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: “Create vs. Copy” by Ken Wytsma

CreateVsCopy

A few years ago I was invited to do a review for a book from an author I had never heard of, but the subject was an important one to me, so I read it. The book was called Pursuing Justice by Ken Wytsma and it turned out to be hands down the best book I have ever read on the subject of justice (you can find that review HERE), and it is no question a must read on the subject.

So, when I was recently invited to review Wytsma’s newest book Create vs. Copy, I was more than happy to get involved.

Wytsma who lives in Bend, Oregon wears many hats on top of being an author (his other books include: Pursuing Justice & The Grand Paradox). He is the founder of the Justice Conference, the founding pastor of Antioch Church, and the president of Kilns College.

Create vs. Copy is divided into two parts: the theology of creativity and the practice of creativity. To be clear this book is not just for those who consider themselves to be “creative” or “artistic”, it is for anyone and everyone who wants to live out their God given calling to create and make a redemptive difference in all corners of life from your home, to your neighborhood, to your business, to your church, to your band, the list goes on and on.

I especially appreciated chapter six on imagination & innovation and chapter seven on intentional creativity. Wytsma breaks down imagination into three different categories, including: comprehensive imagination, artistic imagination, and practical imagination; and the role that each of those forms takes in innovating. He then illustrates with his own family how when our values guide the whole creative process (imagination / intentional creativity / innovation) it can create beautiful and life giving environments.

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

  • If we are born to create, innovation isn’t just about harnessing creativity – it’s actually about restoring creativity to its rightful place at the heart of all we do. (p. 18)
  • Creativity is one way we manifest and exercise the image of God…When people say, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” not only is it untrue, it’s denying the image of God in us. (p. 26 & 27)
  • We need redemptive creativity – creativity that aims not just for success, but freedom; and not just for ourselves, but for others and for the good of creation as a whole. (p. 61)
  • When God redeems, He breathes life into what was dead – and that is the eternal project to which we are called to lend our own creative efforts. (p. 163)

Create vs. Copy is a great book that can be read individually or with a group or team. Every chapter ends with reflection questions and some really great interactive further study options (ie. videos, recommended books, articles…). I knew this book did its job inspiring creativity and innovation when by the time I was reading the last couple of chapters I was jotting down notes not just for this review, but also notes on new ideas I was coming up with for being a better leader in my home and thoughts on trying new ways of leading and experiencing weekly church worship gatherings. I would definitely recommend this book.

You can watch a trailer for Create vs. Copy HERE.

You can order Create vs. Copy from Amazon.com HERE.

If you would like to follow Ken Wytsma on Twitter, his handle is: @kjwytsma.

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.

Book Review: “The Adam Quest” by Tim Stafford

the adam quest

I almost never read books on the subject of human origins as I find they can be unnecessarily divisive, overly defensive, and even demeaning to those who don’t happen to share the same viewpoint. Thankfully this book was none of those things.

In his book The Adam Quest, author Tim Stafford tells the stories of eleven scientists, from all different cultural, scientific, and religious backgrounds, who have worked through the task of reconciling their science and their faith.

I found this book to be fascinating and I couldn’t put it down. To read about so many accomplished scientists who don’t see the need to have to choose between faith and science was incredibly encouraging. That said, these scientists do not all agree on the science part of the equation. The book is divided into three different views on creation:

  • Young Earth Creationists
  • Intelligent Design Creationists
  • Evolutionary Creationists

Although at the end of the book the author shares where he lands personally, no individual perspective was given more weight than another and there is an overall tone of humility from those whose stories are told. Regardless of where you land on where life came from scientifically, there is still plenty of room for faith.

What was so great about this book was the high value placed on science. It is an act of ignorance to throw out good science. It’s sad that so many in the Church are afraid of and feel threatened by science as though it isn’t compatible with faith in God. This book clearly shows that these two pursuits of truth do not have to exist separately.

This book is a great read for anyone, regardless of scientific or religious background. The Adam Quest is a very interesting and accessible read and I would highly recommend this book.

Here are a couple of my favorite quotes:

“If we dig a wide ditch between the world of faith and the world of science, we will find ourselves much the poorer for it” (p. 06).

“[Religion & science] They are both attempts to get at the truth of the world. They do so in different ways, and they may discover different aspects of the truth, but in the final analysis they must come together” (p. 191).

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.