Rob Bell, in his book, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith, has a knack for saying things that get under the skin of traditional evangelicals. In this chapter, he has the audacity to say that Christians don’t have the corner on truth.
“Truth is everywhere, and it is available to everyone” (p. 78).
Bell speaks of friends who are not Christians who have discovered truth in their love for each other and in their wedding ceremony. He speaks of Muslims who live in the truth of living without debt. And then he tells us that those who think that the truth is only found in the Bible and nowhere else in God’s creation are setting themselves up for a fall.
We’ve seen it over and over again: somebody who is raised in a Christian and church-going home goes away to college and consequently walks away from her faith. This is a huge problem.
The ministry that I help lead is dedicated to guiding college students into establishing faith and/or flourishing Christian faith in the midst of the college experience. So, what Bell has to say concerning this issue is of particular interest to me. And what he says is exactly right.
He says that the problem is that we are not teaching our youth that we should affirm and claim truth wherever we find it. He paraphrases Philippians 4:8 saying, “Whatever is true, whatever is beautiful, if it honorable, if it is right, then claim it. Because it is from God. And you belong to God” (p. 79). Bell talks about how Paul affirmed truth in the words of pagan Athenian poets (Acts 17:16-34) and Cretan prophets (Titus 1:12-13). “Paul affirms truth wherever he finds it” (p. 79).
So, back to that Christian college student who is experiencing truth in a context other than the Bible: “Let’s say her professors aren’t Christians. It is not a ‘Christian’ university, and this young woman hasn’t been taught that all things are hers. What if she has been taught that Christianity is the only thing that’s true? What if she has been taught that there is no truth outside the Bible? She’s now faced with this dilemma: believe the truth she’s learning or the Christian faith she was brought up with. Or we could put her dilemma this way: intellectual honesty or Jesus?” (p. 81).
This is a shocking statement; maybe an over-the-top statement. But what Bell is trying to get us to see is something that we may not see unless he shocks us. We’ve been inculcated by the evangelical sub-culture to believe that we alone have the corner on truth and that the world “out there” (especially secular universities with their pagan ideas) cannot know truth. Think about it: Many evangelical college ministries see themselves as bulwarks against college education. The main reason many of us want our Christian freshmen to join a Christian college ministry is so that they can be protected from those insidious professors that are seeking to ruin the faith of our young Christians.
But Bell has the audacity to say that the problem is not with those pagan liberal professors and institutions, it is with us Christians. We are not training our young people to accept truth as they find it in the world around them; we are not teaching them that all things were created by Christ, things in heaven and on earth; that all things were created by him and for him (Col. 1:16).
We are training them to think in a very dualistic sense: that there are things that are sacred (church, the Bible, evangelical subculture) and there are things that are secular (university studies, vocation, everything not dubbed “Christian”). We have moved the word “Christian” from simply a noun (I am a “Christian”) into being an adjective (“Christian” music, “Christian” vocation, “Christian” schooling, etc).
We are not training them to embrace the goodness of God’s creation, including that which is good in the culture around us; and we are not training our young people to be discerning that which is darkness and that which is light so that they can become transformation agents to change that which does not reflect the goodness and glory of God into something redeemed.
Bell writes, “We throw ourselves into our work because everything is sacred. I love how Paul put it in Colossians: ‘Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus’ (Col. 3:17). He is teaching people to live as Christians, and then whatever they do will be sacred, holy work…Creation doesn’t need a label to make it sacred or acceptable or blessed. When God made the world, God called it ‘good’. Now obviously anything can be corrupted and desecrated and used for purposes other than those which God intends...If you follow Jesus and you are doing what you do in his name, then it is no longer secular work; it’s sacred work. You are there; God is there. ” (pp. 84-85)
How does Bell tell us to learn discernment between light and darkness, between that which is part of the goodness of creation and that which has been corrupted? He says, “The Bible is filled with stories of God teaching people how to think. How to discern. How to sort and sift and figure out what is true and what isn’t. What is good and what isn’t. What brings life and what brings death. Being a Christian is about engaging the mind and heart more and more, not shutting them off or letting someone else think for you” (p. 86).
Amen to that!! The problem with our evangelical subculture is that we are in danger of cutting ourselves off from the maturing process of discernment.
Posts in this series: TRUE – Velvet Jesus
TASSELS - Velvet Jesus
NEW – Velvet Jesus
Is Rob Bell a Godless Man, Condemned by God? Review of John MacArthur's The Truth War