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Rob Bell:  We Have to Keep Exploring

Orginally published on Thursday, October 06, 2005 at 5:00 PM
by Todd Rhoades

This is part of an interview with Rob Bell, talking about his new book "Velvet Elvis" recently featured in the Dallas News:

Question: Explain the significance of the title Velvet Elvis.

Answer: It's from my favorite verse in the Bible.

Question: Wow, I missed that one.

Answer: No, I'm just messing with you.

I have an Elvis on black velvet painting in my basement. In the corner the painter signed his or her name "R." Just R. Because when you're this good, you don't need to write your whole name.

What if, when R. got done with my velvet Elvis, R. had announced there was no more need to paint? That we've got the last painting, we're done, put down your brushes. We all laugh because we understand the nature of art. We intuitively understand that art is about endless possibilities and infinite arrangements. We understand with art that you keep going. We have to keep painting, keep sculpting, keep writing songs, keep exploring.

Many times, what happens in faith communities is that someone paints a painting that's very compelling and then announces they're ready to put down the brush. The next generation comes along, and says, 'I guess you guys liked the painting, but it doesn't work for us' and the painting ends up in the basement. So I'm exploring theology as an art form.

Question: In your book, you write, "God doesn't change, but times do." From your vantage point, how do Christians know the difference between changing with the times, and attempting to change God to fit current needs?

Answer: Central to orthodox, historic Christian faith has been an awareness that God acts in history redemptively, through people, to redeem the institutions they create and the society around them. God is about being a father to the fatherless, is about the oppressed, those who have been marginalized, forgotten, neglected. If this faith doesn't lead to more compassion, more justice, more love, then it has veered dangerously off course. If what we're exploring doesn't continue this beautiful, captivating, compelling historical redemptive movement ? then we're in trouble. We have lost the plot somewhere along the way.

Question: You talked about how people confuse particular beliefs with God. What exactly is belief?

Answer: In the Scriptures, belief works in tandem with action. Our actions are reflective of our beliefs, but our beliefs drive our actions. So what I'm interested in reclaiming is the importance of these two together.

Sometimes faith becomes all about what people believe, and how you act doesn't really matter. But in the Scriptures, how you act very much matters. Like it says, what does God require of you but to love justice and mercy and to walk humbly? Those are all actions.

There's this great line in the Book of James: "Even the demons believe." So if belief is just about a bunch of stuff in your head that you have intellectually assented to ? well, Jesus really takes religious leaders to the shed over that. At one point he says to a crowd, 'Do what these people tell you, but don't do what they do.' Because they believe a bunch of stuff but it has no bearing on how they actually act.

But if we're honestly going to talk about action, you have to talk about what you believe. They always work together.

Question: In your book you write, "So the way of Jesus is not about religion, it's about reality. It's about lining yourself up with how things are." Explain what you mean.

Answer: In the Letter to the Colossians, Paul says, whether it's a new moon or a Sabbath or a religious feast, those are all shadows of the reality. The reality is found in Christ. So I would say that these symbols and religious rituals are incredibly important, but they help mediate the divine. They aren't the divine.

The Christian rite of communion is this mysterious, ancient meal that we take with this bread and this cup. It's like a portal, a window into the deeper realities of grace, reconciliation, forgiveness, sacrifice. The point is living in harmony as God made us ? caring for each other, forgiving each other, carrying each other's burdens.

Even church, the reason we gather, study together, sing together, is about something much more profound than an hour on Sunday or a particular program or methodology.

Question: You're offering a different way of looking at Christian faith. Are you coming from some personal perspective that perhaps gave you this calling?

Answer: I grew up with Christian parents on the edge of church. My parents are Christian, but very much thinking, questioning, probing Christians. They never bought the whole thing, either.

I would say I've been restless from Day One. I really want to be a part of it. I live in a world with lots of people who just don't buy a lot of it. So these are all things in my own struggle and journey that I've had to deal with. How do you have a brain and take things very seriously, take them with the seriousness they deserve, and be a person of faith?

I don't think I'm doing anything new. The Christian tradition has been filled with questions and doubts, with people rethinking massive areas of the faith. It's just the current dominant Christian worldview that isn't very reflective of the larger tradition it comes from. It says, 'This is the party line,' and if you have questions or doubts you're seen as odd or worse yet as a heretic. But church tradition is filled with people saying, "Hold on a minute, there."

Question: As I've followed the emerging church, there's almost an insistence on being passionate and adventurous and thriving on change and uncertainty. I wonder if leaders are confusing their personal temperaments and aesthetic preferences with, say, God's will.

