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A Critique of Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell (Part 1)

By David Sheldon
Part 1 Part 2
Velvet Elvis If you appreciate a nebulous faith that is "your faith," then Velvet Elvis is the book for you! Some are in love with a "mystical" and "feel-good" journey rather than the Biblical treasure which is found in Jesus Christ. This is a problem because the Holy Scriptures teach on: COMMON SALVATION followed by THE faith and ONCE FOR ALL DELIVERED.

"Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." Jude 3 ESV

This text says we have a common or shared salvation, but it is in the faith. This one faith has once for all been delivered to the saints. It is not unfolding such as a new painting of Elvis. Nor is Scriptural truth "outdated" or "cheesy" such as an old painting of Velvet Elvis. Author Rob Bell would probably say that his Christian life and church experience are becoming the portrait of Velvet Elvis and is thus somehow a painting of the real thing. But, in the wash, what happens is the individual's "experience" of deity (and subsequent to that - the community) becomes the guiding authority for the life of the church. On the contrary, the authority, The Holy Scriptures should be what guides and dictates our common salvation which is Christ's Life defined through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. In a very subtle way, Bell's Velvet Elvis is repainting the real Elvis to look quite different.

Unfortunately, Velvet Elvis is labeled "Christian" even though it teaches the new-age world view: the church will start an unfolding of The Kingdom of God upon the earth. There are countless similar books. (They are coming through Zondervan, which when you go up through their corporate ladder you come to a man by the name of Rupert Murdoch.) To refute this "new perspective," once former new-agers/mystics who have become true believers in Jesus Christ clearly see the deceptions in these types of books and have written their own books of "warning." Brian Flynn, Warren Smith, and Ray Yungen are a few. To buy and read these Click here.

Further, Rob Bell's speaking tour of summer 2006 was titled "Everything is Spiritual." The logical end for this kind of thinking is nothing other than the melding of deity and humanity! Yes, everything is spiritual. But, only some of it is spiritual truth. Most of it is spiritual deception!

They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error." I John 4:5-6 ESV

Why does the Apostle John speak like this? Because the truth has already been articulated to God's own through the Holy Scriptures! Spiritual truth is understandable by the renewed mind of one who has the Spirit! The Spirit has made this spiritual truth clear to the apostles, not vague! They heard and understood that truth (both proposition and incarnation) through Jesus Himself, and they articulated it through speech and word as the Spirit moved.

"These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ." I Corinthians 2:10-16 ESV

Paul says that spiritual truth is made plain and clear in the mind of those who have the Spirit! It doesn't come in vague categories or mystical experiences rather in spiritual words written down in Holy Scripture. We interpret and understand these texts of Scripture as any other human writings except for the fact that they are ultimately breathed out by the Holy Spirit through the authors. That same Spirit illumines these truths to our minds! It is articulated in human words and language, but because it is God's revelation via God's inspiration, it is God's TRUTH! (You find several instances in the book where Bell clearly downplays the role of God as Scripture was written.)

So, what does Bell's book bring to the table to help in understanding the difference between spiritual truth and spiritual error? On page 40, there is one rather irrational and mystical moment where Bell tells of an experience he had after college while working at a youth camp. He was asked to speak for chapel and had an "experience" which was quite "Moses like" in that he took off his sandals because he knew the ground he was standing upon was holy. He depicts that an internal voice communicated with him in words that were clear and concise: "Teach this book, and I will take care of everything else." He relates that in those moments his entire life changed and that it was like a rebirth. Yet, he spends the entire book articulating how vague, unknowable, mysterious, questioning, and difficult The Holy Scripture is! How is it that one can hear a "clear and concise" voice (with accompanying words) to teach what he hammers at over and over again as ultimately unknowable in Biblical Words? So, it is somehow okay if this inner mystical voice is clear, but not okay that the Spirit could breathe out clear and concise words through the Scriptures for all the saints? At least he's clear about his mission - I guess. (If you want to understand the "spirit" of the emerging church, Velvet Elvis may be the best and only book you will need to read. But go to your public library and check it out - don't buy it.)

Copyright ©, 2006, David Sheldon. Edited by Kerri Sheldon
Can be copied in its entirety for personal use or to be distributed, but not for profit.

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Contemporary Concerns
Deception in the Visible Church