Review: Velvet Elvis

When I saw Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis in the value bin at McCay’s, I figured I could spare $2 for the potential of a book with a name like velvet elvis…

Background: Rob Bell was founding pastor of Mars Hill Church (now led by Mark Driscoll) and is the main guy in the first several Nooma videos, if you’re familiar with them.

All in all, Bell and I wouldn’t share the exact same page theologically, though I doubt he would want to label this as a book of theology. I think his goal would be to get people to think about the state of their faith. Is it borrowed? Is it old? Is it really in touch with the word of God and the world of today? Can those two worlds coincide?

Here are the gems I think are worth your consideration and discussion:

  • “If your Bible study doesn’t leave you in awe and filled with wonder, you haven’t really studied the Bible.” I love this sentiment! If the word is really still living and active, this statement must have merit. He scoffs at the modernistic tendency to view the Bible as a collection of data to be analyzed. He would say it takes the living book and murders it—taking the spirit away from the body, to use the language of James. Bible study should be transformative.
  • Bell talks about the traditions of first century Jewish teaching and leadership. I’m not in a position to evaluate the accuracy of his information or research, (though the book is well foot-noted), so I will assume these references are solid. He says that a rabbi’s understanding and interpretation of Torah, of what is binding and what is permitted, of the rules for the life of his disciple is called his yoke. He then refers to a rabbi who proclaimed that his yoke was easy, and his burden was light. Neat connection!
  • The Jerusalem conference of Acts 15 to determine what to do about Gentile converts used the phrase, “It seemed good to us and the Spirit…” Bell makes much of this—if the apostle-driven leadership that was attested to by the miraculous measure of the Spirit could only say “It seemed good…” in something as central as salvation, we might ought to approach our understanding of scripture with the humility of the word “seems.” The phrase “the Bible clearly says” is bandied about by a lot of different people teaching a lot of different things, and at some point, its continued usage is demeaning to the Word of God because it hides (or denies) my fallible role in reading, hearing, understanding, and living it.
  • Bell argued that “all truth is ultimately God’s truth” regardless of source.
  • Christian makes a great noun, but a lousy adjective. When people begin to label things as “Christian” – the label invariably gets applied to things it shouldn’t (lousy music, institutions, businesses, nights at the Preds game, etc) and not applied to things it should (helping those in need, etc.)
  • Here’s a controversial conversation starter: Bell says that he does not want us to be the church of the New Testament, because that implies that the authority is within the church, rather than the one who owns the church. What say ye?
  • My personal favorite of the book: Bell tells the story of the explosion of the Mars Hill church. They had 1,000 their first Sunday, and had grown to 4,000 in a few months. Members were told to bring  chairs if they wanted to bring visitors, because there were literally not enough seats. As the church grew, the parking lot became a nightmare, and tempers flared. When Bell got word of the not-so-nice words and waves being exchanged in the parking lot, he preached the next Sunday: “If you’re not a Christian, and you’re here, you are always welcome. If you are a Christian, and you can’t even act like one in the parking lot, please do us a favor and stop calling yourself one, because it really screws it up for the rest of us. And by the way, someone else could really use your chair.” He said the audience started applauding—I know I would have.

All in all, while I wouldn’t take Bell as my primer to scripture, he raised some great points and opens the door to some great discussion of scripture. I’d recommend it as a dollar bin read for established Christians.