Thinking Out Loud

March 28, 2013

Rob Bell Talks About God

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:22 am

Once you get past an extended section dealing with various disciplines of science, there are a couple of chapters in the middle of Rob Bell’s What We Talk About When We Talk About God, where he seems to be making a strong case for the centrality of God in every conversation, and when he says God, he’s clearly talking about God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

Rob Bell - What We Talk About When We Talk About GodBut if you’re expecting the evangelism to reach a crescendo in the final ten to twenty pages, Bell doesn’t exactly deliver. The ending is disappointingly soft. There’s certainly no organist playing “Just as I Am” behind the final paragraphs. So what are we left with?

We’re left with a book that I would be more than happy to have at least one atheist I know read. Yes, there are better books of Christian apologetics, but I don’t know if they would connect with those outside the inner circle as well as What We Talk About…  This book and all Bell’s book are now published under the HarperOne imprint, and  seem tailor-made for browsers in the religion section at Barnes and Noble in the US or Chapters in Canada. I have to say, he gets his audience.

We’re left with a book that — at least in the middle — contains sufficient allusions and direct quotes from scripture to place it safely within the Christian book genre. There were several pages I thought would fit in well at my devotional blog, were it not for the expected backlash.

We’re left with a book that generously acknowledges the range of religious belief in the marketplace, but chooses to deliberately focus on a faith rooted in the teachings of Jesus.

Having said all that, this is not the book for the average Christian book reader. But if you want to think about faith from a different perspective, or you want to hone your own apologetics, I would suggest it’s far better to own a copy than to rely on those who criticize the book from the safe distance of never having skimmed a chapter.

If there’s someone in your household, your workplace, your neighborhood, your school or your extended family with whom you want to engage a deeper faith conversation, you should read this, and then pass on the copy to them to read. I guarantee it will get you both talking about what it is to talk about God.

February 18, 2013

Rob Bell Returns With A Spring Book Release

Rob Bell - What We Talk About When We Talk About GodHe’s back. But among readers here — who I feel are representative of the larger Christian community — what will be the interest in What We Talk about When We Talk about God?  The book releases March 12th from HarperCollins.

At his blog, Denny Burk doesn’t mince words:

I’m personally of the opinion that Rob Bell is no longer relevant to the larger evangelical theological conversation. Yes, his book will probably sell a lot of copies. No, evangelicals by and large won’t mistake him for one of their own like they used to.

The Christian Post reports that the book is one “in which the Christian author and minister does for God ‘what he did for heaven and hell in Love Wins,’ according to the publisher.”  Yes, I know; I just heard a couple of you shudder. Love Wins was not without its detractors. The Post article adds,

..[T]he controversy surrounding Bell’s book resulted in 3,000 members leaving Mars Hill Bible Church. The tension eventually forced Bell and his wife to split from the congregation. The couple moved to California last year, where the former church leader has since been holding seminars, working on producing a “faith-inflected talk show” and searching “for a more forgiving faith…”

Frank Viola hails Bell as a “marketing genius” and you already figured out that the new book will include a book tour.

Here’s the publisher’s (HarperOne) marketing blurb:

How God is described today strikes many as mean, primitive, backward, illogical, tribal, and at odds with the frontiers of science. At the same time, many intuitively feel a sense of reverence and awe in the world. Can we find a new way to talk about God?

Pastor and New York Times bestselling author Rob Bell does here for God what he did for heaven and hell in Love Wins he shows how traditional ideas have grown stale and dysfunctional and reveals a new path for how to return vitality and vibrancy to how we understand God. Bell reveals how we got stuck, why culture resists certain ways of talking about God, and how we can reconnect with the God who is with us, for us, and ahead of us, pulling us forward into a better future–and ready to help us live life to the fullest.

Rob’s Bell’s writing process comes through in this made-at-home video trailer, which involves 3X5 cards inscribed with words like boombox, snail, volume, further, closer. Is it just me or do they sound like potential NOOMA titles?

July 24, 2012

Rob Bell: Exploring The Spirituality of Wonder

Yesterday’s comments here notwithstanding, I am all in favor of embracing the mystery of God. As we get several years on in this faith journey we tend to lose the element of awe and wonder.This is a short video, and reactions online — see below — have also been equally shorter — except for this guy who dissects it to the nth degree — the five below are among the few longer than a single sentence.

July 13, 2011

Wednesday Link List

Wednesday List Links

Welcome back to another list…

  • Shaun Groves is getting ready to release a new album, Third World Symphony, and Journey of Worship caught up with him for an interview.  And speaking of CCM artists…
  • Here’s what Joy Williams has been up to lately, as half of the duo The Civil Wars  [video] which I was reminded of while reading this…
  • Jason Adkins digs deep into the grammar of CCM: “Prepositional Phrases Are the Artistic Expression Du Jour.  Whether it’s Chris Tomlin (And If Our God Is For Us…), Blindside (With Shivering Hearts We Wait), or the continuance-to-a-specified-time tendencies of Casting Crowns (Until the Whole World Hears) and Red (Until We Have Faces), the prepositional phrase is challenging the terse one-word album title as the dominate naming convention in Christian music.” Read The State of the Art Address.
  • Missy gets into the subject of designer babies and gender selection at It’s Almost Naptime, a popular parenting blog for women.
  • Popular author and theologian N. T. Wright is releasing the New Testament edition of his own Bible translation, The Kingdom New Testament.  More advance info at Zondervan.
  • Canada’s largest multi-site church, The Meeting House is doing something very different for the summer.  For 12 weeks, they’ve invited leaders from other denominations to share the pulpit with TMH teaching pastor Bruxy Cavey.  (Plus a visit from Philip Yancey!) So far we’ve enjoyed all of them, available on both video and audio.
  • Mickey Maudlin, Senior Vice President and Executive Editor at HarperOne (HarperCollins’ religious imprint) reflects on the reaction to their publication of Rob Bell‘s Love Wins.  Sample: “As a young evangelical, I was socialized to see the biggest threat to the church as theological liberalism. But now I think the biggest threat is Christian tribalism…”
  • Last week I linked to some pictures of the event, this week a visit to Julie Clawson’s impressions of the Wild Goose Festival.
  • Mark Dever looks at what’s wrong with pastoral search committees (#6 of 9: “A beauty pageant mentality”) and then, in part two of the same article suggests that this is actually the responsibility of the church elders.  
  • B. J. Stockman looks at the gospel at Resurgence blog.  This is a longer piece but in section three, check out the gospel as reflected in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Leviticus.
  • Lifeshapes author Mike Breen sees celebrity, consumerism, and competition as the key elements that are writing the obituary of the Amercian Church.
  • Also for our American readers, here’s a breakdown of the faith demographics on a state by state basis.  Just hover your mouse over the state for info.
  • Sovereign Grace Ministries leader C. J. Mahaney is stepping away from ministry for an unspecified time.
  • Here’s the video where the deer got loose in Colonial Hills Baptist Church and was captured by security cameras.  Easy to miss in this is the observation of the vast number of security cameras this church actually needs.
  • It’s “Sex Week” at Stuff Fundies Like.  Can’t wait to see how sex and fundamentalism mix.
  • Last month I introduced you to Searching for Grace, a new cartoon by Mike Mooney.  Here’s a very recent panel, giving you the kind of thing you can expect at his website.

March 4, 2011

More on Rob Bell: Love Wins Chapter by Chapter

HarperCollins has a hit on its hands. To read some accounts, people will be buying the books just so they can burn them. But the hot topic trending on Twitter is still very much based on hearsay and speculation. Never have so many blogged so much material from so little.

And I’ll be the first to admit great curiosity as to how the item I mysteriously have had in my hands since January 19th actually resembles the finished product.

Let me just say a few things.  First of all, I have a very rough copy, but you’ll be glad to know that Bell isn’t one of these writers who types “their” when he means to type “they’re” and just lets the editors catch it.  I noticed some stylistic things that I expect will be changed in print, but for the most this was a straight-forward enough manuscript that could almost have been published as I saw it.

Here’s what the innards look like:

Table of Contents

Preface                Millions of Us

Chapter 1             What About the Flat Tire?

Chapter 2             Here Is the New There

Chapter 3             Hell

Chapter 4             Does God Get What God Wants?

Chapter 5             Dying to Live

Chapter 6             There Are Rocks Everywhere

Chapter 7             The Good News Is Better Than That

Chapter 8             All at the Same Time (Repent of course)

Chapter 9             28 Years

I list these chapters here only to point out that much of the current excitement centers on the material in chapter one — which appears on the video — and material from chapter three which is the object of greater speculation.

So what about the rest of the book?

Chapter two isn’t all that shocking if you’ve had your dreams about a heaven that’s “up there somewhere” already affected by reading Heaven or 50 Days of Heaven by Randy Alcorn.  I heard someone say it this way, “God has too much invested in this real estate to just walk away from it.” Bell also states that the Kingdom of Heaven is not a “when” or a “then” but a “now.”

Chapter four is the one the critics may actually find more disturbing that the one about the nature of hell, which precedes it.  It’s about the idea of ‘eternity’ and what happens over a long period of what we call time to those who initially rejected Christ. What happens if and when they finally wake up and smell the coffee, so to speak. Reviewers will not obvious parallels to othere religions. I’ll leave that for now.

