Rob Bell’s new book about the Bible: A review. Or, don’t worry, you’re not a Heretic if you like this book.

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I know that right off the bat, I’ll have lost some of you. Even reading the name Rob Bell can cause a mild panic in many and if you are that person, I suggest you stop reading now because this short review of Rob’s new book is only going to get more positive.

Rob’s ability to convey deep Biblical truths in ways that seem to be radical and actually relevant has always been one of his greatest gifts.

His writing style.

irritates.

many.

people. Continue reading

Learning to read the Bible differently. (Or how we can find Jesus by give up the need to be correct)

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The Bible is probably one of the most misunderstood collection of writings that exists. Personally, I really struggle with it and I’m a Christian. (Yes, despite what you might think I am).

It’s been misconstrued as everything from a manual for Christians to follow (good luck following Leviticus to the t) to an outdated book that has no relevance to anyone anymore.

Everyone is striving to find the correct way to read it.

But there is no one correct way to read the Bible. How can there be with a collection of writings that consist of poetry, apocalyptic metaphors, genealities, parables, pages and pages of obscure rules about the correct way to test if your wife was unfaithful (this is literally the most mental thing I’ve read). 

To stories about a carpenter who claimed to be God’s son.

That’s even before we remember that it was written over thousands of years to completely different people by many different writers who understood the world drastically different than those who came before them.

Imagine how different we read writings from today compared to writings from relatively recently like 50 years ago.

When it comes to reading the Bible, as I said, I struggle. After a while and you’ve heard similar messages over and over for most of your life, you start to desire something deeper. You become thirsty for something new.

Some people call the Bible, “The Living word of God”.

I really like this description because for something to be living it has to be breathing and changing and  parts of it need to die so that they can regrow. You can obviously be alive but just sit at home all day. However to be fully alive you need to walk about and experience the world and suffer and find joy and hurt and cry and laugh and get lost and find a way out.

Luther understood this dramatically as he led the Reformation.

It’s when I don’t view the Bible as alive that I find it the hardest to engage with. Because as I grew and changed and understood the world differently my reading of the Bible didn’t. I continued to see it as a rule book that really had no reference to my life today.

It wasn’t however until I started to hear about practices such as Lectio Divina and read people like Rob Bell, Peter Enns and Brian McLaren that I started to see that this is much more than I could have hoped for.

It became less about something that I needed to read everyday to maintain my Christian membership but rather something that I was able to breathe.

It became a mystical collection of writings.

We start to read the stories about Jesus, less about how we are supposed to behave morally and more about how His life was so weird and countercultural and as way of opening ourselves to the world.

We start to read the Old Testament less as an illustration of a violent, angry God and more of a God who is patient and actually light years ahead of how people viewed gods.

We start to see instructions about giving away 10% of our income less as a rule and more about our faith that we are going to be ok and allowing this to change us into people characterized by generosity.

We start to read the “myths” of things that happened less as factual textbook examples and more as metaphorical descriptions of deep truths.

As Rob Bell put it in Velvet Elvis, and I’m slightly paraphrasing here, perhaps the greatest truth about Adam and Eve, is not that it happened, but that it is happening.

Now, this idea of reading the Bible this way will be majorly troubling for some. Which is ok. For others, it will be freeing and will reveal a God who is nothing like they thought.

But I have in no way nailed this thing.

I began to work through a year in the Bible reading plan in January. Sometime around the beginning of February I stopped. Why? Because I had fallen into the trap of “needing” to read it. I felt a duty to; I felt that I needed to read the whole Bible in a year to unlock the next level of being a Christian.

I was listening to those voices that told me that I was on the wrong path with my faith instead of allowing myself to try and fail. I thought I needed a map, when really all I needed was to learn to get lost a little.

But it’s for those exact reasons that I stopped. It was actually better for me to stop reading the Bible if I was just attempting to hit some standard of Holiness. If I want to start again, I need to refocus on why I am doing it. I’ll probably have to do this everyday. I’m not expecting to come away with all the answers and knowledge. If I’m being honest, I’m tired of striving for that.

I don’t need or want to be correct about what the Bible says. We all have a history and experiences in life that shape how we read the Bible. Instead of denying those things, it’s time I start embracing their impact on how I read. In some ways many of us in the Western Christian culture can never understand it since we aren’t first century Jews.

Ultimately, I don’t want to be sure I know exactly what I believe if ‘believing’ makes no difference to my experience of Jesus, Love and Hope. Especially in relation to others. I wonder if actually our striving to be completely sure what certain passages mean, prevents us from seeing something new and truly life changing. I get that. We need certainty. It’s comfortable. But comfortable doesn’t usually lead to growth.

So as I continue to try and read the Scriptures, I’m going to be wrong sometimes and I’m going to contradict myself a lot.

But you know what, that’s ok. Because I’m breathing, I’m alive and I’m still on the journey.

Just like the Bible.

