Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Paint Away

Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith
by Rob Bell

This is a writer and pastor to pay attention to. Very similar to Brian McClaren, he is articulating things that people of faith have been experiencing for a long time, but that very few have had the courage to give voice to. He is able to unapologetically identify himself as a follower of Christ, yet also acknowledge and embrace the truth to be found in other traditions. Like a true adherent of the Reformed faith, he says that we as Christians have to constantly be in a process of examining our faith and doctrine and discerning what parts of it still have meaning and what needs to be re-thought in light of cultural shifts and new understandings of one another.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

"For thousands of years followers of Jesus, like artists, have understood that we have to keep going, exploring what it means to live in harmony with God and each other. The Christian faith tradition is filled with change and growth and transformation. Jesus took part in this process by calling people to rethink faith and the Bible and hope and love and everything else, and by inviting them into the endless process of working out how God created us to live (pgs. 10-11)."

"The Christian faith is alive only when it is listening, morphing, innovating, letting go of whatever has gotten in the way of Jesus and embracing whatever will help us be more and more the people God wants us to be (p. 11)."

"To be a Christian is to claim truth wherever you find it (p. 81)."

"Missions is less about the transportation of God from one place to another and more about the identification of a God who is already there. It is almost as if being a good missionary means having really good eyesight. Or maybe it means teaching people to use their eyes to see things that have always been there; they just didn't realize it. You see God where others don't. And then you point God out...So the issue isn't so much taking Jesus to people who don't have him, but going to a place and pointing out to the people there the creative, life-giving God who is already present in their midst (pgs.87-88)."

"For Jesus, eternal life wasn't a state of being for the future that we would enter into somewhere else; it is a quality of life that starts now. Eternal life then is a certain kind of life I am living more and more now and will go on forever. I am living more and more in connection with God, and I will live connected with God forever...For Jesus the question wasn't 'how do I get into heaven?' but 'how do I bring heaven here?'(pgs. 143 and 147)."

I think Rob Bell has his finger on an energizing shift that is taking taking place within the faith - less emphasis on guilt and fence-building, less encouragement for us to decide who is "in" and who is "out" and more emphasis on seeking truth and creating the kingdom of God in the here and now. It's not so much that he has invented this evolution as that he has noticed it and is bringing it out into the light of day. Change is less scary when it is named and expressed.

I would love to drink a Coke with this guy and pick his brain. Since he lives in Michigan, I don't see that happening any time soon. He is someone whose ideas could (and should) have a major impact on the church of the 21st century. Since I cannot dialogue with him personally, I will continue to read his stuff and wrestle with it. He challenges us all, but in a hopeful, exhilarating way.

Reverent Reader


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