Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith

Over Christmas, my cousin asked me if I had ever heard of Rob Bell. At the time, I hadn’t. My cousin told me that he enjoyed Bell’s teachings, especially his NOOMA video series. My cousin found his teachings biblically grounded.

So I decided to research Rob Bell, and I discovered the book Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith. The title screams “Emerging Church.” I admit that I have little exposure to the Emergent Church. All I know is that they divorce tradition from their reading of Scripture, as if Scripture were written yesterday and for them only. The best definition of the Emerging Church can be found at the excellent Parchment and Pen blog, here. C. Michael Patton doesn’t call the movement heretical, but he has several major critiques of the positions that many emergers take.

Despite all of this, I still find myself in agreement with some of the things that Bell has to say in the first chapter of Velvet Elvis. But, the best poison works when you mix only a little bit with the good stuff. And that is, in my opinion, how the Emerging Church works on orthodoxy. I find myself in agreement with much of what Bell has to say, however, there is just a little bit of poison that creeps in there, and that damages the good work he does.

Bell compares doctrines to the springs of trampolines. The springs are what makes the thing work, and without the springs, the trampoline would be useless. Many people, he thinks, treat doctrines like bricks in a wall instead. If one is damaged, the wall comes tumbling down. That isn’t how Bell views doctrine. While he affirms it as necessary and believes in all of the essential doctrines of the faith, he doesn’t believe that to question any one of them will knock the wall down. In fact, he sees this questioning as necessary for our faith.

Here is where I disagree with what Bell has to say. I see doctrine as the brick wall. If one falls out of place, the wall becomes unstable. Again, I sympathize with Bell’s pleading that treating doctrine in this way leads to beating people over the head with it, and then it becomes a barrier to good relationships rather than an invitation to join Christ’s church. However, as I have defended in the past, sound doctrine is necessary. Would you rather have a spring–pliable and easy to break–as the foundation for your faith, or a brick–firm and solid?

I’m not saying the questions are bad. I view questions as a necessary part of our faith. God isn’t looking for yes-men. He wants questioners. Look at Abraham, Moses, and Job. All of them questioned the grand design of God’s scheme, and God didn’t punish a one of them for it. In fact, he entered into a dynamic, give-and-take relationship with them. That’s what he wants from us today–a dynamic relationship where we aren’t afraid to go to him in prayer with our toughest questions. And I believe that he will answer them in due course.

Like many emergers, Bell is hesitant to place many doctrines of the faith as central and necessary for proper understanding of Christianity. This is, I believe, Bell’s major error and the poison that creeps througout his teaching.

Recently, Bell made an appearance on the blog A Little Leaven, where the writers analyze an appearance he made at an inter-spiritual conference. Supposedly the voice for Christianity, Bell simply promotes love and forgiveness as a better way to live rather than grounding these tenets in Christ. There is nothing distinctly Christian in what Bell says at the conference. That is the same error that he makes in Velvet Elvis–advertising the Christian way as a better way, rather than the only way.

To his credit, Bell isn’t afraid to ask the tough questions, or have the tough questions asked of him. But most of his answers, as he himself states, revolve around this life and the relationships within it. The Bible, however, teaches that this life is fleeting vapor, and that attachment to things herein is not the way to live. The Bible teaches Jesus Christ as the object of our faith, and our hope for the future.

I hope to continue posting more thoughts on Bell’s Velvet Elvis as I read this alternately fascinating, alternately heretical book. That combination amounts to one of the most interesting reads in a long time.

About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on January 9, 2009, in Book Review, Heresy and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Matthew 7:15 “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?”

    What fruit has come from Paul, but schism and immoral lives? He called us away from the sermon on the mount to a false and immoral doctrine of justification by faith alone, and you see the result! Homosexuality running amock! Fornication up the wazzoo! Mountains of aborted “fetuses.” Millions of children with no respect for their parents, or anyone else! Thanks alot Paul! Its time to drop the false apostle and return to Christ. Its time to go to the sermon on the mount, not the lie of easy believism. No more faith alone–now faith + morality! No more Paul, not only Jesus! “I Paul, the best apostle, who spit on Peter, James, and John, testify to you that you can be saved without loving God, without obeying him at all, without any morality!” No, Paul you are a liar who will burn in hell with your father the devil. Just give me Jesus! Not just a lame stripped down watered down whipping boy Jesus, but the real Jesus with a moral doctrine that challenges men to live right and who says unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees you can’t make it to heaven. There’s the real Jesus, and I find him in the gospels, not Paul. This world is hurting because way back in 160 AD or so, a bunch of Moron Catholics got together and added Paul to the canon, resulting in an apostasy from Christ that we still haven’t recovered from! They covered the world in blood! They filled the world with immorality! Their new “apostle” destroyed the faith. Atheism is at an all time high! And its all Paul’s fault. His god is hard to believe in, a god who sends good people to hell for not believing a specific doctrine and takes evil people up to heaven for merely beleiving that doctrine, never requiring them to change their lives and live right! What? How can salvation or damnation be all or nothing? How can it be that good people go to hell for all eternity for having one little doctrine wrong? and evil people go to heaven still practicing their evil just because they got one little doctrine right? how can that be, if God is just and loving? It cannot be! Paul is a liar. We must throw Paul away and go back to the gospels, learn the gospel anew and afresh from the mouth of Christ Himself, and stop trusting in fictional characters like Paul who was invented by the heretic Marcion and legitimized by the Roman Catholic Church.

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