In Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell suggests that doctrines are flexible. He equates them with springs on a trampoline (22). He thinks this view of doctrine is superior to thinking of doctrines as bricks–where one is removed the whole faith collapses (26-27).
However, when one reads Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, in 15:12-19, a different approach to doctrine is seen. He writes that if the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is false, then there are problems. If the dead are not raised then Christ hasn’t been raised (v. 14), which results in faith in Christ being in vain (v. 14) and worthless (v. 17). Furthermore, with this doctrine missing, Paul himself is to be considered a false witness of God because he would be testifying falsely of God (v. 15).
Paul’s approach to doctrine is different than Bell’s approach to doctrine. He claims that doctrines are flexible enough to be reexamined and rethought (27); with that this present writer would agree – as would probably most Christians. A person should be able to reexamine and rethink doctrines without their whole faith crashing down. However, while Bell does well at pointing this out, he goes too far with equating doctrines as springs on a trampoline rather than bricks in a wall. The fact of the matter is that for Paul, if the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is taken out and found to be false, then the whole Christian faith hits the ground. With Bell’s approach to doctrine too much flexibility with doctrines exists.
Let the reader understand that nowhere does Bell write that the resurrection of Jesus did not happen. Bell, however, presents the doctrine of the virgin birth (26) and the Trinity (22, esp. n.5) as inconsequential elements to the faith. He affirms his belief in both of these doctrines (27); nevertheless, he questions them to the point that one would think they were merely third tier doctrinal issues. This is not the case with either of these doctrines. If either of these doctrines is false, then the Christian faith will hardly stand.
1. On the virgin birth Bell writes, “What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archaeologists find Larry’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 Martha 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 virgin, you discover that the word virgin in the gospel [sic.] of Matthew actually comes from the book of Isaiah, and then you find out that in the Hebrew language at that time, the word virgin could mean several things. And what if you discover that in the first century being ‘born of a virgin’ also referred to a child whose mother became pregnant the first time she had intercourse” (emphasis his, 26)? Bell continues, “What if that spring was seriously questioned? Could a person keep 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? I affirm the historic Christian faith, which includes the virgin birth and the Trinity” (26-27). This present writer’s point in quoting Bell at length is to show that Bell posits the virgin birth as if it were untrue, leaves it as such for the reader citing reasons why it could be considered false, but yet affirms it without explaining why he does so or if it is even true.
2. As J. I. Packer avers that the virgin birth is a “real stumbling block in Christianity” (J.I. Packer, Knowing God, [Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1973], 53). He continues, “It is here that Jews, Muslims, Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and many of those who feel the difficulties concerning the virgin birth, the miracles, the atonement, and the resurrection have come to grief” (ibid.).
Please search my column for the other posts in this series!