Saturday, June 22, 2013

Rob Bell and the Kinetic Force of Truth

"...the truth shall set you free." John 8:32

In his book Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell uses an interesting metaphor to describe the Christian life (or "journey," if you prefer). He said it is like jumping on a trampoline. The jumping is your life experiences, propelling you closer and closer to God. The springs on the trampoline represent the various Christian doctrines, giving support and strength to your jumping. They keep it working, but (says Bell) they are not the point. The point of the trampoline is to jump. If we focus on the springs rather than on jumping, then we will never jump (or won't jump well). Likewise, if we spend all our time focusing on doctrine rather than knowing God, then we will never know God (or won't know Him well). If we lose a spring or swap it for a different one, it doesn't matter as long as we keep jumping. Thus, if we lose belief in a particular doctrine (i.e., the Trinity or the Virgin birth) or swap it for a different one, it doesn't matter as long as we continue knowing God, because that's primary. All else is secondary.

I sympathize with the image. Knowing God, drawing deeper in and closer to the Godhead in all His Beauty, is the fundamental purpose of our lives. To know God more is to love Him more, and to love Him more and more is how we glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. Furthermore, we shouldn't let secondary (or even tertiary) issues bog us down. Some things are better left to preference; others to silence. God is primary, and all else is indeed secondary.

I agree with the image so much, in fact, that I believe it reveals two flaws in Bell's idea that doctrines, central doctrines like the Trinity and the Virgin Birth, are "secondary" things that can be easily discarded when we find them inconvenient.

You're doing it wrong.
The first flaw is that, while springs are secondary to the act of jumping, they are no less necessary, for without them you couldn't even begin to jump. Bell incorrectly assumes that "secondary" is equivalent to disposable, which is not always the case, and his trampoline image proves it. No one buys a trampoline for its springs; they buy it to jump. However, no one would buy a trampoline without springs, because that would defeat the purpose of jumping. No springs, no jumping. Likewise, no doctrine, no knowing God. God is not known in the abstract or ethereal, in secret or dark places (Is. 45:19). He is only known in some kind of concrete tangible, whether it be a word or a person. "No man has seen God at any time...[but] he who sees Me has seen the Father" (John 1:18; 14:8-9), i.e., God must be enfleshed if we are to know Him; the trampoline must be enspringed if we are to jump upon it.

The second flaw is that, while you may continue to jump even if you lose springs, you will necessarily jump lower. Bell also incorrectly assumes that losing (or even swapping) springs will somehow have either no effect or a negligible effect on your jumping, which is not true. To lose a spring is to lose part of the kinetic energy to jump. Lose enough of them and you lose jumping all together. If you want to keep jumping (and jumping well), then you need all the springs, working together. Likewise, to lose a doctrine (especially a central doctrine) is to lose part of the concrete tangibles that bring God into your life. Lose enough of them, and you lose God all together, disappearing into a cloud of vagaries and guesswork. If you want to know God, to have Him be real in your life, then you don't just need doctrines; you need a creed, a coalition of doctrines working together in a solid orthodoxy that will propel you deeper and deeper into God.

Dig deeper, son.
Furthermore, if you want to jump higher (which is part of Bell's overall image), it will certainly do you no good to lose springs, but it also won't do you any good to simply swap them out for different springs (or even not-springs). What you need is stronger springs, not different ones or none at all. You need springs that are thicker, tighter, capable of producing even more kinetic force. Likewise, if you want to know God more, then don't lose your doctrines or continually swap them out for different ones. Make them stronger, deeper, thicker, truer. Don't abandon them because them seem confusing or overwhelming; dive into them. Study and study them, find their logic, purpose, and application(s), and then make them your own. You will not get closer to God by simply abandoning your truths or swapping them around like a never-ending shell-game. You need to drill down into them, thickening them up, for truth has its own kinetic force. It alone has the power to launch you further into the heavens. It alone can set you free to fly.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

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