Strawberries and Clooney and Vietnam

Rob Bell gets accused of not mentioning Jesus enough but there is a moment about 15 minutes into his “don’t call it a comeback” Grand Rapids show as part of his new Everything Is Spiritual tour where he mentions Jesus.

But you may have missed it. In a seemingly throw away statement it’s almost as if He didn’t want everyone to hear it. That this Jesus is somehow so much more unique, exciting and imaginative that you could even handle.

Which is one of the criticisms that Rob Bell has faced countless times. He talks about spirituality and Jesus and God and Love in ways that we don’t like. Ambiguous, mysterious but intriguing.

Where on earth could he have got such an idea for talking about spiritual matters like this?

For the rest of us, Rob Bell gets it.

In what I think is over two hours (I never once felt like checking my watch) which seems like both a long time, whilst never being boring and yet nowhere near long enough; he describes the trajectory of the world from the big bang to particles to atoms to Molecules to cells to you and me, human life.

I don’t remember science, last period on a Friday ever being so thrilling.

Even his fiercest critics have conceded that Rob Bell is a wonderful communicator and by keeping us engaged for so long on what is essentially a very basic science lesson, it’s almost as if he’s showing off.

But you’re maybe not interested in the science stuff. You want to know how he weaved Jesus, God, and the Gospel message into all of this.

He begins by linking the ever forward trajectory of existence from the big bang to the tiniest particles to complex human beings to itself. We’re all connected. In every progressive step there are characteristics of before to be found in it’s make up. The potential for all the joy, pain, awkward conversations, Taylor Swift, first time you tasted Chocolate, thrill and every other experience under the sun was present there in the beginning.

In one important analogy so desperately and currently needed, he showed us that racism is the inability to connect with someone of similar substance.

Loneliness is going in the wrong direction because it’s the antithesis of all of us being connected.

Cells, sub atomic particles, racism, loneliness. It’s all the same. We need to connect to move forward.

You want a message about the need for church to be real and authentic with the world and itself? You got it.

You want a repent message? You got it. If you’re not moving with others in the direction we need you to, you better rethink what you’re doing.

When you provide evidence from English researchers Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson from their book “The Spirit Level” that the larger the gaps between the rich and poor in countries, the lower the literary rates, more serious mental health and the lower life expectancy not simply for the poor, but for the rich, it’s hard to not see Jesus in all of this.

Maybe Jesus isn’t explicitly mentioned as much as some of us would like, but He is there in everything tonight.

We need to be generous, peaceful, hopeful and graceful to each other. Getting more stuff, finding that individual inner peace for yourself is not enough. Connection with others is where its at.

Finally, Rob Bell takes some time to connect what all of this means practically in three areas of our lives. Our past, present and future.

There were many collective mmmm’s throughout this evening. Not the “that’s an interesting thing to know” type but that “deeply felt, everyone knows it, even if we never explicitly knew how to express it”, type of knowing. These all happened during this last phase of the night.

A beautiful example of all of this at play between hundreds of complete strangers.

This part of the evening was for me the most meaningful.

Through stories of people who experienced deep suffering finding each other by simply saying “Me Too” to hilarious stories of dealing with the fallout of his book “Love Wins” (which he describes tongue firmly in cheek as being unique in the history of published literacy since everyone loved it, even the people who didn’t read it) a few years ago, Rob Bell showed us that even when the very thing that our ego fears most happens, shame, we’re still standing.

“You’re fine, you’re good. In fact you’re great!”

This isn’t a wishy washy new age message, the Universe loves you dude message, like so many of Rob Bell’s critics have accused him of delivering before, but a hopeful, Jesus filled, Spirit filled, Gospel good news filled message that we all need to hear.

You get the feeling that through all of everything that Rob Bell is excited as ever about sharing this with people. I for one am grateful for someone who is able to communicate all of this in new, fresh ways which sends you out with a new found peace and vigor for discovering the mysterious wonder and Love of God. Rob Bell, as he reminds us tonight about human beings, is just getting started.

Farewell no more.

Rather

Welcome, Rob Bell.

My Top 5 Heretics.

The thing about those we label Heretics is that we’re all the same. We all believe in God. The only difference is that I say my God is right and you say yours is. But actually anyone who claims that their understanding of God is the right one and isn’t prepared to listen to someone else is saying that there is nothing to be known of God outside of their own experiences and understanding. Which actually makes you a much bigger heretic than anyone. Continue reading

The greatest lesson I learned about being creative.

Sitting down everyday to write and facing a blank page is one of the hardest things to do as a writer. There is so much space to fill and so little to fill it with. If you face a blank canvass you can be sure that resistance will come along and fill it for you.

Anything to stop you creating.

There is one way to beat resistance. Continue reading

Anyone can read the Bible. Reading the Bible imaginatively, 1.

There is a story in the Bible about a giant fish that swallows a man whole then spits him out after 3 days. Then there is the one about a talking ass (the donkey not ones derriere). And how about the book of Leviticus. A book that is full of instructions that seemingly make as much sense for us today as the side of instructions on our new toy where it has all the different languages we don’t speak.

