Friday, September 02, 2005


Last week I spoke about my admiration for much of what Rob Bell does in Velvet Elvis. Today I want to step back to a specific subject the book addresses and then move in to the broader realm of postmodernism and how it affects us as a community of Christ followers. It won't really happen that neatly, but here's to hope.

First, for those who have not read Rob's book, he talks about biblical doctrine as springs on a trampoline - springs that stretch and change to accommodate, to lift us higher in our understanding - rather than as bricks in a wall. He states that doctrine is not the point, but that Jesus is the point.

As an example, Rob talks about a lecture that he viewed in which a six-day creationist says that if you deny a literal six-day (24-hour-per-day) creation then you deny that Jesus died on the cross (p. 26). He describes this man as someone who practices "brickianity." In other words, pull out the "brick" of a literal six-day creation and all of Christianity falls to the ground. Now, even though I believe in a literal six-day creation, I agree with Rob at this point. (Though I would argue for a literal creation account due to the problem of death arriving as a result of sin.)

Rob then continues to talk about "brickianity" and the virgin birth. If we found out tomorrow that Jesus was not born of a virgin, would our faith come crumbling down, or would the claims of Christ and the way of life he shows us to live be irrelevant? He says No. This is where I depart from Rob's thinking. We must remember that most doctrine is simply the truths we believe about Jesus according to his revelation. Therefore it is difficult, if not impossible, to jettison the doctrine without also abandoning the person of Christ.

For instance, could the same example about doctrine be stated about the doctrine of the resurrection? If we discovered the bones of Christ, could we continue to be Christians? Paul says No. He says that if Christ wasn't raised from the dead, then we are to be pitied above all people - that our faith is useless/foolish (1 Cor. 15).

Likewise, if Jesus was not born of a virgin, what happens to the incarnation? We lose the deity of Christ, don't we?

Specifically, that's the only beef I have with Rob's thinking. And it is just his thinking - he does affirm his belief in the virgin birth and in biblical doctrine, but Christianity is about Jesus and not a set of beliefs, and he tries to make that equally clear.

This brings me, more broadly, to postmodern thought in the church. I understand some about postmodernism, though it does a good job of evading definition (it must, I suppose, in order for the philosophy to hold any water). I have had my share of philosophy classes and, quite honestly, philosophy makes my brain hurt. It's a little beyond me. So I developed a simple rule about philosophy for myself: If it doesn't jibe with what is easily demonstrable or observable in real life - with how the world works - then it's excrement.

Hello, postmodernism. Postmodernism is uncomfortable with truth. More accurately, I suppose, postmodernism is uncomfortable with someone being able to know truth. Now, I get this at some level. I understand my generation's beef with people saying, "This is the way it has to be. There can be no more questions." People are cat-skinners, meaning that we are firm believers that there is more than one way to skin one when we disagree with the current opinion, perspective, or rule. So I get it. I understand when I give my interpretation of what a passage of Scripture is saying that it might not be half of what God meant it to be. I understand that my interpretation of what that passage means might change tomorrow. I have incomplete knowledge.

That admission is not the same thing, however, as admitting that I cannot know what I know absolutely. I know some things in my bones. The sun rises, seasons change, gravity holds me, love surrounds me. Now I hear all of you out there picking - "The sun doesn't really rise, and even on earth the sun doesn't always even appear to rise," or "What you mean by 'seasons' never even occurs over much of the earth." And so on. Yes, I know. Yet, in spite of your picking, you understand exactly what I mean. When I say, "The sun rises" are you totally confused - hopelessly searching for the meaning, for what is signified behind those signifiers? Of course not. You know exactly what I'm talking about, so hush. If I were with the Inuit during the dark winter months, I might tack on the word "eventually." So hush.

You see, when we speak to one another, we understand, for the most part. Pomos like to show how we don't get it. But we mostly do. It is not amazing that there is miscommunication in our world. It's amazing that so much is communicated. We communicate phenomenally well. Is communication perfect? No, it isn't. Ask any wife. Ask any husband. Ask any McDonald's customer. Communication doesn't have to be perfect, however. It works quite well. And until a new, better way to communicate is invented, let's not go throwing rocks at it.

