as a christian in america in 2007, i find myself often on the edges a bit. i mean, it's not like i am being persecuted or fed to the lions or anything, but, more often, i feel like my marginilization comes from the center of the faith itself. that is, i often feel like i don't fit in with the world, exactly, but i also don't fit in with christianity in america. i just don't usually feel at home with the sort of chubby-in-the-middle faith that modern american evangelicalism has come to represent. i grew up in the christian ghetto (christian t-shirts, christian music, bible-belt worldview, actual bible belt [i still wear it!]), so i have a certain sentimental connection to all of that. i still have this deep relationship with the Christian music industry. and i love the Church, of course. i am, after all, mainline in denomination.
and yet, despite all that, i often don't feel at home here. i often feel like i might fit in better with the bonos of the world. the nouwens and the crowders. the detweilers and the donald millers. after reading this book, 'velvet elvis,' i feel like i would be right at home with rob bell.
rob bell is the nooma guy. if you don't know what nooma is, it is a series of short teaching dvd's that have a kind of postmodern slant and an indie feel to them. i really have enjoyed them in the past, and have been inspired by them in my faith. so, i was excited to see that bell had written a book. i picked it up in hardcover for like $2.99 at an ollie's (God bless Ollie's!), and found myself right at home in its pages.
the book is relatively all over the place, in that it isn't particularly unified in its discourse, but if there were a theme or thesis to the work, its that we have to keep going, keep asking, keep seeking, keep living out our faith. its that jesus was and is challenging us "to rethink faith and the bible and hope and love and everything else" (pg. 11). we are in this "endless" process of learning to live the way God created us to live. that, in short, is bell's whole objective in writing the book, that he might help us shed some baggage as we journey on towards this kind of rethinking and repainting and learning anew.
as if to prove his point, evangelicals have sounded out against this section, questioning bell's belief in the trinity and the virgin birth. its exactly my problem with the whole thing: close-mindedness. i am an explorer when it comes to the tenets of my faith. i want to wrestle. i want to ask. i want to be like that 5 year old who asks why a million times. that's just who i am. and i believe God is big enough to handle that. sometimes i can't know all the answers, but i won't stop asking. and i'm okay with that.
i think that some people aren't okay with that. they need answers that make some sort of sense to them. so, they substitute cheap answers for difficult questions. and they build walls out of these cheap answers. and, if you let them go long enough, they will build walls that say things like, "if you don't believe in a literal 6-day creation, then you can't really believe in Jesus at all."it's like we are modern day Babel-builders, trying to build our own little towers to God, rather then being content to live in the places where answers don't come easy, but where God simply says, "I am."
bell has received some criticism (as you can read if you look him up on wikipedia) for some of his statements about doctrine in the first chapter of his book. he compares doctrine to the springs on a trampoline, holding us and moving us as we live out our faith. he wants to point out that the springs are flexible and ought to be examined on their own. they are crucial to the operation of the trampoline, but they are not God. he cites a preacher he heard who was basically arguing that if you don't believe in a literal 6-day creation, then you can't believe in the cross and resurrection of Christ, either. bell argues that for this preacher, faith isn't a trampoline, but a wall of bricks. if you pull out one brick and examine it, the whole wall falls down.
so, rob bell has written a book that resonates with my spirit. it is full of both personal stories of his ministry in michigan, mars hill, which has grown exponentially and helped him to see his own brokeness and need for healing, and commentary and exposition. it is very quotable with lines like, "if the Gospel isn't good news for everybody, then it isn't good news for anybody" (page 167).
what was good news to me, anyway, in this book is that i found someone who is saying what i am trying to say. he says it so well on page 28:
"A Christian doesn't avoid the questions; a Christian embraces them. in fact, to truly pursue the living God, we have to see the need for questions. Questions are not scary. What is scary is when people don't have any. What is tragic is faith that has no room for them."