Visit our new site at

Sunday, May 27, 2007

RevGalBookPals: Velvet Elvis

I was excited to have an excuse to read Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith since Jan at A Church for Starving Artists and I had a chance to see him speak last year and I was officially Blown Away. He went from scripture to quantum physics and back again in a confident yet self-effacing way. He was engaging, biblically faithful, and deeply spiritual.

The very title, Velvet Elvis, is a bit of an inversion. On the one hand, this is a book; this is his theology. This is his Letters To A Young Doubter, his Why Christian?And yet he uses a title that brings to mind a kitschy painting you’d find in a yard sale. The title urges the reader not to put the author or his work on a pedestal to be admired and never critiqued. Such a tactic is both disarming and a little annoying at the same time. Disarming, because it puts his ideas in a context, within a tradition—just another stop on the journey. This is not the gospel for every time and place. This is not systematic theology. Yet it’s annoying for the same reason that some people find Jon Stewart annoying. Jon is smart and on-the-nose and when he gets critiqued for something he says, he will often respond, “What do you mean, you’re taking me seriously? I’m on Comedy Central!” It’s a very convenient tightrope to walk (though don’t get me wrong, I love Jon.)

It’s also a little unfortunate as a title because, as a professor told me in seminary, “Don’t ever give someone a reason not to listen to you.” The hip typeface and panoply of cover designs probably make it more marketable and appealing to people who wouldn’t give two hoots about Calvin’s Institutes, but these hip-looking trappings belie that this is a very intelligent and thought-provoking book.

I’m willing to forgive the kitsch and the hipness, though, because fundamentally, this book wasn’t really written for me. It seems to be written for people outside the church—people who may be intrigued by Jesus a great deal, it’s just “his family” that they have a problem with. So in some ways I felt I was eavesdropping a little. Some of the ways Bell “repaints” the faith are things that many of us have already made peace with—the seeming contradictions of the Bible, the question of how an ancient book with human fingerprints all over it can still be God’s Word—but I could see the right person being completely liberated by Bell’s theology. I especially resonated with the analogy of faith as springs on a trampoline, or means through which we have an experience of the living God, as opposed to a rigid, lifeless brick wall of doctrine that must be built structurally sound or the whole thing crumbles. (p. 22)

How Bell “Repaints”

One of Bell’s gifts is to shed light on some pretty orthodox ideas, or at least, ideas that are already present in our Christian tradition, and to do so in a fresh, engaging way. A couple of examples:

  • Sin has often been described as separation from God. And Karl Barth said that God has done the work of salvation in Christ, but there are people whose eyes are closed to this fact. They are standing in a room filled with light, but they don't know it. And it's not that God will switch on the light once they open their eyes. The light is already there. God has already defeated sin and death. And when they open their eyes, they will see the light that is already shining, that has been shining, illuminating the darkness, all this time.

    But what Bell says is:

    “Heaven is full of forgiven people.
    Hell is full of forgiven people.
    …The difference is how we choose to live, which story we choose to live in, which version of reality we trust.”
  • The doctrine of election is problematic, and I don’t want to get into it here, except to say that if that’s how God works, then at least we need to say that we (whoever we are) are elected to service. God’s grace is at work in our lives, not because “I got mine, you get yours,” but because God has called us to be instruments of that grace for the sake of the world.

    But what Bell says is, “If the gospel isn’t good news for everybody, it isn’t good news for anybody,” and talks about a woman who is a Christian, and how this should make a real concrete difference to the people living on her street, and in her neighborhood, and in her city, and in her world. (p. 166-167) I found that to be a very nice way of communicating a pretty old idea.

  • Bell also says, “Mission is less about the transportation of God from one place to another and more about the identification of a God who is already there. (p. 87)” That is basic, good old fashioned missional theology!

He’s Talking to Us, Too

Though the primary audience of this book seems to be seekers, there was plenty that spoke to me directly as a pastor. His call story, in which God tells him to “teach this book and I will take care of everything else,” was powerful (p. 40). (Remember when it was that simple, Gals? [and Guys?] Remember when the call was new and exciting and redolent with things that really mattered?)

But it was the chapter on burnout, and on the need to kill Superpastor, when he won my heart. I love that he knew it was time to start a church when he no longer cared whether it was successful. (p. 96) We could find worse ways to discern what is God’s call and what is purely our own ego!

And the quote from his counselor later in that chapter was so on the nose that I put it on my blog this week: “Your job is the relentless pursuit of who God has made you to be. And anything else you do is sin and you need to repent of it.” (p. 114)

He also speaks with such honesty and humor about the joys and challenges of Christian community. His description of the people grousing about the lack of parking at the church was spot on, and he said what many of us would like to say in such situations:
"If you are here and you aren’t a Christian, we are thrilled to have you in our midst. We want you to feel right at home. But if you are here and you’re a Christian and you can’t even be Christian in the parking lot, please don’t go out into the world and tell people you’re a Christian. You’ll screw it up for the rest of us. And by the way, we could use your seat.” (p. 101)

Questions and Quibbles

The chapter “True” was very thought-provoking. He spends quite some time talking about truth, and if something is true, it is from God, even if it’s not word-for-word from the Bible. I would agree with that. However, he goes a step further and says, “Jesus said ‘I am the way, the truth and the life…’ [so] to be a Christian is to claim truth wherever you find it.” (p. 81) I’m not sure how “neighborly” this is in a pluralistic society. I think we need to be careful, in a culture in which Christianity was the dominant force for so long, not to simply co-opt anything that we personally find meaningful or even “true,” lest the dignity of the other person be compromised.

I also have an issue with his “first mention” technique when reading the Bible (p. 156). Bell suggests that when a word or idea comes up, say in the gospels, to see where it first appears in the Bible as a means of contextualizing it. But the scripture was not put together in a linear way. Genesis was not the first book written. And I’m sure Bell knows that, so it’s possible I just didn’t understand what he was getting at there.

A Few Other Good Bits

Some things to quote and leave uncommented, at least for now:

Atheism is a belief system—AMEN! (p. 19)

On the mystery and unknowability of God: When God passes by Moses, Moses sees God from the back. Back in this context means where I just was. It’s as if God is saying, that’s as much clarity as you’re going to get: where… I… just… was. Lovely. (p. 25)

On the need for humility in the midst of conviction: in Acts 15, “It seemed good to them…” (p. 57)

Christian is a great noun and a poor adjective. (p. 84)

It is impossible for a Christian to have a secular job. (p. 85)

On discernment: The first thing God does is separate light from dark, and spends the rest of the Bible showing people how to do the same. (p. 86)

The work of the cross is FOR us, but the work of the cross is also IN us. (p. 108)

“You did not choose me, but I chose you”: Jesus thinks we are capable of great things! (p. 134) A nice idea to hold in tension with “all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.”

And with that… let the discussion begin! Feel free to comment here, or post longer comments at your own blog and link to them, if you wish.


  1. RM - lots to chew on here -- I am reading your review in Bits and Pieces here.

    Bell has several Youtube videos. If you type in the key word "Nooma" on Youtube, they will show up.

  2. I have lots to say, but I am a little worn from church, so I will say this:

    "Brickianity". I am thinking about what this word means in the St. Stoic context.

    Hopefully more later. Super job, by the way, RM!

  3. Yes, I agree Cheese - very good job RM!

  4. I simply do not have time to read this book right now, so I am extremely appreciative of the excellent RM Cliff Notes! I think I'll be able to follow the discussion easily.

    So far I am struck by how many things in the book seem to be centuries old, especially the "relentless pursuit of whom God made you to be" quote that's been making the rounds -- what my Rock Star St. Ignatius would say (among other things).

  5. Great review, RM. I am only a few pages away from finishing the book and I have loved it. I expected to find more to argue over, but instead I found tremendous wisdom and compassion. I'm squarely inside the church and I found it freeing! I appreciate his cultural/contextual background information, although somewhere in my surfing I've seen its accuracy challenged. (Anyone know anything about that?)

    Like you, the burnout chapter spoke to my heart. Timely stuff for me, I must say.

  6. I'll comment more later. I enjoyed the book, only a little disappointed that he spoke so highly of John Piper. I think John is a good guy, but he is definitely on the other side of the "women in ministry" issue.

  7. I blogged about Velvet Elvis, and need to see what everyone else says. I realize my blog and ideas would've been more thorough if I'd made actual notes and maybe blogged along the way, but this was wonderful, since it gave me a hard kick in the butt! HAPPY PENTECOST!

  8. Well reverend mother, you just about said it all and I like how you broke down the categories. but waaaa I tried to finish it, but didn't. Almost, but not quite. So I don't feel like I have a right to discuss his book. Wish I did. I will say my mom is impressed with him. Does this discussion continues tomorrow so maybe just maybe I finish it.

  9. Okay, I am with you Cheesehead on "Brickianity". It is one of the things that has people mad at him.

    And Diane I think you are right about the John Piper thing.

    And Cathy and all you can find all the Nooma Videos here at myspace also.

    Look forward to what you all have to say.

  10. RM - this is a superb overview of Velvet Elvis. Thanks!

    I too was drawn especially to the chapter on self-care and learning to kill Superpastor.

    Something in me reacted very strongly to his descriptors of Sabbath on page 117.

    "Sabbath is a day when my work is done, even if it isn't. Sabbath is a day when my job is to enjoy. Period."

    There are more examples and all are spot on. I suspect the reason for my reaction was a realization that it has been far too long since my Sabbath has fit any of these descriptors.

    My day off (Monday) usually involves picking up groceries, doing laundry and running errands that I can't get done the rest of the week. When was the last time I just bailed on all the "duties" of my free day and had fun?

    This was an important wake-up call for me.

    More later, but that is an early observation from a book I thoroughly enjoyed.

    thanks again rm!!!

  11. Abi,
    The myspace ones are all excerpts except for one -- the rest you have to buy on the nooma web site.

  12. Abi, and others, I definitely think you don't need to have read the whole book to comment. The good thing about this "movements" is that they don't necessarily build on one another. Each one stands alone all right.

    And yes Abi, I am sorry that I wasn't able to get Quotidian Grace's thoughts on the book before she left, because I know she had some criticisms, that I'm sure will be thoughtful.

    I should also have said that I have never seen any of the NOOMA videos, though I would like to.

    I wonder if anyone found themselves craving more info about Mars Hill's apparent meteoric rise in attendance. So he didn't attend any church growth seminars. He didn't even want a sign out front. So HOW did people come to be there by the thousands?

    And is that what Preacher Mom meant by his cultural/background info? Or did you mean some of his exegesis/historical stuff? I found the stuff about the rabbis and yokes interesting and had no way of verifying whether it was true.

    Leah, I look forward to reading your post.

  13. Sorry, that should have been "his" movements.

  14. Thank you for your thoughtful post Leah. I really appreciate your perspective there, as well as the links to the Mars Hill Narrative Theology Statement. It helps me to understand better the context in which the book was written.

    I wish Bell had used inclusive language in reference to God. I understand that for some, it is still difficult to conceive of God in the feminine, but until we make inclusive language a habit of the church, God imagery will not change.

    I try to stay away from too much gender-neutral language because it can be awkward, but I do like to see a balance of feminine and masculine pronouns.

    It may seem a fine point, but in truth, exclusive language speaks volumes about the ideological, sociological and theological position of an individual or a congregation.

  15. RM, I was referring in particular to the exegetical background, although your other question about how all those people knew to come is one I have as well.

    Seems like I followed some links from comments on one of your posts that led me to criticisms that his understanding of Jewish rabbis, etc., is faulty. I sure hope not, because I REALLY like what he has to say about that in Movement Five/Dust. If I can retrace my steps, I'll link you to that criticism.

  16. Found it here.

    I may be showing my ignorance here, but does anyone know this guy and his credentials?

  17. Sorry - should have added this in my earlier comment:

    I do seriously question the writer of the link above when he says that Jesus was not a rabbi, nor did he have any first-hand encounter with rabbis in his day. I don't get that.

  18. This from my life as a teacher in an orthodox Jewish school: rabbinic Judaism certainly did not begin until after the destruction of the 2nd temple in 70 CE. The general idea behind the that development was the recreation of Judaism, or the creation of a way to observe Judaism, in the absence of the Temple and its priests, a situation which seemed unthinkable until it happened (again). The Jerusalem Talmud was finally redacted in the late 300s CE (Babylonian Talmud about 200 years later). The Judaism of today is very different from the Judaism of Jesus' time. I think that Jesus could be called a rabbi in the sense of teacher, but not in the sense of an ordained rabbi as we would think of one today -- but I will ask when I go back to work on Tuesday.

  19. If you go to wikipedia on rabbis and on pharisees, there's some interesting info. Of course, you have to decide for yourself how to assess wikipedia (which my high school students are not allowed to cite as a source).

  20. I've shared VE with lots of people who are either estranged from the church (but miss it) or have never been part of a church community. He has a gift for making
    Christianity (following Jesus) accessible.

    For Preacher Mom -- he's a graduate of Wheaton and Fuller Seminary.

  21. Thanks, Gannet Girl. I readily admit that I do not understand Judaism as well as I would like. I had never heard the distinction between rabbi and ordained rabbi until recently. So, does this undo any of Bell's discussion of the yoke of the rabbi in Movement Five?

    And thanks, Jan. I picked up that he is a respected scholar. I was curious to learn more about him.

  22. Hi All,

    Great discussion so far! You all are so coherent for a Pentacost afternoon...

    First, I really enjoyed this book and ditto what RM said about it being appealing to folks who are estranged from the church. Im definitely keeping an extra giveaway copy for that purpose.

    To Sue - that part about the Sabbath actually pushed my buttons in a different way. I found myself kind of going, "Yeah, easy for you to say, privileged, male person." I mean, where does that notion leave the working single mom (or the wife of the disabled guy, for that matter)? Personally, I find nothing makes me tired-er or further from God than trying hard to have a Sabbath when it just simply is not in the cards. I dont know about you, but beating myself about Bad Self Care Habits just dosent take me where I need to go...

    To all of you wondering about accuracy - I dont have the book in front of me at the moment (speaking of things we should beat ourselves up about - Bad Book Club Member here) this question bugged me mildly all during reading the book. I loved the stories Bell told about the Bible, but since he was saying that the story is always changing, I would have appreciated a little more "the way I see it was..." than "the way it was..." The rabbis and the yokes leaped out at me, too, RM.

    I know that my own schooling was not as steeped in Bible as I'm imagining a Wheaton/Fuller education would be, though, so I just figured he got it somewhere. :)

    These are minor quibbles, btw, with a book that overall was enjoyable and helpful. Thanks for suggesting it! I'm looking forward to more conversation.

  23. Oh, and I forgot to say that I'm appreciating the conversation about Judaism here - I really liked his emphasis on the jewish-ness of Jesus.

  24. Well, as I admitted I haven't read the book yet. Quick synopsis of what he says re: the yoke of the rabbi?

  25. Never mind -- I found it, or at least a synopsis of it, online. I will show it to some of the experts at work tomorrow and ask about it.

    I admit to being surprised about Bell's claim that Torah was at the center of Jewish life in Jesus's day. I would have said that the temple was. But I could certainly be wrong.

    A quick online search indicated that the term "yoke of the rabbi" appears in the Mishnah -- again, after the time of Jesus. But Jesus uses the term "yoke", so maybe it was common usage long before. When I talk to the rabbis at school, I usually find that my conceptions about Judaism are misconceptions and that the layers of interpretation and explanation are multiple. So who knows what I'll have to bring back?

  26. Gannet Girl, I am so excited that you are here to help research some of this stuff! I can't wait to hear what you find out!

    Juniper68, I'm with you. We conveniently forget the Jewishness of Jesus. What an impact that would have had on all he said and did. That's why I am looking forward to learning more.

  27. I'd like to think I never forget the Jewishness of Jesus. Taking a midrashic approach to scripture is nothing new; it's just new for the movement from which Rob Bell comes. I'm right there with him on most everything, but I was already there without him. None of this is new to me. Putting scripture in its context, relating it to our context, these are the things I'm trying to do every week. I'm just doing it without the burden of deconstructing dogma, since the Congregationalist types I serve never bought into much in the way of dogma in the first place.
    I'm quite fascinated to know how 1000 people knew the church was starting when it wasn't promoted anywhere.
    These are first thoughts, more later.

  28. Yeah... songbird is right on. (re: dogma, context, etc.) Girl Meets God gives good insight in Jewish ways of interpreting scripture as well. I like to use her book with groups. Lutherans are dogmatic in different ways...

  29. A thought about Sabbath:
    I try very hard to really make Friday a Sabbath day. Sometimes I'm too tired to have it extend to enjoyment. I don't do laundry. I see my children only after school, as they go to their dad's house on Friday in the late afternoon. When my husband is around, I spend time with him. I don't do laundry. (That part is important.) When I do it well I wake up on Saturday happy to write a sermon and do chores around the house, too. It's amazing what a difference it makes.
    But I fully recognize that if my children were younger, or didn't depart right about 5 on Friday, I would be very unlikely to get that kind of time to myself. So I worry about mothers of younger children who are also clergy and how a Sabbath can be remotely possible for them, even though they probably need it even more!
    And here's a thought about the first century rabbinic stuff in the book:
    I went over to look at the Witherington commentary, and there is a critique of Bell's scholarship, saying there is no archaeological evidence of bet Talmud and bet Mishnah in Jesus' time and place. Guess what? There is no archaeological evidence of Jesus there, either, as any atheist would be happy to tell you. I like Bell's storytelling approach. I go at these little fragments in much the same way and strive to find some connecting point for those listening to my sermons. The guy has a gift, even if he does back down from his flirtation with the rejections of dogma.
    I could critique the font used in the book, but then I would just sound old, so I will leave off here and look forward to more comments from others.

  30. loved your 'other good bits' my I want this book!!!!

  31. oh and I might regret asking - but what on earth does "Brickianity" mean????

  32. Wow what great discussion.

    I had planned to write another post on Rob Bell but got waylaid by the Festival of Homiletics. I do have two on my blog alreadyhere and here. One person, Michael Krahn
    , in the comments has a whole series on the book (A disclaimer is, that I have not read his posts yet, still trying to read the book).

    Cathy, you are right. At one time they did have a few of the full version ones.

    RM you read my mind about QG's comments.

    I like the questions that are being asked. Good questions.

  33. On the Sabbath stuff:

    We used the theme Practices of Faith for our Adult Ed programming this past year, and the very last one was supposed to be on Sabbath as presented by someone from my school. The Orthodox Jews REALLY do Shabbos. As it turned out she couldn't come, and so I presented what little I knew and we mostly had a discussion.

    One man made a wonderful point: that in order for him to NOT do stuff like lawnmowing, laundry, Home Depot, etc. on Sunday, he has to take care to fit those things in during the rest of the week, instead of letting them slide with that thought that they can always be done on Sunday. In other words, Shabbos is really a week-long practice -- at least the preparation for it is.

    Seemingly not much help for clergy or other parents of small children. OTH, I now know LOTS of parents -- rabbis and teachers and doctors and lawyers and contractors and secretaries -- who do not do one iota of work from Friday night to Saturday night. What I have come to see is how thoroughly countercultural a real practice of Sabbath would be, and how critical community support is.

  34. I wanted to dislike this book, as I'm hugely suspicious of mega churches and because the book had been hugely recommended by one or two guys whose outlook is generally quite a way from mine...but I took it on retreat and really enjoyed it. Like Songbird, I didn't find myself stunned by much of the content, but I'm one who is always reassured by finding her views shared by others, and I did enjoy much of Bell's writing...I want to be a "spiritual tour guide" - to point out to others the God who is already there and I loved the reminder that the older brother of the prodigal son had always had everything but had failed to trust it was really true..our choice is to live in the reality of God's love for us, or to cling to one of our own making. ..God is retelling all our stories in Jesus. All of the bad parts, the ugly parts and the parts we want ot pretned never happened are redeemed.

    That's the sort of writing that makes me want to have copies to hand to pass on to explorers.
    I'm about to start using the Nooma series for a small group of unchurched Little Fishes mums. Will let you know how it goes.

  35. Like Songbird and Kathryn, I find that what's refreshing about Bell is not WHAT he says so much as HOW he says it. He has a fresh way of capturing (or maybe setting free is more like it) the gospel, and some fresh metaphors, too.

    the other thing refreshing is his honesty, which is especially evident in the chapter about Superpastor, and about sabbath. I think honesty is in short supply everywhere, and it is disarming.

    toward the end of the book, I starred this passage, "For Jesus this new kind of life is not about escaping this world but about making it a better place, here and now. The goal for Jeus isn't to get into heaven. the goal is to get heaven here." (p.148)

    Again, not new for me, but so well said!

  36. "Genesis was not the first book written"

    not sure what you were getting at here RM. care to expand a little ???

  37. This is my first participation in a book discussion here. Great fun! It was especially fun reading the book and knowing that you all were reading it as well.

    I resonated with the book in much the same way as Kathryn and Songbird. It wasn't that I learned anything particularly new, but Bell came at it from a different angle...

    I especially appreciated the very end of the book where he talks about the church. I actually quoted him in my Pentecist sermon. "When it's good, when it's on, when it's right, it's like nothing on earth. A group of people committed to selflessly loving and serving the world around them. Great. But when it's bad all that potenial gets turned the other way." And he is right that it goes back and forth between the two often ~ sometimes in the same day! Nevertheless, the church will continue. Despite of and because of Rob Bell and KristaBeth and everyone else who lives and loves and strives to be the church.

    So when is the next discussion and what book is it on? How do we find out?

  38. I've been reading off and on all day---haven't felt the need to say much, just nodding and learning.

    Lorna, here's his paragraph in its entirety:
    "There are even methods to help decipher all the hidden meanings in a text. [Really? All?? -RM] One is called the principle of first mention. Whenever you come across a significant word in a passage, find out where this word first appears in the Bible. John does this in his gospel. The first mention of the word Love is in John 3:16... We then discover that Love is first mentioned in Genesis 22 when God tells Abraham to take 'your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love' and offer him as a sacrifice. John is doing something intentional in his gospel: he wants his readers to see a connection between Abraham and his son, and God and God's son. John's readers who knew the Torah would have seen the parallels right away." p. 156

    And my point was that I find this technique rather bogus, personally. First of all because the parallels between the two passages exist not because it's the first mention of Love, but because of the Father/Son relationship and the sacrificial thing.

    Second, I think it's bogus because, while it's useful to look at the various ways a certain word is used *throughout* the scripture, his technique implies that the order of the Bible *as we currently know it* is somehow representative of the chronology in which it was written, which I don't think is at all the case. The scripture was edited and redacted in a very non-linear way.

    I know that others believe that the order in the Bible is the order in which it was written, e.g. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. For them, this technique is going to work just great.

  39. Kristabeth, check the sidebar of the blog for upcoming titles and dates, under the heading RevGalBookPals. The June book is listed and July and August will be posted soon.
    Thanks for asking!

  40. Hmmm, RM, there is also the issue that the Jewish Bible is ordered differently than the Christian OT. Not the Torah, of course, but the rest of it. So the first mention thing definitely seems problematic.

    Not to even mention the issue of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek and various translations thereof. How could one ever decide what a first mention is?

  41. Hi RM, and later commenters. Thanks for answering my question about first mention.

    I agree that the theory of first mention is spurious and the quote seems strange too I'm with you that the link seems to the sacrificial aspect NOT that both Gensis and John first mention love in this way / context

    I also agree that the order of the canon is not actually the order that the books were written (this is absolutely clear in the NT!)

