'Velvet Elvis' Author Encourages Exploration of Doubts

Megachurch pastor Rob Bell says faith in Jesus must be repainted for each generation if it's to avoid the fate of Elvis kitsch.

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The Michigan-based Zondervan is counting on "Velvet Elvis" to resonatewith plenty of young adults like Van De Steeg, as well as older age groups.

"Anybody who's ever found a disconnect between church and real life willfind this book difficult to put down," says Lyn Cryderman, vice presidentand publisher of books.

Cryderman says he has "high expectations" for the book because, unlikemost books about Christianity, it encourages readers to question theirbeliefs and church teachings.

"It's refreshing to have somebody say, `Go ahead, test it all you want,'instead of, `There must be something wrong with you because you've got somedoubts."'

Indeed, Bell urges readers to test his own text. The Bible itself, hewrites, is a book that constantly must be wrestled with and re-interpreted. He dismisses claims that "Scripture alone" will answer all questions.Bible interpretation is colored by historical context, the reader's bias andcurrent realities, he says. The more you study the Bible, the more questionsit raises.

"It is not possible to simply do what the Bible says," Bell writes. "Wemust first make decisions about what it means at this time, in this place,for these people."

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Noting the Bible has been used to defend slavery and mistreat women, hewrites, "sometimes when I hear people quote the Bible, I just want to throwup."

In similarly bold language, Bell tackles questions about Jesus,salvation, the institutional church and religious prejudice.

Sprinkled throughout are his own spiritual awakenings and struggles,from first feeling in awe of God at a U2 concert to freaking out over thedemands of Mars Hill.

The book, one of two Zondervan has contracted him to write, is "just areflection of my own journey," Bell says.

"My intent has always been to discover the real Christ and theresurrected Christ, and what (he) is saying to me and to us," says Bell, 34,with the excited intensity of someone equally at home with a Bible or askateboard.

He is sitting in the warehouse offices of Flannel, a nonprofit filmcompany that has produced a series of short videos featuring Bell. In each,he delivers a faith-based message in the hip, witty style that has packedworshippers into Mars Hill.

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