Friday, January 31, 2014

"What We Talk About When We Talk About God" by Rob Bell: A Review

The following is a review of Rob Bell's book What We Talk About When We Talk About God written in a way that resembles Bell's writing style.

I realize that when I mention the name Rob Bell in the title of this review many of you are thinking, "hey ain't that the pastor who wrote that book regarding hell and the afterlife where he clearly defends universalism ambiguously allowing himself to be both portrayed as a liberal hero while at the same time telling his critics they just don't understand?" You

The man who spoke with the eschatological of Harold Camping regarding what the Bible actually says about the afterlife is back with yet another book written in a similar style with less of a punch tackling
the subject of God.
Who is he? Why does he matter?
(some say the word "he" in the previous sentences should be capitalized, but I'm a rebel)

In What We Talk About When We Talk About God, Bell asks the all-important question we are all asking regarding the state of God - Can God keep up with the modern world? (8)

Some like to think such a question is human hubris at its best, but they clearly have never driven an Oldsmobile. My parents had one when I was a kid. They bought it from my great-grandparents and growing up in the 90s it was at times embarrassing to ride in. It is impossible for a young kid to act cool as he rides around in downtown of a rural city on his way to a hymn-singing, organ playing church while his dad is cruising in his great-grandparents old Oldsmobile.

I tell you about that Oldsmobile because not only did my parents actually drive one when I was growing up but because Bell uses it in his book (and the book trailer) to describe God. Is God going to be left behind
he asks
Like Oldsmobiles? (8)


I remember this joke I once heard about three tomatoes. There was
a daddy tomato,
a mommy tomato,
a baby tomato.
One day they were out walking and baby tomato kept falling behind. Each time the parents would go back and get the young tomato.
Until finally the daddy tomato had had enough,
walked back to the baby tomato, stomped his anthropomorphic foot and said

Did you get it?

God in the modern world is a lot like that baby tomato. Most in the modern world keep thinking that God is always falling behind in a world of electricity, quantum mechanics, and evolutionary theory. We all know that we came from stars (53), but simply asserting that we are just material
doesn't make sense.
After all, we can all study human lips, but its a totally different thing to be kissed? (149)

Bell has come like a white knight to save the day.
keep up with
modern world.


So here is the
basic argument:

God is
(whatever your meaning of is, is)
with us,
for us
ahead of us.

By with us, the author articulates, what the theologians call, process theology. Though the word is never used because the author is a non-theologian writing on theology,
the direction of Bell and others like him
(like Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, David Pagitt, and others in the now defunked Emergent Church)
is in this direction.

Process theology flirts with pantheism opting in favor of panentheism. In short, panentheism is divine immanence run amuk. Bell argues, in this vein, that God is not this keyboard I am now typing on or the chair your perhaps now sitting in, but is in a very real sense with us. The books epilogue
(a concluding chapter for those who don't understand)

One morning recently I was surfing just after sunrise, and there was only one other surfer out. In between sets he and I started talking. He told me about his work and his family, and then, after about an hour in the water together, he told me how he'd been an alcoholic and a drug addict and an atheist and then he'd gotten clean and sober and found God nt he process. As he sat there floating on his board next to me, a hundred or so yards from shore, with not a cloud in the sky and the surface of the water like glass, eh looked around and said, "And now I see God everywhere."

Now that's what I'm talking about. (211)

God is also ahead of us. In other words, God is no longer an Oldsmobile. He's an earth-friendly hybrid.
The author writes
(in a traditional paragraph form I might add)

. . . when I talk about God, I"m not talking about a divine being who is behind, trying to drag us back to a primitive, barbaric, regressive, prescientific age when we believed Earth was flat and the center of the universe. I believe that God isn't backward-focused - opposed ot reason, liberation, and progress - but instead is pulling us and calling us and drawing all of humanity forward - as God always has - into greater and greater peace, love, justice, connection, honesty, compassion, and joy. I want you to see how the God we see at work in the Bible is actually ahead of people, tribes, and cultures as God always has been. Far too many people in our world have come to see God as back there, primitive, not-that-intelligent, dragging everything backward to where it used to be. I don't understand God to be stuck back there and I want yo to experience this pull forward as a vital, active reality in your day-to-day life as you see just what God has been up to all along with every single one of us. (19)

That's good to know.

God is so far ahead of us that he, without thwarting with our free will of course (see Love Wins), is leading humanity in a progression towards a better world. So yes when we look at the Bible, that embarrassing ancient book full of myths and legends that occasionally inspires us so long as we interpret in a way that best
fits my preconceived notion of what is true,
we see an ancient people moving from clear barbarism to lesser barbarism. God is always moving us from A to B. Other cultures might be at L, but God, who always gets what he wants (see Love Wins), is leading them to M (165).

