Posted by: Mark | April 12, 2010

Velvet Elvis – Is it good, bad or ugly


The book Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell has been an enigma in the back of my mind for a while. It seems that some people that I respect think that it was a great book with comments like “That’s the best book I have ever read”, or “That is one 5 books that shape how I read the bible“. However, other people that I respect have also called it liberal, unbiblical and just plain wrong. How can one book provoke such polar reactions? Was everyone reading the same book?

For me that is what made this book a must read.

If you don’t want to read this whole review my overall conclusion is that while this book has some unique and good ideas it is a a little weak on truth, interpretively confusing and in some parts it is just plain wrong. However, it is not the Bible and therefore it was never going to be completely right was it 🙂

To keep this post a little structured I am going to try and pull out some good points (innovative thoughts and ideas), some bad points (wrong teachings) and some ugly points (confusing thoughts that are unhelpful) from the book. This is not a thorough review but more like a passing thought after reading the book. It is also not an attack on Rob Bell, as I don’t know the guy, but, a reflection on his book.

The Good

God’s godness

One thing I did feel that was emphasized well in this book was that God is God and he is big and mighty and nothing compares to Him. He is bigger than our brains and thoughts and we should not put Him in a box. That is not our right nor does it make any sense. As we get walked through the awful example of the trampoline in the first chapter (see below) the one bright light is the emphasis of the greatness and unchangeableness of God. Sometimes as we try to get to know God we minimize or reduce Him and it was refreshing to again see someone emphasize the fact that God should not be reduced.


In chapter 3 of the book we walk through the idea of finding truth (or the presence of God) in diverse and many places. I think this is a great idea and something that as Christians we should be much more open to. The idea of seeing God in creation, acts of love, times of sadness, or just everyday life is a great way to live. After all as Rob Bell quotes in pg 77 – Where can I go from your Spirit, where can I flee from your presence (Psalm 139.7). He also points out that we can find truth from people who are not Christian and indeed are opposed to the gospel – there is thinking outside Christendom. In pg 78-79 he shows how Paul did this in some of his sermons and letters. Ultimate truth comes from the Bible but there are lessons to learn from the world around us.

Our reaction

Rob Bell finishes this book with a great thought. We have all seen things done and said in the name of God that stink and are clearly not of God. And from this position we can react one of two ways. We can become “bitter, cynical, jaded and hard” or we can “reclaim our innocence” and live the life God intended. (Pg 176-177). This is a great truth if you have been born and brought up in a religious setting – remember that God’s people stuff up, but, this is not who God is or who He intends His people to be.

The Bad

Just plain wrong

There are several parts of this book that made me cringe. There were other parts that gave the whiff of rotten tuna to my theological nose. However, one sentence above all else stood out to me as just plain and completely wrong. “Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for” pg 146. That sentence is blasphemous. God is perfectly just. How could a perfectly just God punish sin twice – if the people are forgiven why are they in hell?

No solid truth other than God

I mentioned above that Rob does a great job of showing the constant nature of God – God’s godness. However, in doing that he seems to say that everything else is negotiable. That it is what has come about from mans thought process down the years. That is wrong. Rob mentions that he believes in the Bible as the inspired word of God. If he believes in this, and he believes in an unchanging God, why do the two not combine and result in never changing doctrinal teachings. If God said (inspired) it and He doesn’t change why does the teaching (doctrine) change. This also seems to go against the idea of sound doctrine (1 Tim 2.10, 1 Tim 6.3, 2 Tim 4.3, Titus 1.9, Titus 2.1) that Paul mentioned several times in his letters. There are unchanging, solid, trustworthy teachings that do not, will not and cannot change because God has set it up that way. There is such a thing as absolute truth. There are such things as bricks.


This second chapter in the book is very confusing. It seems to say that we have the ability to create rules and teachings (a yolk) and then insist that those that follow us (our church) must follow these teachings. This is very strange to me. The passage that he quotes I have always taken to be referring to the apostles only and not something that continues beyond them. I really didn’t like the idea he created here. I also found it very conflicting and contradictory to what he was saying in the previous chapter about bricks and springs. Confusing at best.

Dubious gospel message

“Jesus at one point claimed to be “the way, the truth and the life”. Jesus was not making claims about one religion being better than all other religions” pg 21. Rob Bell then goes on to waffle about an idea that Jesus was talking here about people finding the ultimate way to live and experience a depth of reality. If we define religion as a set of truths and believes in and about an ultimate being then Jesus very much was saying that His way was the only way and His religion was the only religion. Let me be clear here in what I am saying – not all roads (religions) lead to heaven. When Jesus was on earth He did not just live a do good life for us to follow so we could experience the ultimate reality that was God’s intention for us here on earth. Jesus spoke truth (doctrine) and made divisive statements. He came as a fulfillment of prophecy so that through Him and the truth He taught sins could be forgiven AND people would know how to live a proper life here on earth in preparation for eternity in heaven (which I believe Rob Bell correctly identifies as this earth, and I would add – after it has been destroyed by fire and restored back to its original form). Lets not cut out either the life Jesus lived or the truth He taught as more important than the other.

The Ugly


If you have read the book I am sure you know what I am talking about here. In reading between the lines I believe that this passage is a kick back against some sort of legalistic system that Rob has experienced or witnessed or disagrees with. However, there are better ways to fight against this sort of thing. In painting a picture of flexing doctrines with nothing steady except for God against a picture of someone walled completely in with no room for maneuver he sketches out the exact recipe for why we start wars and fights in this world. He ignores the middle ground. Both of the pictures he paints are wrong and yet he doesn’t show us a third. It is very wrong to believe in no ultimate truth or teaching. It is very wrong to be legalistic and believe that you have the power to create (bind) truths here on earth that God didn’t define, and teach them on the same level as pure doctrine. Both of these positions are very wrong and writing a book that gives the impression that these are the only two possibilities can only be described as divisive. There are absolute truths (at some point later I hope to write a blog post on this if I get the time to think about it) and there are things that are convictions that we should flex with. Lets not react to what we hate in the church by being what we hate. Or to quote a wise friend of mine lets not be bigots against bigots.

Time travel

Rob Bell of course does not say in this book that he has went back in time but I can only assume that he has. How else would he pretend to know precisely what normal people thought and said when Christ was on earth and before. We can tell from history what certain people recorded to have happened but the further back we go the less accounts we have. Can we really state these accounts as given and then change beliefs based on this. I have read other people who do this sort of thing and I think that we need to be so much more careful with it. Bottom line is truth needs to come from the bible and be based wholly on the bible and its contents. To err on this is to go back before the reformation and rate tradition on the same level or above inspired scripture. Lets use history only for better understanding of the truth not for the definition of the truth.

Over emphasis of the power of people

One thing that is evident among many people that I know is a misplaced or inefficient self-image. Many people do strange things because they can’t accept the way that God made them and, if they are Christians, that God loves them as His children. However, Rob seems to have a desire for humans to have an over inflated blown up opinion of themselves. In Romans 12.3 we are told to have a sober minded not over-inflated opinion of ourselves. On pg133 in a portion about Peter walking on water we read, “Who does Peter lose faith in? Not Jesus. Jesus is doing fine. Peter looses faith in himself”. How does this add up when Paul says that he is what he is because God works through him.



  1. went to see rob speaking recently, as you know. have never been sooooooooooooo bored! glad i went coz i wud hav been thinkin wot i missed. it was a psychology lecture, in reality. will not be purchasin anything of his in the future.

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