Friday, June 19, 2009

He Stinketh: My Thoughts on Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis

A bit harsh, I know, but the joke was too easy. I'm the type of guy that cannot resist an open opportunity at humor. He left himself wide open for it, though. If you've ever read his book Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith you would undoubtedly remember the sappy application drawn from Martha's comment on her four-day dead brother Lazarus, "He stinketh" (Luke 11:39 KJV). Bell's reaction to this two-word phrase is uncomfortable at best. By uncomfortable, I don't mean theologically awry, I mean that to read it made me feel so awkward just hearing his words in my head that I would have preferred to get a wet kiss from my great aunt than to continue on in the chapter. What "stinketh" in you, Rob Bell? Let's start with your exegesis and go from there.

But, as I mentioned, it's more the humor afforded by the situation that I'm enthralled with, not necessarily a hatred of the book. I have, in fact, a love-hate relationship with this book and with Rob Bell's theology. I have enjoyed his communication style, his illustrative ability, and many of the contextual insight's he's offered, which often came as just tangents rather than main points. Although, given the "hate" side which I'm about to describe, I do intend to check his sources before holding to tightly to the facts he's presented.

So, that said, would I recommend this book to others? To be honest, probably not. So, is Nick just jumping on the bandwagon with all the other staunch traditionalists and defenders of orthodox doctrine? I hope not, but I have to ask... what's so wrong with orthodoxy? If you've read with interest Velvet Elvis and came away with a sentiment of disgust for the "old" way of the reformers and for the guard dogs of doctrine in conservative academia today--then you've proven my point. That being the likely reaction of readers is precisely why I would not recommend this book.

Bell seems to introduce a notion that our theology and doctrine are ever changing, evolving, and being reinvented by each generation into something better and more applicable to life. It's a notion that, by the way, wreaks of open theism and a distinctly Darwinian understanding of progression.

As evidence for his views, Bell offers Jesus. Who else? In His sermon on the mount, He repeatedly said "You have heard it said... but I tell you..." repealing the traditions and--according to Bell--evolving theology. The conclusion, then, is that we are to likewise be "binding and loosing," as he calls it, in an ever-changing exploration of theology.

The failure point of this conclusion is that Jesus was not taking part of a linear process of morphing theology. He was opening blind eyes to see anew the beauty and truth in the dry, old scriptures of such practitioners of orthodoxy as Moses and David, which their teachers and pharisees had so ignorantly missed. Jesus was not spurring on some evolutionary process by which we improve our relationship with God, He was rectifying a wrong understanding of God with timeless scripture penned by men long forgotten.

What I caution readers of Bell and other emergent leaders like him is this: to accept these teachers' charge to "re-examine" scripture and take a fresh approach to theology is indeed encouraged... so long as you don't begin with the demand that this "fresh" exploration cannot possibly lead to the same conclusions that it once led Edwards, or Calvin, or Augustine, or Paul. It is pure arrogance, born of Darwinian mindset, that tells us we are at a pinnacle of truth today which was unattainable in generations past.

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2 Comments:

  • I love how Christians spend so much time criticizing others and slamming people, compared to doing something productive with their faith. Way to blog.

    By OpenID roxandtonic, At October 4, 2009 1:02 PM  

  • So, by contrast you would contend we should love everyone without voicing judgment, may I presume? Except, when you hold (as the Christian faith does teach) that there is indeed transcendent right and wrong, you have to realize that it is most decidedly unloving to hold one's tongue while others engage in what God has told us is "wrong"--and wrong, mind you, can have grievous consequences.

    Will Rob Bell be in heaven? I believe so. Is it possible that his ministry, if allowed to go unchecked (or un"slammed" as you put it), might lead others astray resulting in ultimate damnation? Quite possibly. So in view of this, what action is most loving on my part?

    By Blogger Nick Carter, At October 4, 2009 6:00 PM  

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