I decided to read Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis, mainly to see for myself what kind of teaching he lays out. I wish I could say my review is entirely unbiased, but unfortunately Rob Bell is well known and comes with a reputation. For someone who values truth and clarity, that reputation is a tarnished reputation. I’ll do my best to be fair and balanced, point out the good as well as the bad, and not miss the point of the book.
I’m writing this review one chapter at a time as I read the book, so I expect it may be a lengthy review. Perhaps when I’m done I’ll do a second review that is more of an overall picture instead of an in depth analysis.
INTRO: “Welcome to my Velvet Elvis”
Bell begins the book with the explanation of the title, a Velvet Elvis painting in his basement, representing one artist’s representation of the King. He explains that the Christian faith is like art, always changing, always a different perspective. Just like an artist’s attempt to convey something meaningful in a way that connects with his audience, so our faith should adapt and change in order to be relevant to the current generation.
The problem I see with this analogy is that art is subjective. In speaking about faith, Bell says to “take what was great about the previous paintings and incorporate that into new paintings” (pg 13). Who decides what elements should be “carried over” into each fresh perspective? The artist.
Bell claims association with the Protestant Reformers and their desire to be “reforming,” not just “reformed” (pg 12). He doesn’t cite any particular reformer or a quote from anyone, so I can only assume that he is making a general reference to the motto, “Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda,” frequently translated, “The Church reformed, always reforming.” I wasn’t able to find the origin of this motto, and apparently others have struggled as well, but I did find a well-written article about it from the PCUSA, one of the denominations perhaps most closely associated with this motto today. In the article, the author points out that “semper reformanda” is in the passive voice, and is better translated, “always being reformed” or “always to be reformed.” The author further points out that it is God that does the reforming, not the church, and that the areas where change is needed are areas of sinfulness where the church has gotten away from Scripture, not change for the sake of change.
This is the other main problem I see in the introduction to Velvet Elvis. Besides making subjective changes to how faith is defined, Bell takes the approach that change is good simply because change is inevitable. The only real reason I could find for why our theology must change is that it is no longer relevant (pg 13). In fact, if the “current paintings” of the Christian faith “work” for you, then there is nothing wrong with that (pg 14). Rather than reworking our faith to make sure it is Biblical, Bell implies that freshness and relevance to culture is the driving force behind “reformation.”
I would say, “whether it ‘works’ for you or not, if it’s wrong, it needs to be changed. If it’s true (i.e., Biblical), you’d better not change it.”
…this post to be expanded as I continue reading Velvet Elvis…