Mar

12

2013

Trevin Wax|3:03 am CT

What We Talk about When We Talk about Rob Bell

Rob Bell’s new book comes out today: What We Talk About When We Talk About God. In line with his previous offerings, it’s a conversational, thought-provoking monologue designed to raise questions and stimulate discussion.

It’s been two years since the release of Love Wins, a book that challenged traditional evangelical conceptions of hell and eternity. Bell has since left the pastorate and embraced a new role as a post-evangelical, spiritual advisor of sorts. He is positioning himself more an artist than theologian, more poet than preacher.

That said, his poetry preaches. So what’s the sermon?

The gist of Bell’s new book is that the world is humming with spirituality. Far from being distant and removed, God is present in our lives. We need to be reawakened to Him; we need the eyes to see Him at work. Dogmas and doctrines just get in the way of truly experiencing God. What once helped us now harms us and holds us back. But God is ahead of us, beckoning us forward to the new world that is coming.

Takeaways

Before challenging Bell on a few points, I think it’s good to mention some things that church leaders (especially traditional evangelicals) can take away from his book.

Ability to Create Memorable Pictures

The first has to do with communication skills. Bell is compelling because of the vivid way he describes things.

For example, take a look at this scene where Bell recounts a conversation with a friend going through a divorce:

He told me about their history together and how it got them to this point and what it’s doing to her and what it’s doing to him and what it’s like for him to go grocery shopping and then go back to his new apartment, all alone.

Somewhere in our conversation the full force of what he was saying hit me – divorce, the effect on their kids, the image of both of them at some point taking off their wedding rings.

Note the poetic way Bell puts together the first run-on sentence, letting us feel the misery of an unraveling marriage without pause or breath. Then look at the imagery of the divorce, the picture of two people taking their rings off.

This is just one example of how Bell utilizes language to create mental pictures. I could fill the rest of this review with similar illustrations. And while Bell’s artistic sensibilities aren’t everyone’s cup of tea (I grow weary from watching him weigh down verbs with multiple adverbs), there’s no question he can make a point in a memorable way.

Tapping Into Spiritual Yearnings

A second takeaway is Bell’s ability to capture the sense that spirituality is breaking through the scientific, closed world that undergirds secularism.

There’s a memorable picture from N. T. Wright’s Simply Christian that imagines secularism as a dictatorship that puts down concrete as pavement over “dangerous” springs of water. All goes well, for a time, but the hidden springs eventually bubble up and erupt through the pavement.

In a similar way, Bell is tapping into the spiritual yearning of many people in our post-Christian culture. According to Bell, everyone is a “person of faith,” even the most ardent skeptic. The question is not if we have beliefs but what those beliefs are.

The best part of the book is Bell’s gentle, but firm challenge to those who refuse to believe anything science can’t prove. For centuries, skeptics who challenged the dominant religious dogma related to miracles were seen as open-minded, willing to step into a further stage of enlightenment and challenge the prevailing religious consensus. Today, now that secularism is the consensus, Bell turns the tables and casts the scientific skeptic as the closed-minded logician who fails to leave room for the mysterious, the mystical, and the soul. Science fails to deliver explanations that resonate with our experience, and Bell wisely exploits this failure of the materialist worldview.

Wonder and Awe at Existence

This challenge to secularism leads to the biggest surprise of the book – a lengthy chapter in which Bell delves into the physical cosmology of the universe. His goal is to wow readers with the wonder of existence. And, in large part, he succeeds. Even with the evolutionary anthropology he assumes, Bell shows the weirdness of the world and why we ought to be amazed at life.

No Place for Dogma

Unfortunately, the strengths of the book are outweighed by the vagueness of Bell’s talk of talking about God. Nowhere is this more evident than his treatment of traditional Christian teaching.

For example, Bell chides religious people for their certainty. He believes certainty about God has limits. We have to leave the door open for mystery. Knowing always takes place in the middle of unknowing. People who talk with too much certainty about God are attractive because people want to be right, but we should resist the allure of the religious know-it-all.

It’s true that the Christian should have the humility to recognize that no one has exhaustive knowledge of God or truth. To point out our finiteness is not only humble; it’s really the way things are! There is no way to know everything we could know when we talk about God.

