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.