The Seedbed Blog

Book Review: What We Talk about When We Talk about God by Rob Bell

Rob Bell, author of Love Wins, has recently published a new book entitled, What We Talk about When We Talk about God.  Those who are regular readers of my blog will recall that when Bell published Love Wins I wrote a four part blog series exploring what I liked about Bell’s book and, mostly, where I felt the book contained serious errors.  In his earlier book, for example, Bell misunderstands the Biblical teaching regarding God’s love.  Bell exchanged the biblical teaching of God’s covenant love with a highly sentimentalized view which played heavily to popular cultural views regarding love which are then imposed on God.  Further, Bell has an inadequate view of sin and has, it seemed, abandoned in both books any vestige of the doctrine of the Sin nature.  Several other key doctrines are ignored to the peril of his argument.  Finally, Bell misunderstands the biblical teaching regarding the kingdom of God, rejecting a kingdom which has been inaugurated but still awaits final consummation.  I rehearse his earlier difficulties only because several of those difficulties still seem to plague Bell.  I don’t want to be uncharitable to Rob Bell, but since he is a best selling author and has been hailed by the New York Times as “one of the most influential pastors in America” he deserves both our prayers and our rigorous scrutiny.  Nevertheless, I devoted several blogs which also commended Bell for much of his analysis.  In the end, I wished he had the courage and theological depth to write a book entitled, Holy-Love Wins – that might have gotten us all closer to the mark.  Bell seems to offer little to no resistance to the worst errors of tired old Protestant liberalism.  Indeed, the adage by Richard Neibuhr about liberal Christianity is certainly true of Rob Bell’s writings: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”[1]    But that was then and this is now, so let’s move on to Bell’s latest work which will likely also become another best seller.

I am just one reader and therefore I hope this is just one of many thoughtful responses from across the church.  I’m sure that many will laud his book as providing the very direction we need to go.  To his credit, Bell has his pulse on the modern consciousness as much as anyone.  He understands that many people, including Christians, are experiencing a faith crisis and he, in good faith, is seeking to provide a new way of approaching God which he hopes will bring hope and the rebirth of faith to many.  Nevertheless, this book continues the errors of his previous book and, in fact, extends them in new ways.  It is not as easy to respond to What We Think about when We Think about God because it is not as carefully reasoned or argued as Love Wins.  Instead, Bell shares a steady stream of personal experiences and stories which are used to frame the general argument of the book.  Bell uses these stories to demonstrate that quite a few people have the perception that the Christian faith is outdated and that God, in particular, appears malevolent, primitive, and stuck somewhere in the past.  Bell argues that God is like a four door Delta 88 Oldsmobile.  It may have been an awesome, cutting edge car in the day, but now seems hopelessly stuck in the past (p. 5, 6).

Bell honestly shares how this realization precipitated his own faith crisis.  He was preparing to preach on Easter Sunday knowing full well that his congregation expected him to proclaim with confidence that Jesus Christ is Risen.  But, instead, he found himself plagued with doubts.  He doesn’t tell us what he actually preached that Easter, but Bell does tell us what he wanted to say.  Bell says he felt like standing up and saying, “Well, I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I got to be honest with you. I think we’re kind of screwed” (p. 12).  Bell entered a period where he says he was “full of really, really serious doubts about the entire ball of God wax (p. 12).  Through counseling and reflection Bell has emerged from his struggles with a sort of reconstructed faith which he is now sharing with us in What we Talk about when we Talk about God. This newly constructed religious structure of Bell no longer resembles New Testament Christianity, but it does generously borrow the language of Christianity to give this re-presentation the ballast it needs to get off the ground.

One must commend Bell for his personal honesty and having the integrity to allow himself to struggle.  Furthermore, one cannot help but applaud Bell’s genuine desire to help thousands who must be feeling much like he felt.  My difficulty with Bell is not with his description, but with his prescription.  What is his “answer” to this dilemma?  Bell’s solution is to reflect on all the religions of the world, all the popular spiritualities which have arisen, and the general consciousness about the transcendent to see if he can discover some deeper unifying common denominator.  He is, of course, not the first to attempt this, but he is certainly one of the more prominent contemporary advocates of this approach.  Bell is particularly struck by a phrase he heard from Jane Fonda who described her spiritual path as “feeling reverence humming in me” (p. 10).   Bell uses this phrase at key points in the book.  He longs for a new kind of spirituality which is more affirming, more inclusive, and more progressive.  However, there are several areas in which Bell’s book, in my view, fails to provide a satisfactory solution.

