Book Review: “What is the Bible?” by Rob Bell

what is the bible

I feel like any time someone mentions the name “Rob Bell” in Christian circles post Love Wins, someone should yell out: “LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!!!” So whether you love him or hate him, he’s back with a new book called What Is The Bible? and I’m sure it will get us talking.

If you are unfamiliar with who Rob Bell is, he founded and pastored Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids MI for about a dozen years, he’s written eight other books including: Velvet Elvis, the New York Times Best Selling Love Wins, and What We Talk About When We Talk About God. He hosts his own podcast called the RobCast, he’s done some events with Oprah, and in 2011 he was listed in Time Magazines 100 Most Influential People in the World.

In his newest work Bell sets out to answer the question presented in the books title: What is the Bible? This book is written for people who have never read the Bible before, people who love it, people who are suspect of it, people who are bored by it, people who are confused by it, people who are afraid of it, both believers and unbelievers.

Bell writes this book like someone who has visited the most amazing and mind-blowing place in the world (the Bible) and desperately wants everyone else to come and experience it too.

The book begins with Bell unpacking numerous sections of scripture, giving examples of how rich and complex and layered these passages are when you begin to dig into the cultural contexts and start unpacking the original languages it was written in. Throughout the book we are reminded that the Bible was written by “real people, in real places, in real times”, and when we read the Bible with this in mind it will change how we understand and experience it.

When people say the Bible is boring, they’re saying that because they haven’t actually read it. Because if you actually read it, and enter into the stories, and the depth and background and context and innuendo and hyperbole, the one thing you will not be is bored. (p. 141)

In my opinion, this reminder (not necessarily all his conclusions) for Christians to dig deeper into the text, has been a strength of Bell’s going all the way back to his first book Velvet Elvis. I personally have been challenged by Bell throughout the years to dig deep when studying scripture and it has most certainly had positive impact on my relationship with the Bible.

Another thing I appreciate about this book, is Bell’s unbridled passion and excitement for the Bible. If I had never read the Bible before, the first thing I would have done after reading this book, would be to go and buy a Bible.

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. (p. 114)

Bell’s consistent affirmation throughout the book of the relevance of scripture for today is also a very encouraging note, and one that I strongly agree with. That said, I find it somewhat inconsistent with at least one comment I’ve heard Bell say on the Bible. In an interview with Oprah a few years ago on the subject of sexuality, and the varying moral positions between much of the church and culture, Bell said: “I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense…” In my opinion, whether he intended it or not (probably didn’t), his statement regarding scripture comes off as a low view of the Bible, and not very affirming towards the relevance of scripture if it holds a position contrary to our own or that of our culture (regardless of the issue being discussed). While I completely agree that we need to unpack scripture in it’s original context to properly understand it, and we have to exegete it for our current cultural context, my comfort level or level of agreement with something in scripture doesn’t make it any more or less true or relevant. So on this point of scriptural relevance, I probably agree-ish with Bell.

Another line from the book that MIGHT BE of concern for me, is when he speaks of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. The line begins saying: “The next time you hear someone insisting that it was an actual, literal resurrection…” Now, in no other book (including this one) or interview, have I ever heard Bell say that he denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus, but this line feels like he is distancing himself from those who do hold that belief. If that is the case, I have significant concerns with that position, but if I have read too much into that line, I apologize, and there is nothing to see here.

What about the big questions concerning the Bible? Is it the word of God? Is it authoritative? Is it inerrant? Is it inspired? Where does Bell land on the big ones? Well, he actually dedicates almost 90 pages to answering those and other questions.

The Torah started the discussion. For many in our world, the Bible ends the discussion. Someone stands up and reads from the Bible and then tells the gathered masses what it means and what is right and how it should be interpreted and then the service is over and everybody leaves. But in the first-century world of Jesus, the Torah and the prophets and the wisdom writings were the start of the discussion. You read it, together. And then you interpreted it. You engaged with it. (p. 153-154)

Some people will sound the alarm that this book should not be read by anyone (especially new Christians) because they may begin to interpret the Bible solely through the opinions of Rob Bell, and that’s dangerous. Amen. I couldn’t agree more. Though it would also be dangerous for us to have John Piper, or Tim Keller, or C.S. Lewis, or N.T. Wright, or your pastor, or ______________ (insert your favorite theologian here) be the sole expositor of scripture in our lives. There is nothing wrong with reading other theologians and their interpretations of scripture, in fact reading a diverse mix of voices is an important and healthy thing, but the best thing, is that we are personally reading and praying and wrestling through the scriptures ourselves and we are doing so in the context of community.

