Velvet Elvis: Repainting The Christian Faith”
by Rob Bell
“Some people’s faith is like a trampoline ~ it bends & flexes & moves (springs = doctrines)… for others, their faith is like a wall of bricks ~ pull one out to examine it, and the whole thing becomes unstable & threatens to crumble (bricks = doctrines).”
— a Book Cafe paraphrase of page 26 of “Velvet Elvis.”
I’ve just finished my re-read of “Velvet Elvis.” It was even better than I remembered!
I wish everyone would read this book.
This is one of the most important books I have ever read. On a scale of 1 to 10, “This one goes to 11“.
I found this to be an engaging, enlightening, and thought provoking book. There were many historical aspects that I had never heard before. “Real world” explanations of phrases like “…the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” There’s a great discourse on Jesus’ talk about hell (gehenna) referring to an existing valley in their area where “fires were kept burning perpetually to consume the filth and cadavers thrown into it.”
Knowing the actual cultural references totally changes how we understand Scripture. This book uses LOTS of historical context in approaching the Bible.
The historical aspects, though fascinating, were not the main attraction. This book is about making following Christ alive and real in this world, and in this time. It’s about engaging our culture, our neighbors, and even our planet in a living and vital way…the way Jesus did. Christ’s teachings about salvation were about how to live…NOT about waiting to die and “the sweet by and by.”
Velvet Elvis will challenge your preconceived notions. It will expand your understanding.
It is not the final word on Christianity, as the author makes clear. Beware of anyone else who thinks they have that final word, even if (or especially if) they “just believe the Bible.”
I’ve read a number of other reviews of this book. It seems to have very extreme reactions. People really like it, or they label Mr. Bell as a heretic. Of course, the institutionalized church has pretty much always killed the prophets.
Anyway, like it or hate it, it’s a very interesting read. One which I highly recommend.
Here are 3 reviews from other people:
Not sure why it took me so long to read this, but I am so glad I finally picked it up and made it happen. This book is a bit difficult to describe since Bell writes in a non-traditional format. It’s fitting though because for much of Velvet Elvis, Bell is asking the reader to step back from our tainted perspective of Christianity and reshape what it means to be a follower of Christ. He does this with personal insights, Biblical study as well as historical research.
Although this is a short book, it’s filled with powerful insights that every person will have to grapple with – whether you believe in Christ or not. By the end of my reading, having underlined and circled so many things, I was forced to go back and review all the statements and questions that had affected me both personally and theologically. Highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to dig deeper into their faith, truth and themselves.
— Jay Newland
This book will challenge the boundaries of your faith. You will doubt some of the things Rob says. I doubted some of his statements while reading the book, and in fact I still doubt some of them. I think that is the beauty of it.
We don’t have to agree on every point. Some of the things he wrote are extraordinary, and I wish I wrote them. I could not agree more.
We have a dynamic faith and will never have everything figured out and, yes, we will never agree on everything. But we are all part of God’s family. Can we not see that, stop fighting and start changing the world? Please.
Velvet Elvis is an excellent painting, beautiful to look at. It is a marvelous conversation. But it will challenge you to think. Long and hard!
— Dries Cronje
I love this book. Rob nailed point after point that I really feel are valid praises and criticisms of the church and the mindsets in which we tend to put ourselves. Ultimately, I think Rob wants us to be informed people. People thirsting for Truth. People who won’t just zombie around at the instruction of every “bible-preaching” pastor or church that claims good things. He makes his point clear: There is no such thing as a church who “just follows the bible,” as if God had intended the bible to be a reader’s manual like the one that comes with your toaster. Everyone is submitting themselves to biblical interpretation and biblical teaching. This is exactly why we should be vigilant, mindful, and truth-seeking. Thanks, Rob, for thoughtful Church culture exegesis and honest reflection. It is clear that the truths of God have sunk deep into the author and he’s writing from a place of deep reflection.
— Nathan Paul Verschaetse
And Some Quotes:
“The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God.”
“What is accepted today as tradition was, at one point in time, a break from tradition.”
“Why blame the dark for being dark? It is far more helpful to ask why the light isn’t as bright as it could be.”
“God has spoken, and everything else is commentary.”
“Salvation is the entire universe being brought back into harmony with its maker.”
“[The Bible] has to be interpreted. And if it isn’t interpreted, then it can’t be put into action. So if we are serious about following God, then we have to interpret the Bible. It is not possible to simply do what the Bible says. We must first make decisions about what it means at this time, in this place, for these people.”
“If the gospel isn’t good news for everybody, then it isn’t good news for anybody. And this is because the most powerful things happen when the church surrenders its desire to convert people and convince them to join. It is when the church gives itself away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return, that the way of Jesus is most vividly put on display. To do this, the church must stop thinking about everybody primarily in categories of in or out, saved or not, believer or nonbeliever. Besides the fact that these terms are offensive to those who are the “un” and “non”, they work against Jesus’ teachings about how we are to treat each other. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor, and our neighbor can be anybody. We are all created in the image of God, and we are all sacred, valuable creations of God. Everybody matters. To treat people differently based on who believes what is to fail to respect the image of God in everyone. As the book of James says, “God shows no favoritism.” So we don’t either.”
“In the accounts of Jesus’ life…we never find him chasing after someone. If anybody didn’t have a messiah complex, it was Jesus.”
“…to be able to quote these [pagan] prophets & poets, Paul obviously had to read them. And study them. And analyze them. And, I’m sure he came across all sorts of things in their writings that he didn’t agree with. So he sifts & sorts & separates the light from the dark, and then claims & quotes the parts that are true.”
“God blesses everybody. People who don’t believe in God. People who are opposed to God. People who do violent, evil things.”
“I live with the understanding that truth is bigger than any religion & the world is God’s & everything in it.”
Paul sees their insistence on a reversion to the customs of Moses as a form of violence. When people are manipulated with guilt and fear, when they are told that if they don’t do certain things they’ll be illegitimate, judged, condemned, sent to hell forever – that’s violence.
Imagine how dangerous it would be if there were Christians who skipped over the first-century meaning of John’s letter and focused only on whatever it might be saying about future events, years and years away. There is always the chance that in missing the point, they may in the process be participation the and supporting and funding the various kinds of systems that the letter warns against participating in, supporting, and funding. [People then weren’t thinking] “this is going to be really helpful for people two thousand years from now who don’t want to get left behind..” It’s a letter written to a real group of people, in a real place, at a real time. Christians were being killed by the empire because they would not participate.
What [Jesus] is doing here is significant. He is giving his followers authority to make new interpretations of the Bible. He is giving them permission to say, “Hey, we think we missed it before on that verse, and we’ve recently come to the conclusion that this is what it actually means. – R. Bell
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