Archive for July, 2007

Velvet Elvis pgs.105-107, “Shalom”

July 25, 2007

A good section, and a logical starting point after his introductory material in the early part of this section.  His point about the holistic nature of God’s peace is important.  Too often I think Christians have this quasi-gnostic idea that the body is a bad thing and it’s the spirit that matters.  But we were created – pre-Fall – as both body and spirit.  It is only when the two are properly joined that we can be said to be truly human.  That’s the devestating awfulness of death – it separates the body and soul for some period of time.  This is what we fear.  I believe at a primal level, we know this is what death is, and why we’re so scared of it.

Bell’s exegesis about the woman being healed is interesting.  It could be very valid.  Then again, she could have just been desperate.  Who knows how educated she was?  Who knows how well-versed she was in the Scriptures?  This was a woman who had lived on the outside of society for a LONG time.  If you were desperate enough, wouldn’t you try just about anything – anyone – that promised the possibility of a cure?

My pointing this out is that with Bell’s exegesis, the woman has the intellectual side of faith together.  At least in Lutheran circles, this is the only side we have left, all too often.  Intellectual assent and rationalizations.  We believe, but we don’t act.  We confess, but we stand still.  This woman acted, she moved.  Did she have her theology properly in place to motivate her movement?  Maybe.  But maybe not.  Maybe, she acted in desperation with the faith of the desperate, and that was enough.  Maybe the intellectual side of it was superfluous.  Jesus certainly doesn’t quiz her to see if she has him properly figured out.

I wish that more Lutherans today acted and moved from that level of desperation and need.  The need to risk so much on the odd chance that God might answer their prayer.

Velvet Elvis pgs.96-105, intro & “Unleashing a Monster”

July 25, 2007

There are large portions of this section that seem mostly pointed towards pastors and other church leadership positions.  Advice from someone who has ‘made it’ and seen what the dangers are.  Valuable advice, but I can’t help but feel that it detracts overall from the tone and purpose of the book.  More of a segue that seems to point to his anticipated audience, when all along it seemed as though his ideal audience was someone much different.

Be that as it may, I simply want to comment that some of what he describes here are just some of the problems with the mega-church model that has been much ballyhooed in the last 20 years or so.  The idea that if we just super-size church, it reaches some sort of critical mass for a chain reaction to keep going and going seems fundamentally flawed.

It doesn’t seem to be Biblical, for starters.  And while that doesn’t automatically mean that it’s wrong, it does leave me to wonder whether the drive for bigger is mostly a drive for ego.  How much better are people ministered to when there are thousands of them than when there are dozens?  How many people slip through the cracks in a mega-church?  I have no desire to ever lead a church that large.  Should we start heading in that direction, I’ll start advocating to plant another church instead.  I believe firmly that church works best when it’s relationally-based, rather than program-based.

That being said, I absolutely *LOVE* how he describes what he and his friends wanted church to be.  A place that people wanted to come, looked forward to coming to.  Not a marketing driven entity, but something where the Holy Spirit could fire people up in a way no human program could ever do.  A place for questions – sometimes with answers, sometimes with no answers. A place for prayer.  Continuous, constant prayer.  Alone, in groups, corporately, prayer. 

Church as it has come to be defined in America is a curious thing.  Come and sit and stand and sing and chant and respond and sit and listen and give money and move up to the altar and sit back down and sit and stand and go home.  Very unidirectional overall.  The pastor preaches and the people receive.  Of course, this has great validity.  But does that mean that it should be the only direction of communication in a church service?  Do we honestly have to wonder why unchurched people would be so freaked out and turned off by this sort of process?  Why would anyone *want* to come to something like this? 

How could it be different?  What would it be like if people were grappling with Scripture together and guided towards understanding?  What would it be like if prayer were a vital, unscripted part of the service rather than simply the formalized recitation it is in all too many churches? 

How do we make church a place people want to be, instead of a place people feel badgered into being?  A great question.  I’d love to visit Bell’s church to see how he does it.  I fear that perhaps a great deal of it is just based on his personal charisma.  But maybe not.

Velvet Elvis pgs. 91-92, “Recognizing God”

July 24, 2007

Yes, to a point.