There are definitely some conclusions Bell comes to that I would need to do some further study and research on before I could stand by them (or not), there are some conclusions that I find to be a bit of a stretch, and there are other conclusions I completely agree with. If you are curious as to who Bell’s theological influences are, he gives a pretty hefty list of books that have helped shape his theology including authors like: Thomas Cahill, Bruce Feiler, Peter Enns, Dallas Willard, and N.T. Wright to name a few.

What Is The Bible? in my opinion will be no where near as controversial as Love Wins, but similarly to that book I think it will be successful in bringing people into a conversation, in this case about the nature and purpose of the Bible, and that’s a great thing. So yeah, you should check out Bell’s newest book. Read it, question it, affirm it, disagree with it, but more importantly, and Bell would agree, just go grab a Bible and start reading that.

Bell 2017

Book Review: “Abba’s Child” by Brennan Manning

 

Abba

If people know you’re a reader you get books recommended to you all the time, which is nice, but if you’re a reader you’ve probably already got a stack of books on your night stand or shelves of books you’ve collected that you want to read first. This means your friends book recommendations get pushed further and further down on your Amazon Wishlist. This is where Abba’s Child was for me. But after reconnecting with a dear friend who has recommended this book to me for years, I bumped it to the top of the list and I am so glad I did.

I love reading people’s “Top 5” or “Top 10” book lists, and Abba’s Child immediately became a “Top 5” book for me. This is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read and I think it’s one that everyone should read.

Abba’s Child (1994) was written by Brennan Manning (1934-2013). Manning was a prolific writer and speaker and wrote a number of other well known works, such as: The Ragamuffin Gospel (1990) and The Furious Longing of God (2009). Manning’s own story of struggle, brokenness, addiction, and his encounter with God’s mercy, grace, and love saturate every page of this book which makes it so deeply personal.

The heart of the book is about beginning to see yourself the way God, your Father, your Abba sees you. Manning starts the book by suggesting that often times our understanding of how God see’s us is actually just a projection of our own personal feelings. So the disappointment or shame or frustration we may feel about ourselves, we assume God must feel the same way toward us. This misunderstanding of how God see’s us then impacts every area of our lives.

The title of the second chapter of the book is called “The Imposter”. If you talk to anyone who has read the book, they will tell you that this chapter is a game changer and is deeply profound. I have almost this entire chapter underlined with stars and the word “OUCH!” written all over the margins. This chapter is so disarming. It took me forever to get through these 16 pages because of how much reflecting and soul searching I had to do. The imposter is the false self we’ve created who we present to the world, to God, and to ourselves. This person was created to protect us, to strengthen us, to give us value, and yet this person is a liar, it lives in fear, and it is constantly starving for outside acceptance and approval. This chapter forces you to look into the eyes of the imposter and have an honest conversation.

One question Manning asks in chapter 4, which may not be earth shattering to you, but was incredibly moving to me, was: “Do you honestly believe God likes you, not just loves you because theologically God has to love you?” (p. 46) I know God loves me, and I can prove it through countless passages of scripture, but the thought that God really likes me, that cuts deep and is overwhelming because I know me, and there are plenty of days where I’m not sure I like me. My guess is you know that feeling too.

Another great and deeply challenging chapter is called “The Pharisee and the Child”. Manning calls his readers to confront the Pharisee within us all. “To deny the pharisee within is lethal. It is imperative that we befriend him, dialogue with him, inquire why he must look to sources outside the kingdom for peace and happiness.” (p. 68)

I could honestly go on and on about all the ways this book challenged me and encouraged me, but instead I’ll give you a few more of the countless quotes from the book that stood out to me:

  • Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion. (p. 42)
  • Whenever the gospel is invoked to diminish the dignity of any of God’s children, then it is time to get rid of the “so-called” gospel in order that we may experience the gospel. Whenever God is invoked to justify prejudice, contempt, and hostility within the body of Christ, then it is time to heed the words of Meister Eckhart: “I pray that I may be quit of God to find God.” Our closed human concepts of gospel and God can prevent us from fully experiencing both. (p.52)
  • What makes the kingdom come is heartfelt compassion: a way of tenderness that knows no frontiers, no labels, no compartmentalizing, and no sectarian divisions. Jesus, the human Face of God, invites us to deep reflection on the nature of true discipleship and the radical lifestyle of Abba’s child. (p. 58)

I am so thankful for the depth of Brennan’s transparency and insight in Abba’s Child and I am so very thankful my dear friend had kept this book on my radar for so many years. I will be coming back to this book often.

brennan manning

Book Review: “The Zimzum of Love” by Rob & Kristen Bell

zimzum

The Zimzum of Love is Rob Bell’s newest book, and is co-authored with his wife Kristen.