But Bell seems to make the jump from humility due to our inability to have exhaustive knowledge to the newly defined “humility” that says we can’t have certainty about anything.

Certainty is suspect. Except, of course, when it comes to the certainty of the harm traditional theology can cause. On this, Bell leaves no room for ambiguity. Our view of God may be foggy, but our view of fundamentalists is clear.

He writes:

You can believe something with so much conviction that you’d die for that belief,

and yet in the same moment

you can also say, “I could be wrong…”

This is because conviction and humility, like faith and doubt, are not opposites; they’re dance partners. It’s possible to hold your faith with open hands, living with great conviction and yet at the same time humbly admitting that your knowledge and perspective will always be limited.” (93)

First, it’s hard to imagine martyrs giving their lives when they think they might be wrong. Nothing would cause me to rethink and renege on my certainty than facing a lion in a coliseum.

Secondly, notice how Bell says we should have conviction and humility, as if these two things are opposites, like faith and doubt. He appears to see “humility” not as the gracious stance of someone who has tasted and seen the Lord is good, but as the willingness to hold doctrines loosely, as if certainty and humility can’t coincide.

Ironically, his description of fundamentalism centers on the elimination of paradox:

When a leader comes along who eliminates the tension and dodges the paradox and neatly and precisely explains who the enemies are and gives black-and-white answers to questions, leaving little room for the very real mystery of the divine, it should not surprise us when that person gains a large audience. Especially if that person is really, really confident. (93)

What’s interesting is that, in reading the rest of the book, Bell eliminates more paradoxes than traditional Christian teaching does.

It’s traditional Christianity that portrays God as holy and wrathful against sin while being gracious and loving towards the sinner. For all Bell’s talk about embracing “both/and,” it’s his vision of Christianity that emphasizes God being for us, to the exclusion of any idea that God would stand over us in judgment.

Traditional Christianity doesn’t just include “both” but “triple” truths – God against us in our sin, God instead of us as sinners, and God for us as the Justifier. Far from diluting the beauty of God in His transcendence, traditional Christian dogma leaves us with unresolvable tensions and paradoxes galore: free will and sovereignty, God in us and yet distinct from us, the Trinity, the inclusive call to salvation from an exclusive Savior. The list goes on.

The paradoxes of traditional Christianity multiply in ways that stimulate the imagination. Bell’s teaching lacks that kind of substance.

Bell’s book goes down easy, kind of like whipped cream without the cake. God is ahead of us, beckoning society forward, and (how convenient!) it just so happens to be in the direction that society is already headed. Who would have thought?

Oddly enough, after reading this book, I came to the conclusion Rob Bell is a fundamentalist of a different sort. In fact, I could apply his warning to himself, adding to his own words:

When a leader comes along who eliminates the tension (between wrath and love, or immanence and transcendence) and dodges the paradox (between judgment and grace) and neatly and precisely explains who the enemies are (traditional Christians) and gives black-and-white answers to questions (such as, you can’t be humble and certain) leaving little room for the very real mystery of the divine (or the revelation of this mystery, as explained by the apostle Paul), it should not surprise us when that person gains a large audience. Especially if that person is really, really confident (or really, really cool).

I believe this book will resonate with many because the idea of “spiritual experience” is popular today. The question is, does Bell’s vision of spirituality have the doctrinal bone structure to sustain faith for two thousand years? I’m afraid not. His artistic abilities aside, the book’s vision is boring because the drama is missing.

Dorothy Sayers was right:

It is the dogma that is the drama—not beautiful phrases, nor comforting sentiments, nor vague aspirations to loving-kindness and uplift, nor the promise of something nice after death—but the terrifying assertion that the same God who made the world, lived in the world and passed through the grave and gate of death.

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85 Comments

  1. Superb, Trevin. That edited paragraph is excellent writing.

  2. Trevin -

    I do think Bell could be a little more definitive at some points, and less messy on others. But I, too, have come to appreciate some aspects of postmodern thought. Uh oh!

    Lo and behold, one of the more insightful people to help me come to such a conclusion was the reformed & Calvinist philosopher-theologian, Jamie Smith, of Calvin College. Who would have thunk it?! But his book, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?, was tremendously helpful in thinking through some things.

