Archive for the ‘Emergent Church’ Category

Velvet Elvis Has Left the Building-IV

September 23, 2008

I stumbled across my copy of Velvet Elvis and decided to finish it and complete my postings on it- you can read the others elsewhere on my blog. What I read in the concluding chapters alarmed me but did not surprise me in the light of the earlier chapters. His suggestion that at the heart if the gospel is the message that Jesus believes in me and God has faith in me is just downright unbiblical. What did Jesus say, ‘The Son of Man came to help mankind fulfill its potential’? No,He came to seek and to save the lost. What did the early church proclaim, ‘Believe in yourself and everything will be fine’? No, repent of your sins and believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. Bell’s message is a travesty of the gospel.

The chapter where he then goes on to tell us that hell is full of forgiven people who have chosen to live outside God’s story is another travesty of the gospel. As is his half-baked suggestion that hell is this world gone wrong and that we are created to bring heaven to earth. This a shambolic distortion of the gospel.

Whilst I appreciate his call for the church to seek to make the gospel more of a practical reality in the world I disagree that the church has been created by God to serve the world. No, the church has been created by God to worship Him. Also his suggestion that the early church did not preach the resurrection because everyone believed in gods dying and rising displays a basic ignorance of Scripture. (What Scripture Bell uses throughout usually displays his complete inability to handle Scripture accurately).

This book is simply a terrible book and I continue with that sense of alarm that it is being widely promoted in Christian book shops. Much of what Bell says is simply not Christianity. I know some of you will think I’m too hard on Rob Bell. This is not a personality thing. So if you want to respond to this post don’t try to defend him as a great guy- I’m sure he is. But let’s deal with the ideas he is pushing in the name of Christianity.

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.

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.

‘Sure of what we hope for…’

August 16, 2007

I was searching Amazon for a book when I came across a list by ‘Christian reader on a journey’ of ‘fave emerging church books’ to which he added the qualification ‘haven’t read them all.’ It led me to wonder how you can a have a favourite book you haven’t read. Can you have a favourite movie you haven’t seen? Or a favourite person you haven’t met?

It also led me to look at one or two emerging church titles- ‘Velvet Elvis’ immediately caught my attention. As I read the reviews the thing that struck me about the book was that the appeal of the emergent church is that it opens up the way for people to ask questions. In some ways it appears to me as being more about doubt than faith. I certainly had that sense as I read Blue Like Jazz. We of course all live with doubt if we have real faith. But the Christian journey is not about letting our doubt flap about like a wind sock. Rather it is about being built up in the faith through the teaching of God’s word, within the body of Christ, as we strive for maturity. That maturity brings with it a deepening sense of certainty.(Ephesians 4:7-16).

Whilst we all have questions the heart of the Christian faith is not honest doubt. I sense that the emergent church movement has not only come out of the post modern mindset but that it has also been swallowed by it with its ‘how can anyone claim to know the truth?’ mantra.

I also wonder does it portray a cultural arrogance. As Job says, ‘Doubtless you are the people and wisdom will die with you.’ Is there not a need to look seriously at the roots of evangelical faith and see how it ’emerged?’ Is there not a need to look at why the church with its practices has ’emerged’ and be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water ? I once heard John Stott giving a lecture where he remarked that the modern church would save itself a lot of time if it were more familiar with the battles that previous generations of Christians have already fought. We are a moment in history not the whole story.(In that lecture Stott also made a remark the emergent folk might appreciate. He said we need to learn to be more agnostic about some of the things we are dogmatic about and more dogmatic about some of the things we are agnostic about).

The emergent church will help perform a service in our generation (apart from giving us great book titles) if it stirs us from complacency to be what we ought to be as evangelicals. That is as Luther put it ‘a reformed church always reforming.’ I also hope that those who are within the emerging movement engage with the existing church rather than fragment evangelicalism further. I hope too that they find sympathetic churches and pastors who will not fuel their doubts further but feed their faith, transforming their minds and warming their hearts.

And I will read Velvet Elvis and tell you what I think.

Christian Authenticity

July 12, 2007

I heard Tim Keller speak at the recent Evangelical Ministers Assembly in London. The theme of the conference was ‘Defining the Times:What is an Evangelical.’ If you were not there get hold of the recordings as his talks were excellent. He was wise, gracious and had a real cutting edge.

Given the theme and its current profile the Emergent Church movement was mentioned on several occasions. I was especially struck by one comment of Keller’s. That the emergent church in its quest to be relevant and authentic had undermined the gospel of penal substitution and in doing so it was in fact cutting people off from the simplicity of the gospel. Keller noted that for those who are broken by sin the message of grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ alone was one that they understood. But one that was being obscured in the emergent church movement with its emphasis on the kingdom.

Another of his key themes was that of the need for repentance in the Christian life, echoing the first of Luther’s 97 theses. That the whole of the Christian life is one of repentance. That even our repentance needs repented of! I was reminded through this theme, as with other EMA addresses that what our world cries out for is not our attempts to be relevant but our need to be real. What we truly need in our day is Christian authenticity.

As John Chrysostom, the 4th century bishop, once remarked, ‘There would be no more heathen if we would be true Christians.’

Off the Beaten Track

May 13, 2007

I must admit Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller would not be my usual fare but it was recommended to me so I picked up a copy. It was at once infuriating- he has terribly self-consciously hip style of writing; puzzling- at times he left me wondering what exactly he viewed as the essence of the Christian faith; funny- the Don Rabbit and Sexy Carrot cartoon is worth the entrance fee alone; and insightful- both in terms of the Christian faith and (post) modern culture. If you read it you will no doubt enjoy it. But it requires some discernment with regard to Don’s message. I suspect we learn more about Don Miller from the book than we do about the Christian faith.

Coming to a Church Near You

May 10, 2007

Until I read Don Carson’s book ‘Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church’(Zondervan,2005) I was not aware of the emergent church as a phenomenon. As I read the book however I realised that whilst I knew nothing of the emergent church as a movement I was familiar with many of its trappings and how they were becoming part of the evangelical scene- a reaction against confessional evangelicalism, an emphasis on evangelism as storytelling, a greater emphasis on symbols in the church, an emphasis on church as a holistic experience, not to mention the reworking of the atonement by Steve Chalke and the language ‘belonging before believing’ etc.
Carson provides a powerful critique of the movement whilst acknowledging some of its strengths. Even if like me you have not been conscious of the emergent church as a movement this book is well worth reading. It is worth reading because the trends that it has set in motion will undoubtedly impact our churches in this day of ecclesiastical meltdown. And it will help us see clearly where some trends which appear worthwhile are in fact heading. Not least it helps give a clear vision of the significance of maintaining the distinctives of historic evangelicalism.