Now to all my pomo bros and sisses out there, I say only one thing: Logos. The Word. Wisdom. Reason. The Definition of both God and Man. Not only Definition but also Definer. He gives structure to all truth. He created it, He defines it, He knows it. And the Definition infuses structure and truth to all that He reaches (and He reaches it all). All life is infused with meaning because of the Life.

Doctrine is not the enemy. The doctrines (teachings) surrounding Logos are simply our descriptions of His revelation. And they are accurate descriptions, as accurate as they need or ought to be. We've got to accept His revelation. We've got to receive it. Logos is.

What's the point, Lyons? My point is simply that we can be comfortable knowing, without being tyrannical in our knowing. The truth in love, brothers, sisters.

So as one, let's celebrate that God has revealed Himself to us clearly, accessibly. Let's celebrate growing in our knowledge of Him. Let's celebrate His towering mystery.

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.

Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore.
- Psalm 131, ESV


Lizzie Liz said...

I must say, I agree... if Christ was not born of a virgin (or if He was not truly risen from the dead), then our faith would be baseless. It would be no more than other religions that follow a dead leader.

Likewise, in a broader sense, if any one thing in the Bible was proved false, I think we would have a problem as well. I don't mean mistranslations, but actual fact. But even in the instance of time standing still, astronomers have found that we are missing 25 hours.

Pretty sound if you ask me!

Great blog, I'll definitely be back!

K.H. Kew said...

Completely disagree. Open your minds! The Bible, specifically the old testament, is a series of stories, myths, lessons and policitical statements passed down verbally over centuries. As such it can only be interpreted within the context, custom and idiom of the time it was written. Not to mention that it first needs to be distilled from the layers of opinion and mis-translation certainly heaved upon it for thousands of years. If faith depends on a literal translation of the Bible, then it is not faith - it's man giving God an ultimatum. We don't know it all. We're human remember.

Reid said...

k.h. kew, is it possible for God to communicate with man?

Jamie Dawn said...

Truth is truth regardless of where it is found.
If Christ was not born of a virgin, then He would not be God, but Biblical truths about how we should treat one another would still be true.
My hubby read the book and commented on it to me.
I will read it soon.
I have no problem with raising questions & picking things apart to see if they are based on a strong foundation. I believe God is big enough to take it.

ScottB said...

For me, the question isn't so much about whether we can know stuff. (Apologies for the technical jargon ;). You know I have no problem claiming to know things! But the question for me is about how I know things, in the sense of my attitude towards knowing. I think it's about making room for dissent, about listening to other voices (even when I don't agree), about more of an epistemological humility. It's the recognition that not everything that can be said, has been said. In terms of matters of faith and theology, it's knowing that I bring baggage to my understanding of faith, that I read as a twenty-first century American male and not a first-century Jewish believer. It's about knowing that we agree on the meaning of "the sun rises" because of shared context, but our understanding of the sun rising is vastly different from that of a pre-Copernican person. It's about believing that theology isn't just a matter of learning what has already been said, but also about saying things anew in my context.

Scott said...

Thanks for your comments, all - my response was over-long and general, but I've just made it into a whole other post. If there's anything specific that you feel I haven't answered, please let me know.

Also, Berkhimer, I sent you an e-mail via your contact link on your Web site. I hope you have that by now.

dan said...

I agree with you on one level - that the distance (if there is such a thing) between pomo and non-pomo people is more about the knowing than it is about the truth.

It bugs me when people say that pomo people don't believe in absolute truth. I think that is flat out wrong. However, it is the ability to know absolute truth that may be (sometimes) in question.

Scott said...

Hey, Dan. Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your thoughts. Phil actually stopped by here once and commented on a piece I wrote on changing poopy diapers, and I feel as appreciative now for your visit as I did then for his. : )

Bruce L said...

Great blog. I enjoyed the way you kept it light and friendly while making your point.