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Emergence Godfidence Theology

Rob Bell’s Trampoline

Rob Bells Trampoline

In Velvet Elvis Rob Bell discusses Doctrine as the spring on a trampoline. The springs are not the main point; they merely facilitate the greater goal of “us finding our lives in God.” He compares it to looking at doctrine as a brick wall that when bricks are removed simply falls apart. However a trampoline missing a few springs can still be useful.

This analogy falls apart in itself in that when you remove enough springs you no longer have a trampoline but a tarp. However it betrays an understanding of Christianity that is becoming more invasive as this “emergent” line of thinking expands. Christianity, unlike other religions, isn’t based on a system of living; if you do more good than bad you will be accepted by God. It is based on the premise that our very nature is abhorrent to a perfect God and we can by no means please him. In fact we don’t even know enough to pursue him or look for him save for his provision of grace. Christianity isn’t simply a better way to live, which has lead non believers to the idea of “That may work for you but not for me or others.” Christianity isn’t subjective in its claims, the first century church was called to testify and bear witness of Christ’s resurrection, as historical fact.Rob Bell

There are certain dogma’s of the faith (the proper definition of dogma is to mean those things which can not be compromised not the negative connotation it has taken on) which we can not allow to be compromised for to do so would bring a halt to our Lords work.

Things like the resurrection must stand lest all of Christianity be destroyed, for even the apostle Paul said “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men….If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,
‘Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die.'”

If Christ is not raised we are left with nothing but a human invention of morality by which to live.

Christianity is different because the LORD not only requires perfection which we can not obtain but then provides the mean by which it is imputed to us by his grace and not by our own means, otherwise we would still be lost. Not other religion is one of grace and destroying the solid brick foundation of those dogmas destroys the Christian faith. I don’t think I am looking to bounce so much as I am looking for a ROCK upon which to build my house.

To be clear I am not opposed to examining other aspects of how we do things as Christians, I believe methodology is always up to examination and change as we adjust to the culture. However we can not compromise out doctrine in the process.

Photograph: Virgil Vaduva

16 replies on “Rob Bell’s Trampoline”

Simply addressing the analogy, not the many ideas the springs or bricks represent;

The idea, I believe is that the springs in a trampoline stretch and move and are able to change. If you decide to actually remove one(which should be extremely rare), the rest of the springs will hold your trampoline up until it can be successfully replaced.
This is vs the idea of a brick wall which has a rigid foundation and construction. Trying to change the shape of a brick or replace a brick while in a wall is catastrophic to the wall.

The application of the analogy is indeed tricky because it calls for us to use our judgement on what springs should be stretched. Yes, there are things we now accept which could probably use some re-evaluation. The dogma of Christianity is not one of those things. This is where the Bible, a fellowship of other Christians, and in intimate relationship with God comes in. The Bible is absolute truth, if there is a brick wall in any of this the Bible is it. Everything must match up with the Bible. Hopefully I have a strong enough group of “brethren” to call me out and challenge me to make sure I am lining up to the Bible at all times. God will never lead me astray so as long as I’m seeking His guidance first and foremost I won’t waste time challenging dogma, which withstands challenge.

I think Rob Bell’s hope was to encourage interaction with the Christian faith. The failing is in not reading the rest of the book where he goes on to define some guidelines. It is a little dangerous to throw this trampoline vs. brick wall analogy around without guidelines, it isn’t a game. Young faith, isolated faith, and bored cynical faith could really be lead astray with aimless wandering in interpretation of Christianity. Also, getting caught up in constant theological debate draws focus from reaching the lost. Either result is tragic.

The positive result of re-evaluating why we do things the way we do, is that it could result in a more relevant Church. We are capable of being so much more to the world than to be the butt of a joke on SNL. We carry around inside of us the Light! What a disservice to the gift that God has given us, to allow His Bride to become so archaic and undesirable that it is put in the same category as politics in polite dinner conversation. We have more to give and we are directed to give it.

Just a few thoughts…

Tiffany, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I believe this is the first time you have done so and it is great to have you.

Let me please clarify some things.

I believe Rob Bell looks at things as springs that I could consider dogma, he uses the trinity and the virgin birth as examples.

