Well, here we go. The day I have not looked forward to at all. The day that I would share my thoughts in response to Rob Bell's latest book, "What is the Bible?" Over six years ago, I read and reviewed his unnecessarily controversial book "Love Wins," otherwise known as "Lose Friends." (You could read all my posts about it in my blog archives from 2011 using the search below.) Bell has a unique anointing for writing awesome books that make people hate him (many of which never read his books).
Look, I really like Rob Bell. And I love his writing. He has an exceptional gift for communicating and talks about things I care a lot about! Thank you, Rob.
And let me come out and give my soundbite one sentence review: It has been a long, long time since I have read a book that made my love for the Bible come alive and feel refreshed the way this one did!! I've also read few authors with as much fascination and love for the Bible as Bell has. I guess God uses heretics! Oh, and I have been on quite the spiritual pilgrimage myself the last several years, so this stuff was just right up my alley. Questions and exploration don't scare me, they enliven me.
Ok, here's my review. Bell writes a book about the Bible and:
- Does not treat it like most people always have.
- Opens up new ideas about what it was and what it is.
- Employs different language to define, describe and defend it.
- Asks really wild and weird questions most people would never ask.
- Has perspectives that are super different than 9+ out of 10 Christians you know.
- Sees things in stories and historical accounts that you probably never even heard of or saw before.
- Uncovers unhealthy and idolatrous ways of treating the Bible.
- Takes a few shots at traditional religious thought.
- Opens up new brain pathways and conversations about the Bible that some would not want to have or didn't know they could.
- Suggests some pretty out-there theological ideas that he seems to be working at still himself.
Ok, so some of his main things in the book....themes that kept repeating themselves:
- The Bible did not fall out of heaven, but is written by real people, at a real time and place in history, with real circumstances and real worldview, dealing with issues real to them....as they saw them at their time and place. God let people tell their stories. Then real people compiled this into an ancient library of poems, letters and stories.
- This library is not just a normal library, but is charged and teeming with the life of God, filled with revelation and beauty that invites and beckons humans into the life of the Spirit and into the story of God at work in our world. There is a reason this book stood the test of time and has transformed so many people! And still is.
- We have failed to let it be what it is and do what it does. Instead, we have forced the Bible to become something else....something we have needed it to be to bring us the security and certainty we so desperately long for as people (and use the same book to call it "good doctrine").
- And then we have imposed the wrong questions, descriptors and adjectives onto the Bible. Like inerrant. Or inspired. Or infallible. Or literal. Bell suggests that these very modern ideas zap the life out of the scriptures and turn it into something it was never to be. These are wrong, new and unexciting questions and labels.
- There is always more going on! Bell finds many ways to make this same point...we have to look deeper and longer and further into a story and it's context and we will almost always find some deeper and beautiful narrative about God's loving compassion and Kingdom unfolding. Like this quote: "The point of the Abraham-Isaac story isn't that you should sacrifice your kid, but that you can leave behind any notion of a God that would demand that you sacrifice your kid!" (read the book to see how he got there...and what he did with Jonah!! I was crying.)
- The Bible is not a book of rules, or science, or precise facts, or even perfect history. It's a book of life! And life is messy. A book that unpacks the foundational stories of our faith and invites us to keep going and discovering and finding God. A doorway, not a destination. A starting place, not a finish line (my words...better than Bell, in my opinion).
Does Bell say some things in his book that I do not agree with at this point in my journey? Yup! He sure does. But, if I am honest, I have little desire or energy for needing to defend my ideas or attack Bell. The book was mostly brilliant. I never finish a good meal my wife makes me and then take time to explain all the little things about it that I did not like. Accomplishes nada. That said, I would be more than willing to discuss some of my disagreements with anyone who has ACTUALLY READ THE BOOK (not just reviews slamming the book and Bell). Contact me. I learned the hard way in the past arguing about books people never even read.
Finally, a word to those that hate this. A good pal of mine often tells me after reading some of the comments on my FB threads, "Noah, have the most diverse group of friends of anyone I have ever seen!" He has a point. I have great friends that would LOVE some of these Bell-type explorations. And then I have other friends, that I dearly love and honor, that would really struggle with this and want to pull me or anyone that reads this stuff off a cliff to save our lives. The tension is marvelous. May all of our hearts resist the pride that says "my way is the only or right or best way" and rather walk with our hearts postured toward and filled with trust for JESUS, the way, the truth and the life!
(Let me talk out the other side of my mouth and say that I am considering/willing to write a follow up post with the three things I liked most and the three I liked least. I'll see if there is interest rising.)