When Rob Bell talks about God, the Omnis are missing. Omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience—all these terms are missing. Also not to be found are aseity, immanence, immutability, and other esoteric words from systematic theology. This does not mean that Bell has nothing to say about important aspects contained in these words, but rather he is not interested in a dry, stodgy, systematic theology approach to the discussion of God.
The Three Themes of the Book
When Bell talks about God, he is talking about someone who is WITH us, FOR us, and leading us AHEAD. He develops his themes around six simple terms: open, both, with, for, ahead, and so. These are easier to grasp than omnipotence or aseity. In fleshing out his themes, Bell tells lots of stories and uses lots of analogies.
He opens by explaining how God is like Oldsmobiles. Often, hearing someone talk about God today is like hearing about something from a less informed and less enlightened past that we have thankfully left behind, but Bell thinks this is a mistaken way to think and talk about God.
He calls this old idea of God,
The tribal God, the one that is the only one many have been exposed to—the one who’s always right (which means everybody else is wrong)—is increasingly perceived to be small, narrow, irrelevant, mean and sometimes just not that intelligent.
Do you know anyone who thinks of God this way? Is it sometimes you?
Do You Like Science?
If you enjoy science, you will love Bell’s discussion of the space, time, and quantum physics. How does this relate to God? Bell pulls it together and recommends some good science resources. From there he explains how God is with us, for us, and pulling us forward.
Some Excellent Quotes
One of my favorite quotes is,
For many people in our world, the opposite of faith is doubt. The goal then, within this understanding, is to eliminate doubt. But faith and doubt aren’t opposites. Doubt is often a sign that your faith has a pulse, that it’s alive and well and exploring and searching.
But perhaps my favorite of all passages from this book is about FOR,
God is FOR every single one of us, regardless of our beliefs or perspectives or actions or failures or mistakes or sins or opinions about whether God exists or not.
In a world where so many believe in an angry, vindictive God who is ready to punish us at our every stumbling and short-coming, this message needs to be shouted from the house tops so that everyone can hear.
Other assorted good quotes:
1. Gospel insists that God doesn’t wait for us to get ourselves polished, shined, proper, and without blemish—God comes to us and meets us and blesses us while we are still in the middle of the mess we created.
2. All of the bones we’ve dug up from our earliest ancestors could fit in the back of a pickup truck.
3. Fish didn’t wonder why bad things happen to good fish.
And an interesting word picture involves…
Really zealous religious people who carry large Bibles with their names engraved on the covers.
What I Think of the Book
This 225-page volume is easy to read and engaging throughout. Bell deals with theological issues a theologian can appreciate, but he talks in our language—the language of everyday non-theologically trained people. He writes, he says, out of his own ‘doubt, skepticism, and dark nights of the soul.’
I give the book four out of five stars; I enjoyed it, but not as much as I enjoyed his previous book, Love Wins. I do recommend it for anyone looking for fresh and useful ways to think and talk about God that are quite different than old ways that resemble thinking and talking about antiquated Oldsmobiles.
Thank you!! 🙂 I love a good book review! There are SO many out there it’s hard to know what’s what! 🙂
I hope the review was helpful, and let me say that I really enjoy your blog!
I know, it’s an old post, but I’m commenting anyway! Just started reading this book, and I’m loving it!
For a lot of my life there has been an internal war going on between what fundamental Christians told me God was like and what my intuitive mind was telling me. I’ve been trying to put a lot of my thoughts about God into words in order to have a clearer understanding of it all, and amazingly enough, I find that Rob Bell has done so much f it for me!
I expect that I am going to be recommending this book to a lot of people.
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Dennis, I really like Rob Bell and I am glad you like him as well. I don’t know if you are aware of his history, but he was pastor of a very large and influential church. He left that church in order to pursue a more progressive message and took a whole lot of heat for it. Now he has a very large following among progressive believers.
It seems that true spiritual growth always begins with stepping away from or “dying” to what we used to be in order to see it more clearly for the first time. To paraphrase an old quote: “the unexamined faith is not worth believing”.
Rob Bell didn’t really give me too many new ideas: he did express these ideas better than I have been able to.
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Dennis, I think you are right–we have to ‘die’ to what we were before in order to see more clearly. Well said.
So, I leaving one more reply to this post. And that is because through investigating Rob Bell and his ideas further, I was led to a YouTube video that is a talk between Rob Bell and Richard Rohr, who is another author I’m being led to explore.
About five years ago I was led to a personal understanding that I needed Jesus and His Spirit to truly become the “compassionate bodhisattva” that I longed to be, and I left Buddhism for a return to Jesus.
I knew that I could never return to the old theology that I experienced in my youth, and I wanted to incorporate the valuable teachings that I had learned in Buddhism about contemplation and meditation, especially meditations on developing a compassionate attitude into my return to Jesus. But how to do this?
Already through even a brief intro to these two authors and their ideas, I am finally finding good methods to do exactly that!
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Dennis, you said: “I wanted to incorporate the valuable teachings that I had learned in Buddhism about contemplation and meditation, especially meditations on developing a compassionate attitude into my return to Jesus. But how to do this? Already through even a brief intro to these two authors and their ideas, I am finally finding good methods to do exactly that!”
I am glad you are finding a way to incorporate important things you learned from Buddhism into your life with Jesus! By the way, I admired the concept of the Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism.