My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I read Rob Bell’s new book mostly because someone in our church book group expressed an interest after seeing him on the news just before its publication. Not unlike many other progressives, I read Bell and I think, “Is there actually anything new here?” There isn’t. He’s not saying anything I wasn’t taught in seminary or haven’t thought of myself or read in a book with a more scholarly emphasis. In fact, for a lot of his readers, because of the style of the book, it’s going to seem like he came to some astounding conclusions about God that are, in the mainline, nothing new. This irritates people. We’ve been talking this way for a long time.
The thesis of the book is that because God is love, really what God wants is for everyone to be in a loving relationship with God, and we need to get over our tendencies to claim that whoever doesn’t believe what we believe right down to the letter is surely going to Gehenna/Sheol/h-e-double-toothpicks for the burning and the wailing and the gnashing of teeth.
I already believed that. But I acknowledge that for an evangelical audience what Bell is saying is shocking, and he has a better chance of breaking through to them than the average UCC pastor would ever have, so God bless him for trying.
He makes some effort to include non-Christians (other sheep in the sheepfold, John 10) in this outpouring of heavenly love, and there’s a passing reference to God’s immanence in creation, reflecting the relatively new interest among evangelicals in care for the Earth. But there’s no mention of anyone’s sexual orientation, and given the condemnation of LGBTQ people by most evangelicals, for me that’s a missing piece as compared to my own understanding of God’s abundant and inclusive love.
Now, stylistically, the book includes a LOT of scripture. I’m reminded of the time my middle child visited a big, conservative church while he was at boarding school. He described the sermon thusly, “The guy just kept quoting scripture after scripture, all these little things from all over the Bible.” As a writer and a preacher I have a different style. I hone in on one passage, or two, and sometimes on only a sliver of one, trying to plumb its meaning. I don’t prepare thematic works of this nature, nor have I been exposed to them much, so I can’t say whether this is a good, as in well-wrought, example. I actually like his tendency to use spacing as punctuation and emphasis. I do it myself at times.
I’m looking forward to the book group discussion and will update this review after we meet!