    BUT ... what you RM, then went on to talk about -"some people believe e.g. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible." and redaction etc - takes us to (higher)biblical criticism -(HC)

    and I have some problems with that! (grin)

    You see, while there are some really good points that come out from HC - the basic premise (their starting point) is IMHO - that reason beats revelation.

    In other words HC dismisses much of Isaiah as not being written by Isaiah because it doesn't believe in the prophetic (or whatever!) ... and states that Moses could not possibly have written the Pentateuch (yet I still don't understand why not - except the bit about him dying which was obviously put in by another - a bit like we write an obiturary today!)

    Yet my understanding of God is that He is a god who has always been (and still is) interested and has intervened in the history of his people - that's the God of the Bible.

    What this has to do with the book in question is probably zilch.

    I know we all have to study biblical criticm in seminary - I have too - (and am doing a paper right now which is why I guess it's especially irking me I'll be back to normal come August!) ... but to believe in the bible as being true (not inerrent and infallible but - what's the right word here? - authorative word of God) does not have to mean being funamentalist (God forbid!) or dull brained! (grin)

    When I look at the higher critical theories I find (some of ) them even harder to swallow than a lot of the Biblical narratives ... I guess because I do believe in a supernatural God; that Jesus was the son of God who performed miracles and yes really rose from the dead.

    If the Bible got that right - then
    I think it's unlikely that other stories - incredible though they might seem - are invented.

    Our interpretation is often at fault though and that's the real problem.

    I'm fascinated by emergent church - the current leaders inspire me a lot - and I enjoy the discussions immensely - but the theories of higher biblical criticism -the scholarly research itself - are not as sound as they would have us believe.

    sorry I'll get off my soapbox now.

    changing the subject rapidly is anyone going to explain the "brickanity" word. I still don't get that - maybe I'm a few bricks short of a full load as the idiom (in the UK) goes ... :)

    Bless you all!

  42. Lorna- I don't have the book here, but if I've got it right "Brickianity" comes from Bell's contrasting images of faith as springs on a trampoline, through which we experience the living God, Versus doctrine, a rigid, lifeless brick wall which limits God's reality to the sum of the bricks....So brickianity is a doctrinal structure, used to build walls that keep people in or out...whereas Jesus consistently subverts this approach. Does that help?

  43. I had read Velvet Elvis several months ago when a friendly congregant loaned it to me ... and like several commenters here, I appreciated more the way Bell said something than the actual content of what he said, because the content itself was not particularly new to me.

    I think it is a great source book for preaching because it offers some different windows into a variety of texts.

    Based upon many of your comments, I definitely want to re-read the portion on Superpastor.

  44. Lorna, thanks for engaging further. The issues you raise are important, and I wish I had time today to respond, but you have certainly hit at the heart of much of the conflict over scriptural authority! Blessings.

  45. I haven't read the book yet either so greatly appreciate both the Cliff Notes and everyone's insights on the issues he raises.

    Sue, thank you for pointing out the crucial importance of inclusive language for both God and humanity for good theology, justice, and welcome. I think it is no accident that someone who ignores that would also praise John Piper, as if women's full participation in church life and ministry were a feminist quirk instead of the work of the Spirit.

    It can be awkward at first to use neutral God language but with a little practice it becomes second nature, and is a smooth and non-offensive way to help people begin getting "man off their eyeballs." Most don't even notice.

    And matter of factly adding balancing feminine language is even better, though I am more careful about where and how I do this, esp. in preaching and other official settings. I have been blown away to hear women say how healing and empowering--in one case, utterly re-evangelizing to someone away from Christianity for decades--they have found it to see "she" and "God/dess" (the latter being the far end option, obviously) in my blog and adaptation of the daily office.

  46. I didn't want to like this book. Megachurches make me pretty nervous, and the format of the book turned me off. BUT, it turned out that I really liked what he had to say. More thoughts on the here.