And I believe he misrepresents a biblical understanding of the Gospel, the sentence before the springs section (p 21 hardback edition) is “Perhaps the question is not who is right, but who is living rightly.” He goes on to say that “First Christians announced this way (of living) of Jesus as “the good news.” Which is not exactly true, it wasn’t about the way of living but that isn’t biblically true
1 Cor 15 gives the definition of the gospel “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.

It has nothing to do with a particular ethos or way of living but objective historical facts, which can be the brick patio that the trampoline can sit on. 🙂

Jason, I would encourage you to look at the chapter again. I think you may have missed what Rob was trying to say. The springs are not about objective truth but about our capacity to understand and engage objective truth as limited human beings.

The bricks were our interpretation of the truth, not THE truth. The brick wall was our worldview. His point was that when we lose a brick our wall crumbles because much of what we hold is based on our interpretation of the truth. And it becomes very hard to let go of the bricks because each relies on each other for the whole picture (wall).

The spring concept is thus that we be flexible (humble) in our approach. It’s the willingness to let go of what we once believed when we come to a different understanding of truth, when the Holy Spirit reveals something new. To never let go is to build up walls that eventually keep us from truth. When everything crumbles we experience a crisis of faith as opposed to a renewing of our faith.

Much love.

Thanks for your thoughts Jonathan. I read the chapter just before posting this but I am not opposed to reading it again. I didn’t see that he was simply talking about our understanding. His example questions dogma like the virgin birth and the trinity.

I still wholly disagree with the opening statement “Maybe it isn’t about who is right but about who is living rightly” because Christianity is more than a morality it is about objective truths.

Thanks to this website and others for being willing to examine Bell’s ministry. Even the name, Nooma, means studying spiritual beings. With Bell’s emphasis on our works, one is left the idea that we alone are the spiritual beings. But believers know there are battles in the spiritual realm. There are angels, demons, and God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Bell seems to desire to help all of us see “the God” in us. No distinction between believers and non-believers on that. No seminary degree in my pocket, but years of Bible Study under my belt. I am very concerned about the teachings that Bell presents. Every DVD I have seen tries to appeal to the viewer by focusing on some revelation that he, himself, has had or something special he has learned. The focus is not on Biblical truth, but on philosophy, or the Gospel of Bell. I do not intend to attack the man personally, but I take great issue with his teachings. He should accept the importance of what one teaches, with his extreme interest in “rabbis.” The Bible encourages us to watch out for false teachers and to even test the spirits. Bell’s videos are more interested in trying to apply God to today, rather than helping people come to God. In 15 minutes, surely he could include more Biblical truth and less Bell. But then again, maybe he summed up his intent in that Christianity today article. In that, he made it clcear he wants to encourage people to doubt. They even have doubt night at Mars Hill. Hmmm. Look up what the Bible says about doubt. It aint a good thing. It is, in fact, the absence of faith. I am concerned that those who disagree with Bell’s teachings will continue to be attacked for being judgemental, or narrow minded. Ironically, talk is another thing Bell wanted to encourage. But any talk that evaluates his teachings isn’t allowed. Hmmm. That’s starting to sound a little like politics…or maybe we are just closer to the return of Christ and this “emergant Church” is among the deceived. Simply, Bell confuses “right” living and “right” thinking with the Righteous One. Watch his tapes and listen for the name of Jesus. Notice, too, how little scripture is used. The Word, and our words, matter. Listen again with what Bell says and see if it’s not universalism with a garnish of Bible. As the Bible says, “Guard you doctrine.” Remember, I am not trying to attack the man; however, we are called as Christians to sift teaching through the truth of the Bible. That means the whole truth…Bell seems to focus on less than the whole truth. Not all have the Spirit of God in them, as he asserts. Be careful and love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Use your mind and examine what you are taught to see how it compares with the Bible. Peace.

