Monday, March 05, 2007

Velvet Elvis

I finally read Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis. I've seen a few of his NOOMA films and I've owned the book for over a year and lent it out several times, but until this weekend, had never read it.

I have heard some evangelicals criticize Bell when he writes the following in reference to the virgin birth of Jesus and the concept of the Trinity:
"What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archaeologists find Larry's tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births? But what if as you study the origin of the word virgin, you discover that the word virgin in the gospel of Matthew actually comes from the book of Isaiah, and then you find out that in the Hebrew language at that time, the word virgin could mean several things. And what if you discover that in the first century being "born of a virgin" also referred to a child whose mother became pregnant the first time she had intercourse?"
Velvet Elvis, p. 26
However, on the next page (p. 27) Rob writes:
"I affirm the historic Christian faith, which includes the virgin birth and the trinity".
Bell is raising the point that if faith cannot be questionned, it is not real faith. If there is no room for doubt & mystery, in Christianity, then, we are in danger of turning into a controlling cult.

Ben Worthington has an excellent article pointing out some of Bell's strengths:
  • It is evident, particularly from the way that Rob uses and quotes the Bible that he has a high view of the Bible’s authority
  • Rob’s integration of personal stories with Biblical interpretation.
  • his big vision of the truth—that all truth is God’s truth wherever we find it.
  • His insights into forgiveness for example and its connection to the death of Christ are profound (see pp. 107-08) and he is so right that God doesn’t just want to forgive us, God wants to restore us.
  • his paradoxes
and weaknesses:
  • needs to have a better understanding of early Judaism
  • Rob needs a better knowledge of Hebrew
  • he hasn’t read the standard commentaries on the various books of the NT written by Evangelical or other Orthodox scholars, or at least he never footnotes them or shows any knowledge of them
Velvet Elvis is not meant to be a formal theological text book. I read it as the passionate plea by a follower of Jesus, to other followers of Jesus, to keep on exploring and discovering and searching and asking questions about what it means to live as followers of Jesus, in this generation.

1 comment:

Scott said...

I read the book a while back and must admit the first time I read that section I was shocked and offended.

Personally I think he could have found a better example. I'd like to think there are some parts of the faith that aren't open to interpretation.

Anyway it was an enjoyable and very easy read and did have some good thoughts.