Feb

26

2013

Trevin Wax|3:43 am CT

3 Reasons I’ll Be Reading Rob Bell’s New Book

Rob Bell has a new book coming out.

Chances are, you haven’t heard as much about this one as you did his last one, Love Wins. From the infamous “Farewell, Rob Bell” tweet to the blog reviews that detailed the book’s biblical and theological inaccuracies, Love Wins benefited from Harper One’s ability to stir up a hornet’s nest of free publicity that catapulted Bell to the best-seller list in 2011.

The trailer for Rob’s new book gives a few ideas about his next step. Too little to know much for sure. The video seems to focus on our innate sense that “there’s something out there bigger than us” and our need to get in touch with “the divine.” I expect the book will continue Rob’s journey forward (or should we say back) to 19th and 20th century liberalism.

Many evangelical readers, bloggers and pastors will skip this one. After all, there’s only so much time in a day. Why read a book you figure will frustrate you?

All that considered, I will be reading Rob’s latest. Here’s why…

1. I want to improve my ability to communicate the truth.

Whatever you might think of his theology, the guy can teach. The reason his Nooma videos and book trailers have garnered so much attention (and a long line of parodies) is because they made an impact. They were well done, and their message resonated with people.

It’s true that the more I’ve read and watched Bell, the more I sense there’s more flash than substance in his message. (And where there is substance, I often disagree.)

That said, I want to improve my skills at communicating by watching how others get their message across. I want to see how they craft their stories, assemble their analogies, and wordsmith their prose.

Yes, I know “it is better to speak wisdom foolishly rather than to speak folly wisely” (Chesterton), but heaven help us if we have to choose between dull communication of unchanging truth or compelling communication of theological error.

Seeking to better communicate the beauty of truth helps me better comprehend the beauty of truth.

2. I want to better understand the culture I live in.

A lot of people will read this book. Perhaps not as many as Love Wins. (It would be hard to repeat the media blitz that came from Bell redefining hell.) Still, a good number of people will pick up this book… which tells us that something about it appeals to them.

We gain insights into our culture whenever we look at a popular book and ask, Why is this appealing? Ultimately, this question can lead to a more productive conversation than simply pointing out the reasons a book is harmful or wrong.

I’ve had some good conversations with folks who liked The Shack. Our discussions gave me insight into fatherlessness, the feeling of abandonment in times of suffering, the idea of a God who not only loves people, but is fond of them, etc.

At some point, if a book we see as “bad” resonates with people, we ought to consider the reasons why. Asking “why” gives us insight into our culture. It helps us get to know and love our neighbors. And it helps us anticipate the objections we will need to address in our presentation of the truth.

3. I want to be challenged to paint a better portrait.

There are a number of ways to counter theological error, not least of which is a long list of the errors set against their biblical refutation. But there’s another way to defend the truth – to create a portrait more compelling than the falsehood.

The Apostle Paul didn’t pick apart the Colossian heresy in detail. Yes, he addressed it here and there, but just enough to cause consternation on the part of biblical scholars trying to piece together just what he was battling. Instead, Paul’s strategy was to wow the Colossians with the enthralling beauty and all-encompassing authority of Jesus Christ.

The reason I gave so much space in Counterfeit Gospels to talking about the true gospel is because that is the best way to counter falsehood. Here’s why these counterfeits are attractive to you, but look at how much better the biblical gospel is. Put them together, and you’ll see why the true gospel wins at ultimately satisfying your heart’s longing. 

Rob Bell’s book may turn out to be a rehash of old school liberalism and its promise of “getting in touch with the divine.” So why read it? Because I want to be challenged to say, Why is the biblical portrait better? Why is the fiery, love-filled, glory-driven untamable God of the Bible so much more compelling, attractive, than the sentimental, sappy god so many in our culture find appealing?

It’s one thing to point at a book and say, That isn’t biblical. It’s another thing to say, Here’s why the biblical view is true and better. That’s the reason I’m working on a fiction book.

I expect Rob’s book will prod me toward better and more beautiful ways of presenting the truth. Maybe after I read it, I’ll blog about it too.

What about you?

Will you be reading Bell’s new book? Will you pass on it? Recommend it? Warn people about it?

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24 Comments

  1. Thanks for this post.

    I don’t take such a negative approach to Bell as you do here. There are three reasons why I will be reading Bell’s new book:

    1. I find him challenging and thought-provoking. I don’t always agree with him but every book I’ve read of his has contain something that has challenged me.

    2. He helps me reexamine what I believe. Frankly this is probably his goal. I don’t think Bell wrote Love Wins (Velvet Elvis or Sex God) so that people will say, “Bell’s right. This is true.” I think Bell receives his reward as a writer when someone walks away saying “I never thought of that before.”

    3. Bell is (still?) popular. That alone warrants a book review on a Christian blog.

    Whether or not I recommend it will depend on what I think about it. Going from the trailer (eek, not wise!), it really seems to be the same old. But we’ll see.

