Apr 1, 2013

Talking about God with Rob Bell, Part 1

Rob Bell is at it again. Right around 2 years ago, Bell released his book Love Wins (which I reviewed here). This caused quite a stir in the evangelical Christian community. Now, Bell has written What We Talk About When We Talk About God (the video here sums most of it up). This book has not caused as much of a stir, but is certainly worth discussion. Once I was able to get my hands on the book, I read it and enjoyed it, and I’m going to give it a couple of posts here on the blog. There are essentially three parts of this book and to discuss them all would be too long for just one post. In this post, I'll looking at the first 3 chapters (hum, open, and both). The next posts will explore chapters 4-6 (with, for, and ahead) and then the last chapters (so and epilogue). In the last post, I’ll also give my general review.

His book opens with a comparison of our talk about God with an oldsmobile (see his book trailer for the story). This sets the stage for why Bell is writing. Oldsmobiles are outdated being left behind and God seems to be getting the same treatment. In our fast paced world, God, especially the God of the Bible, seems to be treated as old and no longer necessary. Bell’s experience, however, has been that people recognize in their lives that there is something beyond them and they can feel it (the hum) in their lives, but most religious discussion of God has turned them away. That’s why he’s writing this book. We need to change the way that we talk about God. He argues that we need to speak about God in a way that connects to people. God seems irrelevant, but Bell thinks that it doesn’t have to be that way.

The next two chapters, serve as an extension of the introduction. They prepare the way for Bell to talk about how God is with us, for us, and ahead of us. “Open” is a jump into science. Much of it is very similar to what he spoke about in his video “Everything is Spiritual.” The heart of this chapter is that the universe is not as definable as we think it is. While we are all taught Newtonian Physics, there are many things about the universe, particularly in the realm of quantum physics, that make the universe more open and unexplainable than we realize it actually is. Because of this, it is very sensible for us to talk about God. Bell writes, “When we talk about God, then, we're talking about something very real and yet beyond our conventional means of analysis and description.”

Chapter three, titled “Both,” is focused on the paradoxical nature of talking about God. One one side of the paradox is the fact that God is beyond us and beyond our understanding. We can know God, but we cannot fully know or understand him. Bell writes, “So when we talk about God we're using language, language that employs a vast array of words and phrases and forms to describe a reality that is fundamentally beyond words and phrases and forms.” On the other side of the paradox, we must talk about God. For us to know him, we have to talk about him.

When it comes to the first section of this book. I’m really pleased. The science section is kind of long, and some of it seems unnecessary, but ultimately I’m very pleased how he talks about theological discussion. Ultimately, talking about God is theology and I think more people need to hear what he says about how we discuss theology. We use words and phrases to describe the indescribable. There is humility needed when approaching theology. Many people think that they have solved the riddle of God or that they have theology down, when really they have barely scratched the surface. It reminds me of how Chesterton describes the difference between poets and logicians in his book Orthodoxy. “The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.” There is no way to reason all of God.

The part that I am cautious about is the discussion of updating the way talk about God. While I don’t disagree with Bell, if not careful this can lead anywhere. There are times when we need to change the way that we speak about God, but we need to be careful not to change the truth about God. This too requires humility. Sometimes we need to recognize that we speak incorrectly about God or in an unhelpful manner, and that does require change. On the other hand, we need to also be willing to stick to the truth when it is unpopular.

Part 2 of the review
Part 3 of the review
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