Issue: In Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell writes in the chapter entitled “Jump” -
Somebody recently gave me a videotape of a lecture given by a man who travels around speaking about the creation of the world. At one point in his lecture, he said that if you deny that God created the world in six literal twenty-four-hour days, then you are denying that Jesus ever died on the cross. It’s a bizarre leap of logic, I would say. (026)
Earlier in the chapter, he created a metaphor contrasting doctrines as either bricks or springs. Bricks are fixed in size in shape (i.e. doctrines as bricks implies that we know the exact correct interpretation of the verses in question and the system to tie them them all together), whereas springs can flex and stretch (i.e. doctrines as springs implies that there may be room for disagreement over interpretation, and that there may be no ’system’ tying them all together).
Some have taken this analogy past its intent, suggesting Bell means that we can remove springs entirely from the Tramploine, but Bell also writes:
In fact, [a springâ€™s] stretch and flex are what makes it so effective. It is firmly attached to the frame and the mat, yet it has room to move. And it has brought a fuller, deeper, richer understanding to the mysterious being who is God. (022)
With that little bit of context (you really need to read the entire chapter for the full context of the discussion), here is the passage Ken likes to isogete
What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archeologists find Larryâ€™s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births?
But what if, as you study the origin of the word â€œvirginâ€ you discover that the word â€œvirginâ€ in the gospel of Matthew actually comes from the book of Isaiah, and then you find out that in the Hebrew language at that time, the word â€œvirginâ€ could mean several things. And what if you discover that in the first century being â€œborn of a virginâ€ also referred to a child whose mother became pregnant the first time she had intercourse?
What if that spring were seriously questioned? Could a person keep on jumping? Could a person still love God? Could you still be a Christian? Is the way of Jesus still the best possible way to live? Or does the whole thing fall apart? (026,027)
CRN’s Take: Ken suggests that Bell denies the virgin birth, and in doing so, denies the Christian faith. Additionally, because Bell often makes use of the Hebrew spoken in the first century rather than the Greek used in our earliest copies of the gospels, he must be heretical and in love with unregenerate Jewish rabbis.
Chris’ Take: Ken is sorely mistaken on all counts, not adding in the paragraphs right after his isogetical quotation:
I affirm the historic Christian faith, which includes the virgin birth and the trinity and the inspiration of the Bible and much more. Iâ€™m a part of it and I want to pass it on to the next generation. I believe that God created everything and that Jesus is Lord and that God has plans to restore everything.
But if the whole faith falls apart when we reexamine and rethink one spring, then it wasnâ€™t that strong in the first place, was it?
This is because a brick is fixed in size. It can’t flex or change size, because if it does, then it can’t fit into the wall. What happens then is that the wall becomes the sum total of beliefs, and God becomes as big as the wall. But God is bigger than any wall. (027)
While I believe Bell could have used a historic example (like Galileo disproving the church’s doctrine on the relationship between the earth, sun and the cosmos), it probably would not have been as effective. Ken actually went on to prove Bell’s point, giving his own extra-Biblical interpretation of the virgin birth – that Mary’s virginity was necessary for Jesus to have been a perfect sacrifice. While this may or may not be true, it is a traditional assumption made by a number of church fathers, but not explicitly stated in scripture.
Bell is using a logical comparitor that many Christians are accused of ignoring, making them appear to be anti-science. However, we can use the following as a guide:
In this world we have truth and we have opinion. Where conflict happens is where we mistake one for the other. What do we do when we appear to have a conflict in â€˜truthâ€™?
1) The Bible, itself, it true.
2) Nature, which was created by God, points to Him and does not contradict Him.
3) Only when God has a specific purpose in mind does He contradict the laws of nature that He created (as wih Jesusâ€™ miracles, the parting of the Red Sea, etc.)
4) If it appears that Biblical truth and scientific truth conflict, then one – or both – of them are not actually truth, but they are our opinion (or interpretation), unless #3 has occurred. (source: forgotten by me from an old sermon…)
What Bell is trying to do is set up a hypothetical in which #1 must be true, #2 is true (i.e. “What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof”), then what if it is just our interpretation that is off? It is not only about apologetics, but it is also about understanding what is actually Biblical and what are traditional teachings. Could have he used a better example? Yes. Does it make a heretic? No.
As for Ken’s second issue – Hebrew vs. Greek – we do not have copies of the ‘original’ gospel documents, the very first ones written down. A large number of scholars recognize that there was most likely a common source document or oral history that was used by Matthew, Mark and Luke, and that it was almost certainly written in Hebrew. This is referred to as part of the ‘synoptic problem‘, and it has nothing to do with heresy.
I also have a study guide I’ve written for this particular chapter in Velvet Elvis.