The point is well made, and could and should probably be made much stronger, that there is no where that God is not, and there is no thing that does not exist or come into being except by God’s direct working. 

However just because you enjoy something doesn’t necessarily mean that God is in that in the way that He would like to be.

I suppose sex is a great example, since our culture is so obsessed with it.  Anybody who has experienced the wonders of sex will agree that it’s a powerful thing, not only physically but emotionally and spiritually as well.

I’m sure that many people might say their passion and joy and exhileration comes from and through sex.  So much so, that they may not feel constrained to keep their sexuality within the bounds of marriage, or even to spoil the fun with marriage at all.  They may be more passionate, more joyful, and more exhilerated in having sex with a different person every weekend.

Is God in that behavior, in that joy and passion and exhileration?


And no.

Yes, because God created sex.  Don’t let anybody tell you differently – God made sex, sex is great, and God intended it to be great.  Within the proper parameters that maintain respect for the man and woman (yes, I mean that).  God created our sexuality just as he intended us for committment to one other person.  So yes, God is in the joy of even illicit sex, because, as with everything else, you couldn’t be enjoying it if God were not enabling you to experience pleasure.

But it’s not how God intended sex to be.  And so in that sense, God is not present in the fact that sex with a different person every weekend, or sex beyond the safety of marriage displeases God. 

So God is everywhere.  All the time.  We don’t stumble upon him, as though he is suddenly there when he wasn’t a second earlier.  He doesn’t arrive on the scene after us.  He’s everywhere all the time.  But just because you’re passionate about something and really enjoying it doesn’t necessarily mean that you and God are on the same page.

Velvet Elvis pgs. 89-91, “Our Story”

July 24, 2007

Beautiful.  Enough of this crap about a ‘personal faith’ or ‘that’s between Jesus and me’.  We are the body of Christ.  Joined – temporally and eternally – in Christ.  The sooner we remember this and begin acting like it, the happier we’ll be in the long run. 

Velvet Elvis pgs. 87-89, “Tour Guide”

July 24, 2007

I like the metaphor of a tour guide.  But it does allow for one erroneous viewpoint.  It’s been a prevalent viewpoint through the modern era of the past two hundred years or more. 

This error is that if someone can’t see the truth of Scripture, the truth of Jesus Christ and the truth of God the Father who created everything, that person is either stupid or evil.

This flawed viewpoint has contributed much to abuse in almost any religious system you care to study for very long.  It is not limited to Christian history. 

The tour guide metaphor as Bell describes it here fails to take into account the fact that a tour guide is not pointing out things in a vacuum.  The tour guide would be pointing out things that already have explanations, already have myths and explanations and all sorts of things.  It’s not that people who haven’t heard the Gospel haven’t come up with explanations for anything, after all!  If that were the case, the work of missionary/tour guides would be so much easier. 

The truth of the matter is that everyone has their explanations, and they’re pretty happy with them overall.  They’ve been refined over the life of a community and an individual until they’re very, very convincing.  So the tour guide’s job is to go into a place and offer an alternate, competing explanation.  This is much harder than walking into a vacuum and providing an explanation for things that nobody had ever bothered to explain before!

Velvet Elvis pgs. 83-87, “Labels”

July 24, 2007

The overall point here is beautiful, and so appropo in this age where Christian ‘demographics’ drive a huge retail industry.  Frankly it sickens me, the market for “Christianity”.  The faith bought and sold and packaged conveniently on coffee mugs and breath mints.  The eternal mysteries and truths of God slapped on a t-shirt or a bumper sticker. 

Christian is indeed a noun, and not an adjective.  We would do well to remember this.  The only vague uneasiness I have in this section is that some might take it to mean that if you throw yourself into your work or whatever your passion is, you are a Christian.  This is not the case.  There are many very dedicated, hard-working atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, etc.  Having a passion for what you do does not make you a Christian.  However being a Christian should convey a passion for *everything* that God has placed in your life, and particularly, *everyone*.

Velvet Elvis pgs. 80-83, “Logos”

July 24, 2007

My complaint here is that there is the implied assumption that just because a theory is accepted as likely to be true, or a set of facts is interpreted through a theory in order to confirm that theory, it is true. 

