Book Review: Rob Bell. “Velvet Elvis: Repainting The Christian Faith”. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005. 194pp. $14.99 (Paper), ISBN 0-310-27308-0. -- By: Robert H. Cubillos

Journal: Global Journal of Classical Theology
Volume: GJCT 06:3 (Jul 2008)
Article: Book Review: Rob Bell. “Velvet Elvis: Repainting The Christian Faith”. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005. 194pp. $14.99 (Paper), ISBN 0-310-27308-0.
Author: Robert H. Cubillos


Book Review:
Rob Bell. “Velvet Elvis: Repainting The Christian Faith”.
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005. 194pp. $14.99 (Paper), ISBN 0-310-27308-0.

Robert H. Cubillos, Ph.D.

Department of Philosophy
California State University, Dominguez Hills

Conceived in broad, creative, and curious strokes, Rob Bell’s, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith, is a valuable and interesting work. It is witty and caring and its design is sure to engage the GenX & Y audience. Most importantly, it affords us the opportunity to preview the repainting of the Christian Faith for a new generation of “seekers” who find themselves at a distance from or marginalized by “institutionalized” Christianity or those who do not “buy-into” what they consider are its dominant assumptions. Just like the outmoded painting of Elvis Bell discovered in his basement, the title of his book serves as the metaphor for the allegedly outmoded ways of thinking about Christianity. Thus, Bell invites his readers to a paint job, to join in a new faith-reforming journey, and to test, probe, and discuss what he has written. “Don’t swallow it uncritically. Think about it. Wrestle with it” (back cover). Bell, a voluble pastor, broadens Christian discourse far beyond normative ecclesial theology and puts forth his struggles with many questions which I would compact into, “What will it take to meaningfully connect my postmodern age with Jesus?” and “What do I need to do to make this connection work in peoples’ lives?” Pragmatists, like contextualists, tend to paint/package things in ways that will help them achieve their ends. The book is interesting because in answering these questions, Bell demonstrates the extent to which he desires to renovate the Christian Faith in hopes of making it more appealing to “seekers” and to entice them to tag along on the journey of faith.

Bell states that he is part of the “reforming” tradition—he invokes Luther—and says he embraces “the need to keep painting, to keep reforming. . . . I mean theology: the beliefs about God, Jesus, the Bible, salvation, the future. We must keep reforming the way the Christian faith is defined, lived, and explained” (12). Notice Bell’s equating painting with reforming and his argument (which reduces to an instance of modus ponens) that just as Luther’s protestations against Roman Catholicism resulted in a new theological movement--and Bell says that he is part of this reforming tradition--so Bell’s tradition will similarly result in a new theological movement for today. Perhaps. However, we must remember that Luther did not succeed in reforming Catholicism. Instead, he rediscovered and popularized the Bible, demonstrated its use as the objective standard against which all theologizing is measured, and initiated the Protestant evangelica...

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