'Velvet Elvis' Author Encourages Exploration of Doubts

Megachurch pastor Rob Bell says faith in Jesus must be repainted for each generation if it's to avoid the fate of Elvis kitsch.

BY: Charles Honey
Religion News Service

 

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Cryderman says he has "high expectations" for the book because, unlike most books about Christianity, it encourages readers to question their beliefs and church teachings.

"It's refreshing to have somebody say, `Go ahead, test it all you want,' instead of, `There must be something wrong with you because you've got some doubts."'

Indeed, Bell urges readers to test his own text. The Bible itself, he writes, is a book that constantly must be wrestled with and re-interpreted. He dismisses claims that "Scripture alone" will answer all questions. Bible interpretation is colored by historical context, the reader's bias and current realities, he says. The more you study the Bible, the more questions it raises.

"It is not possible to simply do what the Bible says," Bell writes. "We must first make decisions about what it means at this time, in this place, for these people."

Noting the Bible has been used to defend slavery and mistreat women, he writes, "sometimes when I hear people quote the Bible, I just want to throw up."

In similarly bold language, Bell tackles questions about Jesus, salvation, the institutional church and religious prejudice.

Sprinkled throughout are his own spiritual awakenings and struggles, from first feeling in awe of God at a U2 concert to freaking out over the demands of Mars Hill.

The book, one of two Zondervan has contracted him to write, is "just a reflection of my own journey," Bell says.

"My intent has always been to discover the real Christ and the resurrected Christ, and what (he) is saying to me and to us," says Bell, 34, with the excited intensity of someone equally at home with a Bible or a skateboard.

He is sitting in the warehouse offices of Flannel, a nonprofit film company that has produced a series of short videos featuring Bell. In each, he delivers a faith-based message in the hip, witty style that has packed worshippers into Mars Hill.

Many of them are looking for what Bell says his book offers -- "a fresh take on Jesus."

"I think a lot of people are deeply fascinated with Jesus and just can't do the Christian packages they've seen. Christianity is a little suspect, but Jesus, right on. So I'm trying to free Jesus from the religion that's built up around him."

Too many churches put Jesus and the Bible into a walled-in worldview where no questions are allowed, Bell says.

In this "brickianity," as he calls it, church doctrines are like bricks. Removing one can bring the whole wall tumbling down.

"What terrifies me are communities that don't have questions," Bell says. "If there's any place where you would express your deepest doubts, it would be church."

Doctrines should be more like springs, helping people jump joyfully toward God, he writes.

He compares it to jumping on a trampoline with his sons, Trace and Preston.

"I am far more interested in jumping than I am in arguing about whose trampoline is better," he writes.

At Mars Hill and elsewhere, he sees thousands who want to jump on. They're hungry for the infinite mystery of God and the "revolution" Jesus could make in their lives and the world. He calls for a faith that fights poverty, injustice and suffering -- to make "this world the kind of place God can come to."

"We want a faith that demands everything of us," he says. "We want it to shake us up and turn us upside down."

Bell also shakes up traditional evangelical beliefs. While calling Christ's way "the best possible way to live," Bell writes Jesus did not claim one religion is better than another when he said he was "the way, the truth and the life." Rather, he writes, "his way is the way to the depth of reality."

As a follower of Jesus, Bell says, he is free to claim the truth wherever he finds it.

"One of the lies is that truth only resides in this particular community or that particular thought system," Bell says. "I affirm the truth anywhere in any religious system, in any worldview. If it's true, it belongs to God."

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