  2. I know I will be reading it because many people think Rob Bell is a great teacher. When I read Love Wins, it seems he kept going in circles until he makes his points and repeats the same cycle. I think I will offer my thoughts about the book which I know I will give a mixed response.

  3. First off, really thoughtful response. It was calm, sane, and had a sense of not getting ahead of ourselves. It’s a good example of how I was arguing Christian bloggers should respond to Bell’s new book:
    http://derekzrishmawy.com/2013/02/13/so-rob-bell-wrote-another-book-about-god-some-thoughts-before-actually-reading-it/

    I’ll be reading it as well for many of the same reasons. As I pointed out in my blog, if you can’t understand why the last book was popular, you probably don’t understand our culture, or the people you’re supposed to be preaching. I’m also going to read it because I am interested in where he goes. I have a feeling I know, but I’d hope to be wrong and that this book comes out more orthodox than his last one, simply so that some of the more un-critical Bell readers aren’t led too far astray.

    Once again, great post.

    • I’d also like to say that, yes, as a pastor and preacher, I’m also wondering about how much of a warning tag I’ll need to put on it for some of my students who may want to read it. It doesn’t do that much good to tell them NOT to read it given the nature of college students, but it does help to know which key, clarifying or challenging questions to ask them while they read it or before.

  4. Thanks for this, Trevin.

  5. I know lots of people love Rob Bell, and while I agree with many of his ideas, I cannot stand his writing or teaching style. So no, I will probably not be reading this book.

  6. Yes, I’ll be reading Bell’s new book, although I expect to disagree with it. Two reasons:

    1) I want to be able to discuss it honestly and intelligently with others who have read it, whether they agree or disagree, or with those who are thinking of reading it. I had many conversations about Love Wins that would’ve been impossible had I not read the book.

    2) I’m a former attendee of Mars Hill, and Bell was my pastor. For better or worse, I’ll always be interested in him and his work.

    As far as whether I’ll recommend it, I suspect it will be similar to my approach for Love Wins: recommend it for some and not others, depending on their depth of theological knowledge.

  7. I struggled with whether or not to read Love Wins (and The Shack, and Heaven is for Real) and never did so. Mainly because when it comes to choosing reading material, I primarily choose things that benefit and interest me personally, not just the latest controversial stuff. I see your point Trevin. But I can also strongly refute the above 3 mentioned titles not because I’ve read them, but because I’ve read plenty of reviews about them and summaries of the content. I figure there’s no need to say my opinion has more weight because I actually sat down with them.

    I’m sure you’ve heard the old illustration that bankers, rather than studying counterfeit money, will study every inch and detail of real currency so that they can spot a fake right away. I figure I’m better off studying truth and debating from that position. I’m not disagreeing, it is useful to know your opponent’s position in any debate, and knowing it better equips you to debate it, I just haven’t found it to be particularly necessary yet.

  8. One thing that can be said about how The Shack and Love Wins helped me. I go to a large church and it is easy to assume that everyone that goes there is on the same page but that is a mistake. Even though it is a bible teaching church not everyone that attends has discernment. Talking about something like that lets me know who I can trust in my inner circle for wise counsel and who I should keep more at a distance.

  9. I’ll probably read it. Bell is still a thought provoking writer.

  10. Marshall Ackerman

    much ado about nothing

  11. [...] recently published a post titled 3 Reasons I’ll Be Reading Rob Bell’s New Book (read it here) wherein he details his reasons for thumbing through Bell’s forthcoming publication. Now, let me [...]

  12. “It’s one thing to point at a book and say, That isn’t biblical. It’s another thing to say, Here’s why the biblical view is true and better.”

    That is a great thought, but part of me wonders whether it is not an impossible task in a fallen world? I remember listening to Rob Bell debate Adrian Warnock a year or two ago. There was a point at which Warnock conceded that without a massive end-time revival, the majority of human beings ever created were going to be consigned to eternal punishment.

    Bell asked Warnock something along the lines of, “Does that strike you as something you would want to be true?” Warnock responded, in good evangelical fashion, that it didn’t matter because it wasn’t what the Scriptures taught.

    “But don’t you want there to be another way?” Bell pressed him. And I, who am 100% with Warnock theologically, remember thinking, “Yeah. Yes, I do. I really do.” Perhaps it’s merely evidence of my own depravity, but if it was up to me, I would certainly want Bell’s version of things to be true. I don’t want eternal punishment to be real. Is that wrong?

    • Brother,

      There is absolutely nothing wrong with having such feelings- so long as there is continual submission to God and His Sovereign. In fact, I feel like we are too callous and un-loving if we don’t feel that way on occasion. Our hearts have to be rent by the Judgement that is coming; Hell and Wrath are truly terrible. Without having a broken spirit about these things we will not proclaim the Gospel in love but in horrible triumphalism.

