*this is a post I planned to do
even before I started this blog.
I read What is the Bible? during the summer, and
I told you all that someday, someday
I’d write about it.
Here now, is the result.
. . .
My first introduction to Rob Bell was when I read his book – Love Wins (yes, I know you’re judging me. That’s fine, okay?). I don’t consider myself an expert, but I know enough to know that people either love his work or they hate it.
Whatever the case, when I heard he had written a new book – this time about the Bible – I really, really wanted to read it.
So I carved out a weekend and read it all. Some of it, I was expecting (I listen to his podcast regularly), and some of it I thought, “Nah, he’s wrong there.”
As a reader, I am pretty much open to reading any book, once. Even if I disagree, I might still recommend it. If I find redemption in its pages, if I find humanity and courage. If I find new, interesting ways to look at the world. Even if I have to wade through a whole lot of muck to get there, to me, truth is worth reading, wherever you find it.
That said, it’s going to be incredibly hard to review this book without causing any spoilers (there are so many). And it’s daunting to be able to accurately review a book that both made me shout and shake my head.
The Parts that Made Me Shout
also, the parts that made me smile so wide because someone else finally…gets it.
Rob Bell talks about Hebrew. A lot. In his books, in his podcast (which is great, by the way). It’s one of the things I most admire about him. Hebrew is one of those languages that makes you feel like there are words for what life is. This inexplicable sense that you’re finding out, perhaps for the first time, what the Bible is really saying (looking at you, chapter 10).
That said, a few chapters that made me shout because I thought, “If I know this, now, through this book, other people are going to know it too.”
Chapter 6 | The Importance of Altitude
We say that context is important. But do we really read the Bible as if we did? Do we even understand that context is everything? That if we don’t view the Bible from every altitude – high, low, close-up, microscopic – we might be missing out on all the different pictures? One of the highlights of Hebraic thought, is the significance it places on every jot, every word, every letter. Everything is for a reason. Hidden details point to a bigger picture. Even genealogies have a purpose (also looking intently at you, Chapter 29).
. . .
Chapter 7 | Smoking Firepots
This chapter really did it in for me. He went exactly where I knew the story should go, brought up all the right things. There’s no way I can put it into words. Highly recommend this chapter.
. . .
Chapter 13 | Fish
Eek. It’s going to be hard not to give anything away. I just want to say that this chapter is excellent, and he did such a great job moving past all the details people want to use to argue, and instead he focused on the what the story is really saying. Debating whether a fish really swallowed a man is a convenient way to bypass the very real lesson contained within the story.
Chapter 19 | He Can’t Even Say His Name
I always admire Rob’s ability to bring alive the culture and context of whatever he’s talking about. Here, he goes into the back-and-forth questions between Jesus and the lawyer, and shows how it was actually a custom to ask a question to which you already knew the answer to. All this before you even get to the story of the Good Samaritan. The way he ties it together in the end is just spot on brilliant.
. . .
Chapter 21 | So How Did Jesus Read the Bible?
Okay. I wrote out a whole thing explaining this chapter, but I decided to delete it and let you read for yourself. I want you to read this, and be amazed at how differently you look at the word incarnation after.
. . .
Chapter 27 | The Book of Revelation, Of Course
Probably the most to-the-point, zero-conspiracy-theory explanation of Revelation I have ever seen. He touches slightly on the idea that Revelation was written to real people in the Roman Empire, and that it might have more to do with the persecution of those people living, then it has to do with the end of the world. I have only heard this idea once before, and I was surprised that anyone else knew about it.
. . .
Chapter 35 | What About Sin?
I almost expected him to go easy on this topic. He didn’t, however. I only disagreed on very few, minor things, but as a whole, this chapter is excellent.
The Parts that Made Me Shake My Head
also titled, how I disagree with his ideas.
I am generally willing to give a lot of grace to people who write about the Bible. The very fact that we are finite human beings, makes us unqualified to write about God in a way that is 100% true, all the time. That said, I wish I didn’t have to go through all the things I disagreed with. In part, I think that’s the reader’s job. Everyone has to decide for themselves, ya know?
But in the case any of these statements might cause you to write me back – “Gosh, Keira you didn’t tell me that was in there!” – here are all the things that made me shake my head.
If I could pick out one quote that made me the most angry, the one that I would cross out with a black sharpie marker, it would be this line:
“When you read the Bible in its context, you learn that it’s a library of radically progressive books, calling humanity forward into a better future.”
The Bible is many things, but it certainly isn’t “progressive.”
This brings me to the most irritating part of the book – his choice of vocabulary. He uses words like “progressive,” and “solidarity,” and “consciousness.” It’s not that I have a problem with the words themselves, I don’t. I have a problem with how people define those words. I have a problem with using definitions that don’t accurately represent scripture.
“God didn’t set up the sacrificial system. People did.”
No. Sacrifices were part of God’s plan, the Bible makes it clear. Later, he clarifies his statement, but I found his logic unsatisfactory. But I’ll not bore you with it here (it’s in Chapter 32).
. . .
“God didn’t have to kill someone to be ‘happy’ with humanity.”
I believe he’s asking the wrong question here. Jesus didn’t die in order for God to be “happy” with humanity. He died because humanity was lost and broken. He died to make redemption possible. God didn’t kill someone as if that person has no will or voice of their own. God sacrificed a part of Himself to win back a people who had turned their backs on Him long ago.
. . .
“So the Bible is the Word of God?
Yes. Lots of things are.”
I feel like the second sentence diminishes his answer. It’s like saying “Well, yes the Bible is the Word of God, but so is ____ and ____.” He might be trying to reassure the reader that accepting that the Bible is the Word of God will not change their lives in any real way. They won’t have to accept religion, or start believing in God. But if you have to diminish your answer so your readers won’t be scared away, well…that leads to all kinds of other things too.
or, why I think you should read this book even if you disagree.
Rob Bell is controversial guy. I get it. People say that he doesn’t take the Bible seriously enough, or he denies its authority. Sometimes I feel that way too. But I think a lot of people miss the whole of what he’s saying. He wants you to see the Bible as so much more than a book of stories. He wants you to see it as dynamic book, one that you can’t fully comprehend without seeing the whole picture – culture, custom, expression.
People don’t talk about how important it is to understand the Bible then because it will show us how to live now.
Rob Bell does that. He knows how important it is to understand the cultures and customs behind the words.As he says in the introduction:
“Once you see, you can’t unsee
Once you taste, you can’t untaste.”
Tasting and seeing and discovering – that’s the kind of experience he hopes you’ll encounter with the Bible.
I don’t have time to cover the other questions he answers – is it God’s Word? Is it inherent? Is it inspired? Is it authoritative? – in detail. I do hope that once you’ve read the book, you’ll appreciate the big picture of what he’s saying:
ask more questions
study the mysteries
that’s what makes the Bible exciting. Us in response with it.
And if nothing else, he gave new meaning to the verse in Jeremiah which says.
Yahweh, you are the hope of Israel;
all who forsake you will be put to shame.
Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust