Rob Bell's "Velvet Elvis"

Rob Bell knows and uses a certain amount of scholarship. He's somewhere between the realm of the popular writers like MacArthur and the scholars like Witherington on this score. There's even a part that sounds like my Impossible Faith article [162-3].

But as with his fellow emergent Brian McLaren there are problems, and I see a pattern emerging (sorry about the pun) from these postmodernist pulpits.

I commend the book for encouraging discussion and testing of what Bell says.

I am disappointed with the book for thinking that discussion is the end of the line, as opposed to finding an actual answer. Apparently this is the reason why the emergents don't give answers to questions often. They want to encourage discussion. I retain some suspicion that they don't have answers anyway (see next entry) but what after all is the point of discussing if it is not to arrive at answers? That's why I also remain suspicious that the emergent tactic is to keep everyone busy on emotional and experiential highs and on things like "discussion".

I commend the book for affirming orthodox doctrines like the Trinity [22].

I am disappointed with the book for lacking familiarity with pre-NT Jewish Wisdom theology [22] and so falling for the idea that the Trinity is a flexible subject and a doctrine that emerged only "hundreds of years" after the time of the NT.

I commend the book for properly being concerned that serious questions can emerge, on things even as obscure as Mithraism [26].

I am disappointed with the book for not giving answers to such very easy questions, and for ignoring that Paul himself rested our faith on the fact of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15).

Yes...the whole thing does fall apart, despite Bell, if that is false. It also would all fall apart if Mithra was the real source of the story of the resurrection (since that would mean the resurrection would not have happened). Bell's apparent solution to this is to say, "Let's not see what we believe as a wall, but as a trampoline, and invite everyone to jump on it." In short, it sounds too much like, "Let's not worry about the questions. Let's just get everyone too busy for them."

The same thing is done where issues like slavery are concerned [41]. This is all the more odd given Bell's use of scholarship to provide answers in other parts of the book.

I commend the book for saying we should not mindlessly accept things [31], though it does seem that this is what the last entry encourages us to do as long as we love it.

I am disappointed with the book for calling Jesus' quote of Ps. 22 from the cross a case of "questioning God." It isn't; it alludes to the whole Psalm, which ends in triumph and thus predicts Jesus' glorification.

I commend the book for saying that the Bible requires interpretation [46] and for calling a "plain reading" method without input from others "toxic" [53].

I am disappointed with the book for refraining from providing interpretation (per the above) at critical junctures.

I commend the book for speaking against decontextualization [63].

I am disappointed with the book for decontextualizing anyway [61]. No, "he stinketh" in John has no application to our personal decisions in life that lead to "death". That's good homiletics, but bad exegesis.

I commend the book for the affirmation that truth is truth wherever it is found [79].

I am disappointed with Bell for rightly criticizing those who do no self-examination and who project their troubles on others, but inconsistently using his own experience as a reason to think people are doing this [119].

I commend the book for relating heaven and hell to conditions within our own lifetimes [148].

I am disappointed with the book for condemning those who use categories [167]. Didn't Bell make a dichotomy between heaven and hell on earth just 20 pages ago? He says this is not how Jesus looked at people. What about Matthew 25? (And also, a wrong exegesis of the Bible on the subject of favoritism.)

I commend the book for saying that people who work on a small scale can change the world [168].

I am disappointed with the book for implying that people who work on a large scale -- as Bell would say, make a lot of noise, stick to formulas, draw attention to themselves -- don't. The fact is that both types can and have changed the world.

I'd like to say in close that while I again find that these postmodern pulpits make some good points, I see little in it unique as a movement, so far, that deserves sustaining. I do find the avoidance of answers highly disturbing. The Secular Web will not be answered and will not stop changing people's minds because we feed the hungry. (And anyway, the non-emergent church is doing that too, so the emergents are not special here.)