  47. As someone who attended Mars Hill Church for a year or so in college, I found the book to be very true to both Rob Bell and the community there. Like others have said, it's not that it's new information, it's just a different way of presenting it.

    FYI - I found out about Mars Hill by word of mouth. It's the way most people found out about it in the beginning. A friend telling a friend who tells another friend. A friend bringing a friend who then brings another friend. Not that this was ever promoted in any way at the church. It just sort of happened.

  48. That's still the most effective means of evangelism -- people telling their friends and neighbors. You can't get a "starter kits" for people getting excited about something or someOne and passing that along.

  49. So here's my contribution, after talking to two Orthodox rabbis. They thought that Bell was more or less on target in a general kind of way, but pointed out that the immediately pre and post Temple periods were times of great flux and that nothing, including rabbinic training, was as organized and hierarchical as Bell would have us believe. Men were rabbis (meaning "Master" or "Great Teacher") but they attained that status through study and learning with older scholars and receiving smicha -- the approbation of their own rabbi. (Orthodox rabbis today still receive smicha from the rabbis who teach them -- when my students learned I was off to seminary, one of them said, "Ms. Gannet is getting smicha???") They alsio said that rabbis at the time of Jesus, unless they were extremely wealthy, would have earned their livings from other occupations: carpenter, bricklayer, whatever. They would not have been paid for learning and teaching as rabbis -- that would have been considered totally unacceptable. And that their learning would have been in the law, not in religious philosophy, and that they would not have been temple administrators; the priests had that role. One of them also said that Rob Bell seemed to think that everyone wanted to be a rabbi, that that was the highest calling possible -- but that that was simply not the attitude. Basic sense of Rob Bell, based on an excerpt I printed out: he isn't exactly wrong but he's not exactly right; his research is insuffient and his writing is not scholarly.

  50. All of the above led me to ask another question later: if a rabbi's authority in the community derived from other rabbis, what would have been the response to a rabbi who claimed his authority came directly from God? Assuming Jesus to have been an exceptionally compelling person, but one without the imprimateur of his own rabbinic teachers, exactly how disconcerting would people have found him?

    An uncomfortable question for people who obviously consider Jesus's claims false and yet do not want to offend their teaching colleague. We didn't get too far with that one. But I remain intrigued by it.

  51. And finally, to both Sue and Mother Laura, thank you so much for your beautiful comments about inclusive language. I especially loved what Sue said about the "volumes" that exclusive language speaks and what Mother Laura said about "feminist quirk versus work of the Spirit."

    And now I am finally going home!

  52. Gannet Girl, that is all very helpful.

    And Emily, it's great to hear from someone who's attended Mars Hill. Would love to hear more about that experience, here or at your blog, if you'd like to share.

  53. This comment has been removed by the author.

  54. What a fabulous review and discussion! RM, you set a HIGH standard!

    I'm sorry that life got in the way of my sending comments to RM about VE in advance of this post. But I don't have anything unique to add to this discussion at this point.

    Thanks to all the commenters for their insightful remarks, and to GG for her very helpful information about Judaism.

  55. I just finished this book (yeah a month later than this post), and I was blown away by the "Dust" chapter. I esp. liked how Bell explained how the Jewish were educated in the Torah; and if how they were not considered "good" enough, they had to go and learn a trade to support themselves rather than continue their study with a rabbi.

    And then Jesus called these same cast-offs as his disciples. I could just see myself as a former Southern Baptist--one who was not considered "good" enough by reason of my gender to follow a call. Yet I could clearly see that Jesus has called me, the cast-off, to follow him into this work of ministry. Such a picture in my mind reduces me to tears of gratitude. I wish I could offer all my fellow cast-offs, both sisters and brothers, such a vision of acceptance.

    Overall, I thought the book was excellent even after I had to get over the masculine pronoun used in relation to God.

    And thanks for the excellent review and comments. I just had to add my two cents after reading them.

  56. late to the party

    this is GREAT book for a questioner like me

    'nuff said


You don't want to comment here; instead, come visit our new blog, We'll see you there!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.