Engaging Culture

Change for the Next Generation

I’m reading “Velvet Elvis,” a book by Rob Bell. It’s a wonderfully eloquent book about the power of change, and the need for every generation to discover their own way of expression. As a pastor, he focuses the book on the Christian faith. But the principles work in any group – company, business, church, or religious organization. I’m faced with this challenge everytime an organization we consult with transitions to the next generation, or the time comes to re-energize a company with fresh, new branding or creative. Rob uses the illustration of an old velvet Elvis painting he found in his basement, and takes the perspective from the world of art:

“Here’s what happens: Somebody come along who has a fresh perspective on the Christian faith. People are inspired. A movement starts. Faith that was stale and dying is now alive. But then the pioneer of the movement – the painter – dies and the followers stop exploring. They mistakenly assume that their leader’s words were the last ones on the subject, and they freeze their leader’s words. They forget that as that innovator was doing his or her part to move things along, that person was merely taking part in the discussion that will go on forever. And so in their commitment to what so-and-so said and did, they end up freezing the faith.

What gets lost is the truth that whoever painted that version was just like us, searching for God and experiencing God and trying to get a handle on what the Christian faith looks like. And then a new generation comes along living in a new day and a new work, and they have to keep the tradition going or the previous paintings are going to end up in the basement.

The tradition then is painting, not making copies of the same painting over and over. The challenge of the art is to take what was great about the previous paintings, and incorporate that into new paintings.

And in the process, make something beautiful – for today.”

And here’s Rob’s key sentence about change: “It’s not that there isn’t any truth in it or that all the people before them were misguided or missed the point. It’s just that every generation has to ask the difficult questions of what it means to be a Christian here and now, in this place, at this time.”

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  1. Velvet Elvis is one of the most amazing books I have ever read. It really challenges your thoughts, beliefs, and even your purpose. I love the section where he asks if we would still be a follower of Christ even if evidence came up that Jesus was married and had children. Would it weaken our faith? Would it change our beliefs? Do we believe in and follow Christ only because it all "adds up" or because we each have had a personal experience with God?  It really makes you think…  

  2. Phil, this is probably the most impactful book I've read all year, infact, I've read it about 4 times over now. I keep finding new things I didn't the last time I read it. It will truly make you think. His new book, Sex God, is equally good and not exactly what you expect it to be by the title. I downloaded the audio of both of them from the iTunes Store, he reads them himself and they are a fantastic listen especially if you have a long car or plane commute coming up. 

    Royzoner is right, NOOMA, is outstanding in content and production quality. If you've never seen one, I suggest number 007: Luggage.
  3.  While Bell may be fine-I don't know for sure, but it might not hurt to check out some suspect things he's said and see if it lines up with Scripture..I'm a little alarmed that this blog is so highly praising of this potentially dangerous work..

    -In his road show, he dismisses creationism….

    Stuff by Bell…(wow, the book is shaky at best) Inspiration and Hermeneutics

    • "The Bible is a collection of stories that teach us about what it looks like when God is at work through actual people. The Bible has the authority it does only because it contains stories about people interacting with the God who has all authority." – p. 65

    Sola Scriptura

    • "…it wasn't until the 300s that what we know as the sixty-six books of the Bible were actually agreed upon as the 'Bible'. This is part of the problem with continually insisting that one of the absolutes of the Christian faith must be a belief that "Scripture alone" is our guide. It sounds nice, but it is not true. In reaction to abuses by the church, a group of believers during a time called the Reformation claimed that we only need the authority of the Bible. But the problem is that we got the Bible from the church voting on what the Bible even is. So when I affirm the Bible as God's word, in the same breath I have to affirm that when those people voted, God was somehow present, guiding them to do what they did. When people say that all we need is the Bible, it is simply not true. In affirming the Bible as inspired, I also have to affirm the Spirit who I believe was inspiring those people to choose those books." – p. 68