When I found out that Bell was writing a book on marriage, I was extremely interested in how he would unpack the subject. Like it was with so many of Bell’s other books, like: Velvet Elvis, Sex God, Jesus Wants to Save Christians and What We Talk About When We Talk About God, I was really looking forward to his Biblical and historical exposition of the subject matter, but instead this book merely makes a few light nods towards the Bible.

I will say that the main idea for the book, the Hebrew word “tzimtzum”, is an interesting and helpful illustration on the relationship between two people. It refers to the space between two people, and that everything you put into that space will greatly impact your relationship (ie. words, attitudes, actions, inaction), but ultimately I just felt it wasn’t enough to carry the book. I think the main idea of the book could have been a great blog post or even a magazine article. Overall I found the book to be more of a basic self help marriage book. Learning about Rob and Kristen’s story was cool and even pretty funny at times, but I found the format of the back and forth between them to be a little clunky.

The best way I can explain my feelings about this book is, it’s like when you have a band you really like listening to, and you’ve got all their albums, but when you talk through the catalogue of albums there’s always that one record that you just can’t seem to get in to. This is that album for me.

If you’re looking for an outstanding book on marriage, I would highly recommend Tim & Kathy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage (see review HERE) or another challenging read on Christian marriage is Francis & Lisa Chan’s You and Me Forever (see review HERE).

[Note: Although this review of Bell’s new book was not overly positive, please do not misunderstand this post to be one against Bell himself. I have bought all his books and really enjoy reading him.]

Rob-Kristen-Bell

Book Review: “You and Me Forever” by Francis & Lisa Chan

you and me forever

Since reading Francis Chan’s first book Crazy Love, which had a profound impact on my faith, I’ve read everything he’s written since. You and Me Forever is Chan’s newest book, which is co-authored with his wife Lisa, and is on the subject of marriage.

At first glance, the title of the book and it’s main premise, “marriage is great, but it’s not forever”, seem to contradict each other, but as you read on you’ll discover that they go hand in hand.

Like Crazy Love was a “good uncomfortable” for your personal walk with Jesus, You and Me Forever is a “good uncomfortable” for your understanding of marriage.

If you prefer reading fluffy, feel good books on marriage, you will not find that here. I found this book to be very challenging to my understanding of a Biblical marriage and how to practically live it out.

One highlight for me was the chapter on parenting. As a soon to be first time parent, this chapter was both encouraging and challenging. This quote beautifully captures the heart of the chapter: “Make sure the mission of God is the priority in your life. Let your kids see, and give them opportunities to join you in serving God. As they experience the joy of serving, the hope is that they will still be serving Him faithfully long after you are gone” (p. 168-169).

Here are a few additional quotes from the book that stood out to me:

  • “…most marriage problems are not really marriage problems. They are God problems. They can be traced back to one or both people having a poor relationship with God or a faulty understanding of Him” (p. 20-21).
  • “Can you really call your marriage ‘good’ if your focus on your family keeps you from making disciples, caring for the poor, reaching out to the lost, and using your talents and resources for others?” (p. 116)
  • “Marriage-centered marriages have become accepted and applauded rather than Christ-centered ones” (p. 117).

You and Me Forever will greatly challenge and expand your view of marriage. It will force you to see marriage through the eyes of eternity and being lived out as disciples of Jesus whose primary mission is to make disciples.

I would definitely recommend this book if you are looking for a challenging read on the subject of marriage from the Christian perspective. In classic Chan style, the book is thick with scripture and it also has great reflection questions at the end of each chapter. I think this book is a powerful resource for those who are already engaged or married, but also an outstanding book for those who are single.

For additional information and resources on this book, check out: www.youandmeforever.org

* This book can be downloaded for FREE from the above website. 

francis-and-lisa-chan

Book Review: “The Wrong Jesus” by Greg Monette

the wrong jesus

After hearing good things about this book on Twitter, and finding out that the author is from the city I’ll soon be living in, I decided to check it out.