      That being said, at the end of the day we have to round back to the truth of Scripture. God is Holy, it is we who have fallen short of His glory. Let us delight in the Majesty of His Grace, tremble at the terror of His Wrath, rest in the strength of His Sovereignty, and bear the fruit of His Gospel.

      Blessings to you John, I pray that you would be, as Piper says, “sorrowful yet always rejoicing.”

      P.S. Not to advocate this as a polemic against Love Wins (though I think it is a fair one in the regard), Chan’s Erasing Hell does a wonderful job at balancing orthodox doctrine with humility and heart-grieved candor. Speak the truth in love my brother!

      • Read Ezekiel 18. Verse 32 says that God takes no pleasure in the death of anyone. We should take this to heart, and if we find ourselves finding pleasure in the downfall, destruction, or misfortune of others we are on the other side of the fence concerning how God feels about the downfall of man. In light of this, not taking pleasure in destruction is not the same as adhering to principles of holiness. God is the most holy and therefore he judges rightly, but takes no pleasure in destruction of anyone.

        The Western view of hell (or its non-existence) is linked to the justice of God. In other cultures around the world, the North American view of hell (justice of God) is quite offensive. Where there is real suffering and evil you will find a people clinging to the truth that there is a God who is just and will make all things right. The death of the second person of the Trinity was grizzly and scandalous. The love of God is only matched by his righteous anger. If we are angry about nothing then we love nothing. If one rejects the son and will not repent, there is no other option for the forgiveness of sins. God’s anger will be expressed in the same degree that his love is expressed through the cross.

    • Paul would say that is reason to get the gospel out to everyone. Oprah would say “let’s just find another way”. Those that have the power to reach the most people often just complain about all those being lost without doing anything to change it or even making it harder by deceiving them.

  13. Interesting thoughts…

    … but is “wordsmith” a verb?!

  14. The truth is I hadn’t planned on reading it but not only will I read this new book but I will go back and read Love Wins.

  15. I respect your approach, but I find it odd that Christians would ever need to “warn” anyone about reading any book. This is definitely something that the new atheists are right to pounce on us for as they would NEVER dare say something as ridiculous as that. That’s just not something that rational people should ever say, there’s no defense for ever “warning” people about reading any kind of literature, especially for those who claim to have the Truth. What I can’t fathom, especially from the neo-Reformed who tout having access to the most correct-est of theology, and who worship a God who is super duper sovereign, is why the words that come out of their mouths are always so fear-mongering, insecure, defensive and hyper-critical? To his credit, Rob Bell never talks like that, he speaks (to both his fans and his critics) with the grace and confidence that I think is more befitting of someone who has a relationship with Jesus.

    I think you’re right to want to read Rob Bell’s book, people should read things that challenge them, not to reaffirm what they already believe, isn’t that the whole point or reading a book to begin with? My favorite books are consistently the ones that opened me up to thinking about things that I had never even fathomed, and I’m not embarrassed to say, as a former fundamentalist Evangelical, that Love Wins was one of those books. I’ve already pre-ordered this new one.

  16. I will not be reading it, primarily because I found the quality of Love Wins to be pretty weak (in my opinion). I know I felt as I began to read it that he would be differing with my own beliefs, but I thought he would make a strong argument and do it skillfully. But my sense as I read was it was far weaker than I had expected and not very well written. So I will not be reading this latest effort unless I hear more reasons to do so.

  17. Thank you for this article.

    You have put down very plainly why his writing and speaking have such a draw. He is a great communicator, he really is. Even though his post-modern bias causes him to shy away from reason and logical consistency, he still is very compelling. C. S. Lewis in the “Screwtape Letters” pointed out that jargon is a much more persuasive tool as compared to argument when talking to tha average man. (ie: Saying “Love Wins” is much more attractive than discussing the grammatical historical assessment of Revelation 20) And Rob is a master of jargon!

    So, I too will keep reading and debating his ideas with myself. Trying to have a logical discussion in a world fed on jargon is a dangerous endeavor. Notice the irony.

  18. I really appreciate your approach, Trevin. I agree with your overall assessment of Bell’s work, both his theological trajectory, and the reasons for his appeal. I look forward to hearing what you think about this latest book.

    As for whether I’ll read it, I’m not sure. With Love Wins, I resisted the urge to go out and buy it–I put it on hold at the local public library and read it after the buzz had passed. When I did read it, I not only found something I disagreed with, but something I think will be pass, only to find another reincarnation with another author, pastor, or writer. I might approach reading this new book the same way–we’ll see if friends want my take, as they did with Love Wins.

  19. Just got my review copy. Didn’t read Love Wins for a long time after it came out as I knew from the internet coverage I would disagree with it, but then a few of my friends read it so I got a copy so that I could converse with them about it.

  20. [...] 3 reasons I’ll be reading Rob Bell’s new book: A rather interesting article from the Gospel Coalition:” I expect Rob’s book will prod me toward better and more beautiful ways of presenting the truth.” [...]

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