Thinking Out Loud

August 10, 2017

Rob Bell Responds to All Your Questions

The pastor and I had talked for more than an hour. The topics had shifted quickly and covered a wide swath of theology, ecclesiology, culture, ethics and church history. Several times I had to ask what the connection was between something he had said, and what had been said just a sentence earlier. But it was all stimulating, even invigorating.

So when the time ended, I got up to leave and said, “That was awesome. I really enjoyed our time together. That was deadly serious and a lot of fun at the same time.”

And then, before I turned to go out the door, I added, “But you know…you never actually answered my initial question.”


Answers are what people want. Especially if the person being asked is somewhat controversial. But perhaps we North Americans and Western Europeans are simply too destination oriented. Maybe we need to enjoy the process or the journey more than fret the arrival.

Rob Bell’s newest book What is the Bible: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel about Everything (HarperOne) is based on a series of Tumblr posts he has been doing over the last two years. Most of the articles were removed with the arrival of the book — something his publisher probably insisted on — but as I remember it, many were driven by reader questions.

Those readers got responses. I don’t know if they got the answers they desired, but speaking for myself, I’ll take some of these replies over a direct answer any day. And many times, Bell is really clear we’re asking the wrong questions in the first place.

For example, take the chapter titled, Is the Bible inerrant? For Bell this is like asking,

Did Mozart’s symphonies win?
In your estimation, has Mozart prevailed?
Do Mozart’s songs take the cake?
Are his concertos true?   (p.279)

and if you’re willing to concede any ground to him at all, he does make his point well, even if it’s not the direct answer you were hoping for. He says it’s the wrong question.

He encourages readers to read the Bible literately instead of literally — I would argue for the use of literaturely — knowing what genre they were seeing and then examining it appropriately on that basis.  (p.80)

Bible narratives come to life as never before. How did that woman in John 8 get caught in the act of adultery in the first place? Bell sees the clue in John 7; this is a festival not unlike our Creation Festival here or Greenbelt in the UK; it’s a religious camping event; there is much wine; someone ends up in the wrong tent. (pp 26-28) I can personally attest there isn’t much privacy at such things when the tents are sandwiched in close, though there was no alcohol factor at Creation.

Melchizedek? Bell writes that Abraham has been promised that God is going to do a new thing through him. He begins a covenant with Abraham. Something that has not existed prior. But then along comes “a priest of God Most High.” So there’s already a thing. An ongoing thing. A thing that’s been taking place long enough for there to be a priesthood. And even though we’re only 14 chapters in, the writer of Genesis assumes we get what that means. Long before the birth of Levi, there is already the notion of an ecclesiastic structure; within it a group that is set apart — by the designation priest — to serve in some capacity related to the sacrificial system which, in chapter 14, is just beginning. As Bell puts it,

If this is a story about the new thing God is doing, how come a character shows up who is already in on the new thing God is doing? (p.146)

For Bell there is a connectivity between portions of scripture we’ve perhaps never linked before. He starts out in the gospels and the whisks us to I Kings and just when we’ve caught our breath we’re in Psalms. All in the space of two pages. For Bell, genealogies are a ride at the amusement park, and the people with the weird names are the stuff of great theater. You end up thinking, ‘I really should read the Bible more often.’

And there are the personal moments. We’ve all heard the story of Bell’s first speaking engagement at a Christian camp, but the story of his first practice sermon in school was new to me. He knows he wants to reinvent the wheel so to speak, and so launches into a prototype of the prophetic Rob Bell style with which we’ve become familiar. The other students’ and the professor’s reactions coincide with a page turn, as you turn over the leaf, you’re expecting a certain type of response.

So as to the question at hand, what is the Bible?