    Now, there is a certainty of faith, which our father’s and mother’s embraced, even unto death at times. But a Cartesian, modernist, post-Enlightenment certainty seems of a different character. And the church tried to answer Enlightenment thinking with it’s own modernist approaches to Scripture & truth.

    But how can finite & fallen human beings claim that they know truth in a fully objective & absolute manner. Reasonable (not rationalism) and functional-practical truth. Yes! We have the Scriptures, church history, the church today (dealing with issues afresh), general revelation, etc. And we have the powerful conviction of the Holy Spirit – which isn’t so objective amongst finite & fallen humans. So, though we cannot produce Cartesian, empirical evidence at every turn, we can reasonably & practically know God’s truth & revelation. We don’t need over-the-top postmodern anti-realism. But there are some very helpful points within a postmodern framework.

    Certainty of faith, not absolute empirical certainty.

    • Scott,

      Not disagreeing with you. Smith’s book is excellent.

      Bell is right to point out different ways of “knowing,” and as one who takes a critical realist perspective to truth, I agree that we do not know truth in fully objective and absolute manners. That said, we are able to know truth. Our knowledge of truth is real.

      Bell rejects Cartesian thinking when it comes to God, but he goes too far and implies that certainty and humility cannot coincide.

  3. If all I know of Rob Bell came through this post and the excerpts of his writings you’ve shared here, I could not draw to the conclusions you have reached. Perhaps your post is infused with portions of this book that you have not quoted here, or the beliefs which Rob has expressed in the past.

    I hadn’t intended to purchase this book, but I am now curious and likely to give it a read. Before you categorize me, let me assure you I am far from a new age spiritualist, but I do recognize that God’s Word left us with mysteries that human minds will never disentangle. Yet we can have confidence in God’s Word, knowing that the main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things. Thank you brother.

    • I agree that mystery remains… it’s just that Bell’s book promotes mystery as opposed to dogma, when its in the dogmas where the mysterious paradoxical nature of truth come out in full force.

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  5. Fantastic! I’ve read that quote from Sayers before and always loved it! My two cents: It is the Holy Spirit who gives us that deep certainly and rest which confirms our beliefs. And it is HE who also works humility into our souls as he conforms us more and more into the image of Christ.

  6. Trevin, once again, fantastic insights. God has really gifted you for this ministry. Thank you for using your gifts to magnify Christ and edify the Body.

  7. Why are we so quick to defend certainty, and so slow to ask loving questions about what gifts authors whose perspectives are different than our own offer? When evangelical churches and their ‘certainty’ start offering compelling visions of the justice and peace Bell talks about–and welcome actual theological dialogue, not simply defense of old positions–they might have something worth saying to the world.

    • Are you certain of that view?

    • Is the gospel, who Jesus is and what He did, too old and not “something worth saying”?

    • Postmodern theology sounds no different than existentialism, whose strong point is the notion of the individual’s assuming responsibility for her or his actions/choices in the unknowable universe. In its extreme form, existentialism leads to nihilism where there’s an inherent mistrust of structures, systems, and people.

      Bell is right to critique the abuses of legalism due to dogmatic posturing. This is always a problem with the human condition. Truth, grace, and humility are needed to counteract the dogmatism inherent within humanity’s sin nature. Bell starts out with good intentions, but then he slips into a benign form of religious nihilism where he seems to claim that certainty is evidence of an unyielding or unloving spirit. The irony with Bell’s theology is that he’s guilty of the very thing that he’s critiquing. He’s very certain about those claiming certainty.

      Because Jesus calls the church to be in the world, but not of it, the passage in Ephesians 6:10-20 is vital for the body of Christ. The church is in a spiritual battle. The Apostle Paul uses the word stand four times. This begs the question as to what the believer, the church, is to stand upon in the midst of a raging, spiritual battle. I encourage you reread the Ephesians passage.

      Bell’s theological leanings assault Paul’s notion to stand firm in our day. Bell’s words do not prepare the church and its adherents to contend for the faith. There’s an intense spiritual battle raging all around the church. Will today’s church be able to stand in the midst of the intensifying furnace like Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego? Or will the church wither away in the scorching fires of persecution like the seed which fell among stony ground? I want and need a gospel message, which equips me to stand in the midst of trials and tribulations.

