In Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell frees us to consider God beyond the picture someone else painted for us in order to find an authentic understanding of the Christian faith God doesn't have boundaries, and faith doesn't have to be limited to what someone else has told us God is alive Faith is alive Velvet Elvis helps us find our faith And even if it doesn't, it encourages us to keep looking Faith doesn't end with this book But it just might begin

10 thoughts on “Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith

  1. Josh Summers Josh Summers says:

    1) I really like Bell's enthusiasm and passion for helping people break out of a religious system that many times can be boring and basically anything but alive. Sometimes I think that I myself am far too intertwined with this system which, although good in many ways, is still man-made.

    2) Bell's call to test it. Probe it. is good advice. I have the awful tendency to read books, accepting most everything that I read as long as I trust the author or person who recommended the book to me.

    3) I think that the way we respond to testing and probing is what can separate believers from non-believers, but unfortunately it doesn't. As you'll see below, there are some very big disagreements I have with Bell, but some of the things I've seen written and done in protest of his teachings is unbelievable. Protesting outside Bell's fellowship telling people they're going to hades isn't much of a disagreement, it borders on hatred.

    4) All that being said, I have some very significant problems with some of Bell's theology. The first is his use of the trampoline analogy. Now obviously no analogy can be perfect, but the statement that all tenets of faith outside of Jesus are springs, and therefore we must be willing to allow them to flex, is very unBiblical. Now I agree with him regarding the man who said that if you don't believe in a 24-hour day creation, you don't believe in the cross. If by springs he means that we need to be open to various interpretation, I am all for that. It is when he wants my foundation to flex that I have a problem. Speaking of the virgin birth he says, What if that spring was seriously questioned? Could a person still keep jumping? My personal answer is that if I found that the virgin birth was untrue, the gospel writers knowingly putting a myth into their writings and thus compromising the inspiration of the Word, yes I would have some serious questions. But my personal answer doesn't carry as much weight as Paul's in regard to the resurrection saying, ...if [the Son] is not risen...then your faith is also vain. (I Cor 15:14). That doesn't sounds like a spring to me. I believe there are certain things which are bricks, or if I may add to Bell's analogy, maybe the stands on which the trampoline is raised. You take that away and you'll find that jumping on the trampoline is no different than jumping on the regular ground.

    5) There was something that bothered me all through the first half of the book which I couldn't put my finger on until he basically wrote it out. Although I admire Bell's passion, I'm wary of his focus. Although he's not fully a saved by works preacher, he gets far too close in my mind by not emphasizing the power of the cross. Like I said, I couldn't put my finger on it until he got to his theory about Peter walking on water. That just blew my mind. Bell states, Who does Peter lose faith in? Not Jesus; Jesus is doing fine. Peter loses faith in himself. The idea that the Son willingly gave up His life so that people like me could realize how great I already am and all of the things I am capable of borders on blasphemy. In response to that I want to ask Bell what happened when Peter got back into the boat. Did he apologize for not meeting his potential? Did he promise that next time he would be more confident in himself? Of course not. He worships the Son. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I think those two words were missing in too much of Bell's ideology.

    6) Bell far too often portrays the Word as full of metaphors. Yes, we desperately need to find the relevance for today, to apply it to our lives. I agree that this might be why so much of our system seems dead. However, what gives me hope in the life to come is not a personal, very subjective ...experience of [the Son] that transcends place and time as Bell says, but rather the fact that the Son died and rose again on my behalf. I think the writers themselves make it clear that their purpose wasn't to provide metaphors, but to give us the story of our existence. Luke says, Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught (Lk 1:3-4).

    To conclude my thoughts, I think that Bell is very well-intentioned and should serve as a wake-up call for many people, including myself, to see how much of what I consider to be my faith is in actuality just my system or culture. While I think that I should stand against what I believe to be foundational errors in Bell's theology, I think that the best reaction I or any person can have to objections is to expend my energy not on combative arguments but on being just as passionate for what I hold to be true. I hold that in Him, and not of myself or anything that I can do, grace is given as a gift through the sacrifice of the Son for our justification - but more importantly for His glory.

  2. Phil Ward Phil Ward says:

    I think this book has tremendously helpful applications. There are so many challenges that are expressed through the genuine reflection of the current state of Christianity. The challenge to think deeply and to ask questions about what Christianity is and what it means. These are helpful bits of advice. There are great nuggets of wisdom that challenge people to read the Bible with the understanding that the events themselves really did happen. They are real stories about real people in real places. Moreover, the challenge to live authentically is prevalent within the writing of Rob Bell. One can truly appreciate his candid way of expressing his ideas and concerns.