It’s fair to say that reading the Bible is not always a straight forward activity. It can be confusing, annoying and downright frustrating. This is maybe the reason why the early church would read it together. There was no such idea as a ‘quiet time’. It was intended to be read in community because that was one way in which you could get a full reading of a text. (Stay tuned for that part soon). Continue reading

You, John Piper and I

A couple of weeks ago I ran my second marathon. It was a much more enjoyable experience than my first one last year. Probably due to not eating chocolate every day, not hoping I could get through it by downing 15 energy gels and not holding my pee in for much longer than is acceptable for the average human bladder while running 26.2 miles.

A couple of weeks before it though I hit the training wall. This is the moment when you are fed up of running for months and months. When you are sick of timing yourself, for running the same routes, for having to run not out of enjoyment but because of some stupid promise you made yourself and then told other people about.

So I tweeted this

“Bloody marathon. I can’t wait to get my life back.” Continue reading

I am a fundamentalist Christian

I just picked up my copy of Rob Bell’s new book “What we talk about when we talk about God”.

I have read 3 pages so far.

I know already I am gBelloing to love it. In fact even before I read a word I knew I was going to love it. It’s because Rob Bell wrote it and I love his ideas about God and can hand on my heart say that his book “Velvet Elvis” changed everything for me in regards to thinking about God, Jesus, faith, Christianity, life. Everything.

I am unashamedly as people on the internet like to call us a “fanboy”.

After his previous book “Love Wins” was released he came under a lot of criticism for his ideas in it about God. Some even saw fit to declare that he was now sitting outside of a ‘normal’ Christian faith.

After Love Wins finally found my bookcase, after weeks of reading and re reading it, I decided that the idea of God that Rob Bell portrayed was the right one and his ‘fundamentalist’ critics who tweeted and blogged their disapproval were missing out.

Then I read this tweet from Michael Gungor last night,

My definition of “fundamentalist”: A person of any belief system that holds his belief in a destructively arrogant and rigid way.

There in 140 characters was the truth that I had denied about myself but really deep down knew was true all along. I am a fundamentalist.

Think about it. I have a belief system that says so much of what some theologians or writers say about God is old fashioned, anarchic and depressing. I have decided to not read some of their stuff because my own thoughts are more reliable about God’s character. This has prevented me from understanding God better and ultimately led me to lose out.

I’m right and they are wrong.

Which means I am not open to the reality that I may be wrong.

That so much of the time I am wrong.

If I truly believe like I do that so much of what Christian tradition has revealed to us about God, isn’t even close to what He is like; and if I believe that the good news that we think we understand is so much more better and beautiful than we can grasp, then I have to be open to the idea that my ideas about God are smaller than He actually is.

This is why I am excited to read Rob’s new book.

Not because Rob Bell wrote it and he doesn’t get anything wrong, but because he is inviting us into looking at what we really mean when we talk about God and how we may have got it so wrong in the past.

In the present.

And inevitably will do in the future.

To see past our prejudices against other Christians and sometimes to God himself.

Now you may be thinking, well what if some people get it so wrong that it is harmful?

Do you mean harmful in the way we tell gay people that they are going to Hell?

Or Harmful in the way we tell women that they aren’t good enough to lead our churches?

Or  how about this, harmful in how we used to kill people if they didn’t believe that the Earth was flat, because it is ‘biblical?’

Which harmful?

Those ones? Because I can’t see how we can do more damage than we already have.

One way we can change that is by starting with ourselves, with admitting we are mostly wrong about who God is anyway. That if you are wrong then I am wrong.

Then we may start liking each other more. We may start being open to each other more. This could have massive implications for church and for family (actually the same thing), and for life. Then when people look at Christians they don’t see bickering and hatred to each other. They will see love even when we disagree (not if we disagree but when)

And that is hopeful. That is a God and a faith that most people can be interested in.

But of course I could be wrong and you may disagree. And that’s fine. I still love you. Because maybe words like love, hope and compassion will become what we are associated with.

And then maybe, just maybe if that happens,

That’s what people will talk about when they talk about God.

Ice Cream for the Soul

Rob Bell just released a new video entitled Rediscovering Wonder.

It’s typical Rob Bell. He walks down an unassuming back alley. He speaks as if it isn’t scripted. He uses his body to express what he is thinking. There aren’t a lot of scriptural references. Some may even say it is annoying.

It’s also brilliant. He brings a fresh feeling to everything. It’s nothing new. He has stated many times that he is not trying to add to what has gone before.

But his gift is that he makes it feel like the first time you have heard it. Like the first time a kid tries ice cream. For some it’s too cold and they don’t know what to make of it. For others they just want more. Then they want to try different flavours.

Rob Bell is icecream for my soul. I want to rediscover God when I watch or read or hear him speak.

I hope you do too.

Enjoy.

Although now all I want is to make a trip to Morellis.