  8. Trevin,

    From a fellow book reviewer, allow me to say thank you for this great review. I was going to read and review the book but this review says its all much better than I could ever hope to do. While I don’t comment here much here, I do read, and greatly appreciate your ministry brother. God bless you, Trevin.

  9. Thanks for the helpful review, Trevin! I haven’t read the book yet, but just wrote a lengthy post on Bell’s trailers for it, mentioning a number of the things that you pick on upon here.

  10. Trevin,

    Thank you for the review. But call Bell what he is. A wolf. Please. I don’t care how good of a communicator or writer he is. He’s an enemy of the gospel.

    • when i heard Phil Johnson’s series on a history of heresies, as soon as he started talking about socinians, i thought of Bell. Adding uncertainty, asking questions and sowing doubt.

      It’s a pity he wasn’t tried for heresy by his church, but then again church discipline doesn’t happen much anymore.

    • It’s always refreshing to see Christian love in action! Just because someone has a different view doesn’t make them an ‘enemy’ or to talk of trials for heresy. While I don’t agree with everything Rob Bell says or writes about, I welcome open and honest debate. If this is something we fear, then it doesn’t say much for our faith. At least Trevin gave an honest and balanced review.

  11. Enjoyed your review and insights. i wrote a review of it last week, taking a similar approach of appreciating he is a good communicator but dismayed that he leaves out the hard truths of the gospel: http://www.all4God.co.uk/robbell

  12. Thanks for your hard work on this review, Trevin! This reminds me of G.K. Chesterton’s quote, “The purpose of opening the mind is to shut it again on something solid.”

  13. Thanks for the balanced review, Trevin. I think it’s important to ask why Rob Bell is effective AND why he’s incredibly wrong. The fact that Rob Bell’s message can be so effective in spite of its inconsistincies is a statement about our society: whoever paints the prettiest picture, wins.

  14. Well written Trevin! Great Job!

  15. Trevin,

    As always your posts are filled with truth and grace. Very creative and insightful overlaying of Bell’s thoughts and your criticisms in the “When a leader comes along…” paragraph. I like how you show the flaws in Bell’s logic rather than hating on him as a human being. Good form.

  16. Johnny Wheaton

    I have to agree with you Tevin what you wrote about Rob bell’s new book. I have read it, and I really like it. Rob bell did a great job with this book.

  17. God is good to give us wonderful things like expression in art & literature, poetry & song not to mention all the other great stuff but also truth & its certainty.

    It is a shame we get it wrong at times, or are unable to express the Saviours love in our lives as we should, as a church & as individuals. In wanting to enrich our lives we seek to fill it in ways that are beyond their intended purpose…divorcing our hearts… our belonging to God, some momentarily, some permanently.

    The certainty of Scripture & the beauty of dogma are often distorted in a grotesque way, sometimes rightly but often wrongly. One writer I appreciate very much is Spurgeon for his ability to combine the wealth, beauty, mystery & love of Scripture in small devotionals that uplift the heart & guide the soul regarding a faithful God & Saviour.

  18. Trevin,

    I am a current seminary student still uncertain about what ministry field God is leading me to but I had a question somewhat realted to this book review. What would your suggestions and cautions be regarding reading books, such as this one from Rob Bell or Joel Osteen, not for the purpose of personal growth but for the purpose of being able to answer questions by church members?

    • chipping in with $0.02 worth:
      with finite time and energy to be applied to reading, it is more profitable to read something where you are mostly eating “meat” rather than having something that is mostly bones you have to spit out, with barely enough meat to claim to be orthodox.
      by all means read things taht require you to discard some of it, but with authors that are on the fringe (such as the ones you mentioned) the ratio of bones that you have to spit out to get a single bite of meat isn’t profitable.

  19. I don’t see a gap between Bell and Sayers. Yes, the drama is in the dogma, but fallible fundamentalists (of which I am one) don’t manage the tension well. We tend to turn dramatic, tension-filled, full-of-mystery dogma into lists of dos and don’ts. We have a strong need to land on one side or the other, and we land on the side of absolute certainty, ultimately giving only lip service to humility.