    The danger lies from the consistent use of argumentation that Christianity must let go of Doctrine and the need to fight for Orthodox doctrine and instead the fight should be to love Jesus and to love others as Jesus loved others. This on the surface sounds great. But if we are to implement the very things that Rob Bell writes about, such as asking questions, then we find ourselves in a place where we are forming ideas about God, these are often called doctrines. For example Bell says that we ought not fight for correct doctrine but instead we ought to live like Jesus lived, authentically and passionately obeying God's will in serving and loving others. Here are the questions: who was Jesus? what was Jesus like? who did Jesus think he was? who did his disciples think he is? was he morally correct? why should one follow this guy Jesus? By answering these questions we begin to formulate a belief and an understanding about who Jesus is. This is called Christology. The need to define who Jesus was in the New Testament is a doctrine with significant importance because it alone can differentiate correct and incorrect ideas of Jesus of the New Testament. Mormons believe in the Jesus of the New Testament and so do the Evangelicals. Who is right? Can both be right? No, because that is a logical fallacy. Then which is right? Only a set of beliefs about Jesus, a doctrine of Jesus, can sufficiently answer that question. Doctrine is important, but it is not the end, it is the means; the means to the end of thinking and worshiping God correctly and avoiding intellectual idolatry.

  3. Genevieve Trainor Genevieve Trainor says:

    Recently, I've been doing a lot of writing concerning my own beliefs and faith practices. It tends to come up occasionally amongst my group of friends, as I'm one of only a few (if any?) practicing Christians, and I tend to think a lot about faith issues generally because my church tends to be very thought-provoking and inspiring.

    About a month ago, I emailed one of my writings to my pastor, almost half-expecting him to call me a nutter and suggest I not return. Instead, he said Read this book, I think you'll love it!

    He was right!

    Sometimes, especially living in the conservative midwest, I become convinced that my views on the state of modern Christianity and on faith and belief in general are out there, wacky, or downright sacreligious. It's very nice to be reassured that, all of a sudden, I appear to be part of a movement. There really are people out there reading their Bibles and NOT falling into the psycho-fundie trap! There really are people out there who think that Jesus' message and mission are a damn sight more important than traditions that end up driving more people away from God than drawing them in. There really are other folks who realize that the bottom line isn't how many rules you follow correctly, but (oh what was it that crazy kook called Christ said??) Love the Lord your God and Love your neighbor as yourself.

    At the core of Rob Bell's teachings is the historically-focused practice of humble questioning. He points out that in the Judaic tradition of Jesus, learning was more than just rote memorization - you were *supposed* to answer a question with a question. Furthermore, the faith tradition of Jesus was always intended to grow and change with the times... and it always has! It's an easy trap to fall into, to accept the revolutionary teachings of a wise predecessor, and forget that they *weren't tradition* when they were first suggested.

    This book had me almost constantly smiling, and not just because Bell was simply eloquently stating my own thoughts. His writing style is casual, conversational and accessible. His history was in-depth enough to engender trust, yet interesting enough to make me want to actually read up on ancient Judaic practices myself! It would be a great book for anyone who is new to Christianity, and CERTAINLY for anyone who finds themself put off by the current public face of the faith.

    Just be forewarned - his end-notes will have you running to the library to increase your personal Mt. To-Be-Read!

  4. Matt Moment Matt Moment says:

    Keeping in mind that this is the first Christian book I've ever finished and that I loath going into Christian stores and purchasing things produced by Christian companies my review of this book will consist only of a single idea portrayed in the piece that is worth all four of the stars I gave it.

    I can't find the exact quote but here's the idea (and it's geared toward proclaimed Christians);
    If you woke up tomorrow and there were irrefutable evidence that Mary, Mother of Jesus, was NOT a virgin would it discredit all that Jesus Christ taught and did?

    This idea BLEW my mind. The idea that all of the Christian faith is built up like a wall, some of us are in and some of us are out and some us us think evangelism simply means pulling people to our side of the wall and saving them. Furthermore the idea that if a brick were to be removed from the wall (i.e. Mary NOT being a virgin as we understand it) would cause the whole thing to shake and eventually crumble.
    This idea is so powerful to me that it redeems any shortcomings this book may or may not posses.

    If you think yourself a Christian than I challange you to consider the idea of repainting the faith with Rob Bell.

