Velvet Elvis has left the Building

At long last I have got around to reading Rob Bell’s ‘Velvet Elvis’ -well, starting to read it, I’ve managed the first two chapters and haven’t decided if I’ll bother with the rest. It’s a great title, well laid out and written in a style that makes me feel like an old square. But it is a book that already has raised many concerns. The fact that it is stacked high in a key spot in the local Wesley Owen bookshop is a worrying development. It will be attractive to many young Christians but if this is their diet then we are in for a lot of trouble. Here and there Bell make sense but sometimes its where he makes sense that he is most alarming.

What concerns me about the book is not only what is said but the way in which it is said. it has the appearance of wisdom and yet its basic arguments are deeply flawed. Example- in chapter 1 Bell argues that doctrines ought not to be thought of as bricks in a wall creating an edifice that will crumble should one brick be removed. Instead they ought to be treated as springs in a trampoline which give expression to our experiences of God. Like Bell I find the prospect of jumping on a trampoline more exhilarating than defending a brick wall. But what good is the trampoline if there are no springs? And might you not wish to defend your trampoline every bit as much as your brick wall if someone were trying to steal its springs? Bell is in effect talking gibberish.

Bell also speaks in this chapter of inviting people to join him on his trampoline. (Do they bring their own springs or use Bell’s -I’m not sure!) For him this is how one becomes a Christian by living the Christian life and discovering its reality. It’s a far cry from NT pictures of the Christian life which begin not with an experiment but new birth and wholehearted, life-surrendering commitment to Jesus. What happens in Bell’s version when the experience doesn’t measure up to their expectations as often happens in the course of our spiritual journey? Is there any reality beyond what we experience?

Nor does Bell’s logic improve in chapter 2. Here he gets himself in a right muddle- along with anyone else who cares to listen to him. Here he suggests that Matthew 16:19 is the hermeneutical key to Scripture. According to Bell this is Jesus giving his followers authority to make new interpretations of the Bible. Clearly that is not what the passage is about. I know of no serious Bible commentator who would suggest that. Bell clearly takes a flier on this one. But then goes on to criticise those who do not interpret the Bible in community but read it on their own. He criticises those who read the Bible assuming they do so free from outside influences- physician heal thyself.

Alarmingly for all that Bell says about reading Scripture in context he he seems to ignore that rule himself. More alarmingly he appears to be leading others down the road that Scripture has no fixed meaning.

This book is so logically flawed and misdirected I’m not sure if it is worth precious time finishing it.

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4 Responses to “Velvet Elvis has left the Building”

  1. Ryan Imel Says:

    Disagreeing with Rob is okay. Disagreement in general is alright. But don’t say that what he’s saying isn’t logical. That’s a hefty accusation, and it is not logical.

    Just because you believe what you believe and he differs does not mean anyone’s beliefs are illogical.

  2. sibbesian Says:

    Interesting comment Ryan. How can you disagree generally with something but not specifically? Why I am not allowed to say that Rob is illogical but you can say that what I have said is not logical?
    Clearly if I disagree with anyone about anything I think that what they are saying lacks logic. If I thought it was logical then I would not disagree!

  3. Gordon James Says:

    Hi!

    I started to read your page but decided it wasn’t worth the time to read but then I decided to post a comment on the above unread page calling it illogical and gibberish (your words for the book you didn’t fully read)

    I hope you have an emotional reaction to the above sentence.
    I was very uncomfortable with your blog.
    Here are some concrete reasons . . .

    1. You say
    “It’s a great title, well laid out and written in a style that makes me feel like an old square. But it is a book that already has raised many concerns.”
    I would love to know what concerns it has raised in your mind.
    I found the book a helpful challenge to our tendency in church to do the same thing over and over but not think through what we are trying to do.

    2. You say
    “It will be attractive to many young Christians but if this is their diet then we are in for a lot of trouble.”
    Again I am looking for why we are in trouble if youn christians read this book. It does not challenge orthodox doctrine or the divinity of Christ. In fact, in reading Rob Bell’s books and blog I see a great deal of orthodox teaching and a challenge for believers to really read their Bibles and figure out what it says. There are much worse places to point people than towards the scriptures.

    3. You say
    “What concerns me about the book is not only what is said but the way in which it is said . . .”
    So it is not the content, but the style that worries you?
    It is fine to dismiss an author for your own reading for issues of style but it hardly makes you an accurate observer for commentary on a book you have hardly read.

    I was looking for something helpful when I googled to your blog.
    I am surprised that it came up in the top 10 of a google search with so little real content.

    Gordon James

  4. sibbesian Says:

    Thanks for the comment Gordon. Sorry my blog entry has disappointed you. If you are looking for specifics maybe you should read the other two entries I’ve made about this book -if you can bear to! Regarding your comments-
    1. The concerns I refer to are concerns that others have raised not my own- hence I decided to read the book myself.
    2. Regarding the issues raised I’m happy to be proved wrong but I can only go with what’s in front of me. As I mentioned in my first post I have concerns about how he treats Scripture and doctrine. In my second post I raise the concern of how he defines Christian experience. In my third post I raise the concern that he seems at points to be reinventing the Christian faith. I’m happy for you to take up any of those points and show me where I’ve got the hold of the wrong end of the stick. But as far as I can see Bell is heading away from orthodox doctrine in each of these areas.
    3. If you read my comments carefully you will see what I mean by my comment about the way he says things e.g ‘it has the appearance of wisdom and yet its basic arguments are deeply flawed.’ His work is effectively, in my opinion, a triumph of style over substance.
    If you want to raise questions about any of these points in a more specific manner I’m happy to listen and to clarify my comments.

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