I know there’s a big debate out there about Rob Bell. Some believe he’s not actually a Christian and that his writing is heretical, bordering blasphemy. Others adore him and claim that his writings have helped save their faith. Others roll their eyes thinking he’s wordy, or his scholarship is lacking, or they think he is going for the “shock factor.” Some simply don’t like his style.
Then there’s people like me who relate to him, his story and upbringing, and really just appreciate his insight. He has a specific style to his writing that I enjoy. He’s cheeky and funny. He’s open, honest, and dorky. He doesn’t gloss over hard topics, but does speak in a way that still conveys love, reverence, inclusivity, and understanding. If Rob Bell isn’t for you, then you can just skip this blog. If you’re interested, here are my thoughts on “What is the Bible? How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything.”
In this book, Bell wrestles with questions revolving around the Bible: inerrancy, contradictions, sin, wrath, ancient imagery and metaphor, violence and rape, and all other horrible, confusing, challenging, scary, oppressive, beautiful, funny topics the Bible contains. Bell encourages asking questions by using question and answers throughout his chapters, anticipating the questions the reader may have (and that he himself has had) and responding honestly toward them. “What kind of God would ask a man to sacrifice his son? Not this one.” p. 111
Bell doesn’t pull any punches when talking about rape, murder, genocide, sexism, racism, slavery, and all other upsetting events that occur in the time the scriptures were written. He discusses these issues openly and honestly, while referencing the Hebrew and Greek languages, the historical context, and the culture influencing the writers of scripture. It doesn’t smooth over the horrible things people do in the Bible, instead it embraces the brokenness of the people and seeks to find truth and grace in the midst of chaos.
Bell reminds us of the brokenness of the human condition, which shapes the Bible while also honoring the living God, who has spoken and is still speaking. “Remember, the Bible was written over a thousand years before the printing press. People didn’t have their own copy of the Bible. At best your village may have had a scroll in the synagogue… These stories circulated as oral history, passed down from one generation to the next.” p 266 Bell acknowledges the Bible as the word of God, but reminds the reader that God is still speaking around us all the time. Our eyes and ears should be open all the time.
For anyone who hasn’t spent much time doing academic study into scripture, this book is a good taste of taking the entire Bible and studying it in depth. All those burning questions you have, the confusion, the frustration you may have been feeling are safely and openly addressed here. This book is a wonderful opportunity to wrestle and perhaps open your mind to scripture in a new way.
If you have studied theology like I have, this book will not contain new information or scholarship. Instead, it’s an easy read that digs in deep into the Bible, reminding you of so much you have learned throughout seminary in a concise manner, with very specific Rob Bell insight. You will laugh, smile, and be encouraged.