First, Bell fails to clearly embrace the singularity of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is, of course, the central proclamation of the Christian faith.  Without the Resurrection, St. Paul declares, we are still in our sins, and our faith is useless and futile (I Cor. 15:12-21).    As noted earlier, Bell tells the story of his own growing doubts about the credibility of the Resurrection (p. 12), and only brings it up again late in the book when he says, “In Jesus we see the God who bears the full brunt of our freedom, entering into the human story, carrying our pain and sorrow and sin and despair and denials of God and then, as the story goes, being resurrected three days later” (p. 145).  Using the phrase, “as the story goes” leaves the reader with the impression that this is what Christians teach, rather than an historical event upon which the whole faith rises or falls.  Either Bell no longer affirms the Resurrection or he has failed to understand its true significance.  Either way, it is very troubling.  Throughout the book, Bell consistently gives us a pre-resurrected Jesus, carefully choosing texts which connect Jesus to the deeper spiritual consciousness which keeps our “reverence humming within” (p. 15), but carefully avoiding the radical exclusivity of Jesus’ teaching as well as the post-resurrection confidence in the cosmic supremacy of Jesus Christ.  Bell is surely right when he says that doubt can sometimes be a sign that our faith has a pulse (p. 92), but it is important to remember that faith and doubt really are different – not just two equal “dance partners” (p. 92).  Christians can, of course, be plagued with doubts as much as anyone.   But, when it comes to the Resurrection, there is a time when we must “stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27).

Second, Bell has a distorted understanding of “progress.”

A major portion of the book (pp. 21-73) surveys the breathtaking advances in science, particularly in the area of quantum physics.  Bell uses these amazing advances in our understanding of the universe as the backdrop to his real thesis which is that we are all advancing and moving forward and the church is being left behind.  Bell explores the idea of progressive revelation and points out how certain texts in the Old Testament reveal that people are at “F and God calls them to G” and now that we are at “L” we look back and God may seem primitive and barbaric.  Meanwhile God is calling us to “M” (p. 165).  However, it is crucial to Bell’s deeper thesis to make the assumption that just as science is progressing and moving forward in undeniable ways, so culture and family systems and philosophy and every other arena of thought must, likewise, be progressing forward.  So, the church with all of its “dead theological systems” must play catch up.  One of Bell’s crucial themes is the idea that God is always moving ahead of us and bringing us forward.  OK.  But Bell never seems to even consider the tension that might be felt in a culture when a step backwards occurs.  He never seems to entertain the idea that sometimes societies do not progress, but regress.  This inevitably increases the tension between biblical revelation and popular conceptions about God. Where is the prophetic role of the church which resists sinking lower and lower to find a common denominator of spirituality which will be affirmed by most everyone as opposed to calling men and women to the deeper realities of biblical revelation which is never outdated or outmoded, but always fresh with power and relevance?   The gospel does not need our help in being made “relevant.” The gospel is always relevant for every time and culture.  Bell has given us a reshaped and highly domesticated gospel which tries to make the gospel relevant to contemporary sensibilities.

Third, Bell does not call us to carefully study and submit to God’s revelation in Scripture.

Bell gives many examples of Christians who have only a superficial understanding of the actual teaching of Scripture so they can be caught saying foolish things like “all gay people are going to hell” (p. 6).  But these superficial caricatures are not used to call us to a deeper study of God’s Word.  Rather, they are used to call us to listen better to ourselves.  Bell tells the story of a time when he purchased some snorkeling gear and in his haste to get it out of its packaging a little tube fell out unnoticed.  It wasn’t until later that he realized that this tube was essential for keeping your goggles unfogged in the water and, because he had lost the little tube, his underwater vision was blurred and fuzzy.   Bell goes on to apply this saying that for twenty years as a pastor he had been trying to get people to see clearly and to help them find that “little tube” (p. 99, 100).  But, what, symbolically speaking, is this “little tube”?  This was an opportunity for Bell to tell us clearly that the “little tube” (without which all of life is fuzzy and blurred) is the Word of God.   Instead, Bells tells us that the “little tube” is to listen within to a “certain stillness” in our hearts (p. 103).  He says that it might come to us while we are eating a meal or having a conversation (p. 102, 103).  He never suggests that it might come through the Word of God.  Bell seems to equate the “ruach (spirit or breath) of God” and “cosmic electricity” (p. 106).   But, there is a very important Christian difference between God’s self-disclosure and our self-discovery.

