Customer Review

233 of 296 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Passion without pushing, September 5, 2005
This review is from: Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith (Hardcover)
Bell, Rob. Velvet Elvis. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005. 194 pages.

Velvet Elvis invites us to the pathos of the Christian faith. It reminds us that faith is about life, about redemption, about forgiveness. The book, if nothing else, is refreshing.

It is a story for people who are exhausted by their own efforts and want to be renewed by something beyond themselves. It is theologically merciful, meaning that the book asks next to nothing of us, while it relates to the fact that we've spent all we had getting to where we are. One more requirement would be too many, so Bell is nice to us.

It is the voice of the age. It is environmentalist, appealing to the systematically-college-educated, and tired of Boomers. It is spiritual and even Christian while decrying the preachy and inauthentic. Bell at one point asks us, "Are you smoking what you're selling?" You sense he could probably be more crass if he didn't have an editor and an audience.

The unique appeal of Rob Bell is his curiosity with first century Judaism and its effects on the New Testament letters. Despite the weakness that vastly different strands of Jewish thought are attributed to the anonymous, "ancient rabbis," he taps into the American fascination with "secrets" behind the Bible. The same urge that made us read the Da Vinci Code makes us listen to Rob Bell-he seems to know something that 2000 years of history have missed. He at one point overstates his point, saying that reading the Bible without a knowledge of the first century is "lethal," apparently a tragedy for those third world readers who don't have access to Bell's education. Nonetheless, we can't help but be engaged with his studies. This is his mysticism.

The weaknesses of the book all derive from this mysticism. Bell doesn't want to take too many stands, and seems unaware of the fact that the culture around him is going to require some definitive answers of him. He insists that any reading of the Bible is only an interpretation and not the objective truth. But he seems naïve to the overused observation that you cannot make such definitive statements without depending on some kind of objective truth. Clearly he thinks he is objectively correct in saying so.

His core theology seems to consist of the epistemically unfounded doctrines: Jesus is cool, God is awesome, Jewish history is cool. It's not really clear why I should be interested in Jesus or believe the Bible to be anything more than complex myth-making. He cites the example of a woman in his congregation who had been practicing witchcraft but can't stop coming to his church. This is about as much credit as Bell gives us. We're assumed to be too stupid to ask the question, "So how do you know?" He even undermines himself here, showing how any rational person could believe that the virgin birth is a myth, and then arbitrarily affirms the doctrine. I don't think most of us will follow him down the path of blind theology. It's going to become even harder for him to stay where he is when we ask some simple, common questions like: "Can the pastor be gay? Is the church that refuses women pastors wrong?" etc.

His theology is pleasantly free from blame. He says that he can't find any place in the Bible where we are to identify ourselves first and foremost as sinners (though that in fact is the whole foundation of the book of Romans). Sin, generally, falls to the wayside in Bell's theology. Perhaps the most sad example of this (p 92) is Bell's willingness to do a wedding for people who don't want him to talk about God or Jesus but just make the wedding spiritual. One could analogize this to a doctor who is willing to forego medicine to make his patients more comfortable.

The high points of the book are two. First, there is a whole-hearted rejection of the boomer churches that gave Bell birth. He overturns the tables of the seeker-sensitive, numbers-oriented churches (p 99). And yet, he never seems to hold to his affirmations. He says he hates marketing for churches, and he hates numbers. Then he goes on to tell us how many people come to his church, and he hides the true marketing that got his church started. To read VE, it seems that Bell just started a church without telling anyone, and 1000 people came the first Sunday to find a staff already in place. He never mentions Ed Dobson's influence on him. Somehow I think he's not telling the whole story. It reads like the calling of the disciples, where Jesus just says, "Follow me," and they go. Nonetheless, the story concludes with Bell's own exhaustion and his exhortation that we kill the superwhatever that drives us to success. Bell says he had to take superpastor out back and kill it (p 116). May all readers cheer.

The second high point is that God's presence is so strong in creation that missionaries need only have better eyesight than others. Missionaries simply see God whether other people have missed him (p 88).

I have a feeling this book may sell the way Bell's church grew. Everyone knew him beforehand through his speaking engagements at Willow Creek and the National Youth Workers' Conventions, but in the end, he can say it just sold like crazy with no advertising. It's so mysterious, he will tell us.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 14, 2006 6:35:17 AM PST
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Dec 9, 2006 8:23:03 PM PST
K. Nelson says:
I was surprised that you still gave this book a four. Based on your review, I would have expected a lower rating.

Posted on Dec 21, 2006 1:09:22 PM PST
B. Lambert says:
I don't quite understand your post. First you give the book four stars but you never really say anything positive about it. You go on to use a lot of big words almost as though you are appealing to an audience outside of the ones who would read this book. Then I notice that you are plugging your own book when you filled in your name in this post. By the way shouldn't it be author of "God _______" instead of "author of God _________?"

Frankly, I think you gave four stars and wrote a long post with big words because you knew that it would appear at the top of the list on one of the most popular books of evangelical Christianity this year. Essentially, you did this just so you could pick up the free advertising. Maybe you could use some of the "mysticism" to sell your own book. But I could be wrong.

Posted on May 11, 2007 12:11:16 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 5, 2007 6:38:56 AM PDT
G. Gilbert says:
I thought this review of the book was excellent. And how can someone give four stars and still say "negative things?" The same way that I gave the book four stars and gave some negative feedback. I think that the positives of this book very much speak for themselves, but that the negatives of the book are not so readily visable. I thought that at many points the book was excellent, but share J. Miller's concerns about some of the basis' of Rob's conclusions. The book deserves four stars of positive, and about one star of negative. Enjoy~!

(note: it's very interesting how intensely people who are Rob Bell fans feel they need to defend him. I can understand not liking to hear negative feedback about a book, but the strong reactions to a very respectful review are quite fact I'm willing to bet that Rob would appreciate the kind of review that J. Miller left, as just 'more of the dialouge.')

(note #2 to B. Lambert - when you set up an Amazon account, you can give yourself a nickname, or something brief about yourself which Amazon then puts in quotes after your name. Some people like to put that they're an author, scientist, whatever: J. Miller decided to put "author of God of Scent" as a tag to his name. It's not just a plug contra Rob's book...although it could look that way)

Posted on Jun 25, 2007 6:53:58 AM PDT
Don Sayers says:
Thank you for pointing out that Bell's book is much like his teaching - a message looking for a purpose. If there was ever a book printed to capitilize on a meaningless and hopeless trend in the church, it is this one. Bell's theology is so deceptive and inconsistant that people will soon realize they are following a question not an answer. Do you think Bell is interested in reaching a destination or truth or just making noise for the sake of self-promotion? Thank you for the 'voice of our age' approach - one that loves just a 'pinch' of sarcasm. Well done.

Posted on Jun 2, 2008 1:28:22 PM PDT
BubbaCoop says:
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