To begin with a disclaimer: These are thoughts I have had while reading the book Velvet Elvis, and much of it is my own opinion. I realize that I do not have a handle on truth. and there may be things that I am not seeing clearly I’m just calling it as I see it at the moment, and I’ll welcome your discussion. Wishing you joy in the journey!
One of the very biggest problems I’ve had with this book happened within the first Movement (his name for chapters or sections of the book.) He spends quite a bit of time comparing the Christian life to a trampoline where you experience joy and invite others to jump with you. His thought is that the Christian beliefs are the springs, which flex and stretch as they propel us higher. Then comes this question:
But what if [one] spring was seriously questioned? Could a person keep jumping? Could a person still love God? Or does the whole thing fall apart? …But if the whole faith falls apart when we reexamine and rethink one spring, then it wasn’t that strong in the first place, was it?
His point is that by picturing our faith as a trampoline rather than a wall, we allow for some flex, and when one aspect of it snaps, we don’t lose it all.
Okay, it’s not a bad metaphor, in a way. What left me with my mouth hanging open was his list of things that he seems to consider “springs.” As far as I could tell, his “springs” included the virgin birth, the trinity, the inspiration of the Bible, and a literal six day creation.
Huh? So without these things, you could just keep jumping happily away in your Christian faith? I guess it seemed to me that these might be better compared to the legs that hold the trampoline up off the dirt, rather than being springs that flex and change as they are stretched! But he never mentions the legs at all. Does his trampoline not require them?Somehow that just really rubs me wrong.
There are lots of things I can think of that might fit into his definition of springs, but those are NOT the things I’d choose.
In the process of developing the trampoline metaphor, he also criticizes the old wall metaphor of the Christian life because bricks are inflexible and fixed in size. If one brick is removed, the wall will crumble. He says that “God becomes [only] as big as the wall.” Whatever. Since the wall metaphor is used repeatedly in the Bible, I guess I like it. It is our job to make sure that our wall is not our God.
He makes the statement on page 65 that “We believe that the same God who was at work then is at work now. The same God in the same kinds of ways.” And I agree. So I don’t really believe that I need to trade all my bricks in for springs. I can have springs on top of them, can’t I? But I think I’ll choose my own springs!
Problem Number Two–some unfortunate phrasing
p. 63, (condensed) When Jesus talks about divorce, he is entering into a great debate of the day. The two great rabbis Hillel and Shammai had differing opinions on divorce. People are asking Jesus who he agrees with. “And in Jesus’ answer, he sides with one of them.”
Now that REALLY sat me up in my chair. No, no, NO! Jesus didn’t “side with” anyone. Jesus doesn’t have opinions. Jesus is God. He is Truth. His truth is eternal. He spoke the TRUTH and to say that he “sided with” someone is to tear down his deity!
Another one from page 134:
[Jesus tells the disciples] to go the ends of the earth and make more disciples. And then he leaves. He promises to send the spirit to guide them and give them power, but Jesus himself leaves the future of the movement in their hands. And he doesn’t stick around to make sure they don’t screw it up. He’s gone. He trusts that they can actually do it.
God has an incredibly high view of people. God believes that people are capable of amazing things.
Um, hello??? God believes WE are capable? I don’t think so. First of all, Jesus told them to wait until the Holy Spirit came to them. He knew perfectly well they couldn’t do it on their own. He wasn’t “gone”–God was still with them, just in a different form, that of the Holy Spirit. This not only gives people far too high an estimation of themselves, but it also could lead to the conclusion that the Holy Spirit isn’t really God. (Is this blasphemy? I’m not sure, but it’s too close for comfort.)
And Problem Number Three
This idea is very interesting, but I’m not sure that I like it.
The Bible is a communal book. It came from people writing in communities…was written to communities…In Jesus’ day, an entire village had one copy…reading it alone was unheard of. It was read aloud in a room full of people. You heard it, discussed it, studied it…made decisions about it as a group, a community…One person could never get too far in a twisted interpretation because the others were right there giving her insight and perspective she didn’t have on her own.
Aside from the feminine pronoun in that last sentence (sheesh–doesn’t the man realize that Jewish women were never involved in public discussion of Scripture in Jesus’ day?) this sounds really good on the surface. But on thinking it through, what I’m hearing is that you can’t really get a good feel for the Bible by reading it alone. You need to discuss it. Okay, I can go for the fact that discussion is good–I like discussion–but I do think that one person who happens upon a copy of the book of John all alone on an island somewhere would probably have all they need to be saved. So, while I think discussion is helpful, I don’t think it is necessary. Bell may agree with that, I don’t know, but I would have liked for it to be said.
But look again at that last sentence in the quote above. That’s the one that troubles me. First of all, is it true? I think not. I have seen gifted debaters who could convince you of practically anything. I don’t believe in the theory that just because a large group of people agree on something, that it must be true. That is really dangerous thinking. The fact that the teaching happens in a church and the majority agrees does NOT make it doctrine.
On the very next page, Bell says “Everybody’s interpretation is essentially his or her own opinion. Nobody is objective.” I agree with that, but adding more and more opinions will not necessarily lead to truth.
There are a few other things in this book that irk me, as well as some things that I liked, but that’s enough for today. If there’s any interest, I may write more sometime. And if all my book reviews are just boring you to death, say so.
And one of these days, I may have to take a break from controversial books.