Do you know anybody who grew up in a religious environment, maybe even a Christian one, and walked away from faith/church/God when they turned eighteen and went away to college?
These are the words of Rob Bell. This is how he opens the discussion of LOGOS in Movement Three of his penetrating book Velvet Elvis. He calls the “movement” TRUE. I’d like to share this section with you. Before doing so let me attempt a brief summary of this portion of the book.
Some Background Information
1) Bell asserts: “…as a Christian, I am free to claim the good, the true, the holy, wherever and whenever I find it. I live with the understanding that truth is bigger than any religion and the world is God’s and everything in it.” (p. 080) Indeed, because we are God’s, and all things are God’s, then all things are ours.
2) He bases this conviction on two examples from the Apostle Paul’s writing. In one instance Paul claimed the truth of the Cretan philosopher Epimenides, calling him a prophet, when he wrote to Titus, whom he had left on the Isle of Crete with specific ministry assignments. (cf. Titus 1:5ff)
3) The second instance he references finds Paul in Athens at a meeting of the Areopagus. He notes that Paul appropriated and claimed the truth espoused by some of their own poets who had without full understanding stated, “We are his offspring.” (cf. Acts 17:22ff)
4) Thus, with Arthur Holmes, whom he quotes, Bell believes that “all truth is God’s truth.”
Against this backdrop asks the above question regarding those who turn eighteen and walk away from their faith/church/God. This is a long reading, but it is, in my estimation, quite compelling. Bell writes:
Whenever I ask this question in a group of people, almost every hand goes up. Let me suggest why. Imagine what happens when a young woman is raised in a Christian setting but hasn’t been taught that all things are hers and then goes to a university where she’s exposed to all sorts of new ideas and views and perspectives. She takes classes in psychology and anthropology and biology and world history, and her professors are people who have devoted themselves to their particular fields of study. Is it possible that in the course of lecturing on their field of interest, her professors will from time to time say things that are true? Of course. Truth is available to everyone.
But 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?
How many times have you seen this? I can’t tell you the number of people in their late teens or early twenties I know, or those I have been told about, who experience truth outside the boundaries of their religion and abandon the whole thing because they think it’s a choice (which is a fatal flaw in thing we’ll address in a moment). They are experiencing truth in all sorts of new ways, and they need a faith that is big enough to handle it. Their box is getting blown apart, and the faith they were handed doesn’t have room for what they are learning.
But it isn’t a choice, because Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, the life.” If you come across truth in any form, it isn’t outside your faith as a Christian. Your faith just got bigger. To be a Christian is to claim truth wherever you find it. It’s not truth over here and Jesus over there, as if they were two different things. Where we find one, we find the other. Jesus is quoted in the book of John saying, “I and the Father are one.” If Jesus and God are one, if Jesus shows us what God is really, truly like, and God is truth and all truth is God’s truth, the Jesus takes us into the truth, not away from it. He frees us to embrace whatever is true and good and beautiful wherever we find it.
To live this way then, we have to believe in a big Jesus. For man, Jesus was presented to them as the solution to a problem. In fact, this has been the dominant way of explaining the story of the Bible in Western culture for the past several hundred years. It’s not that it is wrong: It’s just that Jesus is so much more. The presentation often begins with sin and the condition of human beings, separated from God and without hope in the world. God then came up with a way to fix the problem by sending Jesus, who came to the world to give us a way out of the mess we find ourselves in. So if we were to draw a continuum of the story of the Bible, Jesus essentially shows up late in the game.
But the first Christians didn’t see Jesus this way, as if God were somewhere else and then cooked up some way to solve the sin problem at the last minute by getting involved as Jesus. They believed that Jesus was somehow more, that Jesus had actually been present since before creation and had been a part of the story all along.
In the first line of his gospel, John calls Jesus the “Word”. The word Word here in Greek is the word logos, which is where we get the English word logic.
Logic, intelligence, design. The blueprint of creation.
When we speak of these concepts, what we are describing is the way the world is arranged. There is some sort of order under the chaos, and some people seem to have a better handle on it than others. Some understand math, some the human psyche and others can speak clearly and compellingly about the solar system. When we say someone is intelligent, we saying they have insight as to how things are put together.
And the Bible keeps insisting that Jesus is how God put things together. The writer Paul said that Jesus is how God holds all things together. The Bible points us to a Jesus who is in some mysterious way behind it all.
Jesus is the arrangement. Jesus is the design. Jesus is the intelligence. For a Christian, Jesus’ teachings aren’t to be followed because they are a nice way to live a moral life. They are to be followed because they are the best possible insight into how the world really works. They teach us how things are.
I don’t follow Jesus because I think Christianity is the best religion. I follow Jesus because he leads me into ultimate reality. He teaches me to live in tune with how reality is. When Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me”, he was saying that his way, his words, his life is our connection to how things truly are at the deepest levels of existence. For Jesus then, the point of religion is to help us connect with ultimate reality, God. I love the way Paul puts it in the book of Colossians: These religious acts and rituals are shadows of the reality. “The reality . . . is found in Christ.”
Well, if you read this line you’re really a trooper. In my opinion, this is a topic that merits not only our thoughtful dialogue, but, also, our fervent prayers. May God help us help others, especially our precious children, come to know Him. Please do share your impressions regarding Rob Bell’s thoughts with us.
Grace and peace,
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