Bell’s book left me with the impression that the musings of an unbelieving man talking about God while he stands in his backyard barbecuing is just as valid as the utterances of the Hebrew prophets or the Apostle Paul.  Bell’s ability to listen to the stories of people and discern their spiritual journey is exemplary – and I commend him for it.  But, I also long to hear his confidence in the objective revelation of the Bible as God’s Word which just might tell the man barbecuing his chicken that his ideas about God are just plain wrong.  For Bell, all such musings must be validated because, in the end, why should we validate a biblical prophet over the man barbecuing?  The answer is that, for Bell, theology (our words about God) is a subset of anthropology.  This is because, for Bell, any words – even if found in the Bible – cannot ever describe with confidence the ultimate reality that is “fundamentally beyond words and phrases and forms” (p. 87).  That is an innocent looking phrase in Bell, but, read in context, it manages to put the Bible, the church and all theological propositions in the tentative and provisional category.  Of course, to say that God is beyond words and phrases is an axiomatic truth, but that should not be used as leverage against the proclamation of God’s revelation about himself in words, phrases and forms.

Fourth, Bell offers us a less nuanced, more simplistic, more pluralistic expression of Christianity.

Bell tells the readers he wants to avoid “long and scholarly and technical and complicated words” (p. 15). Instead he wants to use the words “open” “both” “with” “for” and “ahead” (which is used as the structure of the entire book).  However, in the end we are left with something short, naiive, populistic and way too simplistic.  We are left with a “light weight” tentative world view which makes Christianity just one of many possible ways of “doing” your spirituality.   Bell finally answers the question which his book title raises when he says, “so when we talk about God, we’re talking about our brushes with the spirit, our awareness of the reverence humming within us…” (p. 91).  This could just as easily be said by a Hindu, a Buddhist or a Sufi Muslim.  What makes Bell’s answer a distinctively Christian statement?   Is Christianity just one of many options on a global religious smorgasbord, or has something uniquely occurred in Jesus Christ?  For the Christian, truth doesn’t just rise up within us, it is revealed to us by God in his Word and, supremely, in the Person of Jesus Christ, the Resurrected One who suffered on the cross for us and is now the living, ascended Lord.  Bell seems to be willing to trade the priceless pearl of the gospel for a mess of pluralist porridge.  He is clearly uncomfortable with the exclusivity of the Christian claims.  Bell has chosen to find his spirituality in a Jesus of his own imagination.  Indeed, Bell would not insist on any particular outward forms or divine conceptions as long as one gets in touch with their own “humming spirituality.”

Conclusion

As we face a culture increasingly abandoning the Christian faith we have much to learn from Bell’s missional heart and his willingness to listen deeply to the angst of popular culture.  But, the solution is not to further domesticate the gospel.  Rather, the church must rediscover a more robust gospel; the good news proclaimed in the New Testament.  We must, in fresh and compelling ways, “contend for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).  Time magazine has hailed Bell for being “at the forefront of a rethinking of Christianity in America.”  But have any of us really been given the authority to “re-think” Christianity?   My prayer is that Christians all across the world will realize that the “new and improved” Christianity which Bell offers us is not an improvement of the faith and proclamation of the Apostles who were the eye and ear witnesses of the good news of Jesus Christ.   In the end, what Rob Bell seems to be saying is that we don’t really talk about God when we talk about God.  Instead, we are talking about ourselves.   For Bell, this is a progressive development.  For me, it is an irreverent humming of deception.  More importantly, for the church throughout the ages, this is just another of a myriad of failed attempts to use Christian language, but deny the power of the gospel.

 


[1] Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America (NY: Harper Row, 1959 edition), 193.

