Skillful Productions Produces SoundCrawl

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I read Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis yesterday. It's an interesting book. I've not yet heard him speak, and I've never been to his church. I have seen a bunch of his Nooma videos, though. Velvet Elvis is interestingly similar in goals to The Reason for God by Keller- to explain the christian faith to postmoderns. I've also heard Mark Driscoll rail against this book for casting doubt on things like the Trinity, the Virgin Birth and 6 day creation. Truth be told, all of this is in the first chapter (excuse me, "Movement"- it continues to astound me that trendy descriptions are often taken from music! ) and primarily serves as an end-run around the opposition of the audience. Bell doesn't say, "There is no Trinity, there was no Virgin Birth, there was no 6 day creation." His overarching point is that the Christian faith is not a list of things you have to believe in a certain order to gain salvation. So while he's contrasting a trampoline-like faith (each doctrine is a spring) with a brick-like faith (each doctrine is a brick, and removal of one will cause a collapse), he uses these as examples, primarily for effect, I think.

If you don't know already Rob Bell is a pastor at Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, MI. I'd call it post-modern, post-evangelical, and maybe emergent. Bell is also widely known as the lead teacher in the Nooma videos (who pretty much own church video...there are a ton of competitors, but I'm not sure they can touch his emotive, intellecutal, soft-spoken, counselor/teacher/pastor/theologian/dude approach) Bell's biggest strength is that he views Jesus in light of the Jewish Rabbinacal tradition (something they totally left out of my sunday school!) Facts about how Rabbis gained their Disciples (and their right to interpret), local cults, customs & traditions really help to shed new light on a whole bunch of bible passages.

For instance, did you know that Caesarea Phillipi was center of the cult of Pan? (that goat-man guy). And there was this rock with huge crack in it that was called The Gates of Hell? There was, and was a part of the temple of Pan, where members of the cult would commit unclean acts with goats (half-man, right?) So when Jesus goes to Caesarea Phillipi and says and upon this Rock I will build my kingdom and the Gates of Hell won't over come it... it takes on all kinds of new meanings.

Things about Jesus' tassels, prayer shawl, and training are really enlightening. If you haven't seen the Nooma videos, these moments of Velvet Elvis will be quite striking.

Bell's coverage of the Sabbath, and of personal healing are also great news (if you haven't read or heard Hybels or Ortberg yet) to our overburdened, overcompensating American lives. Bell also covers the heresy of Rapture (this makes 3 books in 4 months covering it!) I believe he owes a debt of gratitude to N.T. Wright for this last point. In all of these topics, I believe Bell is a welcome voice in the field of American Christianity.

My biggest problem is that this book seems really concerned with distancing itself with evangelical christianity. His main points are not that Christianity is true and eternal, but that Christianity means loving others, God and ourselves. He seems to say "As long as you love people and feel connected to the guy who keeps it all together, you're pretty much a Christian." He takes time to discredit altar calls, church signs, the interpretation of "the way, the truth and the life," "wives obey your husbands", the aforementioned trinity, 6 day creation & virgin birth, and all of this to support the "love other people" command?

I'm much more comfortable with Reformed writers like Keller and Driscoll or Anglicans like Wright and Begbie who stand apart from the practices & heresies of American evangelicalism, but don't find it necessary to nitpick its flaws. Bell would never paint Catholicism, Orthodoxy or Judaism in such a light, so it bugs me he finds it necessary.

I feel like Velvet Elvis is like a Children's bible for de-churched postmoderns. It alters the presentation of Jesus to make it more palatable and welcome to those who question its value or have had negative experiences with Christianity in the past. To that end, its a great and valuable resource.

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