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Pick Chris’s Reading List: Velvet Elvis

Finally I complete another entry on my reader-suggested reading list: Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. Thanks Heather for the recommendation!

I’m having a harder time writing a review for this book than I have for any of the previous ones I’ve read. I’m not too sure what my conclusion is yet. Some general observations are in order, though.

First, I’m not too keen on the general writing style. The book is full of single sentences masquerading as paragraphs. Now, these aren’t long, Pauline run-on sentences; these are short, one line sentences with lots of white space between them. As a consequence, to me the book sounds less like a well-reasoned argument for something and more like a collection of little thoughts that don’t necessarily connect so well. Maybe I’m just too old to get it.

Second, I haven’t seen Rob Bell’s NOOMA videos. I’ve heard they’re pretty good, and they might clue me in on a little more of what he’s thinking. I haven’t heard any other of Bell’s stuff, either, so all I have to base my understanding of him on is this book.

There were a couple things that I disagreed with in there. First of all, towards the beginning of the book he goes through this extended illustration about how doctrines are like the springs on a trampoline – how they serve to propel us and our faith and our actions. Fine, I guess, OK. But then he goes on to argue that, hey, even if you’re missing a spring, that doesn’t mean that the trampoline won’t work. I’m starting to get a little queasy with the illustration at that point. Then he says, hey, so if the virgin birth doesn’t happen to be true, that spring pops off the trampoline, that doesn’t mean it won’t work. And at that point he has gone too far. To my reading, Bell is not denying the virgin birth of Christ; however, he’s clearly leaving the door open. This is a problem, a big problem. I think the virgin birth is one of the essentials of the faith that we simply must hold to. (Side note: Mark Driscoll addressed this pretty directly back in September at the Desiring God 2006 conference.) So Bell loses bigtime points with me on that issue.

Secondly, I have some queasiness with Bell’s discussion about interpreting the Scripture. His basic argument is that Scripture has to be interpreted; that much I agree with. He ridicules people who will say “let me tell you what the Bible says”, saying that they’re just trying to sell you their interpretation. I guess I’m OK with all that. Where I start to get uneasy is when he encourages his readers to continue reinterpreting everything. He seemed to come dangerously close to saying that there isn’t necessarily a “right” interpretation of any Scripture, that we should just use the interpretation that makes sense to us. I don’t think he actually said that, but he seems to be oriented that direction. That bothers me a bit. As Christians we can’t be so postmodern that we refuse to say there’s a “correct” way to view the truth… that just won’t work.

Other than that, I didn’t have any huge problems with Velvet Elvis, but at the same time I didn’t find it that compelling. Sorry, Heather, wish I could give it a better rating, but I just didn’t come away from it very excited. Maybe I’ll have to try it again another time.

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