Ben Witherington on Rob Bell

Somehow I missed these from nearly a year ago. I just read through them recently and found them incredibly helpful.

Witherington on Velvet Elvis

Review of Nooma Videos 1-5

Review of Nooma Videos 6-10

Review of Nooma Videos 11-15

I would have to agree with BWIII that his freshness and authenticity are refreshing but how much better it would be if he did a few more fact checks, checked his time lines better, and made better use of some of the better commentaries out there.


Velvet Elvis Movement Six – “New”

This is far and away the best chapter in the book to this point. Bell differentiates between the motivation of guilt vs. the motivation of knowing who we are and operating out of that knowledge. If you want to get people to memorize more verses, pray more, and check more checkboxes all you have to do is give people a little dose of guilt. If you want it to mean something and draw someone closer to God, remind them of who they are and how those things flow out of that identity.

This is an identity issue that must be addressed in our Bible classes, sermons, and conversations. We tell people if they want to be transformed they will study harder, pray more intensely, fast, and serve others. They do all those things and wonder why they are no closer to God than when they started. It doesn’t start with me and what I can do it starts with God – what he can do, has done and will do in the future. Because God has made us new we respond through prayer, study, obedience, etc…not because those things make us any closer to him, although they can and often do, but because that is who we are.

“I heard a teacher say that if people were taught more about who they are, they wouldn’t have to be told what to do. It would come naturally. When we see religious communities spending most of their time trying to convince people not to sin, we are seeing a community that has missed the point. The point isn’t sin management. The point is who we are now.” (V.E. 144).

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Because God has renewed all things we are faced with a choice. Do we trust that and claim that as our own or do we continue to chase our own confused view of what is really real? Bell concludes with some solid application of what it means to claim the renewal that God has already provided for the world, that is ultimately called heaven and what life is like if we live in rebellion, which is known as hell. Have we chosen heaven or hell in what we have lived out in our day to day lives? Do our actions identify us as people who know we are God’s or as people who claim an identity apart from God?

Velvet Elvis and Rob Bell’s View of Spirituality

I am about halfway through Bell’s book Velvet Elvis. Most of what I have read is pretty good. It is pretty surfacy with just enough meat to keep me hanging in their. I can see how people say he is creative, profound, and all the rest. However, I just finished Movement Three – “True” and found a few things that I thought were pretty disturbing. Bell talks about some friends of his who asked him to perform their wedding. “They said they didn’t want any Jesus or God or Bible or religion to be talked about. But they did want me to make it really spiritual. The bride said it in her own great way, ‘Rob, do that thing you do. Make it really profound and deep and spiritual.'” (V.E. p.76). To his credit Bell begins asking them questions that led them to the conclusion that “something holds this all together.” (speaking of both the beauty of nature and also their marriage). They conclude that they “would call this glue, this force, ‘God'”. (p.77).

I understand the importance of starting where people are at and leading them to a deeper understanding and appreciation for who God is. That is VERY biblical. Most people do have some sense of spirituality, areas that make ready footholds for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Here is how Bell sums that up for this couple, “My friends already intuitively believe certain things about the universe and the way it works. All I was doing was asking questions about things they already knew to be true. I didn’t have to convince them of anything. Now I could go on about the ceremony and the party afterward and the way it ended up being one of the most sacred things I have ever been a part of…” (p.77). If someone came to you and said they wanted a spiritual experience apart from God, Jesus, the Bible or even religion would you think there was something they may still need to be convinced of? Bell is probably reacting to generations of people who shoved “the truth” down people’s throats with little concern for speaking the truth in love.

Bell uses that illustration to launch into a discussion on spiritual experience. He goes back to the Old Testament and the Hebrew view of the glory of God. God owns the world and so God’s glory is made known through the world and the created things. Bell concludes, therefore, that “God is present everywhere in [creation].”(p.77). Because God is everywhere, truth is also available everywhere and to everyone because they too are part of God’s creation. He concludes that, “To be a Christian is to claim truth wherever you find it.” (p.81).

At the end of the chapter he comes back to the couple and the wedding, “I believe God made it unspoiled by speaking it into existence. And Jesus is the life force that makes it possible. So in the deepest sense we can comprehend, my friends are resonating with Jesus, whether they acknowledge it or not…Jesus was up on the cliff with us that day. It is not that God is over here and real life is over there. If it is real, then it’s showing us God.” (p.92). Let’s look at that statement. We would all agree that everything God made was good. He said so himself in Genesis. But not everything that is real is showing us God. Bell uses the term life force, a new age term that I am sure he borrows because he sees truth in it as it applies to Christ. He says that in the middle of the Godless, Jesusless, Bibleless, religiousless ceremony his friends were “resonating with God.” He would say that is so because God made the nature that surrounds them and is present in it. However, just because God is present does not mean he resonates with everything going on everywhere and all the time. By Bell’s logic, I can reject God and Jesus and yearn for something purely spiritual apart from God and it is still holy because I was made in God’s image and God is present no matter where I go.

Just because all things are “real life” and just because God is everywhere does not mean all things resonate with God. Rebellion certainly does not resonate with God. Sin certainly does not resonate with God. Self-centered spirituality certainly does not resonate with God. All three of those are real things. I hope Bell had a chance to engage those friends in further conversation and deepen their understand of “the force” that was present at their wedding.

This is by no means an all out assault against Bell. I am just seeing more and more that you do have to pick and choose as you work through his material. Some of it is excellent and other parts are highly questionable. I am sure many of you feel the same way about this blog! And before any of you Rob Bell blogites out there go on the offense, remember what Bell himself said, divergent (that would make a good name for a Christian religious movement now wouldn’t it?) views are just part of the theological dialogue that continues on long after we are gone.

What do You Know About Rob Bell?

I just started reading Velvet Elvis tonight. I have been hearing more and more about Rob Bell and wanted to find out for myself how good his material and writing is. I have been pleasantly surprised with how well this book has been written. He does a good job of integrating a large amount of information from a variety of fields of study – anthropology, sociology, theology, etc all the while stringing together his points with illustrations that pull it all together in a way that holds your attention.

People of all maturity levels will get something from it. It is conversational enough to draw in the unchurched and answer many questions that Christians and non-Christians have asked themselves. He has enough depth and well placed insights to give the mature Christian something to think about as well. This book seems like a guarded pendulum swing. Bell is pushing forth an understanding of Christianity and Christian movements that pushes the envelop of doctrine and some of the core tenets of our faith (the trinity, inspiration, virgin birth, etc) without having an air that “this is it.” He is humble enough to acknowledge that this is just one more piece of the theological discussion that needs to live on past this book and past all other books.

I am looking forward to reading more and also previewing some of his NOOMA videos. Do any of you have any opinions of his material or NOOMA videos? Have any of you used any of this material? What did you think? All input is welcome…as always!