Timothy Tennent

Timothy Tennent

Timothy C. Tennent is the President of Asbury Theological Seminary and a Professor of Global Christianity. His works include Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century and Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. He blogs at timothytennent.com and can be followed on twitter @TimTennent.
  • JAy.

    This makes me think about the devotion I read to my seven-year-old daughter last night which was about listening to the Holy Spirit. I asked if she had ever heard the Spirit talk to her, and she said yes, so we talked about how and when.

    I then reminded her that the way we know the voice of the Spirit is to know the voice of God as presented in Scripture, for the Spirit is God. Therefore, Bible study is important.

    Her response to this goes along well with the “humming within.” She said that without knowing the voice of God, “we might be hearing the whispers of Satan, not the Spirit.”

    Ahh, from the mouth of babes…

  • Ben Scott

    Typo “Through counseling and reflection BILL has emerged from his struggles with a sort of reconstructed faith which he is now sharing with us in What we Talk about when we Talk about God. “

    • Tony Dee

      Yeah. :) My first thought was “Who’s Bill?…wait…”

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com/ Derek Rishmawy

    Thanks for the very helpful review. I kinda said a bunch of the same things over at Patheos, only not as smart–which makes sense given that you’re the president of a seminary. Still, I saw at his failed Areopagus speech. His attempt to reach “A Secular Age” as Taylor has called it, and present them with a God who is near, for, etc. Of course, you lose transcendence, confidence in scripture, and as I said, all of the historical particularities become ciphers for general, metaphysical truths. He did have some helpful bits for pastors an preachers to learn from when it comes to reaching out to the disaffected in our culture but overall, I hope they go elsewhere. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christandpopculture/2013/03/rob-bell-at-the-areopagus/

  • http://twitter.com/Ro542124 Gideon

    Huh. Stillness, humming reverence, pre-verbal understanding, obsessive focus on one’s internal emotional state. This is what we call “very Zen”. Which is a highly peculiar description for a Christian book indeed…

  • Bill Payne

    This is a very helpful analysis. Progressive
    theology always privileges the culture over the core tradition and scripture. Bell
    seems to characterize the new face of evangelicalism as the “radical” evangelicals
    emphasize social justice as the end goal of the church’s engagement with society,
    a theo-political agenda that strangely reflects the inclusivism of modern
    liberalism. May I humbly suggest that in terms of the Christian tradition there
    is no justice apart from God’s reign? Any social agenda that is not founded on
    a kingdom agenda in which we boldly witness to Christ in sign, word, and deed
    will not yield the kingdom of God or create a just society. In fact, the idea
    of a just society without alignment with God is completely contrary to the
    prophetic tradition and the whole witness of scripture. A church that has lost
    its confidence in the transformative nature of the gospel, an integral gospel
    that is the real hope of a struggling humanity, is no church at all, is unable
    to witness to true redemption, and has abandoned the missio Dei.

  • robert

    We need God to show up again in our churches. Without his power, we have nothing.

  • Ken Southgate

    Thank you, Dr. Tennent, for your thoughts on this book, and on it’s predecessor. I still haven’t recovered from “Love Wins”. As a long time follower of Bell’s video series, the book broke my heart for him, and for a world that needs the whole gospel truth. I will save myself the purchase price, and the anguishing disappointment, of buying this latest one. Instead, I will double my prayers for Rob, a friend I have never met, and for the world he loves so much, even if he is losing his way in it. Rev. Ken Southgate, ATS ’93 and ’94.

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  • Dr.Jeff Baxter

    I have written a review also. Thank you for holding the line of sound doctrine!

    http://sacredoutfitter.blogspot.com/#!/2013/03/rob-bell-and-what-we-talk-about-when-we.html

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.trawick.1 David Trawick

    Thank you, Dr. Tennent, for your insights. It is sad to see Rob Bell’s significant gifts as a communicator being squandered in the service of heresy. It appears the Tempter has led hiim further off the track. I pray that he will one day find his way back home.

  • http://twitter.com/matthoran Matt Horan

    “Bell’s book left me with the impression that the musings of an unbelieving man talking about God while he stands in his backyard barbecuing is just as valid as the utterances of the Hebrew prophets or the Apostle Paul.”