    Rob Bell’s writing, and his fabulous Nooma video series, are extremely important to this “reformed and continuously reforming” Christ-follower.

  20. Patrick Anthony

    I really like and appreciate Rob Bell. However, I feel like he seeks to comfort himself by God’s love instead of in God’s love.

  21. I’m not sure pointing out Rob Bell’s own version of fundamentalism is meaningful critique. The reality is that everyone is a fundamentalist of some kind. The differences are found in what a particular individual considers fundmental. Certainty and humility can coexist when it comes to a lived experience but not when it comes to speculation about what happens when we die. I can humbly claim with certainty that the sun is hot. On the other hand, you can try all you’d like to humbly claim with certainty that x, y, and z happens to people when you die if they believe this or don’t believe that but you’re just speculating on information not available to human beings. So when Bell says your theology is damaging and hurtful, he says that because millions of people have experienced the pain that is a side-effect of your certainty.

  22. Trevin,

    At least you started out pretty positive for a “tgc” writer.

    It kinda sounds like you wanted to say the book was good but….

    seriously, if that would happen it would be the last time you

    wrote for them.

    It would be similar to Ken Ham hinting that he just might, just

    might think there is a possibility that God created

    through an evolutionary process. He has gotten himself backed in

    a corner that he could not say that if he wanted to. Oh

    well,having said that I know this review was much kinder,

    more positive than Kevin, Denny, and big Todd F. when they tell

    it the way it really is.

    • I did not think the book was good, only well-communicated. And I don’t think “kind” and “criticism” have to be pit against each other. Best critiques I read are the ones that are kind in their treatment, but firm in substance. That’s what I go for. Let’s discuss and debate the ideas.

    • Was this an attempt at a poem or a comment? Maybe both?

  23. Keith Pavlischek

    OTHER THAN THAT, MRS. LINCOLN, HOW DID YOU LIKE THE PLAY?:
    “Unfortunately, the strengths of the book are outweighed by the vagueness of Bell’s talk of talking about God. Nowhere is this more evident than his treatment of traditional Christian teaching.”

  24. Great review, Trevin. The section on certainty and humility brought to mind this passage by Chesterton:

    “But what we suffer from to-day is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert—himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt—the Divine Reason.”

    • Excellent review, Trevin. While I’m not all that interested in reading Rob Bell, I found this critique helpful, generous and thoughtful. You covered a lot of ground (and truth) here.

      Josh – loved the Chesterton quote. Thanks very much for it.

  25. Trevin, having read this review I am none the wiser as to the content of the book. What is/are Bell’s point/s? What are we talking about when we talk about God?

    • Exactly. Instead he ends up engaging in a game of semantics in order to label Bell a fundamentalist. As I said above, the real issue is the difference between what is and isn’t considered fundamental. That’s the real debate.

  26. Awareness of one’s own ability to err is humility, but Jesus Christ taught that unbelief is a sin. Jesus verbally scorched entire towns for rejecting what He knew that they knew. Accountability is built on knowledge, so if knowledge isn’t posisble then no one is accountable for anything wrong they do. Bell’s goal is to paint lipstick on the unbelief-pig.

  27. I found this post very helpful. I honestly feel bad for Rob Bell, not because I agree with him, I don’t, but because it seems that over the years he has more and more dug himself into a hole of what’s really “Christian” Agnosticism. One of the difficulties with agnosticism is that ultimately it does not allow you to have real assurance of faith, if there is no (or little) certainty at all. Without assurance there’s really no peace of mind for a person, peace of mind about the truth of one’s salvation, and peace of mind about the true character of God and the fate of our world, and so on. So I appreciate Trevin’s concern and sounding the alarm. People long for assurance and truth, and Jesus, who is God, means for them to have it, “you shall KNOW the truth, and the truth shall set you free” John 8:32.

    • Did Jesus promise us assurance or even peace of mind? I don’t think his yoke is quite that light. I think there are a few things we can be certain about, but our salvation doesn’t hinge on our surety, thank God.

