Saturday, 24 April 2010

Walls or Trampolines.

I was pleased that my last blog was picked up by the wider church and a verson of it maybe put on the Fresh Expressions web site. Will keep you posted.

Last Sunday we had a number of people in the congregation who were from other parts of the globe and were simply stuck at Heathrow - so came to a local church and found us. One guy was a pastor from an evangelical 'Bible based' church in Dallas, Texas. He really struck by the message I gave on 'recovering from stattered dreams'. We had a great conversation about the need for God's love to be really inclusive. It became obvious that he came from an evangelical church that was a bit different. Going onto their church website I realised I had entered a strange world. A world of orthodox belief  but expressed less in terms of solid walls but more like Rob Bell's (Velvet Elvis) 'trampoline'.

For me the future of church doesn't begin with outward form but the way we look at belief. 'Church as we know it' has been shaped by doctrinal statements. 'I believe in THE Church' says so much. However I think in a more network and less solid context we need to engage with people in more open, conversational and less 'sure' ways.

Rob Bell's trampoline floats my boat in this regard. Someone who had read 'Velvet Elvis' said to me that if Rob Bell didn't exist they would have to invent him. I think I understand and resonate with that. When you begin to wonder about whether the church is really what God had in mind, (and don't worry even the great and the good have wondered this), and when you start asking tough questions about your faith (like they do in the Bible from time to time), you can quickly find yourself in a very lonely place. We all need 'Thomas' in our lives who gives us permission to see that questions are essential to an authentic Christian life. I think people like Rob Bell offer a gateway for those of us who want to walk in 'the Way' and continue to make a differerence for God in the world.we inhabit. Jesus is on our side with this as he happens to live 'in the neighbourhood' anyway.

But Malcolm, (I hear you cry), what is this trampoline business all about? Bell begins his book with an analogy comparing traditional style faith to brick walls. With a brick wall, if you pull out just a few bricks, (a doctrine here, a faith statement there plus a lifestyle issue for good measure), the whole thing will crumble down around you. This is why some of us get very upset when you question even a little, non-central tenet of our belief or practice, let alone something a bit more central. If you pull out any brick, no matter how peripheral, you threaten the stability of faith. The wall appears quite strong and rigid, but if you begin to rethink or discuss even one brick, the whole edifice wobbles.  You go to the web and google Rob Bell for instance and you will see plenty of examples of people who see their faith in this way. One person believes that if you reject a literal understanding of the Creation story then in some strange feat of logic you cannot believe Jesus died on the Cross for the salvation of the world!

On the other hand, those with a more flexible understanding and approach to faith jump on a trampoline. You can remove a doctrine or view of life (a spring that holds the trampoline) and the trampoline will still function. You can continue, with others, to jump on the trampoline. You can continue to follow your beliefs, even if one part of them has been shaken or destroyed.

The big problem for me with 'brickianity' is that walls are inflexible and inevitably keep people out.
When the wall becomes the sum total of the beliefs God becomes as big or as small as the wall. People start comparing and defending their walls. Often it appears as though you have to agree with all of the bricks exactly as they are or you can’t join. Maybe you have been outside the wall before and even feel as if you're there now. The good news is that many of us know what it's like to be there and hey -we have discovered a God who loves being outside that wall with us.

For Rob Bell Christian experience is the art of questioning God. As he says: 'Not belligerent, arrogant questions that have no respect for our Maker, but naked, honest, vulnerable, raw questions arising out of the awe that comes from engaging the living God. This type of questioning frees us. Frees us from having it all figured out. Frees us from having answers to everything. Frees us from having to be right. It allows us to have moments when we come to the end of our ability to comprehend. Moments when the silence is enough.'

I love that thought of being freed from having to be right and to have the right answer. Maybe this truth will set us free to live and to love as Jesus did a bit more... freely.
There will be people around us who don't believe or 'do' the 'right' things and thank God for them and times when those of 'firm' faith will lose a few springs - but let's keep on jumping together and enjoying being loved and accepted. A trampoline has springs but it also has a frame. God in Jesus keeps us all intact.... analogies are not perfect so I'll stop now before this one totally collapses - metaphorically speaking!

Let me end with the mission statement from my new found friend's church in Texas:
'A safe place where anyone can attend and find God's love and acceptance. Christianity and organized religion have been riddled with debate and nuance over the issue of "who's in and who's not." It is my desire for our Church community not to become mired in these issues, but to simply declare that the Love of God is available for everyone '(John 3:16).

Let me know what you think. The trampoline image may not work for you - that's fine - it is not a firm belief! You may have more helpful images or views to share. How do you see belief? Be great to hear from you.


  1. I think maybe we are ALL outside the walls really, in our hearts. Insecurity makes us want to be in one camp or another. I struggled with that for a long time until I realised that I can be in my very own camp, because I'm unique and God loves me as I am. Yes, John 3:16.... for me it's all about the cross. I don't really understand it but I know that's were it all comes from, love, power, forgiveness, Presence.. That's where I keep returning...

  2. The day I read Velvet Elvis (and I did read it in a day) I felt a great sense of relief that someone had put into words the things that I had struggled with. This coming after we had left a church that had for five years of putting more and more bricks in the wall.

    I already had the freedom of the trampoline but reading Velvet Elvis gave me reassurance to keep on bouncing!

  3. Thanks Folks

    had a number of relies - some confidential which shows that this pressed a few buttons. I think Mikes comment about the Cross being where everything comes from is one I find really helpful. Identity, security - these key concepts impact the way we look at God, the Bible, prayer, church, the world etc

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  5. Nice post! Thanks and keep on sharing.

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