Chapter 1 : The Cry of the Oppressed
Chapter 2: Get Down Your Harps
Rob Bell/Don Golden Jesus Wants to Save Christians cont.
DISCLAIMER: I mean this whole review thing to be done in the least snarky way possible. I may be completely wrong about this and I do not want to snipe at Bell. These are simply issues that I have difficulty resolving.
While I’m going to try to focus on Chapter 2 I think I’ve pinpointed why I am struggling with this book in particular and with Bell in general. I’ve read on through to the first couple of pages in Chapter 5 which has helped identify why Bell/Golden seem to fall short of actively articulating their position. I think there’s two reasons for this. 1) The format actually has started to wear on me a bit. Most of the text is double-spaced and left justified causing the text to look like a web page or blog. On one hand this is not entirely bad as the format seems to tap into the way people are starting to read. On the other hand, for myself, it’s actually remarkably annoying as it means that this book could have been condensed by at least one-fourth. 2) Either because of the format or despite of it the author’s thoughts which are supposed to demonstrate a cohesive thought process actually come across as a series of aphorisms. There’s nothing particularly wrong with aphorisms except that the authors do not actively connect one with the other and I don't think aphorisms are a particularly good way of talking about theology. Ecclesiastes which does have a handful of aphorisms within it anchors them to the text via analogies; the aphorisms do not exist for their own sake but in support of the greater narrative. There’s a better example of this in Chapter 3 which I’ll try to highlight at that point.
Chapter 2 examines why/where Israel is in their captivity in Babylon. Here’s where the aphorism(s) kick(s) in. The authors focus in on the tears of the people in exile Psalm 137 style. Well and good. God once again hears the cries of the people from exile. Again, well and good. But then the reader arrives at this section, presented as found in the text:
“Crying out reminds us of our dependence.
Weeping leads us to reconnect with God.
Our tears are sacred. They water the ground around our feet so that new things can grow.” (P. 53)
Once agian this is an exact quote, including format. B/G seems to avoid explanations while striving for memorable, moving rhetoric. However this rhetoric falls short when the reader attempts to connect one statement to another. Does weeping really lead us to reconnect with God; if so, how? How is our weeping/reconnecting with God lead to our tears being sacred? My argument is not say that this isn’t true on some level but it lacks foundation/connection with something actually to build a system of thinking about God and his interaction with us. It’s either bad theology or bad writing or possibly both.
Moving on, just one page, “…when we’re willing to sit in our tears, that we’re ready to imagine a different kind of tomorrow.”(P. 54) Granted that change is not going to happen unless it is conceived. However, the authors fail to answer how this thinking is conceive. They also try to connect this to the Jewish people; namely “...on the heels of colossal failure, the Jewish prophets imagined the greatest picture of hope and the future anybody’s ever thought of anywhere.”(P. 54) Imagined? Because this raises a question of what prophesy, and its role, is. Is prophesy the wise sayings of an individual that is eventually codified by God’s grace and has present/future implications or is it a message given to an individual by God with a present purpose and future implications where the future implications are only known looking back into history. The authors seem to think, at least by their writings, that the prophets are able to independently generate these thoughts. I.e. “the prophets of Israel came to the realization that what they needed was another exodus.” (P. 55) or “by the rivers of Babylon, the prophets began to imagine a God who is bigger than the narrow, tribal religion of their Jewish heritage” (P. 57) and/or “by the rivers of Babylon, the prophets began to reimagine grace.”(P. 60) This focus on these prophet’s ability seems to be divorced from any input from God. (It's possible that B/G have an audience of unbelievers in mind or , as insinuated elsewhere in Bell's presentations such as the NOOMA video Breathe [Part 1 Part 2] that everyone already has God in them which is in itself problematic and requires a different venue than this post.)
In reading the accounts of Isaiah and Jeremiah have this continual motif of “The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD” or “Then the LORD said to me…” I do not think it is so b/w to say that these men heard the voice of God explicitly versus that they came up with it out of their own skulls which was then used retrospectively. However, the fact that B/G attribute this idea of ‘reimagining grace’ to people is very problematic b/c it seems to contradict the point of exodus. If the people need to cry out in their exile to be released, what are they dependent on? Is necessary God’s grace necessary to release them and send them home if they can simply think it/call into being? Even more fundamental who provides us with the ability to sub-create to imagine?
On the other hand on P. 58 the authors do a really nice job of connecting Isaiah’s discussing this second exile w/ the first exile by connecting terms/images such as wilderness/desert from the first exodus to their anticipated second one.
And, in continuing the theme from the first section of this, is where I struggle deeply with the thinking evidenced in this book. Bell, again referencing the Breathe video mentioned earlier, has incredibly good moments that are completely blown by bad moments . He is a great storyteller and great creator of moving thoughts and the ability to really focus on a particular thread of a story and tease out implications from it. However, as I think is evidenced by, even these 2.5 chapters, the implications are teased out to match thoughts/direction Bell seems to already have in mind. From the introduction the author's state the point of this book is to articulate a specific theology, this New Exodus perspective. My question is then, does the articulation of this theology arise from what's already in Scripture or are texts being plucked to serve the theology. This isn't new, there's particular parts of Scripture that different theologians seem to like to mess with i.e. dispensationalists and prophesy. From my vantage point the texts chosen are removed from their contexts and bent to serve a process.