Of course, I’m sure Bell is writing against hardcore Fundamentalists who insist on literal interpretation of the Scriptures and that the world/universe is 5000 years old, give or take a few centuries.  But in trying to combat such a limited view of the intention of the Bible, it’s easy to slide off to the other extreme.

I know that the theory of evolution is commonly accepted in most of Western culture.  In fact, in Europe, it’s becoming illegal to challenge this ‘theory’.  It’s becoming accepted as fact, even though it’s still just labeled a theory.  This theory is bolstered by certain ‘facts’.  But facts are interpreted, just as the Bible is interpreted.  And someone coming from a certain mindset is going to interpret data through that mindset. 

Ultimately, I’m distrustful of the tools that we use and our level of understanding about what we’re looking at.  I know that science has done a great deal of good and I benefit daily from those benefits and am grateful for them.  But given the overall scope of human history and scientific discovery, the odds that carbon dating or our understanding of atomic properties and interactions have been completely understood and properly understood in the few brief decades that we’ve been able to study them are not very promising. 

Maybe that’s my particular issue.  Just because someone tells me that the earth must be 5 billion years old or whatever the current figure is, doesn’t mean that it’s true.  Just like when a Fundamentalist insists that the earth is only a few thousand years old, it isn’t necessarily true. Both are interpreting different sets of information in light of presuppositions and understandings.  All of which could be flawed or flat out wrong.

And on page 83, if you follow something because you believe that it leads you to the deepest levels of reality, then you *are* following it because you believe it’s the best religion.  Otherwise, you’d follow something/someone else.  While I don’t care for the blanket term ‘religion’ in general, it serves a limited purpose.  At some point, all belief systems make the claim that their interpretations are correct, and that others, necessarily, are incorrect.  Even a system that claims to accept all systems is making the claim that systems that don’t accept other systems are incorrect, at least insofar as the nonacceptance is concerned.  We’re so concerned about inclusiveness and such crap today, that we have forgotten that man has lived throughout history on the basis of firmly held convictions.  To pretend that we haven’t, shouldn’t, or don’t is self-destructive and the highest level of intellectual and moral dishonesty.

Velvet Elvis pgs. 72-80, intro, “Something Bigger” & “Everywhere”

July 24, 2007

Most of this section serves as prelude and introduction to “Everywhere”

Page 77 – God is everywhere in creation, but God and creation are not synonymous.  Unlike Buddhism or animism, creation is not the “body” of God.  Creation and God are distinct and separate, but God is omnipresent throughout his creation.

Page 78 – Yes, those who do not acknowledge Christ as the source of their salvation from sin can still act within the will of God unbeknownst to them.  However, as many theologians – including Martin Luther – have pointed out, without faith in Christ Jesus, *no* action is ever in accordance with the will of God.  It’s more accurate to say that faith in Christ is not prerequisite to act in harmony at times with the created universe. 

Truth is available everywhere, but we distinguish typically between two kinds of Truth.  There is the truth available in the created order, and often referred to as General Revelation.  This truth emanates from the evidence of creation – creation points back to a purposeful creator, not an accident of evolution.  This truth is useful in helping point the way to God, but it is not sufficient, because it does not witness to the specific truth of Jesus Christ’s atoning death and resurrection. 

This second truth is only found in Special Revelation – the Word of God known as the Bible.  Only through the Word of God can the truth of Christ be known.  And only this truth, available only through God’s Word, is capable of imparting salvation when received in faith by the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

As such, yes, anybody is capable of speaking truth.  I’m fond of quoting Yoda from time to time as an example of this.  However none of these isolated slivers of Truth are adequate or sufficient for salvation because they are not from the Word of God.  All Truth is of God, but it can certainly be convoluted and hard to distinguish because of what it has become associated with or appropriatef for or by.

Velvet Elvis pgs. 68-69, “Wrestling”

July 24, 2007


Velvet Elvis pgs. 66-68, “Creating & Recognizing”

July 24, 2007

Bell makes up for the issue that I took issue with in the last entry.  This is exactly what the Christian faith upholds – that the God who inspired the author also inspired the church and continues to guide you and I today.

If that doesn’t just about knock you clean over, you haven’t really thought about it.