Velvet Elvis and Vicky #1

Before I get started on part 1 in a series of Velvet Elvis and Vicky posts, I would like to point to Joe Thorn, who has posted 2 excellent posts on family worship. Here and Here. Really good stuff, obviously, not having kids, Vicky and I can do some fun stuff like add reading a crazy book like Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell to our time. Now for the fun.



“Times change. God doesn’t, but times do.”


The best thing Bell does in Chapter 1, which also probably freaks most people out, is deconstruct our idea of doctrine. In an incredibly articulate way he makes an analogy to how we have set-up and worshiped our doctrine and beliefs in the place of God the same way Aaron and the Israelites set-up and worshiped the golden calf in the place of God. This was deeply convicting and moving. I pray that we all would here Rob’s advice and not trade in worshiping and following the living an true God for worshiping and following our man-made concepts of him. Our doctrine should lead us to God, not take his place. Horribly wonderful.



“Luther was taking his place in a long line of people who never stopped rethinking and repainting the faith.”

– This is probably a semantical issue, but still it would be much better to say that we are “rethinking and repainting” our expression off the faith. The faith (in the person and work of Jesus Christ) never changes, our expressions (which are culturally relevant) do.


At this point our reading I considered this simply a conceptual error on Mr. Bell’s part, not a theological error. However, it became apparent throughout the beginning chapter that Rob’s focus lent towards a modified justification by works, and not justification by faith alone. One very apparent part was his description of why he is a Christian:

As a Christian, I am simply trying to orient myself around living a particular kind of way, the kind of way Jesus taught is possible. And I think that the way of Jesus is the best possible way to live.

It isn’t irrational or primitive or blind faith. It is merely being honest that we are all living a “way”.

I’m convinced being generous is a better way to live.

I’m convinced forgiving people and not carrying around bitterness is a better way to live.

(I omit 3 lines for lengths sake)

I’m convinced being honest with people is a better way to live.

This is Rob’s view of faith. Atheists place their faith is many ways of living. Christians place their faith in the way Jesus taught to live.

This is really the standard Emergent “Christus Exemplar” version of Jesus. The problem with this Jesus, is unless he goes to the cross to take care of our sin problem, he is simply another legalistic Pharisee. Maybe I’m just not as good of a person as Rob, because when I am honest with myself, I am not convinced that the way of Jesus is the best way to live. I am constantly confronted with the fact that I want to live my way not Jesus. This causes me to repent, draw closer to Jesus, and trust by faith that he is in the process of conforming my heart to love what he loves. Like Rob, I come to my conclusion when I am honest with myself. And since we both think that when people are honest they come to different conclusion, the reality is that one of us is not really being honest with themselves.


Check out this quote:

“Perhaps a better question than who’s right, is who’s living rightly?”

I would say that Brian McLaren has a right to accuse Rob here of blatantly stealing his entire premise for A New Kind of Christian, however, Rob changes one word and thusly changes the entire meaning. McLaren’s thesis of ANKOC was that Christian are more concerned with being right than being righteous. That is a phenomenally wonderful statement, which stabs the Christian sub-culture with the most blatant truth of what it causes the prevailing culture to feel.  “Hey Rob, stop stealing my ideas. You don’t even get it!”

Rob’s rehashing of the statements produces a legalistic inclination, to what was previously a very wonderful thought. With McLaren’s version, we are freed from needing to be right and always needing to defend our side, and moved to loving God and others. With Bell’s statement, we move from needing to be right and always defend our side to facing the legalistic hill of needing to do what’s right. Now the burden is on us to be like Jesus:

This kind of life Jesus was living, perfectly and completely in connection and cooperation, is the best possible way for a person to live.

Great, you thought living up to your parents or societies expectations was hard, now you have Jesus’ life.


That review is only half-way through chapter 1. This process could take a while.