    Do you think though that you might give more or less weight to those musings based on the quality of the barbecue? If I know I’m about to get something delicious, I’m more apt to stay and entertain the musings. But if not, I agree-I’m outtathere. :-)

  • http://twitter.com/matthoran Matt Horan

    In seriousness, many thanks for your response, Dr. Tennent. I haven’t gotten to read the book yet, but I did think that this is a fantastic and helpful piece. I was disappointed that you chose at the end to make a judgement on the heart behind what he’s doing as “irreverent.” I was so engaged in what you were saying the whole way, offering him respectful dialogue, and thus found that line at the very end jarring and not in keeping with the spirit of the rest of the piece. I’ve found Bell’s work, whether I agreed or not, to be genuine and sincere wrestling with the many, sometimes discordant voices that have carried the Gospel through the centuries with honesty and willingness to ask the questions that many people don’t know if they have permission to ask.

    So, I thank him for inviting more people into conversation about God, and I thank him for giving people space to ask the questions that they need to ask. And I thank you for raising the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to it’s rightful place as the single greatest expression of the love of God in the history of the world, and the greatest vehicle by which the Kingdom of God might be built on earth as it is in Heaven.

  • Mark Calhoun

    Thank you Dr. Tennent for your thoughtful post and high level of constructive criticism… I found this to be very interesting… ‘The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is, of course, the central proclamation of the Christian faith.’ Your use of ‘of course’ strikes a chord with Rob’s ‘as the story goes’ eh? If that is indeed the central proclamation, then I suppose that the incarnation, elements of the Trinity, the notion of the Eucharist, and nuances of Matthew 4:17 are just chump change. One persons ‘of course’ may be another persons work in progress. If only our limited earthly understanding of the resurrection could be as well informed as yours. Living and serving in one of the ‘none-zone’ states, Rob’s work allows us to engage the Gospel with folks who would otherwise continue to be disengaged. I fear that your own theological certainties leave little room for ecclesiological, missiological, and theological earthenware ‘works in progress’. Is there room for scripture, tradition, reason, experience and culture to guide our epistimological realities or are we already conditioned to know what we know. ‘Of course’ for the Cristian tradition ‘Scripture’ is always primary…

    • WOB

      Mark, without the Resurrection nothing else would matter, be it incarnation, elements of the Trinity, the notion of Eucharist, etc. That would all be for naught. That is Dr Tennent’s point. Not that these other beliefs and practices are “chump change,” but that the Resurrection is so central to the Christian Faith that everything else is secondary.

      I realize there are those who struggle with this concept. The whole concept and theology of Christianity is a journey of faith. Believing in what you cannot see. Those who have accepted Christ as Savior, however, must needs have settled that question (regarding the resurrection) prior to being saved, seeing that without resurrection there would be no salvation.

      As to someone’s being a”work in progress” – which all Believers are and will continue to be until they enter Heaven – that doesn’t mean that we abandon the traditionally accepted understanding and interpretation of Scripture in order to be seen progressing. Paul warns of us of those who would come into our midst with exactly those intentions. He called them false prophets and teachers.

  • Chris Jones

    Instead of writing blogs about a brother, why not just talk to him face to face? Your blog about fellow followers is hypocrisy. You represent what you loathe about Rob Bell. Shameful.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=5203564 Ethan Smith

      Chris, this is a simple book review. Nothing “shameful” about it.

      • WOB

        Unfortunately, there are thousands of young Christians who are just like Chris. Instead of seeking the truth, they’d rather have their ears tickled by a “new” gospel. One that breaks down the traditional interpretation of Scripture, lessens who God is, and what He does in our lives. It troubling to see these young folks, many of whom grew up in Bible preaching churches, with Bible believing, God serving parents, turn their backs on and reject the traditional understanding of Scripture. They are floundering, lacking a true compass. They no long look to God, but to man.

    • Joel

      Instead of writing online comments and calling a brother shameful, why not just talk to Dr Tennent face to face?

      • Justin

        Instead of writing online comments about what other people have commented, why not just talk to Chris yourself?