      • Eric. As far as I can see He did, the passage referenced from John 8 speaks of a certainty people can have about the the truth, that seems plain and on the surface there. As to a promise of peace of mind you can simply do a word search on the word “peace” and find how often Jesus speaks of it in the gospels, and specifically in relation to His grace and salvation. I would agree that surety is not the hinge of salvation, or what determines whether you have it or not, but CAN believers have assurance as to their faith and their Savior? Absolutely. Paul desires that the believers in Laodicea would “reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ” Colossians 2:2. Also in Hebrews 10 in speaking of Jesus’ work as our High Priest the author says “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith”. So that’s why I would say there is a serious danger in Bell’s hesitancy with the issue of certainty, the gospel provides, Jesus provides, a very real assurance of faith and knowledge for His people.

  28. Good article, I just need to point out an error. You quote the excerpt about conviction and humility and then critique a viewpoint that isn’t put forth within the quoted material. I haven’t read the book but the excerpt clearly says that conviction and humility are NOT opposites, but you say that Bell implies that they are. If you read it again notice that he is saying the opposite.

    Thank you for a gracious review of the book, I may have to check it out.

    • I agree with your point, Eric. Trevin substitutes “certainty” where Bell used the word “conviction.”

      • Yes, but the context of that passage indicates that he is thinking of certainty. Especially based on the paragraphs immediately preceding that statement.

        • I don’t see how you find Bell to be thinking of CERTAINTY (rather than CONVICTION) when the paragraph immediately preceding that statement reads, “You can also say, ‘I could be wrong…’ “

        • did you really read his book? because pages 134 through 145 layout the gospel pretty clearly.

        • I hope these comments on your critique will inspire further consideration of and a revised review of the book.

  29. Trevin, you do a very thorough job of describing Bell’s book, and I appreciate the logical way you deconstruct some of his arguments in the second half of your review. I also appreciate the way you mentioned some of the things that make him a compelling teacher, they are traits I think that C.S. Lewis shared, the ability to communicate to the soul through provocative language and compelling imagery. This was very helpful to read.

  30. Bell: A Post-Modern C.S. Lewis

  31. Fair review. I think a great book every critic or fan of Rob Bell should read is “Rob Bell and a New American Christianity” by James Wellman, Jr. This book helps us understand Bell’s journey and it gives us insight into where he is coming from.

  32. David Van Lant

    I hope I’m mistaken, but I can’t help but wonder whether you might have an unhealthy obsession with Rob Bell. You’ve posted three pieces about him recently sort of gushing about his artistic, poetic ability, what a creative and effective communicator he is, what we can learn from his preaching, etc. For the life of me, I can’t figure out what you might have in mind. I admit I’m not very familiar with his ministry—I’ve only read Love Wins. You had at least one blog about how Evangelicals could learn from him how to communicate truth artistically like he does. That work was barely coherent in so many places. If Evangelicals think that was a good example of communicating truth with a view towards beauty, Lord have mercy! “…his poetry preaches.” Where’s the poetry exactly? I’m thinking I can spend my time and money reading people who really are poetic. Frederich Nietzsche hated the God of the Bible, but he was straightforward about it and far more insightful way more poetic to boot. I’d rather read him any day. Anyway, you might want to reflect upon the obsession angle.

    • As far as I can see Trevin’s obsession is more with the Christian Faith, and for that reason sees a need to defend it when he feels it is being compromised.. I’ve never met the guy but it seems he writes about Rob Bell’s thought out of a concern for Christ and people, which I think is perfectly healthy, and at times needed. You can take a scan through church history and find that often times men have felt the need to respond to a particular person or group of people, even in Scripture you see Paul and others doing this at times. Many of us have been helped by it to wade through what’s being taught nowadays.

  33. [...] The gist of Bell’s new book is that the world is humming with spirituality. Far from being distant and removed, God is present in our lives. We need to be reawakened to Him; we need the eyes to see Him at work. Dogmas and doctrines just get in the way of truly experiencing God. What once helped us now harms us and holds us back. But God is ahead of us, beckoning us forward to the new world that is coming…. Read this in full at http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2013/03/12/what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-rob-b… [...]

  34. [...] Speaking of Rob Bell, here’s another negative review of his book. [...]