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10 Responses

  1. matt thanks for putting so much time and thought into this. Very well written and reasoned. I agree with much of what you said, but I am not fully sure I understand your comments on what Bell was saying on doctrine. Is he saying it does not matter at all such as your quote of his “does not matter if you are right but if you are living rightly” or is he just saying to be weary of basing your entire relationship with Jesus on systematics?

  2. I think he’s doing both.

    If you remember what you have heard about the book, this is the chapter he goes off on the Virgin Birth, and whether it is necessary or not. I am not going to comment on that now because I have a bit to say on that tomorrow.

    Rob will say that doctrine makes for a good trampoline:

    Something that you and someone else use to bounce each other off of, in order to propel each other higher.

    Rob says that trampolines are in contrast to bricks:

    Bricks are used to build structures that keep people out.

    Somewhat good thoughts, depending on how you take them. I would say that his deconstructing of our idea of doctrine is good enough to take on its own (the idea that doctrine is only as good as its ability to connect us to God, and that it is a blantant breaking of Commandment #1 to many people). But I don’t like the trajectory of where he goes with it

  3. Matt,

    On being honest – can you say you are reading this book without any prior prejudices against Bell?

    I ask because I feel like I could make some of the same semantical arguments against your post as you did against his chapter (For instance, you write “One very apparent part was his description of why he is a Christian:…” and the line you quote begins with “As a Christian…” Doesn’t seem to be explaining the ‘why’ as much as the ‘how’).

    Now, being honest with myself, I’m prejudice to like Bell. His is a phenominal communicator and probably makes me think more than any other podcast I’m listening to (which includes Piper and Driscoll).

  4. As far as the honesty question is concerned:

    Of course I have a prejudice against Bell. That was more than evident when I stated that we picked out a book by someone we would probably disagree with. I have not hid that at all. The better question would be, “Since you know you have a prejudice, what are you doing to combat that?” To which I would answer that Vicky and I pray before we read it that our hearts would be open to being taught and receiving instruction, and that we would be wise and discerning to see error.

    Second question just exposes the limited nature of the review itself. Rob sets up his argument as what his faith is in. He is doing this to explain what exactly he is repainting and so forth. He basically goes on to say that his faith rests the fact that he believes living the way Jesus taught is a better way of living. The “how” is question refers to orienting his life around Jesus. My point of “why” centered around his explanation of “why” he centers his life around Jesus, which was the continuation of that section. When you are talking about why you are “convinced” something is right, you are talking about the “why”, not the “how”.

    This is the crux of what separates me from a guy like Rob Bell. He is deconstructing, and reconstructing the “Christian Faith”. I think there are many things about the Reformation, Modern Christianity, and even the Emergent Church that need to be deconstructed. However, I don’t think the basis of our faith should be part of that process. Namely:

    We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone. To God alone, becuase of what Christ alone has done alone.

    The reconstruction (repainting) of the Christian faith around Jesus as a great example of life, humility and suffering, that leaves out the cross as central for dealing with the number 1 problem with humanity (our sin against God) is a repainting not just of the expression of the Christian Faith, but the crux of Christian Faith itself. That is unbelievable to me.

    And one more thing. We haven’t even got to why I was prejudice against Mr. Bell yet.

  5. Jake you raise an interesting point that is often raised in these types of discussions. Namely , objectivity. I was reading JP Moreland the other day and he came upon this point and how it has become at times trendy nowadays to dismiss people’s ability to judge or assess anything by just playing the “well none of us are objective so we can’t really comment fairly on the issue” card. I am not saying you are doing this Jake, but I do think that many people do indeed do this. Moreland overcomes this by clearly defining objectivity into to parts for us.

    Emotional objectivity: This is often impossible when it comes to issues, in fact it would be wrong for us to remain emotionally objective to many issues after gaining knowledge about them, such as genocide, political corruption, or false gospels. The point of knowledge after all is that it would move into wisdom and change our attitudes and actions. In fact most great revolutionaries are never emotionally objective about their cause, take for example MLK, FDR, or even Jesus. In fact passion and conviction is what marked their beliefs more than detached emotional objectivity. The key here is not falling into the fallacy that passion or emotional persuasion automatically constitutes an inability to be logically and factually accurate. It is good for us to be passionate as long as our passion is fuel by the second component of objectivity.