Now one might ask at this point that if God, when we talk about God limited in the discussion of this book, really is God why doesn't he just move us from a to z?
Why not move us directly to this promised peace, love, justice, and utopia?
It would be easy right?
Why didn't God just tell the savages that supposedly fled Egyptian slavery that holy wars were bad and gay marriage was good?
Why didn't God just tell Paul that "no women preachers allowed" is so 1st century and he should get with the program?
If these Oldsmobiles were stuck on A, wouldn't the last two thousand years have been better if God had gotten what he really wanted: Z?

This leads to a third truth about God we can be certain of. God is for us.

Caricatures are always an exaggeration unless your talking about those who oppose Rob Bell of course. Those fundamentalists who preach "the Bible," and believe that Jesus died on the cross to appease the righteous anger of God articulate a gospel that says

If your gay
tree hugger
transgender anarchist,
according to Oldsmobile Christians,
God is not for you.

But such thinking is wrong.

I remember a time my son was playing with his little toy barn. On the roof of this barn are holes reserved for three letter blocks - A, B, and C. And here's the strange part, he insisted on putting the A in the C. I kept telling my one year old son
not right."

I tell you that story about my son playing with his barn because many whom claim to be Christians are doing the same thing with what we call the gospel. The gospel is simply Jesus's announcement of good news and blessing for everybody who needs it (134). Many people think that God operates according to a point or merit system, and if you do the good or right or decent or religious thing, then you will get the points you need to get on God's good side.

That is not the gospel.

Gospel is the shocking, provocative, revolutionary, subversive, counterintuitive [sic] good news that in your moments of greatest 
[you get the point]
God meets you there -
right there-
right exactly there -
in that place, and announces,
I am on your side (135-156)

There is no bloody cross in this message. In fact the cross, reminiscent of what Walter Rauschenbusch, a guy that lived like a hundred years ago but didn't drive an Oldsmobile, taught, reminds us that God has absorbed and suffered right down to the last breath (144) the very worst the world has to offer. Jesus, we might presume, didn't suffer for mankind's "sins" but because of our misdeeds. God was there suffering at the hands of injustice, religious bigotry, and political corruption.

God is here as well.

This is what Jesus meant by repent. You know what repent means? It means to change your thinking, to see things in a new way, to have your mind renewed (137) Oldsmodbile preachers talk of sin, regeneration, transformation, and "repent and thou shalt be saved," but we all know


no one drives

In essence, Rob Bell is a herterodox pastor who for the umpteenth time is seeking to save Christianity from itself. Gone is Oldsmobile theology and replaced with "a new kind of Christianity" reminiscent of the old time apostasy.
is the Bible. Throughout the book Bell is almost embarrassed to reference it.
is the gospel as the above discussion illustrates. He suggests, even, that the man in Luke 18 doesn't leave the temple justified as Oldsmobile Bible's would have us believe, but free (191).
is the deity of Jesus. Instead, the fullness of God merely resided in him (149).

In its place is the center of this "new" progressive message of Jesus. Jesus calls us to become the kind of person who is for everybody. Especially people who aren't Christians. This is why Jesus talked so much about loving our enemies. To love God is to love those whom God loves, and God blesses and loves and gives and is generous with everybody. (150)
Bell presents theology without doctrine, exegesis without hermeneutics, and spirituality without the Spirit.

They're too busy trying to drag us back to letter A while God is moving us ahead to Z.

This is what we're talking about when we talk about God. Does it reflect the Bible?
It doesn't need too.
That's not the point.
We can't go back to driving Oldsmobiles.
We're hybrid people now.
Rather, we must embrace Rob Bell's feelings of who God should be. We should fashion him in his, and our post-enlightenment and postmodern, image.
Make him a little like us
so that
can become a little
like God.

Sound familiar (Genesis 3:5)?

For more:
Repost | Will the Two Become One?: Emergents Turn to Process Theology
Will This Sort of Love Win?:  Reflections on the Bell Controversy - Part 1
MSNBC Takes on Bell . . . Or At Least Tries Too
Driscoll:  Hell is the Wrath of God in Effect  
McLaren and McKnight:  Conversations on Being a Heretic 
Piper on Hellless Preaching
Repost | Why Punidts Should Stick to Punditry: Universalism, Inclusivism, and Freud's Wish Fulfillment
"Is Hell For Real Or Does Everyone go To Heaven?"
Repost | Love Wins?: Phil Johnson's Critic of Bell's Best-Seller
Love Debated: Bell & Warnock Debate 'Love Wins
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