  35. I think the book was amazing, I do not see how you can possibly say that rob bell was saying doctrine was not important. That is not at all what he is saying, did you read his book? Or not? He gives the gospel as clear as day on pages (134-145 pg) I was extremely blessed by this book. I would recommend this book to skeptics and Christian alike. His point about God being before us is very true, read Acts, they did not have Christ or the OT figured out! They are still trying to understand the promises given by God. Acts 15 they are fighting over circumcision, which is not a minor issue especially reading the law or Moses and the prophets. Their fighting over food laws, ( which if we took literally as Isaiah makes clear those who eat pigs are evil, and that’s way After 53, no sushi according to Acts 15 nothing with blood because the Holy Spirit said) so robs point is God is moving us forward in His Spirit, which I think comes right back down to what Paul was saying, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us. At the end of the day God is glorified and that for me is what is important.

  36. I wonder if Rob Bell’s reported public support of Gay Marriage will have an influence on our perspective of the way he views the God of the bible in this book?

  37. we do not have the OT figured either haha, have you seen all the books that your friends publish? what about all the books that are released on the subject? God has the last word not you or I, that is silly, immature, proud, arrogant, and misleading. bell is trying to get people to think, which is a good-thing, because i do not want to go back to the witch hunting ages or heretic burnings of brothers and sisters who saw differently but loved Jesus, like Michael Servetus his last prayer was father God have mercy on me through Jesus Christ my Lord. or the killing of the anabaptists, because people saw differences concerning the bible. we need to allow room for breathing in the faith, because even on this website there is multiple books with faulty information that has been published for the public, wrong facts, but i have taken the good and coughed up the hairballs. God can handle questions and our puny little attempts at understanding the big picture. hopefully you have not misunderstood me, love you man, i am grateful for your work as well, holy subversion was encouraging.

  38. This post reaks of theological snobbery. Sounds like you are afraid of the questions that Rob Bell poses. Seems to me that lots of people are very afraid of Rob. He doesn’t fit the predetermined systematic theology that everyone has been trained to regurgitate so everyone calls him a heretic. Is this useful discourse or just theological name-calling?

  39. How do you know what is true, Ronnie Boy?

  40. [...] Während einer Werbeveranstaltung für sein neues Buch What We Talk About When We Talk About God erklärte Rob Bell seine Unterstützung für die gleichgeschlechtliche Ehe (Trevin Wax hat das Buch bereits rezensiert). [...]

  41. Richard Fitzer

    Wow! After reading your review and other comments– I have ABSOLUTELY GOT TO READ THIS BOOK. Any who can stir things up this much, has to be a true follower of Jesus. Because if we Christians are actually going to do what Jesus has called us to do (take up our cross [i.e. "suffer"] and follow Jesus’ indiscriminate, foolish, impractical, unrealistic, crazy and naïve way of loving other– then we will have outcasts drawn to this message and have religious insiders feel scandalized but such a radical Savior who refuses to do things in a human, properly religious way.

    Should be a great read.
    Thanks.

  42. I have just heard his stance on Same sex marriage, bummer, we need to love these people, but I will not endorse sin. So I guess he is taking it to far, the book on the other hand is good still, in my view. But saddened by his stance, I guess you need to be careful. The bible is pretty clear when it comes to sin.

    • Wow! That is one of the quickest 180s I have seen turned in years. It’s great to know you can embrace the open-minded approach to doctrine in Bell’s theology…as long as it doesn’t involve homosexuality because you’re certain about that one and God couldn’t be pulling us in any other direction regarding homosexuals than one of condemnation [*rollingeyes*]

      • When you said:”Wow! That is one of the quickest 180s I have seen turned in years. It’s great to know you can embrace the open-minded approach to doctrine in Bell’s theology…. Well I know that God is moving us forward as bell as stated, which I would agree with. But forwardness in God’s kingdom does not mean becoming over taken by our sin nature, but allowing God and the Spirit to make us “holy” or “whole” if you like, in Christ. I would still say Rob’s book has many great things to say, though he is wrong in endorsing sexuality that God has clearly said is a error.