    Heaven and Hell

    • "Heaven is full of forgiven people. Hell is full of forgiven people. Heaven is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for. Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for. The difference is how we choose to live, which story we choose to live in, which version of reality we trust. Ours or God's." – p. 146
    • "When people use the word hell, what do they mean? They mean a place, an event, a situation absent of how God desires things to be. Famine, debt, oppression, loneliness, despair, death, slaughter–they are all hell on earth. Jesus' desire for his followers is that they live in such a way that they bring heaven to earth. What's disturbing is when people talk more about hell after this life than they do about Hell here and now. As a Christian, I want to do what I can to resist hell coming to earth." – p. 148
    • "The goal of Jesus isn't to get into heaven. The goal is to get heaven here." – p. 148

    The Fall

    • "I can't find one place in the teachings of Jesus, or the Bible for that matter, where we are to identify ourselves first and foremost as sinners. Now this doesn't mean we don't sin; that's obvious. In the book of James it's written like this: 'We all stumble in many ways.' Once again, the greatest truth of the story of Adam and Eve isn't that it happened, but that it happens. We all make choices to live outside of how God created us to live. We have all come up short." – p. 139

    Ultimate Reality

    • "For a Christian, Jesus' teachings aren't to be followed because they are a nice way to live a moral life. They are to be followed because they are the possible insight into how the world really works. They teach us how things are. I don't follow Jesus because I think Christianity is the best religion. I follow Jesus because he leads me into ultimate reality. He teaches me to live in tune with how reality is. When Jesus said, 'No one comes to the Father except through me', he was saying that his way, his words, his life is our connection to how things truly are at the deepest levels of existence. For Jesus then, the point of religion is to help us connect with ultimate reality, God." – p. 83

    [edit] Criticism of doctrinal method

    "According to Mr. Bell there are two ways to approach doctrine: as a brick or a spring. The brick approach to doctrine is solid, unmoving and unchanging. It has no life. It is the wrong approach. A spring has life; it is flexible, and it is constantly changing. Rob Bell believes all doctrines are springs. By embracing such a view of doctrine and truth Mr. Bell drives a wedge between reality and doctrinal truth. He creates a paradox where there isn't one. Bell views doctrines as 'statements about our faith that help give words to the depth that we are experiencing.'" [1]  

  4. "It's about empty empires and the truth that everybody's a priest, it's about oppression, occupation, and what happens when Christians support, animate and participate in the very things Jesus came to set people free from."-Bell's upcoming book..

     Now, Didn't Jesus come to set us free from our sins! I think we are all sinners!

  5. erie, how quite it got on this topic…I thought someone who thinks so highly of Mr Bell..(many here) would have something to say…I agree that relevance is important, but not at the expense of changing the message..which is what it seems he is clearly doing-God’s Word doesn’t change…maybe how it’s presented, but his subtle and not so subtle changes should be carefully examined in light of God’s Word…

  6. Nanny911

     

    Thanks for pointing out Rob Bell's flawed thinking. (I'd use the word "heresy," but I have a feeling that's not allowed among emergent types.) Rob Bell preaches a false gospel, and adds works to it besides.

     

    My college-age daughter had a good insight into Bell's bricks and springs analogy (actually he prefers "trampoline" to "spring.") She simply asked, "What's the trampoline resting on?"

     

    For Bell, apparently, it's resting on another trampoline, upon another trampoline, etc. ad infinitum. Me, I prefer my trampolines to be firmly fixed, preferably on a brick or concrete foundation.

  7. … oh, and forgot to add. Bell's explanation of how we got the New Testament betrays a profound historical ignorance. Frankly, he doesn't know what he's talking about.

  8. Living in Western Michigan, I have had the good fortune to have heard Rob speak many times, and unlike most teachers/preachers, I remember main points of each of those messages. The man is a gifted speaker, and has an amazing grasp of Hebrew culture and ties that in exceedingly well in his messages.

    Some of my good friends here do the same as nanny911 – seek out the suspect things he has said or written in order to discredit the entire ministry. (Reminds me of Hank Hankegraaff going after Benny Hinn).

    I am not blindly supporting Rob, and I am no fan of bad theology, but if you look at the entirety of the man’s ministry you have to admit he is reaching people that most of our churches never reach with the gospel.

    Pray for the man, if he is in error, maybe God has someone who can open that discourse with him in an intelligent, loving way.

    What surprises me is how no one has thrown about Rob’s famous marketing quote from this book.

    Yes, I read it… and Sex God… and the Noomas (which are good but not earthshaking… but compared to what most pastor/teachers are doing they are Oscar worthy).

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