The Emergent Church and the Gospel: Rob Bell's New Book

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Rob Bell's new book, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith is out, published by Zondervan. Rob is a pastor of a 10,000 member non-denominational Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, MI. The church was about 2 miles down the street from my house in Jenison, MI where I used to live while serving on the pastoral staff at Grace Community Church in Hudsonville, MI. I visited the campus a couple of times and it is quite a site to see. It is a converted mall, with just that feel as you walk the indoor campus.

Rob and I have several things in common. We both have a great name, we're both 34 years old, we both pastor, we're both cool (in our own ways, of course, though he's definitely got 'way cooler' hair than I do), and we've both got a great Savior. Beyond that, I'm not sure what else we have in common because I never had the privilege of meeting him. We would differ significantly on issues like the role of women in ministry, and postmodernism's influence on the local church. Rob has never forthrightly stated he is an ECM'er, at least that I'm aware of. But he fits the mold perfectly. His newest book reflects this fact clearly. (And even CT would view him this way also!)

Read a recent interview Rob had with Charles Honey from the Grand Rapids Press, entitled "Repainting Faith: Dynamic Pastor Publishes Book." It will help explain Rob's approach to pastoring as well as his approach to the gospel, which he believes, for example, "must be repainted for each generation if it is to avoid the fate of his velvet Elvis." Bell is offering what many Christians in his church (and perhaps in others) are looking for, namely, ""a fresh take on Jesus."

I get the point, before even reading the book. I wholeheartedly agree with his assessment that our faith must be repainted for each generation. But while I get the point, I don't agree with the illustration. We are not to repaint Jesus afresh. That's silly. We can't do that. What we must do is to preach Christ afresh. That's not the same thing as painting him afresh. Our job is to expose Jesus to the world, and not to take brush in hand, on a fresh piece of canvas, and begin repainting Him all over again. So I agree somewhat with his mindset, but not his illustration. That said, his illustration still seems to reveal clearly what he means by repainting, and perhaps I disagree with it more than I think.

"What often happens in religion is people freeze the faith at a certain point," Bell explained. "There's no more need to paint. We've got the ultimate painting." On the contrary, he asserts -- religion, like art, must keep exploring and reforming, or "you end up with a velvet Elvis on your hands..."Every generation has to ask difficult questions about what does it mean to follow Jesus. What does the kingdom of God look like as it explodes at this time, in this place?"

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