The 3rd chapter of Velvet Elvis is called True, and I think I know what Rob Bell is trying to say, and I estimate I agree with about 90-95% of it. I only say I think I know because Rob is not writing to me, someone who prefers precision, but for a group of “spiritual” people who want to find a non-dogmatic religion.
What is Rob “trying” to say? That there is such a thing as General Revelation, and that all truth (not just what you might think is true) has the triune God as its source. It is his world, and not all truth is found in Scripture (though all Scripture is true). So, other religions have fragments of truth. His example is Muslims being debt adverse. I’d tell Rob that this is actually a biblical idea they happen to share with us. So, other religions have areas of overlap with Christianity.
But he doesn’t put it that way, which opens the door for pluralism (even if he didn’t intend it). This is where Rob’s non-linear style, focused on tangentially related stories does him a disservice.
Rob makes a good point that many kids who grow up in fundamentalist homes think that the church as a market on truth. So they go to college and some prof blows their mind and they leave their faith behind. Yep, happens. The problem is not Christianity but parents who don’t live in the real world, nor prepare their kids for the real world.
Where Rob really loses me is in talking about missionaries “transporting God” to other cultures. He sees this as a basic misunderstanding some have about missionaries. God is everywhere. Yep- with you. But I’ve never heard of any misguided person talk about “bringing God” to other people. Bringing the gospel, yes.
And I guess this is what saddens me about sections of this book. He does what John McArthur often does- take an extreme, often foolish example as though it were the norm for a particular group of people he doesn’t really like or agree with. So, Rob pokes fun at Fundamentalists and how goofy they are (and they really can be). But he never really says that is who they are- so your average conservative Christian whose not as hip as some, gets painted as guilty by association. Don’t want to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints or you are a “wall builder”, and that is bad. Don’t want to say “Scripture alone” because some dolt in Idaho uses that to defend his strange views. Sola Scriptura becomes bad.
I guess I’d like it if Rob just said something like, “I grew up Fundamentalist” (I don’t know if that’s true), “and had a bad reaction.” I prefer if he expressed his prejudices so people would know upfront instead of us having to read between the lines. He’s not objective- but neither is he upfront about his true convictions.
(I am a Christian who finds his heritage in the conservative, evangelical, Reformed, Prebyterian, missional branch of the church. I grew up Catholic, converted in college was a Conservative Baptist => Reformed Baptist => PCA/ARP. Just to be fair, you know.)
Add-on: I slept on the chapter and had some additional thoughts. Rob is not really repainting the Christian view of faith here, just disagreeing with a fringe element. But what is disappointing, is that Rob provides no real framework for people to separate the true from the fascinating. His example of kids going to to college is important. At college, some of what they hear will be true, but lots of it will be fascinating half-truths, false interpretations etc. I don’t think that has changed much from when I went to college. You have many different theories of economics, psychology, politics etc. Many of these can seem fascinating, for they “ring true” to someone’s experience. But interesting/fascinating does not truth make. Non-Christians know lots of true things. But, due to the noetic effect of the Fall, they have a tendency to mis-interpret reality by denying the Creator. Becoming a Christian does not utterly remove that tendency. But Rob opens the floodgates without providing any sort of way for a young person to discern what is true and what is false. I guess he’s assuming someone else, an agenda-driven prof perhaps, will provide that.
Repainting truth from the reality of General Revelation => (what sounds like) Pluralism.
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