The Wrong Jesus (2014) is written by Greg Monette (PhD cand), and it explores the person of Jesus through history, archeology, and tradition.

The Wrong Jesus addresses eleven great questions, including:

  • Did Jesus Really Exist?
  • What Are Our Main Sources for Knowing About Jesus?
  • Has the Text of the New Testament Changed Over Time?
  • Did Jesus Think He Was God?
  • Did Jesus Come Back From the Dead?

One of the highlights of the book for me, is the honestly and transparency of the author. If there are certain historical or scriptural difficulties, Monette doesn’t gloss over them and doesn’t ask his readers to simply have an uninformed and uneducated faith. This level of honesty may be disarming for some readers, but I found it to be very refreshing and it displays the intellectual integrity of the author.

For those who love digging deeper into the content of a book, at the close of each chapter Monette gives a number of great reflection/discussion questions and a list of recommended books for further reading. Although lots of books add a set of reflection/discussion questions at the end of a chapter, Monette asks some great questions that go beyond simply summarizing or regurgitating the content, but leads the reader to wrestle with and apply the information just read.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to learn more about Jesus. This book is for the unbeliever, the skeptic, the new believer, and the long time faithful believer. Although The Wrong Jesus is a very scholarly work, Monette is an engaging author, and you will find this book to be very accessible.

For more information on the author, check out his website www.gregmonette.com

For a great talk from Monette on ‘faith and doubt’, click HERE.

Book Review: “Fields of Gold” by Andy Stanley

fields of gold

Fields of Gold by Andy Stanley is a small book, but it’s a great book on learning to view “our” financial resources as being God’s and an opportunity to invest in what He is doing in our world.

The book is based on an illustration of a farmer seeding fields of wheat. One of the main themes running through the book is that the reason we often don’t allow God to be in control of our finances is not because we are greedy, but rather because we are afraid. We’re afraid of not having enough if something ever happened. We’re afraid to allow God to be the supplier of our needs and so we depend on ourselves to be our own provider. Unfortunately this fear leads us to not experiencing the blessings of God personally, and we even miss out on being used by God to be a blessing to others.

Stanley does a great job using scripture throughout and reinforcing the truth that all we have, all belongs to Him. We are simply managers of what is His. Near the end of the book he unpacks various forms of giving, including: priority giving (giving to God comes first when we receive our paycheck), percentage giving (determining a percentage to give to God every paycheck), and progressive giving (growing that percentage over your lifetime).

Overall Fields of Gold is an outstanding introduction to the subject of tithes and offering (giving / generosity). This is a great resource for teaching on giving, and would be perfect for those who are new to following Jesus and doing life together with other Christians.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

  • “When you became a Christian, you signed up for a completely different economic system.” (p. 31)
  • “…doesn’t that make it irrational to trust God for your eternal destiny, yet decline His invitation to direct your finances?” (p. 34)
  • “…giving to God’s work is not giving something away. It’s an investment, not a loss. The farmer who sows doesn’t lose seed. He gains a crop.” (p. 51)
  • “When you begin to embrace your role as a steward, you will be able to give from your heart. You’ll see yourself in partnership with God to accomplish eternal purposes…” (p. 83).

Book Review: “24/6” by Matthew Sleeth, MD

24:6

24/6: A prescription for a healthier, happier life is written by Matthew Sleeth, MD, and is a look at the subject of sabbath. Dr. Sleeth’s first book is called Serve God, Save the Planet, and he is the founder of the creation care non-profit ‘Blessed Earth’.

Sleeth writes in a very folksy tone and comes across as maybe the nicest guy in the world. 24/6 is a very easy read and accessible to everyone. Sleeth’s storytelling is relevant and engaging, pulling a lot from his background as a doctor, and his heart for God and enjoying Him comes shining through on every page. Sleeth calls his readers to come back to the sabbath to find rest in our crazy fast paced lives, and more importantly to find God.

In my opinion, 24/6 is a good basic primer on the idea of sabbath for someone who maybe has never given the subject much thought. I wouldn’t categorize this book as theological heavy lifting or an in-depth look at the history of sabbath, but again a good modern day primer on the subject.

The book closes with a few great appendices, including: scripture concerning the sabbath, quotes about the sabbath, and various blessings. Also available is a small group study & dvd that is based on the book. I have previewed both the study guide and dvd and they are very well put together and filmed beautifully. 

Overall I would recommend 24/6 as a good entry point for starting a conversation on the subject of sabbath, and the additional study materials are also excellent.