So I don’t usually do a lot of book reviews on this blog… but as a pastor and a leader of a next generation ministry, I felt like I needed to 1) read this book [especially in light of Love Wins] and 2) review it based on what I see, think, and have studied over the years.
Disclaimer: I must confess that I walked into this book with a lot of preconceived ideas about Rob Bell and his beliefs and writings. I have read every single one of his books and, based on his last book, was in STRONG disagreement with his theological leaps and poor OT exegetical work. It took a lot to get to the place where I could read this book objectively and comment on it without prejudging it. But this did not help:
and after watching that… and then this:
I was sure that this book was going to 1) fall right in line with my preconceived notions & 2) become another lightening rod in the church for scrutiny. But I was DETERMINED to walk into this book without my rose colored shades, so I put my pride aside… and probably my better judgment… and began to read…
Review: Before I get started with this… I want to let you know that this will NOT be a chapter by chapter in-depth review of this book. I will, however be thematic in this review. I have determined that this book is both IMPORTANT and DANGEROUS for both the church and the unbelieving world. I will write based upon those two premises… and then I want you to read the book for yourself.
IMPORTANT FOR THE CHURCH AND WORLD:
Bell is right when he asserts that there is a growing number of people in our world for whom the idea/concept of God is becoming a thing of the past. I know because I have read the books, watched the debates on youtube, and heard the stories of some of my own students who have grown up at church, gone to a university, and are now professing atheists. (or agnostics because they want to be safe) So this book is timely because it raises the question “How do we address those people about a God that they are becoming more and more convinced does not exist?” For that, I applaud Mr. Bell. It can be very difficult to talk to an unbelieving, rational based, just the facts world that is bent on not believing… about believing in a God that they cannot test or prove. So this book is important in the fact that it begins a conversation about how the church can take the timeless message of scripture and insert it in a timely way into our culture. It is important for the world because it attempts to bridge the gap between faith and reason/science. It attempts to answer HUGE questions that the unbelieving world has about God and how the concept of God and scripture is not some archaic thought… but a relevant and near one. He uses 3 words: WITH, FOR, & AHEAD to describe that God is not a distant, uninvolved, “OUT-THERE” deity that intelligently designed all that we see and experience only to walk away from it, but that He is closer than we think… and He loves us so much that he is FOR us and that He is not a left behind thought… but is actually ahead of us trying to pull us into the future. These are IMPORTANT things for the church and the world to begin to wrestle with.
DANGEROUS FOR THE CHURCH AND WORLD:
Okay… here is the deal. Rob never comes out and says anything. You have to be the mastermind of figuring out how to answer his
But if you look into what he is proposing, you’ll begin to see that he answers his own questions and gives you hints and glimpses into his worldview and theology. The reason that this book is dangerous for the church, is because Rob purports great questions about who we will say God is… and wants us to begin to think through how we talk about God, but every time he talks about God there is a “flavor,” if you will, of some eastern mysticism. Rob is sounding more and more like a new age mystic, and less and less like a Christian. He often equates God to a force, “hum inside,” bang that started the universe, or energy that connects us all. (sounds a little like Star Wars to me) To be honest, the more I read him doing this, the more uncomfortable I became. I literally got to the end of the book and wondered if we were talking about the same God. He talks of Jesus, quickly of the cross and resurrection, but most of his time is spent “REDEFINING” the conversation about God to make Him fit into a conversation that the world could relate to. Remember what he said in Velvet Elvis about changing the conversation? It all is starting to make sense now.
This book is dangerous for the world because, while he speaks of God… and speaks of Jesus, one would not come to the conclusion at the end of this book that there is anything they would need to do to be forgiven. In fact, he states in the chapter “For” that we must embrace who we are and realize that even in that mess God is FOR us. (noble concept… but what do you DO with that?) He talks about confession… but mostly about confession as a way to alleviate guilt and not to repent for sin. I must honestly say, at the end of the book I felt like I was in the final scene from the TV show “LOST” where Jack is in the back room in the church and there are multiple religious symbols in the stained glass representing that it didn’t matter what religion you were… all roads led there. I’m not saying that was what Bell intended… but that is how it felt. It felt like as long as you joined in on the conversation about the fact that God exists and he is not a thing of the past… that somehow you were golden. I know there is more to this book than that… and I know that my bias shows a little because of what I read in Love Wins, but I wanted to honestly state wat I felt while reading it… and I urge you/encourage you to read it for yourself and see what you think.
So the big question for me about this book is this: Can a book that seems to be both IMPORTANT and DANGEROUS still be useful in my ministry? My answer is YES… but I’ll save that for another day and another post