        Why would homosexuality be a sin? well the book of Genesis clearly and emphatically says that God created a man and women to populate his good earth. Now of course the fall has brought many errors to this plan, But long story short, Jesus refocuses the plan of God, it’s called “The Kingdom Of God” and we who have trusted in Jesus have been bought and brought into this kingdom;God gives us His Spirit that cleans us and makes us whole again. That is why Paul constantly says, people who act this or that way, will not inherit God’s kingdom,All sin is sin, missing the mark. But Jesus came to restore us and the whole cosmos, not leave us and forsake us to our sinful nature.

      • I would also agree that none of us have perfect theology, but we are called to understand the bible in it’s context as best as possible. Which if we do, Rob is clearly wrong on many things about what Paul had said to his own culture, now if one wants to argue that Paul said silly stuff and did not mean that when he condemns the practice of sin, well one is free to do that. But if one wants to be a christian and follower of Jesus, one must understand Jesus in his own culture and not make him out to be a preacher of “hippie love sexuality.” Jesus was a Jew, who clearly re-interpreted the whole message of the OT around Himself,that would include his views on sin; he did not endorse sinful living but told people to sin no more after talking with them.

        We live in a culture that is still walking through post enlightenment thinking, so we are making the message a cafeteria rather than reading the narrative as a whole. I have read all of Rob’s books, and he makes good points about a lot things, but once again Rob seems to be suffering from modernism, which has created a chasm in his thinking about the God revealed in the message of the prophets, Jesus, and the early apostles.

  43. [...] Here’s a peek at Trevin Wax on What We Talk About When We Talk About Rob Bell: …Bell eliminates more paradoxes than traditional Christian teaching [...]

  44. [...] “how” we talk about God, both when it comes to language and certainty. Trevin Wax has already commented on some of the problems with Bell’s parsing of certainty and doubt, dogma and abstraction. When [...]

  45. [...] sense because they are based on a real, historical drama. I wouldn’t necessarily say, as Trevin Wax does, that Bell has no place for dogma. Bell does sketch out several doctrines, but mostly to try to [...]

  46. I forwarded your edited paragraph to my church staff. Brilliant! Posted my own review too: http://pastorjamesmiller.com/2013/03/27/oh-well-rob-bell/

  47. [...] We Talk About When We Talk About God. Since then, there have been quite a few reviews offering various critiques and overviews as well as treatises on Bell’s [...]

  48. [...] First – there is the level of pure enjoyment, which even some of his critics are willing to conced… [...]

  49. I think you are so right, Trevin, about Bell being a certain sort of dogmatist. I probe this in some detail here: http://tyndalephilosophy.com/2013/04/15/rob-bells-achilles-heel/

  50. [...] or completely nonexistent attempts to understand who Bell is actually writing for. (Exhibit A, Exhibit B.) When We Talk About God is not written for Christians in general, and it is not written against [...]

  51. As a Hindu with the highest regard for Christ and seeking to follow him, I am far more compelled by Bell than the christian fundamentalist viewpoint. I read in the Bible how the Pharisees are driven crazy by Jesus because he wouldn’t be pinned down and say and do what they wanted him to say and do; and i see Jesus being driven to exasperation by the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.
    Don’t know if I am postmodern, but I am not a linear thinker and feel choked by these arguments about who said what about certainty.

  52. [...] have already given much better reviews than I could ever give.  There will no doubt be many more reviews coming, but there are a few [...]

  53. […] Pop Culture) What Rob Bell Talks About When He Talks About God by Matt Jenson (The Scriptorium) What We Talk About When We Talk About Rob Bell by Trevin Wax (The Gospel […]

  54. […] 1. What We Talk About When We Talk About Rob Bell […]

  55. […] mycket ansedda och breda amerikanska bl.a. bloggnätverket Gospel Coalition rescenserar Rob Bells senaste bok. Där han ytterligare markerar sin distans till evangelikal […]

  56. […]  The Gospel Coalition Review of ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About God’ – Trevin Wax […]

  57. Trevin

    The one question Rob evokes is ” have we become Pharisees”. Something we should all be asking ourselves in our confidence of what the Bible says. If we are so right why have so many gone left. Why is overall church attendence going down why is “spirituality” becoming more prevalent but without Jesus at the center of that prevalence. What do we talk about when we talk about God…Robs ability in to tell compelling stories and creat compelling images may be exactly what we need….my name is Randy and I pass in the bullshit free zone. How about you?

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