Bell’s answer is not entirely radical. I’m not sure that I’d put this in the “first book for a new Christian to read” but you could do much worse. Better a response filled with life and dimension than something clinical. Twice Bell reminds us, as he has stated elsewhere previously, that the ancients regarded the scriptures as a fine gem which, when turned in different directions, reflects and refracts the light in a multitude of patterns and hues. It’s no accident that Bell’s book’s cover mimics this, appearing differently depending on how it’s being held…

…Preparing this review, I found myself diving back into familiar chapters. There’s no time to start from scratch right now, but I will probably use this a reference when reexamining key Bible passages. For the legion of Bell critics: Consider the potential audience. Through HarperOne, this book was available in airport gift shops and general market booksellers worldwide. It’s not an academic treatise on the meaning of the entire Bible, but an introduction for people who might want a fresh take on a belief system from which they may have once walked away.


A copy of What is the Bible was provided long after the standard review window had closed by Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

February 21, 2017

Christianity in 30 Seconds

God Enters Stage Left - Tim Day

Three years ago, we introduced you to Tim Day’s book God Enters Stage Left. At the time it was published, it was part of a movement wherein many authors and publishers were looking for ways to express the Biblical narrative as a single story, unfettered by the divisions between its various books in general and the line of separation between the first and second testaments in particular. Today that sentiment among writers and Bible edition creators is, if anything, continuing to grow.

The thing I especially liked about God Enters Stage Left — and mentioned in the review — was that “everything is written with the non-churched, not-Bible-literate reader in mind. The pass-along potential here is huge…”

That was then. Very recently I was alerted to an interview that Tim Day did a few months ago on the program Context with Lorna Dueck on the power of story. (See below.) That got me thinking. The book is already very concise, but what if Tim had to reduce the story arc of the Bible’s 66 books to a 30-second elevator pitch? What would that look like? I got in touch with Tim through Twitter and what follows was his response. Note that the book and the core message of Christianity’s sacred text are somewhat synonymous; so this is also an elevator pitch for the book itself.

God Enters Stage Left is a creative retelling of the Biblical story as a six-act play.

Through history, the Bible has been used to support war, oppression and religious legalism, leading many people to question belief in God. God Enters Stage Left walks through the unfolding Biblical narrative to show that the actual meaning of this story is quite the opposite of popular belief.

God’s approach to transforming the human heart is not outside in – having the right rules, getting rid of bad people, following strong leaders and facing harsh accountability. Rather, Jesus shows us that God’s approach is quite the opposite. God changes the human heart inside out. As we experience deep love from a close friendship with God, this enables us to live a life of love. We are freed from a life governed by rules, top-down leadership, and harsh accountability. We can experience peace within and peace with others. We are freed us to serve others compassionately, even those we may consider our enemies.

God Enters Stage Left ends with a Q & A section that provides concise answers to many of the common questions people have about the Bible.

Tim Day is the Director of City Movement. He previously served for 14 years as Senior Pastor of The Meeting House. He lives in Burlington, Ontario, Canada with his family. He is married to Liz and they have three children, Nathan, Rachel and Josh.

Learn more about Tim and City Movement at his website.

Order the book at this link

What would your version “Christianity in 30 seconds” or “The Bible in 30 seconds” look like?


Watch the interview with Lorna Dueck: Fast forward to 17:23

May 10, 2016

The Bible Project: An Overview of the Book of Joshua

Last night I discovered that although we very briefly alluded to The Bible Project in one of the link lists, we haven’t really said much about it. So today, we solve the problem by giving you a sample of what it’s all about. A video is worth a thousand words, right?

The Bible Project is the work of Dr. Timothy Mackie. You can learn more about him by listening to an episode of the Deconstructionists Podcast as well as at JoinTheBibleProject.com or by going to directly to (or subscribing to) their YouTube channel.

So without further introduction here’s a look at Joshua. (We’re also posting Joel later today at Christianity 201.) If you’re like me, you’ll wish this type of resource had existed a long, long time ago. New videos are being uploaded rapidly, so stay tuned.

 

 

April 29, 2014

Book Review: God Enters Stage Left

 

God Enters Stage Left - Tim Day

I hesitated to do a review of this book on this page, since access to this title might be somewhat limited for most of you, but considering I’m reading parts of it for the second time, and especially consider the book’s backstory, I think it’s important enough to cover here.

