Monday, 5 April 2010

Book Review: Velvet Elvis

I have seen several Rob Bell DVDs including several from the Nooma series and "Everything is Spiritual" and have appreciated them. I know the book is not his most recent, but I had not read it, and these are my thoughts.

Firstly, a friend recommended it to me. I always like books which someone else puts in your hand. More often than not, either it has touched them, or they know it will touch you.

Rob Bell appears to be something of a polarising figure as a key part of the emerging church scene and increasingly speaking on sell out tours while finding himself on the end of harsh words from people like Mark Driscoll.

I enjoyed the book. It is well worth a read. In the book I am given permission to read, think, wrestle with, accept or reject parts of it and seek to hear God. Fair enough. I had to do all of those at different times.

First up, I found it the most interesting and engaging Christian book I have read for ages. A genuine page turner. His style is so fluid and accessible, I read it in a day of holiday. It was far from a chore.

Secondly, I found some of his commentary and exegesis absolutely fascinating. The way he intertwines the background with the present to develop his ideas makes it very easy to follow and enlightening. Even when I don't reach the same conclusions his methodology of getting there is so clear it gives me permission to follow it into my conclusions, even if they differ. Examples of him helpfully illuminating the background include the significance of the backdrop of the roman empire in Jesus statements and actions, the significance of the woman touching Jesus cloak within his Jewish context and also the portrayal of rabbinic discipleship and what this opens up in our understanding of Jesus calling his disciples.

Thirdly, he makes some very good points, very well. He talks directly, decisively, but humbly and often with humour. I enjoyed agreeing with him more than I enjoy agreeing with other authors who leave me feeling slapped by their ideas rather than nurtured. Pithy little statements like the word "Christian is a great noun and a poor adjective" hit the spot so well.

Fourthly, he is pretty brutal in his honesty, in his doubt. I appreciate that. The entire tone of the book is like reading about someone who could be your friend because even when they have not got it altogether they are honest about it. I like that.

Fifthly, I can see why some people hate this book and choose to publically disagree with Rob Bell from their pulpit. "The Bible is God's word, the rest is just commentary" is enough to raise the hackles of plenty of people, and I can see why especially conservative evangelicals are very twitchy about some of the things he says and some of the suggestions he makes. A modernist, tightly cohesive, systematic theological position this is not. Hell being full forgiven people who have not chosen to trust God is a bridge too far for me, and claiming truth wherever we find it is no easy feat and well out of the comfort zone of many evangelicals.

I would recommend people read this book. I found it very provoking, in a good way. Parts of it stray beyond where I feel led by scripture, and he gives me permission to bring my ideas to the table. I come from a church tradition that is determined to build a wall, and in some ways have chosen a specific set of bricks with which to do that while ignoring others. The trampoline looks like a lot of fun. This has given me much food for thought.

And if you do not understand what that means then you had better read Velvet Elvis.

1 comment:

Jongudmund said...

Be interesting to read your review of 'Jesus wants to save Christians'.

Also, when I read critics of Rob Bell, I do tend to sit there thinking 'did you really get what he was trying to say?' Seems to me some people attack what they think he's saying more than what he is actually saying.

You should go hear him live sometime.