Saturday, September 30, 2006

Book Review

Velvet Elvis, by Rob Bell (Zondervan, 2006). This book recounts the spiritual journey of Rob Bell, founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan. His take is that a post-modern world requires a post-modern approach to faith, perhaps more open and flexible than we were taught was appropriate.

Bell is an advocate of taking faith seriously nd saking difficult questions. The book explains his desire for this church to live with passion and conviction, and he seems to have cobbled together of life of awe, honesty, passion, and an appreciation for the mystery of the Christian faith.

Bell and Mars Hill are similar to (and may choose to identify with) the Emerging Church movement, as described in many books, including Barna's Revolution. I have Barna on my bookshelf, and plan to get to it within the month, so my comments are based not on actually reading that book, but by reading a lot about it.

Back to Velvet Elvis. I appreciate Bell's vulnerability, and his struggles with doubt and understanding Scripture -- I resonate with anyone who has "worked out their salvation with fear and trembling." The weakness in the book is in taking what he has found valuable in his own and his church's walk, and assuming that all (American, at least) beleivers and churches need to make the same changes he has. It is a very American Christian attitude to believe that works for you and your church have to be applied to everyone and every church -- and I have found that that just isn't the case.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


The church is the earthly community of God, built by Christ and dwelling under his headship. Christ selected 12 followers, building a community in parallel to Israel. This community offered healing, which built a community of hope, and in some cases, a restoration to societal acceptance.

We are described as light, which is a communal element. We are described in terms of communal imagery, vine and branch, sheep and shepherd.

And when this veil of tears is cast away once and for all, we enter into the ultimate communal relationship with Christ, that of bride and groom.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Kingdom Is Us

This sounds like it comes from the Vineyard, perhaps John Wimber or Bert Waggoner:

We are the People and Sign of the Kingdom,
the Agent and Instrument of the Kingdom.
We are Witnesses to and Custodians of the Kingdom.
We were Created by the Kingdom,
and we are the eschatological Goal of the Kingdom.
It is God;s design that a Church of the Kingdom,
by the Kingdom, and for the Kingdom
shall not perish from the earth.

Friday, September 22, 2006

(more) Theologizing

Continuing to ponder the theological intricacies of salvation and the atonement, as per the previous post:

On grace: As a natural implication of the doctrines of unconditional election and limited atonement, Calvinists also teach that the elect cannot resist His call, and that the Call can only be responded to with repentance and faith. As an implication of their theology, Arminians teach that grace may be made ineffectual by our lack of response. Again the notion of "wasted" grace pops up.

On perseverance: The Calvinist belief in eternal security makes sense given their belief presented above that grace cannot be resisted. Arminians belief that God provides grace for any emergency of faith, though it can be neglected by some to their eternal peril.

I confess that I love thinking about this stuff, and how one doctrinal point has to lead to another. At this point in my theological development, I lean a little bit toward the Arminian view of the world. I tend to have a "free will" bias in my thinking, a view that Jacob Arminius evidently shared.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


I have been studying some works of systematic theology, and am attempting to process it. Thus, here is a little soteriology -- or theology of the atonement and salvation. Although there is massive agreement among Christians about soteriology, there are intricacies I enjoy pondering. These are my current understandings of the 17th Century debate between Reformed (Calvinist) and Remonstrant (Arminian) theology.

On the depravity of man: These seem pretty similar to me, so I'm sure I'm missing some subtlety. Reformed theology teaches that every aspect of human nature has been affected to some degree, so that we are totally dependent on Grace to seek God or do good. Remonstrant theology proposes that we posess a natural inability to do good apart from God's grace.

On election: Here is where the theology of free will starts to differentiate between the two "sides." Reformed theology teaches that God in His sovereignty predestines some fallen people to be saved, while Arminians believe that election is conditional, based on God's foreknowledge (but not His causing of us to act one way or another) of who would continue to believe in Christ.

On atonement: This is a big one. Calvinist theology proposes a limited atonement, in which the work of the cross was performed noly for those he elects/predestines, so none of the blood is "wasted" on others. Arminians beleive in universal atonement, limited only by the number of people who put their faith in Christ.

This is enough for now: I need to really ponder on whether there was any "wasted" blood at Calvary. That is heavy.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Movie Review

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005; TYPO -- originally typed 1995. sorry for the confusion), PG-13.

One of the first (THE first?) movies to come from Act One, the latest and best-organized effort to get Christians into Hollywood to make mainstream (i.e., no "christian celebrities," no altar call moments, not designed for the Christian bookstore direct-to-video set) movies that tackle issues of faith.

I enjoyed this movie a lot -- the casting, design, script, effects were all top-notch. I am not a fan of horror films, and this one isn't really one, despite the name and the marketing of it when it was in theatres. First, it is a courtroom drama -- Emily died during the exorcism, and the priest is on trial; second, it is an inelligent debate on the role of the spiritual in the modern world; and third, a horror film. The flashbacks of Emily's possession and exorcism are intense and frightening, but not gory -- the only blood is Emily's stigmata.

Again, this is not a movie for the Church basement, but is an intelligent, fair and balanced movie that at the very least should be one that encourages discussion, maybe even debate.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Flip Side of Forgiveness

The images of Jesus as judge can be frightening, the thought that we will stand before him and the video of our life will be played back before Him, so He can render proper judgement upon us.

But is this love? Wouldn't love just forgive, and not judge? This might tickle the ears of some, but one forgive ONLY if they can judge. A jury must have the option of finding guilt for a finding of innocence to be valid. An athlete must face the possibility of defeat for victory to have meaning. And Jesus must be our judge; it's the only way he offer us forgiveness.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Struggle and Sin

It has taken too long for me to rightly develop a theology of struggle. I have spent too many years equating the two, assuming that my struggles themselves were sinful. But I am slowly (and I hope not too late) understanding that life has two great teachers, the Holy Spirt and struggle. The writer of Hebrews points out (5:8) that even though Jesus was "a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered."

A lesson of Jesus' humanity is that he was in the same spiritual situation as me -- fully human. But when he was led (Matthew 4:1-11) by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil, he did so without sin -- being tempted is not a sin. He was tempted, absolutley tempted as I am, but he showed me that through the Spirit, resistance is possible. I need to take this truth and bury it deep inside me.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Summer's Gone

The cycles of God's creation just keep moving along their appointed paths. The moon and stars dance, the seasons march on, we live and we die, yet God remains the same and His works remain in tact.