        …and then following from this, the endless cycle of blaming destroys communities and everything that Jesus did becomes worthless. :(

  • jylhere

    Excellent article. In addition to examining Rob Bell’s underlying theology, this also is a really helpful critique of an encroaching Western Christian culture in general.

  • http://twitter.com/Singing4joy Jarell

    I waited until I finished reading his book first before I read this review. And I will say this Mr. Tennent you have nerve and I appreciate that. But you make bold claims about Bell’s beliefs without quoting him, you claim he doesn’t carefully submit to God’s revelation through Scripture, when he references and quotes Scriptures throughout the book (check the Endnotes) and yet you don’t even have the thought to quote the primary text for this review. Your cheap shots at Bell are completely uncalled for and you have place yourself on the throne to judge his spiritual standing (a seat reserved for Christ as revealed through Scripture in Revelation 20).

    I appreciate that you are attempting to steer people away from something you view as harmful, but I have to disagree with you. I trust your readers are daring enough to read the book for themselves, but then again after reading this why would they?

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  • http://www.liveloud.net xfree9

    I’m about 2/3 through the book, and I have to say that this review does a good job at pointing out some of the shortcomings of Bell’s approach. At the same time, the reviewer does seem to have a bit of fear that if Bell doesn’t say things the way he (the reviewer) would prefer, Bell is straying too far. The reviewer’s tone throughout is of cautiousness, which I admire. He doesn’t throw Bell’s book out the window (at least not in this review).

    Since most of the complaints seem to be about what is NOT said, I’m sure other sources of Rob’s theology and beliefs would assure Tennent on his beliefs. Lest we should expect Rob Bell to spell everything out in one book, I’d suggest that, as NT Wright says, “The problem with writing is that we can’t say everything at once.”

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  • Steve Heyduck

    I surmise that Bell might well answer that his aim is not “an improvement of the faith and proclamation of the Apostles who were the eye and ear witnesses of the good news of Jesus Christ,” but rather an redirection of much more recent expressions and versions of the Faith.

  • Justin

    This all can be summarised in the following quote from your review:

    “Bell has chosen to find his spirituality in a Jesus of his own imagination.”

    Essentially, you see this as a form of idolatry, using a personalised view of God as “the” view. Ironically, though, when I read through the comments you give, I, as an ecumenical Christian, feel that you have such a “hidden agenda” of God yourself.

    I do not see Bell’s concept of God as being individualistic and thus, sinful; in fact, it is more in line with much of Jesus’ teachings. Furthermore, does Christianity need a “re-think”? Having viewed how people have made Christianity a religion to be hated, how church congregation numbers are on the decline because of a lack of effort in understanding other people’s understandings of God, and how people have actually turned away, not only by not being a Christian, but not believing in God at all (regardless of religion), because of the actions of some Christians in these times, I feel that we seriously MUST re-think Christianity.

    The Bible has a lot to say about God, but it’s not a “set of rules”; it’s a guide for how to live. Guides do NOT give precise instructions (because those are called “rules”); instead, they provide various stories of how things worked for various people and not worked for others, then we learn about how people came together to actively believe in God and especially how one man essentially paraphrased it all by becoming the living example for everyone to follow. However, because it’s a guide, we have to be aware of the contexts in which the texts were written and realise how we can NEVER live out what is expected of us in the Bible today; otherwise, you believe that the slave trade should still exist, among other questionable practices found in the Bible.

    The Christian message does not have to be “at all times” unique; it will undoubtedly have numerous similarities to Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and all the rest (whether we like it or not). Furthermore, Jesus never set out to create a religion and yet, Christianity, Islam, and Mormonism were all created after his death and resurrection and all acknowledge Jesus, even if just to a smaller extent than we would like to see. So what makes Christianity valid? It cannot be about “the true way” to God because there is simply no agreement, even between Christian churches, on what the true way represents. The validity of Christianity comes from the community coming together to work as a team to bring about the kingdom of God here on Earth in the present and for the future. Jesus gathered communities together and tore down cultural barriers by associating himself with those whom others would never normally associate. If we are to “follow [him]“, then we must do the same and I think that this resonates more with what Bell is trying to say.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dale.shunk Dale Shunk

    Thank you for a thoughtful and understandable critique of Rob Bell’s latest book. I am turning to Seedbed more and more as a resource.