I believe that the answer to this trampoline issue is fairly straighforward. At the end of the day it is an analogy/metaphor or whatever. Take these literary devices too far and they start to break down. What is Bell saying? I read it that he is simply stating that dogma and doctrine, important as they are, can get in the way of knowing and experiencing God and therefore missing out on a joy-filled life in Christ. Doctrine and dogma cannot contain nor fully describe God so we should not see defining ‘true’ and ‘accurate’ doctrine as possible, not to mention desirable. Coming from Northern Ireland I know all about doctrine becoming the priority and producing loveless Christians. Doubt nights? Great idea. Doubt is not a ‘bad thing’ rather a natural thing. I am genuinely delighted for those who sail through life with no questions about their faith. It must make things a lot easier. How do most churches deal with believers’ questions about their faith. Well they don’t and that is why many Christians leave or get pushed to the margins of their church. If more churches offered a safe place for people to discuss their questions and experiences as Christians and non-believers then the churches would be rather more packed than they are now. What Bell does is encourage us to explore God and enjoy him. Doctrine is a useful way to help us in this exploration but it is not the point itself.

Tim Thanks for the comment.

I hope you don’t really think true and accurate doctrine is impossible, while they may not be complete I would hope God’s word provides true and accurate doctrines.

Point taken. Perhaps ‘fully comprehensive’ doctrine is a better phrase rather than ‘true and accurate’. Though not sure that the Bible’s intention is to set out doctrine. It can certainly help in the formulation of doctrine. Surely most doctrines have come from man’s interpretation of the Bible rather than the Bible having any clearly defined sections claiming to be doctrine i.e. the Bible is the starting point for doctrine formulation rather than the definitive end of the process.

It has been a while since I read Velvet Elvis, but my impreesion about his statement about “being right” and “living rightly” addresses the doctrinal walls Christians have built around issues that were cultural and highly subjective. My grandparents believed that they were not to watch movies, play cards, or dance. This was clearly based on their understanding of truth, albeit faulty in the eyes of todays younger generation. Rob Bell, IMO, suggests, as does Brian McLaren, that we seek to “do good”, as Christ states a number of times in the Gospels, rather than building doctrinal walls that exclude.

I heard a popular TV preacher, just a few months ago, railing on tattoos in a sermon to thousands. So, a young person who is genuinely seeking the truth walks into that church to hear this. They will feel excluded and walk out saying, “Oh well, I guess I can’t be a part of that group.”

The Church in America has isolated itself in its beautiful buildings with flashy programs that are largely irrelavent. We use the idea of “we can’t work our way to heaven(which is true)” to justify NOT doing good things for those around us, especially the disenfranchised and poor. We’ve abandoned the inner cities to build massive churches in the suburbs.

I hope this message makes sense.

Tim,
Thanks again for returning. To be consice I believe the bible is clear on issues of dogma (actually meaning not connotation) as I explained above.

Rob,
My problem is Bell didn’t use those examples(playing cards and dancing) he used the virgin birth. That is a dogma so I think either he really believes that these truths are not necessary and Christianity is reduced to moralism or he used that example to get attention for his book. I don’t really like either answer. I agree Christians have taken cultural issues and tried to make them dogma and I don’t advocate that. I will stand for the dogma’s of the faith and the fact of the matter is Bell tosses them out as not important when Paul says the facts of Jesus life according to the scriptures are of first importance.

The gospel is a revealed truth, it his historical and Bell reduces it to moralism as a ‘new way of living’ I believe there is a way to live as a result of your salvation but that isn’t the ‘first thing’ Paul talks about. He said if anyone including an angel comes preaching another doctrine than what has been already been preached to you (Christ and him crucified) he is to be accursed.

The Gospel is good news not good advice. News is an announcement of something that has already happened, not instruction on a new way of living.

The one thing i keep seeing come up again and again is Bell’s supposed questioning of the virgin birth and the Trinity. This really frustrates me, because this is not what he is doing at all, and if some reads that who has not also read Bell’s words in context, they are fed opinions that are not true. Bell uses the two subject, the virgin birth and the Trinity, as hypothetical examples of how faith could flex. He uses these examples simply because they are very familiar to most people, both Christians and non. He even AFFIRMS both of them just after discussing them.