Answer: Sometimes a movement will arise that says, "We all need to be like this." And coincidentally that happens to be the temperament of the people who started it. But true spirituality, and the kind of life God intends for us, is much more about each of us being who we were made to be, and then learning to love and accept the other, the person who's not like me or who does not look like me.

You can get a copy of "Velvet Elvis" here at Amazon.com...

Any comments?


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 TRACKBACKS: (0) There are 9 Comments:

  • Posted by

    [In the Scriptures, belief works in tandem with action. Our actions are reflective of our beliefs, but our beliefs drive our actions. So what I’m interested in reclaiming is the importance of these two together.

    Sometimes faith becomes all about what people believe, and how you act doesn’t really matter. But in the Scriptures, how you act very much matters. Like it says, what does God require of you but to love justice and mercy and to walk humbly? Those are all actions.

    There’s this great line in the Book of James: “Even the demons believe.” So if belief is just about a bunch of stuff in your head that you have intellectually assented to well, Jesus really takes religious leaders to the shed over that. At one point he says to a crowd, ‘Do what these people tell you, but don’t do what they do.’ Because they believe a bunch of stuff but it has no bearing on how they actually act.

    But if we’re honestly going to talk about action, you have to talk about what you believe. They always work together.]

    Doctrine and Deed:  2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

    I can’t remember the term but it’s Scripture reiterating Truth two (or three) consecutive times:  doctrine - reproof (deed), correction (doctrine) - instruction inrighteousness (deed).

    So why do we have Scripture???  For Doctrine (God Teaching His people) and Deed (that they may be light - Hope).

    Beliefs are a dime a dozen as they rely on conviction and trust.  A person can be taught the truth (Sound Doctrine) yet deny it on their own beliefs (conviction and trust).  This issue of reality comes from the lack of knowledge and understanding in the principles of Who the True and Living God IS (His attributes and Charachter).

    You’ll never know or understand reality without Knowing Him (beginning with Sovereignty).

    People (including Christians) can be deceived so easily into conviction (don’t do, should do, we should do, be this or that) and trust on anything other than God (relationships, investments, good advice, planning and goals, etc).

    Not that any of these are bad in and of themselves.  “Don’t do” is God ordained (thou shalt not) “be this” is taught by Christ, “relationships” is God Blessed (and the two shall become one) but when twisted through lies and falsehoods, these can ALL become self-serving.

    This is the great battle of our day friends.  Standing on Truth alone and AGAINST self.  It’s not really a new battle, Believers in God’s Salvation through The Christ have stood for 6 thousand years BUT it is inside the camp, heart and mind of believers across the board.

    The teachers, preachers, evangalists, and others have embraced half truth’s or at least the 99% truth and .01% of a falsehood which when applied Scripturally, equates to 100% false (a little leaven...).

    There is absolute truth that has NOT changed from the beginning and it is THIS we should concentrate our greatest efforts in knowing and understanding.

    This is where Faith grows.

    This is from where confidence comes.

    This is what the “early church” BELIEVED and sacrificed their lives for (even in opposition to those in the “early churches” of Galatia, Philipi, Corinth, etc).

    The author is ABSOLUTELY right, people are convicted by their beliefs and trust these convictions and take action on them.

    What I disagree with is the prescription that we should “know what we believe”.  If the belief is wrong to begin with then you’re just planning to know this wrong belief more and more.

    The prescription is to KNOW HIM FULLY.  Ephesians 4:13
    Knowing what we believe and knowing Him Fully can be said is “one and the same” but not so fast.  There is a slight difference between the two (one is based on Him the other is based on self) and like a slight miscalculation by NASA can make the difference between the men walking on the moon or being lost in space forever, so it is with Knowing WHO GOD IS.

    When we as Christians miss knowing Him Fully, we end up outside of where we were to be, like Abraham in Egypt and Israel in the Wilderness and when we’re not developing our Knowledge IN HIM we will never fully know ourselves (yet we’ll trust in our own belief which will at this point be based on self without even realizing it).

    Believe doesn’t change Him, He changes not but our beliefs can and God Willing, will change (conform) to HIM.

    This isn’t about actions as much as it is about Sound Doctrine.

    The action changes according to the convictions.  Don’t just “get busy” or “plug in” (an “energy” term) - these are simply actions to keep one busy (and a great method of the natural man).

    Be busy Knowing Him and you’ll see the every day actions (deeds - or in context - belief) with family and friends change from the inside out (as oppossed to the visual deception of believing that people who are about “the work” of God must really know Him - we know this just isn’t true - don’t get busy unless it’s in Seeking to know Him, not just more, but FULLY).