Chapter five is — to avoid spoilers — a chapter that starts to bring us back into more familiar theological territory, except that now Bell is building on the foundation established in the first four chapters. In other words, he’s already lost some people, perplexed a few others, and he’s about to make amends to those who gracious enough to hang in there thus far by giving them a chapter they can more easily connect with. And just in time for Easter.

Chapter six is an appeal to the idea that people are entering the Kingdom of God who don’t necessarily look like us or talk like us or even find their way to the Kingdom the way we did.  In a way, this chapter is a microcosm of all the talk that’s going on this week over Rob’s book.  Nicely played.

Chapter seven is rather interesting. What would the full implications of universalism be to those of us who have believed that “straight is the gate and narrow is the way” only to find that everyone is getting in? (My words, not Bell’s.) Hmmm.  And what better metaphor for that than “younger brother” juxtaposed with “elder brother” in the story we know as “The Lost Son.”

Chapter eight is partly autobiographical and talks of the need — Bell’s need and in his view, our need — to deconstruct the mystery, the paradoxical nature of Jesus; the nature of God. In many ways it could have served as an introduction to the book, as it invites us to break down our defenses.

Chapter nine is quite short. Enough spoilers already. Though you could say that, in the end…

…This is a really quick tour of some of the rest of the book in the form that I was blessed to receive it.  I’ve tried to remain somewhat neutral here, a perspective that is somewhat lacking online where the subject of this book is concerned.  The original title of this post, “More On Rob Bell” was left there so the critics had something to work with (!) but no matter what you’re starting place, you’ll have to agree that all the attention has made this necessary reading.

It’s possible that the copy I have will differ enough from the finished product that in such a way that also adds to the pre-release anticipation surrounding its publication. I’m open to that possibility, but I thought it was worth sharing what I’ve been reading while everyone else is dealing in speculation. I probably won’t get a chance like this again!!

Here is a link to my “review” of the book a few days ago.

Comment moderation:  My system will be offline for about 36 hours on the weekend, but I’ll try to get your comments on Saturday night; so you don’t need to post twice. Be patient!!

December 15, 2010

Wednesday Link List

It’s a busy week for most so I’ll keep the list short(er) this week…

  • Yes, I do list the links in order of importance, so for this week, it’s got to be a Christianity Today story in celebration of 50 years of Youth With A Mission (YWAM).
  • “Does it really make sense that God is a loving, kind, compassionate God who wants to know people in a personal way, but if they reject this relationship with Jesus, they will be sent to hell where God will eternally punish them forever?”   That question, included in the online, advance-publication announcement for Rob Bell’s forthcoming Love Wins, may explain why the title is with HarperOne, and not with Zondervan.
  • The Amish are causing problems for building contractors in Philadelphia where they are underbidding local companies on jobs, and then leaving town without spending any money.
  • Lots of time to answer our poll question from yesterday — Should audiences still be expected to stand for the playing of the Hallelujah Chorus?
  • A look at Brad Lomenick’s “Young Influencers List” for December led to the discovery that he’s been doing this list for a few years now, with some names you might recognize.
  • If you own a business in Dallas, Texas, you’d better not be substituting “Happy Holidays” for “Merry Christmas” or First Baptist Church will put you on their “Naughty or Nice” list.
  • It’s minus 12 degrees Celsius, or 10 degrees Fahrenheit in Fairbanks, Alaska.  What better time for an outdoor baptism service.
  • Because of remarks made by Canadian Pastor Charles McVety, the National Post reports that Crossroads Television System (CTS) has been found to be in violation of Canada’s strict “anti-hate” Canadian Broadcast Standards.
  • Cedric Miller, a New Jersey pastor “believes the forbidden fruit had a QWERTY keyboard and came with status updates.”  He’s ordered his church leaders to either quit Facebook or resign.
  • Canadian readers:  Don’t forget you have less than two weeks to help us fill our Salvation Army iKettle.  No matter where you live, donations stay with the S.A. Family Services branch closest to you.
  • Joel Spencer doesn’t blog frequently, but if you like your bloggers with tongues firmly planted in cheeks, you might enjoy his catalog of Jesus action figures for 2010.
  • Bonus link:  In the days before Weird Al, there was Ray Stevens (Guitarzan, The Streak, Bridget the Midget, etc.) filling the novelty music category.  He’s back with a commentary on U.S. immigration policy.
  • Today’s cartoon is a 2009 entry at ShoeBoxBlog, while today’s picture is none other than Shane Claiborne at the White House which appeared — National Enquirer style — at the blog OutOfUr.  BTW, you need to drop by your bookstore to actually see, touch and feel what Shane is doing with his new book, Common Prayer.

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