What We Talk About When We Talk About God

Rob Bell, Oprah Winfrey, and Christianity’s Identity Crisis

Christianity is facing an identity crisis that boils down to one question: Who is God? It’s the question that Rob Bell tackled in his latest book What We Talk About When We Talk About God and it’s the question Rob and Oprah Winfrey discussed this week on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday ... From nearly the beginning of religion, the human experience of the sacred has been marked by ambivalence. The gods were fickle and you never knew where you stood with them. They were loving and wrathful, forgiving and judgmental.

Top 3 Reasons Rob Bell Matters: Rob Bell Blogalogue Part 8

Rob Bell at Powerhouse Arena. By Paul Williams, Via Flickr.

Rob Bell at Powerhouse Arena. By Paul Williams, Via Flickr.

(The Controversial figure Rob Bell has created another firestorm with his latest provocative book What We Talk About When We Talk About GodRaven Foundation Education Director, Adam Ericksen and Tripp Hudgins will share our thoughts on the book in this blogalogue. We invite you to join the discussion by leaving a comment.)

Sadly, this is our last post on Rob’s book What We Talk About When We Talk About God. As Tripp Hudgins stated, my previous post was a lengthy missive, and yet I feel like we have just scratched the surface of this book. I promise to make this concluding post shorter, but I’m tempted to inflict upon you the longest post ever! because there is so much in these final 30 pages.

I noticed that we haven’t made a list yet, and every blogalogue needs a list! So, to keep this from becoming the longest post ever!, I offer you the top 3 reason that Rob Bell matters.

Getting Ahead of Ourselves? (Rob Bell Blogalogue Part 7)

Light trails from fast-moving cars, ssguy / Shutterstock.com

Light trails from fast-moving cars, ssguy / Shutterstock.com

Nuanced or not, are Christians, especially evangelicals, perceived as being against things like peacemaking? Or is it that their version of peacemaking is backward looking toward some halcyon day of yore (or 1950s America)? At this point in the book, Rob spends a lot of time walking us through the development of justice in the Bible from “eye-for-an-eye” to “turn the other cheek.” I want you to read this chapter for yourself and make your own conclusions about what Rob sees and tell me if you see it, too.

Rob's thinking is that people are gradually cluing in to God's vision of a world without retributive violence. “Revenge always escalates,” he writes. Always.

God For Us and The Scandal of Being Good (Rob Bell Blogalogue Part 6)

Cross shadow on earth, Cardens Design / Shutterstock.com

Cross shadow on earth, Cardens Design / Shutterstock.com

Tripp Hudgins touched on something in his post yesterday that is essential to this discussion about Rob Bell and his book What We Talk About When We Talk About God. He wrote:

Why does Rob write this stuff? Whose side is he on? Yours. Mine. Ours … Rob is on everyone’s side. He’s trying to live like the God who meets him when he’s surfing, hanging with his kids and friends, walking along the city streets, or doing just about anything.

Tripp, how can you say such a thing! “Rob is on everyone’s side”? How could Rob possibly be on the side of those who ruthlessly criticize him?!? I’m sorry my friend, but that’s just ridiculous and absurd.

And yet the ridiculous and absurd is at the heart of the Christian message. I hope that Rob is for everyone. Not because I need Rob to be on my side, nor because I need his approval or acknowledgment. (Although, I wouldn’t mind it!) Rather, I hope it’s true because at the heart of the Christian message lies the ridiculous, absurd, and even scandalous message that God is for everyone.

Awake My Soul (Rob Bell Blogalogue Part 5)

Young woman meditating, Luna Vandoorne / Shutterstock.com

Young woman meditating, Luna Vandoorne / Shutterstock.com

It's the Monday after Easter, and I couldn't think of a better day to talk about God being with us. Adam Ericksen wrote about the dance of doubt and faith on Good Friday, the challenge and beauty of embracing the fullness of the journey. Rob takes that all one step further in this chapter: With.