    Reasoned Objectivity: This is making sure the facts, data, and information we have is correspondent to reality and is logically consistent. This is making sure that our passion and emotions are firmly built upon a foundation of truth and logic. If I am going to be passionately against genocide in Darfur I need to make sure that genocide is actually going on there. This type of objectivity is often all that is required in the hard sciences and all that is really relevant to mathematics.

    Unfortunately, many seem to think that reasoned objectivity is needed in all areas of life including morals, philosophy, doctrine, just to name a few. Now I am not trying to defend Matt, I actually probably like Bell more than he does, but I am convinced that all of us need to be cautious in thinking that objectivity requires being a blank slate and emotionally uninhibited on any subject before commenting on it. Sorry for the length of this, it maybe should have just been a post separate from this comment thread. And Jake in no way is this directed toward you, it is just me making an observation in general that I have seen happen much to often.

  6. “Doctrine as bricks” is not a bad thing…when the barbarians are charging, I would much rather stand behind a wall of bricks than a trampoline. Likewise when the heretics charge. Of course doctrine is meant to “keep people out.” That is why the church has preserved the message of the Gospel for 200 years – because those who would change it were kept out.

    From what I know of Mr Bell, which admittedly is very little, he seems to be a very intelligent, well-meaning, successful guy with a very immature theology and a less-than-high view of God.

  7. Whatever ryan. Why don’t you just call me out!

    Just kidding. I guess my desire for emotional objectivity is probably personal more than anything else. The more I listen to Bell, the more I think he’s got the stuff going on that I want to have going on. I would argue with adam h about his theology and less than high view of God, but I’m sure that’s all it would turn into, so there really is no need. He seems very interested in the things I think Jesus is interested in, namely the voiceless and the unloveable.

    I’ll probably stray away from commenting on books I haven’t read. Your response to my comment paints Bell in a way I have never heard him do. If he were truly re-painting the Faith away from a center point on the risen Savior, I don’t think we’d be seeing the lives change in michigan that we are seeing. I’ve never, ever heard him hint at anything of the such in his podcasts. But then again, my emotional biasness may play a part of that…..

  8. Jake – no arguments from me either, thanks for the respectful disagreement. BUT, “I don’t think we’d be seeing the lives change in michigan that we are seeing”…God will do what he will do through no merit of the vehicle. Balaam’s donkey had a lot to say but not really any merit to say it. Bell’s theological accuracy and view of God do not necessarily correlate to the “fruit” of his ministry.

  9. Hey guys, just wanted to interact with the post for a minute. Hope you don’t mind a stranger barging in.

    First, my bias: I like Rob Bell (although I disliked him very much at first). I’ve read Velvet Elvis a number of times and have listened to about a hundred of his teachings. He’s the pastor of a church consisting primarily of white evangelicals who have mainly heard that the gospel is something that we make a one-time decision for but the way we live our day-to-day lives is not terribly important. His emphasis on caring for the poor (as Jake pointed out is a lot like Jesus) should be seen in this light (as well as the fact that a couple thousand verses in the Bible are about this issue). I think it’s natural to question his view of the traditional Western interpretation of the atonement like you’re doing, but you’ll be happy to know that he affirms it (See his teaching titled “Grace Pays the Bill”, and also pg. 152 of the Elvis book.)

    I commend you for even reading this book, considering the theological angle you seem to be coming from.

  10. Victor thanks for the comment. Personally speaking I like Rob Bell also, and while I disagree with some of his theology I still think he is worth reading. In fact if I only read people who agreed with my specific theological beliefs than I might only be left reading my own inane thoughts.

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