    My friends, may we grow in the Grace and Knowledge of Jesus Christ

    BTW. The James reference ties in beautifully with Paul’s definitive teaching on what THE Gospel is, in 1 Corinthians 15, in that believing in vain is exactly what James and Paul are both refering to.  Gaurd yourself against teachers who teach another gospel.

  • Posted by

    BeHim,

    You write\"The teachers, preachers, evangalists, and others have embraced half truth’s or at least the 99% truth and .01% of a falsehood which when applied Scripturally, equates to 100% false (a little leaven...).”

    BUT… I get from this and other posts of yours that you think if someone is wrong about ONE LITTLE detail out of however many, then their entire teaching and preaching is false. That is preposterous, and by the way, “a little leaven” seems to refer to sinful behavior, not wrong doctrine. Read it in context again.

    And frankly, I think you are looking for an excuse to beat the Sound Doctrine drum again, and reading into the interview more than a little. Let’s comment on what’s being SAID in the post, not make an excuse for our own particular agenda.

    That said, Rob says “ If this faith doesn’t lead to more compassion, more justice, more love, then it has veered dangerously off course. If what we’re exploring doesn’t continue this beautiful, captivating, compelling historical redemptive movement then we’re in trouble.” I hope this breaks our hearts. Often we are so busy defining our faith or pressing our agendas or even reading blogs and posting to them that we fail to DO the gospel in our fallen world, to be the presence of Christ in the lives of the broken. Let’s break this blasted chain of events! Let’s not be known for what we’re against, but for what we’re FOR! God’s redemptive work in history, even the history of today.

  • Posted by

    {I don’t think I’m doing anything new. The Christian tradition has been filled with questions and doubts, with people rethinking massive areas of the faith. It’s just the current dominant Christian worldview that isn’t very reflective of the larger tradition it comes from. It says, ‘This is the party line,’ and if you have questions or doubts you’re seen as odd or worse yet as a heretic. But church tradition is filled with people saying, “Hold on a minute, there."}
    I’m sorry, but Church tradition is filled with those who desired to fully understand the Word of God more and not just “reflecting” on church tradition.
    I don’t think that William Tyndale just wanted to be more “reflective” and do Christianity his own way. He wanted the common man to have in their hand the Word of God that they could read and understand in their own language.
    I don’t think that Martin Luther just decided one day that the traditions of the church were just “old-fashioned” and not “with it” in the day he lived, so he just thought of some ways the church could be more relevant. He saw some serious violations of the Word of God that the Roman Catholic church had been teaching.
    To equate the “emerging generation” and other fads with the reformation is just foolishness, ignorance of history and ignorance of the Word of God.
    By the way, Peter, if you have a small belief concerning Christ that is not correct, it will skew most of what you believe about everything else. We are not to have any “creative” or personal interpretation of the Bible.
    Jesus said that the way of righteousness is very narrow and straight, but the way of destruction is wide. This rebellious generation refuses to acknowledge the idea that there is “one way” to the Father. We want to use our creativity and make our own way.
    (But true spirituality, and the kind of life God intends for us, is much more about each of us being who we were made to be, and then learning to love and accept the other, the person who’s not like me or who does not look like me. )

    The popular concept such as this is very “me” centered and “tolerance” centered, which is totally humanistic.
    This concept completely throws out the Word of God that tells us that if we repent, believe in our heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, and verbalize it, that we will be saved. The Word also says that we become “new creatures” in Christ. The other way focuses on the intellect of man and the emotional waves of man’s ponderings. Whatever is accepted today will have to be changed tomorrow when the culture changes.
    I did not read one thing about the Bible in this interview. That is frightening when the church feels that the Bible is not relevant to society. In reality, we have to become relevant to God. He did His part.
    This pragmatic religion is very freudian and secular in nature and not Christian in nature.
    The “we just need to get along” version of Christianity will only make it in the US and will not make it when a gunman is trying to get you to deny your faith.

  • Posted by

    I reread this interview. I formerly said that I did not read one thing about the Bible. I was wrong in that he DID speak of the scriptures and the book of James. The focus that I picked up on was on our belief and action. That is very important because what we believe WILL determine our actions.
    The problem I guess I have is there is TOO MUCH focus on US and OUR belief, and not on the Word of God. The old saying “The Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it” should say, “The Bible said it, that settles it.”
    In reality most of our Protestant tradition comes from the Roman Catholic church, which hijacked the church through Constantine. Those things that we do that are not Bible-based can be thrown out. While our thrust should not be change for change’ sake, but we should change to a more Biblical based practice. Those new moons, etc that Paul talked about were a revelation of Christ. The Passover meal,(not communion, which the RC put in the church) also reveals Christ.
    When we replace Biblical traditions with a bunch of pierced and tatooed individuals jumping around to music that bearly mentions Christ, and someone who stands up and gives a speak about something they are going through in a relationship or whatever, we have effectively created our own religion.