God Enters Stage Left is written by Tim Day, the senior pastor of The Meeting House, Canada’s fastest-growing church, approaching twenty multi-site locations, probably best known for its teaching pastor, Bruxy Cavey. Meeting House is a “church for people who aren’t into church;” and is known for presenting the “irreligious message” brought by Jesus.

The book does what has become a trend lately, taking the Bible as a single story and aiming to present the “story arc” of its 66 individual books in a unified, cohesive way.

Tim DayThere are several things I found unique to this book.

First, the book comes out of the church’s environment, so everything is written with the non-churched, not-Bible-literate reader in mind. The pass-along potential here is huge (see fourth point.)

Second, the book doesn’t attempt to deal with each and every aspect of the Biblical narrative. Some items — especially Genesis — receive a much longer treatment than you’d expect, especially considering the Biblical “play” is reduced to six acts.

Third, Tim Day has this unusual thing which ambushes the reader unexpectedly at various junctures: He asks the reader very personal questions as to how this story intersects with their story. Have you ever read a book review that started asking you questions? (Like that!)

Finally, the way the church is distributing this is as unusual as the book itself. The church offers it on a pay-what-you-can donation basis with proceeds going to the church’s “audacious” ministry project goals. On the unSeminary Podcast with Rich Birch, Tim explains the how the book fits into the church’s overall vision, and also how your church could produce a custom edition with your pastor’s forward and your church name on the front and back.

Rich – …A friend of mine, Ben Stroup, talks about how books really are the new business cards. People see them as, if you want to kind of understand, in the marketplace, if you want to understand what we do, here’s a book. Rather than just ‘here’s a business card.’ … Why not charge for them? Let’s loop back on that. Why not actually say it $5 or $10?

Tim – Couple things. I just found that I couldn’t think of a good enough reason to charge for them. I just basically came down to and said, ‘If this is going to create a hiccup, a little bit of a barrier, something when someone might say, ‘I only have $20 in my wallet, and it’s $5 a book, I’ve got five people I want to invite, who do I need to cut off that list?’ I thought, ‘why am I doing that? It just didn’t make sense.’ If we just give them away to everyone, and people want to chip in, and it would kind of be a community experience, I couldn’t think of a downside to it … We have two churches now, they are dialoging on how they want to do it. They are two churches of about 1500, 2500 in size and they want to get the books and do the same thing with them where they just give them out. ‘Can we just buy a whole boat load of them at printing cost.’ And we may personalize them where the pastor writes the foreword. And we strip off any sort of our church brand. And the church just gives them away in their community. I think if I would have had that charge thing, all sorts of those conversations would have just stopped. And to be honest with you, I think the day of the pastor who somehow wrote something that turned him into a millionaire, I think that day has probably come and gone. It doesn’t sit super well. I just don’t think it sits well with the average person out in the street. So the conversation of ‘You are just giving this away? You are not making any money? You don’t make anything? Nothing?’

Rich – Zip, zero, zilch you mean?

Tim – It’s good news to people. That becomes good news that there is a message more important and it doesn’t need to be a part of my economy. And I love it! It just has made me happy!

Rich – Absolutely. Now the thing I, ’cause I know there’s some pastors probably thinking, that’s a great idea. I’m encouraged that you are working with some other churches, how do we repackage this. Even that, I think it’s incredibly gracious to say we want to work with another church. ‘You take the book, put your foreword on it, strip our branding from it, we just want the message to go out?’ Is that what you are saying, fundamentally with those other churches?

Tim – Oh ya. Like I said I will remove any reference to The Meeting House from inside. You write the foreword and you put your brand on the back of it.

Back to the book itself, this is transformative material. Most Christians are simply not articulate when it comes to describing the Bible’s story arc. A first step before giving the book away would be for people to read it for themselves.  As the book’s cover states, the Bible’s big story has a big plot twist, and many smaller ones as well.

It’s a story no human could make up.

[Download an ePUB version of God Enters Stage Left for FREE]

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