    If you aren't a Christian than maybe you can take solace in reading this piece and realizing that not all Christians fit the socially conservative, politically motivated, and biblically selective mold that the last 1500 years of bad church decisions has put us in.

  5. Penny Penny says:

    After reading Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis and a few ranting and raving reviews, I’m not going to comment on the fine points of Bell’s theology. Some are fine, and some are brittle. But, I would like to comment on the spiritual trampoline metaphor from my own experience.
    I had a friend who owned a trampoline. We neighbor kids spent many hours at his house. It was amazing to watch him do flips. He could go forward and backward as high or as low as he wanted. He tried to teach me. I could only manage to do a low, forward roll (is that a somersault?). I’m 6’2,” and I’m just not that flexible. So, I knew when to sit on the edge and watch him flip. I knew when to jump with him, the two of us feeding off a unified rhythm. It was great fun.
    Until, one of our friends fell off and broke her leg. She healed, but the trampoline wasn’t as thrilling anymore. It was still fun, but not as fun. I didn’t turn into a complete coward and never jump again. But, I was certainly more careful when I did.
    I also learned trampolines aren’t for everyone. I have three boys. My oldest—who is naturally cautious—and my youngest—who jumps with or without a trampoline—would probably be just fine. But, if my middle son—who has balance issues even when walking—got on one, we might as well file an insurance claim in advance!
    So, I think this metaphor is a good one for this book. I’m thankful to Rob Bell for the opportunity to jump with him on his spiritual trampoline awhile. He certainly knows how to flip forward and backward better than I ever could. So, I’ll remember those moments of unified rhythm, but I also know I’m not as flexible as he is. And spiritual trampolines aren’t for everyone. For those cautious and more experienced jumpers? Maybe. For those who struggle with simply walking? No. My recommendation is just choose carefully when inviting someone to this spiritual trampoline.

  6. Mark Mark says:

    Trendy to be trendy. I felt like Rob Bell was trying to be different, when there was no other reason than to fool people to think he is trendy. Maybe it was his way of hiding is wishy washy Christianity. Allowing people to question the virgin birth and divinity of Christ is a grievous error. I am sad that so many people have been deceived by some trendy, but not truthful writing. Beyond the theological errors, I felt like I was just trying to finish the book the whole time.

  7. Jennifer Jennifer says:

    I took issue with enough in this book that I stopped reading it in the middle of chapter 3.

  8. Rebecca Rebecca says:

    I am watching the Nooma video series that Rob Bell does so I decided to read this book to understand his theology. I was concerned. For one, I found often that his analogies or explanations were so vague that I often wondered and what does that mean!

    Unfortunately as I read Velvet Elvis, I actually found myself getting bored with Christianity...taking out the element of faith in God feels like taking out the adventure. Bell's theology diminishes the sovereignty of God, the historical reality of the Bible, and gives a skewed description of human nature [particularly in the passage about Peter walking on water... that it was losing faith in himself that made him sink...why then did Peter worship God when Jesus rescued him and took him back to the boat? It was Jesus's enabling that Peter was able to walk at all!] Rob Bell dilutes the offensiveness of the Gospel in order to make it seem more applicable and palatable to post-moderns. Faith is never easy but it cannot be written off.

    On the other hand, I agree with Bell full-heartedly that God meets us and loves us as individuals. And it is important that we recognize the lenses we bring- our cultures, our generation, our own personal stories- as we enter into relationship with God, as we read Scripture, pray, attend church, or whatever.

    I also appreciated the way Bell speaks about the mission of the church, bringing Heaven to earth. I do think that God invites us to participate in the renewal of the earth and I do really hope that we are living in a generation that will move beyond our church walls.

    Bell's running statement: God has spoken, and the rest is commentary highlights his theme of questioning everything. This is why the book has so much appeal. And this is why you should read it for yourself.

  9. Bob Bob says:

    This book was everything I feared it would be. I trust emerging Christianity about as much as previous iterations (boomers, mega churches, the religious right, etc)...which is to say, not much.

    Bell sounds just like every other emerging guy out there...interpreting the bible for himself based on personal experience, passion, and liberal use of unsubstantiated metaphor, rather than solid education, classical study, and reverence for the seriousness of the topic. I think on many issues, he has good points, but none of them are new or original and are based more on emotion or ego than on scripture.

    I'm not some old, uncool, bible thumper who is mad that 'emerging' thought is taking over...I'm a younger 'hip' Christian who is tired of all the 'new thinking' being just another 'movement' that will be discredited as soon as the next generation 'emerges'.