Friday, January 8, 2010

Book Review: Velvet Elvis

Book Review: Velvet Elvis: Repainting The Christian Faith by Rob Bell

Velvet Elvis is the first book by Rob Bell, emergent church leader and founding pastor of Mars Hill, a 10000+ attender church in Grand Rapids. Written in a challenging yet gentle style the book is unlike anything I have read before. It is an invitation to think about faith in a new way. It is radical yet simple and easy to understand. Bell has the ability to take old concepts and make them new again, putting his unique slant on everything from missions to church growth to salvation. The book felt enjoyable to read but I found myself asking the same question "Is Rob Bell a heretic?" The reason is that there are some smart people people who say he is. The only close to heretical thing I found in the book was related to his understanding of forgiveness and how it applies to the unsaved. It annoys me how I could not fully drop the bias I received by hearing people's criticism ahead of reading his book.

Rarely have I found a book so difficult to review. I liked it very much yet also feel cautious? It's also difficult to categorize. Whether Bell is a heretic or not, I still benefited from reading the book and if anyone is looking for a jolt to their faith life, this book could be it. Could also be a great small group read. I rate it 4 ninja starts out of 5.


A Mom After God's Own Heart said...

Sounds like a great book Mark....very intriguing to say the least....I may have to add it to my ever growing list of books to read this year!!!

Elayne said...

I have had the book for a few years now, started reading it and got bogged down. I may just have to pick it up after I finish my current read by Philip Yancey "Reaching for the Invisible God" Have you read it? I just started reading it though I think I read it a number of years ago.

Marc Vandersluys said...

Great book!

Coupla questions:

1. What did he say about forgiveness that was heretical?

2. Which "smart" people say he's a heretic?

The strongest balanced criticism I've heard of Bell (in this book specifically) is that some of his rabbinic explanations/interpretations are based on Rabbinic teachings which did not exist prior to the writing on the New Testament.

I do remember that whole bit about trampolines vs. brick walls (and I think he related it to evolution) caused quite a stink in our small group. There was a distinct divide between those who liked what he said and those who were very uncomfortable with it. But, as you say, it's good to be jolted every now and then.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mark, just thought I would share our experiences with this guy.

We went through many of his videos last year with the youth group here and while we enjoyed them and learned from them, there were a couple issues that we did come across. I don't remember off the top of my head what they were exactly but it was along the lines of some "new agey" ( yes a technical term )ideas mixed in with the solid ideas that made us as leaders a little nervous about using the movies as material. After one video in particular we decided to stop and not use them any more. It was something about Peter walking on water and having faith in yourself and not in Christ and also there was some clear problems with his interpretation of a verse compared with the original Greek.

So anyway, needless to say I am a little skeptical of his teachings now, even though I'm sure most of what he says is beneficial.

Keith F.

Marc Vandersluys said...

I have trouble believing that Bell would suggest that we believe in ourselves rather than Jesus.

Having said that, the "believe in yourself" motto is I have come across in Christian writing. It may have been Bell, but for some reason I'm thinking it was John Ortberg in "If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat".

Of course, "New Agey" could be anything. Depending on who you talk to, contemplative prayer, for instance, could be "New Agey" or it could be an essential spiritual discipline for Christians.

Mark said...

Marc: Good questions. First question: some would say that it is heresy (as Bell asserts in Velvet Elvis) that those in Hell are forgiven by God. I'm not sure what I think on that one, I've read good defenses for such a theology and good attacks on it as well. Second question: In researching Rob Bell I found literally hundreds of critiques of Rob Bell! Many of those were by hard nosed fundamentalist types who believe that almost everyone is a heretic but others were well read pastors and a few theologians. These mean were respectful yet didn't pull punches in critiquing Bell's theology (and I admit they have some good points). I would guess that even at Prov you'd find some of the prof's who would think his teachings are out to lunch. I have heard all sorts of claims against him including that he is pro-homosexuality, a universalist, and doesn't believe in the virgin birth! Of course I haven't read any of his other writings but I could see how some could see him as a universalist (which some see as unorthodox or even heretical).

Keith: Thanks for sharing your experiences. I find that with Bell many people either love him or hate him - not much room in between! I have heard the "new agey" label on him before but then I wonder what exactly people mean by it. What part of his teachings did you not agree with?

Lindsay said...

I'm in the 'love him' camp. This book was definitely instrumental in strengthening my faith to bring me where I am today. It took so many concepts from my Sunday School youth and made them fresh and relevant to me.

That said, I'm not that interested in going deep into theology or analyzing and breaking down everything someone says about faith. I'm a big picture person and I care more about my personal experience with a book and how it made me think and feel than whether or not every sentence in it is literally matching exactly what I believe about life, the universe, and everything. Some of my greatest spiritual experiences with books have been from non-religious books simply because they resonated with me and really got me thinking about what I believe and how I live in this world.

It's totally cool if someone doesn't like the book - or Rob Bell. I respect that. I just know that this particular book has lead to some phenomenal discussions with my friends and has lead me to a deeper relationship with my God.

Stacey said...

I think if you watched some of the Nooma DVDs, you'd see what we are thinking in regard to the 'new agey' thing. We have a full set from 1-21 if you ever want to borrow them :) Or buy them! Seriously, I don't even feel comfortable having them in my house anymore.

Jay Boaz said...

I've seen the Nooma videos two or three times (with different groups), and I've never cared for them. I can't quite put my finger on why, but they've just never appealed to me.