Velvet Elvis, however, is not the story of the Mars Hill Church. He mentions it, obviously, it is part of his story, but this book is a little difficult to describe. Somewhat of a postmodern C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. It is a difficult book to summarize. There is much here to offer. I’m not overly familiar with the Nooma videos (I know, that makes me so out of the emergent loop), but the clips I’ve seen coincide nicely with, both Bell’s writing style and the message of his writing.
Velvet Elvis is a metaphor for the Christian faith. He begins in the introduction by describing a Velvet painting of Elvis he has in his basement. What if the artist, after painting it, believed he had painted the perfect picture. Announced it to all artists far and wide, there was no use painting any more because perfection had been attained. Obviously, the idea is ridiculous. However, it is exactly what we’ve done with the Christian faith.
And so Bell spends the book painting a new proposal for Christianity. Well, not really new, but a rediscovery of what the first Christians saw.
His first chapter discusses the Bible and looks at the relationship of the church and her “doctrines.” This is a difficult place for many people to go in that it challenges much of what they put at the core. Bell writes, “Doctrine is a wonderful servant and a horrible master.” (p. 25). We must keep doctrine in its place, and often put it back in its place. One of the challenges to this way of thinking is that it welcomes questions, which often puts us in vulnerable positions, but, maybe, just where God wants us.
In my commitment to making these book reviews shorter, I won’t beleaguer an outline of the chapters, but will say the most redeeming quality of this book for me was its continuation of the discussion working toward a more holistic understanding of salvation and of direction/goal/vision for Christians. The climax of the book is an emphasis in putting the faith in action. Good news is good news for the whole world! That’s a simple concept, but yet so dynamic. If the Good News is really Good News it should change our neighborhoods, our cities, our nations, and, eventually, the world. Call it naive or idealistic or whatever you want to call it, but it is the mind of Christ calling for heaven to come down to earth.
“[The most powerful things happen] when the church gives itself away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return, that the way of Jesus is most vividly put on display.” (p. 167). What a great comment on the direction and goal of our life as Christians. There is much to be gained in our rediscovery of the ancient Hebrew concept of shalom, and Bell’s book works closer towards that conversation.
He does make several background points for both Old and New Testament texts that I have never heard before. He makes very interesting and poignant points using them, but seldom footnotes them, so I’m not really sure where some of his information comes from – it makes for good preaching, but I would have been interested to know where some of this background information came from and why it isn’t more widely taught by commentators and expositors.
Overall, I feel as though Bell’s book is a great introductory work into the ongoing conversation revisioning ecclesiology and challenges some core values of many evangelicals. I sensed a great deal of humility in his writings. A sense of, “I don’t have it all figured out, but I do think we could do better. Here are some questions I’ve had, what do you think? Let’s stop and appreciate those who’ve come before us and realize that there as much a part of this as we are” permeates the book.