  • http://www.craigladams.com/ Craig L. Adams

    This review is so bad that it qualifies as shameful. I have posted an attack on Dr. Tennent and his perspective here: http://www.craigladams.com/blog/files/the-strange-case-of-timothy-tennent.html

  • dckenney

    I doubt Mr, Tennent actually read this book. I did and can honestly say this is a poor review. Mr Tennent is shamefully unaware of Mr. Bell’s faith and doctrine and paints a picture that is borderline harassment and is based solely on speculation.

  • tj4ster

    I didn’t draw the same conclusions from the book. It’s worth reading!

  • taylor

    um he has affirmed the literal resurrection on many many occasions (recently in fact) – this book had nothing to do with that anyway. please be honest. thank you

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  • Steve

    Bell is purely a product of this age of post-modernism in which we find ourselves. Which says there is no absolute truth. Truth is whatever you perceive it to be. After all, who am I and who are you to say something is not true? Isn’t there an element of truth in everything? For example, If you wish to believe God is a tree…that’s fine. It someone else wishes to believe God is a flower…that’s fine. And if I wish to believe God is the Easter Bunny that’s fine too. And if you want to believe 2 + 2= 5…that’s fine too…right up until you find out it’s 4.

  • Samuel Maynes

    If you are interested in some new ideas on religious pluralism and the
    Trinity, please check out my website at http://www.religiouspluralism.ca. It previews my
    book, which has not been published yet and is still a “work-in-progress.” Your
    constructive criticism would be very much appreciated.

    My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic theology.

    In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a
    threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew
    intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan Hindu conception
    of the Universe Absolute Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist,
    Taoist apprehension of the Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned
    Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their
    variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas
    reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept
    of the Holy Trinity.

    The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the logic of world religions, as follows:

    1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the first person of the
    Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known as Allah or
    Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other names; represented
    by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty messenger
    prophets), and others.

    2. Christians and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person
    through a second person, i.e. the experiential Universe or “Universal”
    Absolute Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or
    Vishnu/Krishna; represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and
    savior of souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human
    consciousness, which we expect will be the “body of Christ” (Mahdi,
    Messiah, Kalki or Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by
    Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.

    3. Shaivite Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis
    of the first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the
    Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality – unqualified Nirvana consciousness –
    associative Tao of All That Is – the absonite* Unconditioned Absolute Spirit
    “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected to be
    Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being –
    represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas,
    Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.

    Other strains of religion seem to be psychological variations on the third
    person, or possibly combinations and permutations of the members of the Trinity
    – all just different personality perspectives on the Same God. Taken
    together, the world’s major religions give us at least two insights into the
    first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions of the second
    person, and at least three glimpses of the third.

    * The ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely
    infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither
    existential nor experiential, but their ultimate consummation; neither fully
    ideal nor totally real, but a middle path and grand synthesis of the
    superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.

    ** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit is a
    synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme, so
    it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a
    synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe
    Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned
    Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit Synthesis of Source and Synthesis
    – the metaphysical Destiny Consummator of All That Is.

    After the Hindu and Buddhist conceptions, perhaps the most subtle expression
    and comprehensive symbol of the 3rd person of the Trinity is the Tao;
    involving the harmonization of “yin and yang” (great opposing ideas identified
    in positive and negative, or otherwise contrasting terms). In the Taoist icon
    of yin and yang, the s-shaped line separating the black and white spaces may be
    interpreted as the Unconditioned “Middle Path” between condition and
    conditioned opposites, while the circle that encompasses them both suggests
    their synthesis in the Spirit of the “Great Way” or Tao of All That Is.

    If the small black and white circles or “eyes” are taken to represent a nucleus
    of truth in both yin and yang, then the metaphysics of this symbolism fits
    nicely with the paradoxical mystery of the Christian Holy Ghost; who is neither
    the spirit of the one nor the spirit of the other, but the Glorified Spirit
    proceeding from both, taken altogether – as one entity – personally distinct
    from his co-equal, co-eternal and fully coordinate co-sponsors, who
    differentiate from him, as well as mingle and meld in him.

    For more details, please see: http://www.religiouspluralism.ca

    Samuel Stuart Maynes

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