There is, I believe, another way to see God, a way in which we see God with us— with us, right here, right now. This isn’t just an idea to me; this is an urgent, passionate, ecstatic invitation to wake up, to see the world as it truly is. 
(Kindle Locations 1201-1203)

Suddenly I have “Right Here, Right Now” by Jesus Jones playing in my head. Excuse me for being a child of the 80s.

My take-away? This God doesn't choose sides like we do.

Faith and Doubt Dancing on Good Friday (Rob Bell Blogalogue Part 4)

Faith and doubt,  iQoncept / Shutterstock.com

Faith and doubt, iQoncept / Shutterstock.com

(The Controversial figure Rob Bell has created another firestorm with his latest provocative book What We Talk About When We Talk About GodRaven Foundation Education Director, Adam Ericksen and Tripp Hudgins will share our thoughts on the book in this blogalogue. We invite you to join the discussion by leaving a comment below.)

Tripp Hudgins always gets me thinking. He is right that Rob’s chapter “Open” in What We Talk About When We Talk About God is about science and religion but that it’s also not about science and religion. This is the longest chapter of the book, and it’s full of scientific information that points to the mystery of the material world. What’s the point? As Tripp states, Rob is “asking for a little humility. He’s asking for a little poetic imagination. He’s asking for curiosity.”

That’s the point of the next chapter, too. Titled “Both,” in this chapter Rob points out a major problem we have with “God-talk.” That problem is language. Tripp set me up for this at the end of his post by asking, “Are words actually enough? Ha! Write about that. Words. Words. Words.”

When I was in seminary I learned about apophatic theology, or negative theology. It tries to define God by what God is not. A 9th century apophatic theologian named John Scottus Eriugena asserted, “We do not know what God is. God Himself does not know what He is because He is not anything. Literally, God is not because He transcends being.”

What Do You Mean, 'Open,' Rob? (Rob Bell Blogalogue Part 3)

Open-mindedness illustration, yeahorse / Shutterstock.com

Open-mindedness illustration, yeahorse / Shutterstock.com

This is going to be a problem. This chapter on faith and science and quantum mechanics is going to be a problem. Why? Well, because this faith and science thing has been done to death. Did you know that the Vatican has an observatory and that one of the authors of Red Shift Theory was a Jesuit? Yep. The famed Scopes Monkey Trial was more than a century ago and those of us in the Protestant Mainline have long ago made peace with it. The Vatican apologized for the oppression of scientists, most specifically it said that Galileo was right. Scientific inquiry and Biblical interpretation are not the same thing. So what's Rob's purpose for this chapter?

Well, it's manifold. He's an evangelical. He's writing in some ways to other evangelicals, specifically those who have felt cut off from the tradition. Here in the States, the classic evangelical line holds echoes of the arguments used during the Scopes Monkey Trial. Some in that Christian tradition are still fighting that fight. Heck, some progressives are, too. Powerful (if false) dichotomies have been established. 

The God of Jesus: Beyond Religious Tribalism (Rob Bell Blogaglogue, Part 2)

(The Controversial figure Rob Bell has created another firestorm with his latest provocative book What We Talk About When We Talk About GodRaven Board Member Tripp Hudgins and I will share our thoughts on the book in this blogalogue. We invite you to join the discussion by leaving a comment below.)

Thank you, Tripp Hudgins, for your “Open Letter to Rob Bell.” As always, you are inspirational and thought provoking. The letter provides a great introduction to our blogalogue on Rob’s latest book What We Talk About When We Talk About God. I want to emphasize one point you make and relate it to the first chapter of the book, called “Hum.”

You claim that, “This book is not about a ‘new’ thing. It’s simply about God and how we come to know God in this world.” This is such a great point because Rob isn’t making up new ways to talk about God. Throughout the book, Rob explores what God has done in the past and how God continues to pull all humans into a global future that has “greater and greater peace, love, justice, connection, honesty, compassion, and joy” (19).

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