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.

0 Responses to Velvet Elvis and Rob Bell’s View of Spirituality

  1. Neva says:

    I felt very much the same way when I read Velvet Elvis

    Blessings,
    Neva

  2. Matt,

    From your observations in this post I can see that you’ll have more issues to mull over as you read the book.

    With Matt’s permission, here is a link to the entries I posted as I blogged through Velvet Elvis last spring:

    http://michaelkrahn.com/blog/rob-bell/

  3. mattdabbs says:

    Alan,
    Thanks for stopping by. Tell Steven H. I said hi…I believe he is a minister at the church you attend?

    Neva,
    Thanks for stopping by, as always!

    Michael,
    Thanks for posting the link. I also appreciated the link in your post to Ben Witherington. That was helpful as well.

  4. preacherman says:

    Matt,
    Great post brother.
    Pray that God will bless you, your family, your ministry, Church, in 2008. May His wonderous riches fall on you like never before. As you have been such a blessin to so many people such as myself; my you also recieve blessing by those who have blessed you. I want to thank you for being such a wonderful blessing in my life brother. I want to encourage you to stay strong in the Lord no matter what critics may say or do. You are working for God and he has given you as Spirit of Power not timidity!
    In Him,
    Kinney Mabry

  5. mattdabbs says:

    Thanks for the prayers and encouragement!

  6. Kerry says:

    Matt:

    If I’m understanding you correctly, it seems you’re implying that God “made” rebellion, sin, and self-centered spirituality, in that those are the things you compare to Rob’s example of nature.
    I was first going to question whether or not I would call these “real things”, but the bigger issue, I think, is that calling those things part of God’s creation seems dubious to me…
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Later,
    kerry

  7. mattdabbs says:

    Kerry,

    I appreciate your input and expressing a need for some clarification.

    I said everything God made is Good. I then said that not everything that is “real” is good. Not everything that exists was made by God. God didn’t make rebellion. He made free will but he didn’t make sin. He didn’t make self-centered spirituality. We did. Those things are examples of things that are real that do not “show us God.” In my mind those things contradict Bell’s statement – “If it is real then it’s showing us God.”

    Can you show me where I said these things were part of God’s creation, maybe I am missing it? I think I just said they were real – the word Bell uses.

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