in a style that makes me feel like an old square. But it is a book that already has raised many concerns. The fact that it is stacked high in a key spot in the local Wesley Owen bookshop is a worrying development. It will be attractive to many young Christians but if this is their diet then we are in for a lot of trouble. Here and there Bell make sense but sometimes its where he makes sense that he is most alarming.

What concerns me about the book is not only what is said but the way in which it is said. it has the appearance of wisdom and yet its basic arguments are deeply flawed. Example- in chapter 1 Bell argues that doctrines ought not to be thought of as bricks in a wall creating an edifice that will crumble should one brick be removed. Instead they ought to be treated as springs in a trampoline which give expression to our experiences of God. Like Bell I find the prospect of jumping on a trampoline more exhilarating than defending a brick wall. But what good is the trampoline if there are no springs? And might you not wish to defend your trampoline every bit as much as your brick wall if someone were trying to steal its springs? Bell is in effect talking gibberish.

Bell also speaks in this chapter of inviting people to join him on his trampoline. (Do they bring their own springs or use Bell’s -I’m not sure!) For him this is how one becomes a Christian by living the Christian life and discovering its reality. It’s a far cry from NT pictures of the Christian life which begin not with an experiment but new birth and wholehearted, life-surrendering commitment to Jesus. What happens in Bell’s version when the experience doesn’t measure up to their expectations as often happens in the course of our spiritual journey? Is there any reality beyond what we experience?

Nor does Bell’s logic improve in chapter 2. Here he gets himself in a right muddle- along with anyone else who cares to listen to him. Here he suggests that Matthew 16:19 is the hermeneutical key to Scripture. According to Bell this is Jesus giving his followers authority to make new interpretations of the Bible. Clearly that is not what the passage is about. I know of no serious Bible commentator who would suggest that. Bell clearly takes a flier on this one. But then goes on to criticise those who do not interpret the Bible in community but read it on their own. He criticises those who read the Bible assuming they do so free from outside influences- physician heal thyself.

Alarmingly for all that Bell says about reading Scripture in context he he seems to ignore that rule himself. More alarmingly he appears to be leading others down the road that Scripture has no fixed meaning.

This book is so logically flawed and misdirected I’m not sure if it is worth precious time finishing it.

A Little Less POMO and A Bit More Solomon

April 17, 2008

Peter Leithart’s book ‘Solomon Amongst the Postmoderns’ offers an intriguing prospect. And to some extent I enjoyed the book. His thesis is that postmodernity is in some respects not such a radical break from modernity but exposes many of the weaknesses of modernity.  He also examines many of the attitudes that underpin pomo. He writes in a pacy manner which allows him to cover significant historical developments in intellectual history quite quickly. The biggest disappointment for me was how little of a look in Solomon received. Other than considering all things to be vapour (Leithart prefers this term to meaningless or vanity) there was little interaction with Solomon.

Overall? An interesting book rather than a must read. If you are preaching on Ecclesiastes you might gain a few interesting lines of enquiry to pursue.

It’s Sunday but Monday’s Coming

April 7, 2008

It’s Monday but what do you remember of Sunday’s sermon(s)? How quickly we can forget what we hear on Sunday and suddenly the word of God is no longer to our profit. In 1734 Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon on Hebrews 2:1 on the danger of hearing the word of God preached and then neglecting what we have heard. Although the whole sermon is worth reading his applicatory comments are helpful and worth considering on a Monday! Below I’ve given some heads in relation to his applications.

  1. Hearers should listen diligently and seek instruction.
  2. Seek to put what you have heard into practice at the earliest opportunity.
  3. Review what you have heard as the days pass.
  4. Meditate in particular upon those things that have made the greatest impression upon you.
  5. Pray over what you have heard.
  6. Discuss what you have heard with others.
  7. Do not fill Sunday with diversions that will detract from God’s word.

We are all swift to speak of a poor preacher but there are many of us who are poor hearers and we need to give more careful attention to ourselves.