Velvet Elvis II

I realized that I should probably include page numbers so that you know which section of the book I’m referring to in any given post.  Since I’m moving sequentially through the book, it should be pretty obvious, but I may not comment on something at the beginning or end of a section specifically, leaving you to wonder where I began and ended.

This post deals with pages 18-21.

Bell does a great job of painting pictures with his words.  His simplicity of language is so evocative that I can see in my head exactly what he’s talking about, even though he hasn’t drown me in adjectives.  I like that.  It  makes it easy to read, which is important when you’re dealing with issues like systematic theology!

He’s dead on about the issue of  belief, and the fact that we all have it.  One of the great false dichotomies of the post-Enlightenment period was and remains a distinction between fact and values, truth and belief.  The fatal step in making this distinction is in determining that Aristotelian, empirical scientific methods are the means  for determining truth/fact/reality, while faith and belief exist in other, unrelated realms.  Of course, with this sort of distinction, the endpoint is that science is objective and true, while belief is something that may or may not be true, with the inevitable conclusion being that it is *not* true. 

I’m sure that the first steps into this distinction were not malevolent entirely.  After all, it’s a fact that there are some things you can test in a laboratory, and some you can’t.  The problem is in dividing things into two categories with apparently very little overlap.  In fact, they overlap a lot.  Bell points this out.  Everyone has faith.  Every scientist  bases his or her work on presuppositions of those who trained them.  It determines what their preconceived notions about an outcome might be.  It determines what experiments they choose to engage in and how they go about them, as well as which experiments they don’t do, either because there is no perceived value or the thought just never crossed their mind.  Faith is universal. 

However I disagree with the path that Bell takes this down starting on page 20 and the subsection labeled “Way”. 

His approach is very engaging and makes a lot of sense, but it also completely ignores the deepest levels of truth and reality that Jesus embodied in all of his teachings and actions.  There are plenty of faiths and ideaologies that revolve around concepts of generosity or compassion or peacefulness, to name a few of his examples.  These are not the distinctive marks of a Christian – though it’s interesting to note that in periods when such marks were the norm instead of the exception, Christians made quite an impression on those who observed and interacted with them. 

The ‘Way’ of Jesus is relational, not idealogical.  This is a fundamental error I see Christians making in apologetics.  As though Christianity was just another set of ideas or beliefs or behaviors for people to choose and embody.  It’s not.  The core of Christianity is relationship, rather than regulations.  Jesus often focused on behaviors because by and large he was ministering and teaching people who professed to understand and subscribe to the necessary theological abstracts.  He was preaching and ministering among the Chosen People of God, and so concepts such as monotheism and a creator/creature distinction and a personal God involved in space and time could be left more often to focus on behavior.  After all, if your beliefs never find their way into your behavior, they aren’t really something you believe in, right?

He wraps up on page 21 a little stronger, though.  It is a matter of how you live as well as what you believe.  To separate the two is to fall into the error of the fact/value distinction. 

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