Monday, March 06, 2006

Book Review: Experiencing Velvet Elvis

Minutes ago I finished reading Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell (click on the image to buy) and I must say that this is one of the best books I have read in a long time.

The premise is this: Bell at one point bought a velvet Elvis painting. He observes that the artist did not sign his name, but rather just an initial, and assumes that the artist must have been a big deal at the time because he expected people to know who he was with a single initial. Now, what if the artist suggested that the painting was so good that there should be no other works of Elvis ever painted? We would think he was crazy (and probably pretty egotistical). Bell makes the point that this is what we have done with the church: that we are still advocating one model as the only way to do it. His subtitle then becomes Repainting the Christian Faith.

Let me start my review by saying that you should not read this book if you are close minded. Bell certainly pushes the envelope with this work. That is a huge part of why I enjoyed it so much. But, if you take him too seriously or get easily angered at new ideas, this book is not for you. He challenges your thinking and stretches your mind, not in a harsh or demeaning way, but as a fellow thinker on the Christian journey. I did not agree with everything Bell said, but there are a number of great observations and perspectives that Bell shares with the reader. The book is an experience. It is a quick read, but in the time you are not reading it, the ideas will run laps in your mind. Bell does not claim to have all the answers. Rather, he spurs the reader to deep thought and evaluation of how the church has done things over the years.

I will make 3 observation concerning the content:

1. Bell is very careful to maintain the Jewish culture in the interpretation of the Bible, something that Christendom has lost for the most part, to their detriment. If the reader is not framiliar with the world of First Century Palestine, Bell's recounts and explanations of common biblical stories will be enlightening.

2. Bell puts huge importance on the church (you and me) being involved in the Social Justice arena. He attributes the bad reputation some have of the church to condemning the world rather than serving them and meeting their needs as we should be doing. He has a huge heart for the poor and needy in our society. He really made me consider what I can do to help out more.

3. Bell has an incredibly high view of people, and believes God does too. He makes the statement that he learned that he needed to have faith in God, and got to the point where he did, and then realized that God has faith in us too. He also has some interesting observations on sin and grace and the churches message in those areas.

I encourage you to experience Velvet Elvis. I found this book amazingly freeing and an encouragement for myself to continue to think outside the box. See if it won't challenge you and open up ideas for you the way it did me.

Here is a sampling of quotes from the book:

"[T]his book is for those who need a fresh take on Jesus and what it means to live the kind of life he teaches us to live." Pg 14

"The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God. We are dealing with somebody we make up." Pg 25

"We have to embrace the Bible as the wild, uncensored, passionate account it is of people experiencing the living God." Pg 63

"Salvation is living more and more in harmony with God, a process that will go on forever." Pg 107

"The resurrection for [early Christians] was not an abstract spiritual concept; it was a concrete social and economic reality. God raised Jesus from the dead to show the world that Jesus is Lord, and it is through his power and his example and his spirit that the world is restored." Pg 164

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