The other day I reviewed Rob Bell's recent book "What is the Bible?" You can read it HERE. In it I offered to do a follow up if there was interest. I got a number of requests for it, so here we go. Y'all know that you are more interested in what I did NOT like, than what I liked, so let me start there.
- Human? Bell repeats this idea again and again that the Bible is a book about what it means to be human. A book written by humans for humans. And he says a few times that its about "elevating the human consciousness," whatever that means. I think he makes a book with far too much divine inspiration, power, and life a little too human-ish and normal, downplaying the life of God in it. Lost something for me. (Though there was an aspect of this that I did appreciate which I will address below.)
- Where did you find that? As you read this book, Bell points out the most fascinating insights and angles on stories you have heard a thousand times and you think: "Where did you find this? How did you come up with that? Who told you this?" Because you WANT to find these things, but most of us never can or will. If we could, it would revolutionize our read of the Bible. But, there are basically no citations or credit given and no teaching the reader "here is how you get as smart as me." So, it keeps you reading Bell, not searching for yourself. Seems non-reproducible. I wish he would guide the reader more practically into how to find this depth and beauty he so easily stumbles on.
- All truth is God's? Using the 1 Corinthians 3 "all things" idea, Bell makes his case that all truth is God's truth. Not the first time I have heard this unhelpful idea. Maybe I am just too stupid, but what does this mean? It's simply not true! It is "truth" that there was a hateful clash in Charlottesville last weekend. Is this "God's truth"? There is plenty of sad, distorted, awful, ungodly "truth" in our world. What does it mean to be "God's truth"? Or is this a semantics thing? What am I missing here? Makes no sense to me. Never has.
- Literately. Instead of "literally", Bell urges us to read the Bible "literately" which I found very helpful. Meaning, read the scriptures according to their genre...read poems as poems, gospels as accounts, the Psalms are to be read differently from prophetic books, etc. Coupled with this, he stresses context, context, context, which I used to fail to see the importance of but now I realize it makes or breaks the entire way we see the Bible! You absolutely and totally cannot pull a passage out of the Bible and make it mean whatever you want. The why, who, when, where and what of "back then" matter immensely.
- Jesus' life, not just death. As one who is wrestling through challenges with "penal substitution atonement theory" (google it), I really appreciated Bell's consistent focus on the Life of Christ (then and now) over just his death. This is in the "dislike" column for other readers, I'm sure, but I have long wondered why we make the death of Jesus a bigger deal than his life (a mean God had to kill his son and definitely needed the blood for this to work). It was LIFE that God was after in the garden, LIFE that he was after through the law and the prophets, LIFE that he was bringing in Christ, the crucifixion was about LIFE, LIFE that we were given in the spirit, LIFE that we are invited into now, LIFE that will reign at the end as we see Revelation's paradise culminate like the Garden before the serpent. My thing is life. Bell's is too. And I liked that.
- Questions without answers. Yet again in this case, I have heard others hold this against Bell, but I want to state it as one of my favorite aspects of the book. Bell asks hundreds of questions in the book and answers but a fraction of them. I was a bit bewildered in the first half of the book and then I got it...this is revealing a very, very important reality of how we ought to handle the Bible. Asking deep questions while resisting the urge for fast, traditional answers might feel rough on the brain, but can be so good for the heart. Because there is beauty in the asking, waiting, considering, listening and not "knowing"...a seemingly appropriate way to handle the mysteries of God. (Which reminds me to suggest to you the book I am finishing now called "The Sin of Certainty" by Peter Enns. Brilliant one.)