  • Posted by

    Very effective posts Thomas, Todd is trying to teach me (and rightly so) how to right this way.  I thank the Lord for your words and your stand.

    Peter

    [BUT… I get from this and other posts of yours that you think if someone is wrong about ONE LITTLE detail out of however many, then their entire teaching and preaching is false. That is preposterous, and by the way, “a little leaven” seems to refer to sinful behavior, not wrong doctrine. Read it in context again.]

    Here’s the thing Peter, when they are wrong, wouldn’t it be the right thing to want to know where and how they are wrong Scripturally then conform to the Word of God?  This is the problem.  Many when they are shown their error adamantly deny it THEN defend it THEN speak out against the person who pointed out with (usually):"Their arrogant” “judgemental” “not loving”

    It’s not that I like pointing out errors (because many non-essential I overlook) but when they are major errors that can deceive people, I MUST stand against the error (I am compelled to do so).

    For example, when THE Gospel isn’t TRULY being preached or taught.  That is a MAJOR error that True Believers SHOULD stand against.  That’s all. I’m not trying to pick a fight, I’m writing what I am compelled in Scripture to stand and speak about.  I’ve said many times I’m willing to put assumptions to the test of Scripture, it’s how I learn and conform to Him.

    [That is preposterous, and by the way, “a little leaven” seems to refer to sinful behavior, not wrong doctrine. Read it in context again.]

    BTW.  Behavior is equal to deeds (doing) which are influenced by teaching (doctrine), which is ENTIRELY in context.  Scripture is given for Doctrine and Deed and they DO go hand-in-hand.

    Surely you’re not suggesting a person’s behavior has nothing to do with what they have been taught (doctrine)?

    Also Peter, I have had some very good conversations with you (privately) and I appreciate your friendship, please don’t misunderstand my posts or our conversations as something personal, I know you are doing the best you can in serving Him, I’m only making suggestions for ALL of us (myself included) to consider in our daily sacrifices for Him.  I praise God for some of the men God has placed in my life here on these blogs and I pray He will touch many others with the Desire to Know Him Fully in and through Scripture, not belief.

    My friends may we all grow in the Grace and Knowledge of Jesus the Christ.

  • Posted by

    How anyone is falling for all this post modern emergent stuff is way beyond me. Look the Bible is the Bible and what i says is relivant for everyone ALWAYS, so lets quit saying that we are making the same message relivant, lets call it like it is. Th emergent church movement, is watering down the Gospel, and is very obviously attracting to peoples appeal. It focuses on Love, Peace joy and Happiness, and leaves out Righteousness, Judgment, and Repentance. Lets not fool ourselves people this is the movement that the Book of Revelations speaks of. This is the forming of the one world reigion. Watch i kid you not it has masked itself to look great, Peace, Love, Kindness but has left out the crux of the Bible. The GOSPEL wanna hear the gospel go to http://www.needgod.com be truly saved, not falsely deceived.

  • Posted by

    Jeff - its not about making it relevant - you are responding to the wrong group - secondly in regards to teaching the word of God - JESUS, THE FIRST CHURCH, and every beautiful powerful church community since has preached the gospel in the language and understanding of the culture....ITS A GOOD THING - you read to many lefft behind books...Listen to a rob bell sermon - and then be surprised at his annointing to preach the scripture....

    and PLEASE EVERYONE READ THIS

    how can the bible be authoratative:
    http://www.mhbcmi.org/learn/HOW_CAN_THE_BIBLE_BE_AUTHORITATIVE.pdf

  • Posted by

    When we replace Biblical traditions with a bunch of pierced and tatooed individuals jumping around to music that bearly mentions Christ, and someone who stands up and gives a speak about something they are going through in a relationship or whatever, we have effectively created our own religion.

    COMMENTS LIKE THIS! - WHO ARE YOU RESPONDING TOO ??- PLEASE dont lambast something you dont understand - your ignorance and tone is disheartening.

  • Posted by Daniel

    I don’t see anything here to get all in a huff about.  Rob Bell gave a fantastic interview about the centrality of orthopraxis.  The entire conversation assumed a thoroughly Christian understanding of orthodoxy and the authority of scripture.  And yet there are always people to tear down the ECM straw man (post-modern, wishy-washy, and worst of all, tattooed!!!!).  Fiddlesticks.
    We will continue to strive to live as followers of Jesus.  True-Holy-Super-Reformed-Doctrine-Bashers will say what they will say.
    Cheers,
    -Daniel-

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