Velvet Elvis (by Rob Bell)

Rob Bell is quite a controversial writer in evangelical Christian circles, mainly due to his recent book 'Love Wins'. He used to be the pastor of an American mega-church (which he founded) and is also the narrator on a series of videos known as 'Nooma'. I'm naturally suspicious of mega-churches in general, I wasn't particularly impressed with Nooma episodes that we saw in a house group, and I didn't much like the first book of Bell's that I read.

So I wasn't at all sure what to expect from 'Velvet Elvis', a book I had been thinking of buying for some time. I found it second-hand not long ago, and picked it up to read a couple of weeks ago - and found it remarkably appealing, right from the start.

The concept of God being concerned with all goodness and truth (not just that emanating from Christians) is one that I've been hearing and reading in many places recently. It's expanded upon in this book. I've always been keen on the idea of thinking about or 'testing' everything, going back to Scripture and (most importantly) to my relationship with God. I believe faith is a growing, moving concept that will inevitably embrace new ideas and - at times - throw away some outdated ones.

There's an excellent chapter in this book explaining some of the basics of Jewish thought, such as the meaning of a 'yoke' - nothing to do with oxen - or the method whereby rabbis took disciples, and what was meant by 'binding and loosing' in the first century. Jesus was, after all, thoroughly Jewish, as were his followers and biographers; yet it's rare to hear a sermon letting us know that even the best-read Orthodox Jewish rabbis believed that the Scriptures needed constant re-evaluation and interpretation.

The rest of the book encourages us to look for God where we are, to understand that the church is a community intended to bless those outside it, not a holy huddle to meet on Sundays. It describes eternal life in terms of where we are now, as a continuum, and how Jesus talked about a new earth rather than an abstract heaven.

I don't think I agreed with every word of the book, but that's not a problem: as the author said, we should test everything, including the words he writes. We're all on different paths, with our unique temperaments and gifts, and the Holy Spirit gives us different insights. If something does not apply to me, or if I think his interpretation is wrong, that's fine. There's room for variety. While love and harmony are important, there's nothing in the Bible to say that we should all agree on every fine point of doctrine or Scriptural interpretation.

Helpful, inspiring and thought-provoking. Definitely recommended.

Still in print on both sides of the Atlantic; available for the Kindle as well as in paperback.

Review by copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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