Posts Tagged ‘Velvet Elvis’

Whenever you read an insanely popular book, there are some traps and snares along the way.  The first of which is the insane popularity of the book.  That can create enormous expectations of the book.  As a result, your expectations are unrealistic.  The other side of that coin is really annoying those who love the book.  It could be as simple as not buying into the hype, or as serious as recognizing huge theological problems (like in Velvet Elvis or The Shack).  Either way, those who have been (rightly or wrongly) impacted by the book will be mad at you.

Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God is one of those insanely popular books.  Francis Chan became a well-known pastor as a result of this book.  As a result, I had very high expectations for this book.  It didn’t meet those expectations (that does not mean it is a bad book).  On the positive side, it was not dripping with heresy like either Velvet Elvis or The Shack.

Books of this sort are to be both practical and theological.  John Frame rightly, I think, notes that you haven’t really understood a doctrine until you apply it (or at least begin to).  Each book has its own blend of them.  Some are heavy on the practical, and some are heavy on the theological.  Sadly, some are so far skewed as to be no good to the soul.

Chan’s book, which I suspect is adapted from a sermon series, is skewed toward the practical.  There is theology in the book, but it leans toward the practical.  This is part of its appeal to many.  But I prefer to have my heart warmed and stirred by theological truth so I am pursuing a sound lifestyle (see 1 Timothy 1).  I felt more manipulated than instructed.  I don’t mean it to sound that terrible, really.  Francis is very passionate about his topic, and says many things we American Christians need to hear.  My issue was more with the presentation, if that makes sense.


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The next chapter in Velvet Elvis is entitled Dust.  It refers to the dust stirred up by the rabbi as he walks with his disciples.  Rob Bell provides a great deal of background information on the religious instruction of Israel’s youth in Jesus’ day.  He talks about how someone becomes a rabbi, and a disciple.  It is the conclusions that he draws that shocked me.

Before we get there, there was one other surprising statement.  I bring this up because he did not rightly divide the Word in this instance by neglecting some important information.  This has to do with Matthew 16, and Jesus’ discussion with his disciples in Caesarea Philippi.  He talks about their worship of Pan- the goat god-, and the natural rock formation called the Gates of Hell.

“He tells them at Caesarea Philippi that upon this rock he is going to build his new witnessing community, and the Gates of Hell won’t be able to stop it.  He is essentially saying that those kinds of people- the ones with the goats- are going to join the Jesus movement and it will be unstoppable.  How would you as a disciple even begin to process this statement?”

Rob never stops to lay out what Jesus means by rock.  The rock, in historical Protestantism, is the confession that “Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”  Earlier, Rob treats the divinity of Jesus as something that gained steam after Jesus’ death.  Peter seemed to think He was the Son of God (which God, not flesh and blood, revealed to him).  This is the rock upon which Jesus will build His church.  Obviously many worshippers of false gods will turn from their idols to embrace the Jesus who is Messiah, the Son of the Living God.  I guess I just can’t believe he wouldn’t make a point of this pivotal statement, Peter’s confession, in his discussion of this event.

That is not a serious error, but on the next page I find a bigger problem.  Again, Peter is interacting with Jesus.  This time, he is walking on the water to join Jesus.  He becomes afraid due to the storm and begins to sink.  Jesus says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt? (Matthew 14)”  Now, they all worshipped Jesus saying “Truly you are the Son of God (vs. 33).”

Rob doesn’t mention that- Jesus as the object of their faith and worship.  Here’s where he goes:

“Who does Peter lose faith in?  Not Jesus; Jesus is doing fine.  Peter loses faith in himself.  Peter loses faith that he can do what his rabbi is doing.”

That’s a big leap, not substantiated by the text.  Peter doubted that Jesus would enable him to walk on the water in the midst of the storm.  He did not go out there on his own initiative.  Jesus is to be the object of our faith, not ourselves.  But there is more.

“God has an incredibly high view of people.  God believes that people are capable of amazing things.  I have been told that I need to believe in Jesus.  Which is a good thing.  But what I am learning is that Jesus believes in me.  I have been told that I need to have faith in God.  Which is a good thing.  But what I am learning is that God has faith in me.”

Jesus was often exasperated by His disciples, and the evil and perverse generation around him.  Jesus knows we are sinners- He died because there was no other way to save us.  The whole theme of Scripture is not how great we are, but how great God is.  It is the work of His Spirit that accomplishes great things in and through us.  We see this in the Book of Acts and the numerous letters to the churches (in particular see Ephesians and Philippians).

Rob’s statements appeal to the flesh, and the American notion that all people are basically good.  But it is contrary to the gospel, and the overwhelming message of Scripture.  Jesus did not entrust Himself to the people because He knew what was in their hearts (John 2:24).

Rob repaints the object of faith from Jesus => Jesus and yourself.  And I can’t go there with him.

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In the second chapter of Velvet Elvis called Yoke, Rob Bell tackles the issues of authority and interpretation.  He provides some interesting background information, showing that he is well-read.  He continues the practice of asking questions instead of answering questions.  In the process, as in the previous chapter, he unwittingly (?) seems to set people up to question themselves right out of orthodox Christianity.  Here are some examples.


“Notice this verse from 1 Corinthians: ‘To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord)…’  Here we have Paul writing to a group of Christians, and he wants to make it clear that the next thing he is going to say comes from him, ‘not the Lord’.”

Rob does not discuss the context of this passage from 1 Corinthians 7.  Paul differentiates his counsel which is coming from the Old Testament, and that which is not found there.  Are we to take Paul to mean that we don’t need to heed this instruction because it’s from him and not God?  I don’t think so.  I’m not going to start chopping my Bible up into what God says and what the human author says.  But Rob’s statements undermine the authority of Paul’s instruction (unless I’m really missing something here).


In keeping with his anti-fundamentalist bent, he turns his gaze to the Southern Baptist Convention (without naming names).

“The reason their annual gathering was in the news was that they had voted to reaffirm their view of the importance of the verse that says a wife’s role is submit to her husband.  This is a big deal to them.  This is what made the news.  This is what they are known for.”


Last I checked the SBC didn’t control the news outlets.  I have some bones to pick with them too, but this is not one of them.  It made news because it is so counter-cultural.  I applaud them for not giving in to cultural pressure to somehow water down Scripture.

But Rob has a question or two.  First, “What about the verse before that verse?  “What about the verse after it?” The prior verse is a summary statement that we should submit to one another (a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit).  Paul then lays out some examples- wives to husbands, children to parents, employees to employers (yes, I made an epochal shift there out of slavery).  No one says that parents should submit to their children, or that employers should submit to their employees.  But somehow Paul is not to be taken to mean that wives should submit to their husbands.  He wants you to doubt that it really means this, and the SBC is foolish for believing it (Neanderthals!).  I guess Christ should submit to us.


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“We have to test everything.”  That’s what it says on the back of Rob Bell’s book Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith.  That is completely consistent with 1 John (Test the spirits), and Isaiah (Unless they speak according to the Law and the Testimony they have not the light of day.).  I’ve heard a few Rob Bell sermons, and they were good.  I’ve enjoyed some of the Nooma videos.  Rob is great at asking questions.  My question is, what are his answers, if any?

Rob in fairly controversial, which in itself is not a problem.  Afterall, Jesus was controversial.  But is he controversial in the same way Jesus was?  Or is he departing from orthodox Christianity?  Or is he orthodox but leading others to ask questions without giving them biblical answers so they depart from orthodox Christianity?

Mark Driscoll pointed out some troubling statements in this book in his message at the Desiring God Conference (awesome message, which I listened to again yesterday during a walk).  My sister-in-law wasn’t too wild about some of Rob’s statements, so she gave me her copy.  Any quotes & notes will be from the paperback edition.

“As a part of this tradition (the Protestant Reformation), I embrace the need to keep painting, to keep reforming.  By this I don’t mean cosmetic, superficial changes… I mean theology… We must keep reforming the way the Christian faith is defined, lived and explained.”

Depends on what you mean by that.  If we are gaining a better understanding of biblical truth & contextualizing timeless truth, I can go there.  But to re-theologize, to invent a novelty (which Luther, Calvin et al did not do)… I cannot go there.

He sort of qualifies it on the next page (13): “It’s just that every generation has to ask the difficult questions of what it means to be a Christian here and now, in this place, at this time.”  Sounds like contexualizing, but he seems to bring us elsewhere at times.

On page 22 he talks about theology as the springs of a trampoline (hence the jumping man on the cover).  He talks about the trinity as a spring added later, that the church had existed for hundreds of years without.  Well, this would be a great time to talk about progressive revelation and how the church grew in its understanding of truth.  That is not the same as “adding it later”.  This makes it sound as if it was something men made up, rather than summarizing what the Bible says about God.  God is bigger than our words, but God uses words to tell us who He is.  As Calvin says, God lisps to us.  Language exists precisely so we can know God and how He saves people.

On page 26 he begins his section that drew Driscoll’s attention.  He relays a message he heard from a pastor who compared doctrines as bricks.  Perhaps this guy, not Bell, went with the metaphor of a wall.  I’m not wild about that metaphor, regardless.  Scripture uses the metaphor of a foundation.  If you start pulling bricks out of the foundation of your home, I’m thinking you’d be a little concerned.  Some bricks are more important than others.  Some bricks are essential to orthodox Christianity (God, Christology, doctrine of salvation etc.).  Some bricks are not essential (who should be baptized, or mode of baptism).  The brick he mentions is the virgin birth.  He affirms the virgin birth, but thinks that if we reexamine or redefine one brink/spring (page 27) it is not that big a deal.  Depends on the spring or brick.  If Jesus was not born of a virgin, we lose the God-man who was able to bear our sins on the cross.  Jesus becomes a great example, and that is it.  The virgin birth is very important!


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