“I affirm the historic Christian faith, which includes the virgin birth and the Trinity and the inspiration of the Bible and much more.”
-velvet elvis, pg 27

If you are going to challenge something Rob Bell says, fine. Furthering the dialogue is part of the process. But do it in a relevant fair way. It saddens me to see that so many people shut themselves off to the insightful things Bell has to offer because of out of context sound bytes.

Devin,
I hope you will stop back, I am not sure if you took the time to read everything that has been said about this post but I didn’t take it out of context, I believe I quoted Bell fairly. He may say that he affirms those things but it is clear he doesn’t consider them necessary. We can’t throw out everything in order to get everyone on the trampoline. If we do as I said it is just a tarp.

Rob Bell wasn’t suggesting that we throw everything out – just that we allow our dogma to be examined and be open to the idea that our understanding of the Truth can be wrong.

Its been a long time since I read the book and I couldn’t find it in order to verify, but if I remember correctly, in his example of the virgin birth, he asked if it would truly change our faith had Mary not been a virgin – and concludes that it would not – he did not conclude that Mary wasn’t a virgin.

I think this ability to be open to examination is very valuable in today’s generation – if for no other reason than today’s generation resists dogma (things that *are not willing* to be changed regardless of evidence).

When I was in Bible College, I learned something very important – ‘It’s not true BECAUSE its in the Bible; Its in the Bible BECAUSE its is true’. This way of looking at our faith allows us to ‘remove’ the brick/spring/[insert favorite fruit here] from the group and take a real good look at it in order to find the truth.

Bell also said in the book – all truth is God’s truth. If I thought the Earth was 6000 years old based on the Bible, and you proved through science that it was 4trillion years old – My understanding of the Bible changes – not my faith. And I believe that is the point of his approach.

I think you may be reading his book in context of his personal ministry, which might help you to understand how he applies the concepts to his church – but don’t throw the baby out with his bath water. The ability to take a good long look at any doctrine or dogma in light of new information gives you credibility with this generation and allows you an opportunity to minister to them – it doesn’t remove anything from you faith creating your tarp…

I am currently reading Velvet Elvis, and enjoy podcasting Rob Bell with some regularity. And part of what I enjoy about him and his books/sermons/videos/thoughts is that he forces me to make sure I know what I think and why I think it. That being said, I think I’m going to have to agree with Jason on this one. Jesus interprets scripture (OT) and lays out doctrine from it (Matt. 5:21-46), as do the apostles (2 Cor. 6:14-18), interpreting scripture and drawing doctrinal truth from it is all over the place in the NT (just read the book of Hebrews) – and this pattern clues us in that interpreting scripture is our job as followers of God. Of course these interpretations are done under the inspriation of the Holy Spirit BUT the principle still holds.

We can (and must) interpret what the Bible says, at times it is quite clear (i.e. the virgin birth) at other times it is more difficult (the souls of unborn children) – but regardless we are always interpreting and there is always a degree of certainty we can claim on our interpretations. To consider some doctrines as springs may be acceptable yet to consider all truth (represented in doctrines) as springs undermines this certainty we can have. All doctrines are not created equal. We won’t know all truth in full in this life, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t know any truth.

I fear the analogy that a truth (or true doctrine) is expendable is inherent in Bell’s analogy. And this attempt to separate the truth from how it is expressed is a step towards undermining our confidence in the Bible as a whole – God chose to reveal truth using language – God chose a medium for expressing truth, and that alone should give us confidence that on some level we can do the same, and that is the foundation for our confidence in doctrines that express truth.

Bell isn’t looking to undermine people’s confidence in the Bible, but I think it may be a consequence nonetheless. He says he affirms orthodox truth, and that is great (and often I believe he truly does and teaches the same), but that statement comes after an argument to dismantle the idea of orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is based on the existence of foundational truth – bricks, not springs. And we need not be uncomfortable with the idea of orthodox truth, it has a rich history. Orthodox truth has it’s roots in the teaching of Christ (Sermon on the Mount – Matt. 5-7).

I think the issue that Bell is reacting to is that we are at times to quick to call something a brick. And in that respect he may be right, but the answer is not to stop calling things bricks.

Good discussion on this post. I’ve enjoyed it (even if I came across it 10 months after it began)

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