Friday, March 22, 2013

What We Talk About When We Talk About God: A Review

How does he get away with this?

This is the question I ask myself whenever I pick up a Rob Bell book.

Imagine the original book proposal sent to his editor at HarperOne. Did it sound like this?

Dear Mickey,  
I would like to publish another book with you now that I've moved out to L.A. That last one just went viral, didn't it?! Anyway, tell me what you think. Nothing high tech or fancy on this one. All text in the book will be 14 point font san serif, with big margins. Use that pulpy paper I like. Instead of indented paragraphs we'll just drop a line like most blogs I'm reading recently. The full text of the book will be about the same length as a long piece in The New Yorker. 
The book is about God, and it won't have any big words at all, or fancy terminology... until it does, like when I use the German word Grenzbegriff in one chapter, and then the mostly untranslatable Hebrew term kavod in another chapter. But no one will notice, because I will have won them over with my simple and approachable breathless language (you know, like the way I talk in all of those Nooma videos). 
I promise  
to make
of lists 
and format 
some paragraphs 
like this. 
All kinds of people want to talk about God. They really do. This book will sell. It will also make a difference in people's lives. Here's my outline for the book, kind of like the table of contents.
It will be  
and So. 
These are the words that will shape how I talk about God in this book. 
Now that's what I'm talking about. 
What do you think? 
No one can pull this kind of thing off (in the same way that no one could pull off long footnoted book length essays in Harpers until David Foster Wallace did it). But Rob Bell can pull it off, and does. I sat down with his book at about 8:30 p.m. this evening, and didn't put it down until I had read it through, at about 10. It might take you longer or shorter to read it, I'm not sure, but at the end, I know you will say, "Wow, that was really really good, really helpful."

I keep thinking to myself, with a certain kind of jealousy, "Why is it that Rob Bell can present what is essentially solid Lutheran theology mixed with solid liberal Protestantism, and get such huge press for it?" Because he can, and he does, far more than any of us Lutheran or liberal Protestant folk do or can.

But then, in the end, who cares if he does it instead of us. He's doing it, and it's really really good, and you should read it, and then share it with a friend. Preach it, Rob, preach it.

Now that's what I'm talking about.


  1. Too funny and well said! He is really a Lutheran at heart and soul.

  2. He is his own person, theologically, but I like to claim him as a Lutheran... :)

  3. I know you don't like this word,

    But ...

    Bell rests knowledge of God on a basic wow-isn't-this-awesome-science-and-we-sure-don't-know-everything-so-I-can-slip-this-GOD-OF-THE-GAPS.

    C- in intro theology.

    The Jesus part is ok.

  4. I do like the word "but"... but not often. :) I agree with you, his early analysis is of that variety.

    I would be interested to know how to put together a chapter like the one Bell does on science, but avoid the problem you are raising.

  5. Have Rob Bell read Peter Rollins.

  6. I think he has. They did a big symposium together last year.

    1. By "read" I mean "understand and consider the claims and judgments Rollins offers and either appropriate them, consider them null, or answer them as criticisms."

      I don't think there's any way to successfully do what those chapters are trying to do. Unless you wish to commit yourself to an endless conflict with natural and empirical science.

  7. I have actually written two longhand letters to Rob, on Robinwood Church letterhead, with the following.

    Dear Rob:



    Please, get them to hate my book, /The Blackberry Bush/,

    as much as they hate

    your books.


    David Housholder

    PS: You say you surf. Let's paddle out

    Still waiting to hear back... ;-)