A few weeks back I had a post of mine “go viral” so to speak. I had preordered a book and upon receiving it in the mail, I took a picture of the book and said simply “I am excited to read this Rob Bell book.” 80 comments later I was surprised to learn so many had an opinion of what I do or do not read, especially since most of the book reviews on this blog average around 5 readers a post (props to my mom and my wife).
Last year according to Goodreads, I read around 100 books, and this year, though my pace has fallen off, I hope to finish around that number again. The name of this blog is a tongue in cheek confession that I read too much! I don’t say that to boast, but for context, this is but a piece of my ongoing desire to grow into my calling, not the first nor the last word I will read on the matter. In fact in the past few years I have read three other texts on Scripture, what it is, and how to read it.
I read Stephen Fowl’s Engaging Scripture, a good, but heavily academic work on reading Scripture through a theological lens that challenged some of the biases and approaches to Scripture I held. I read Robert Jenson’s Canon and Creed, I have made my Jenson bias well known in this blog, but this book is a fascinating piece on Scripture’s formation in the early church and how the creed serves as an interpretive lens for our reading of the Bible. Lastly I read Pete Enns’ The Bible Tells Me So: Why defending Scripture has made us unable to read it, in this book Enns tells his story of how he shifted from a conservative literalist reading of Scripture to a reading of Scripture that embraced it’s difficult passages and allowed for questions and doubts. Enns challenged the metaphors that often shape a readers approach to Scripture, it is not a rulebook, not “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth”, it is so much more.
As happens too often in my blogs, my introduction has run on longer than I intended. Have no fear; an explanation of my click bait title is coming soon!
In one of the many conversations on my “Facebook Post of Controversy” ( scare quotes intentional) I said “If this book can help me share my passion for reading Scripture with others in a more inviting way than it will be a blessing in my ministry “. I can say with full confidence that Bell’s book accomplishes that and more.
One of the most pastor-y things I can ask of my congregation is to read their Bibles more often. Too often people spend more time telling others what the Bible has to say about this or that lifestyle choice than they do reading the Bible.
Many are well informed on what Leviticus says on sexuality without having a clue what it says about Holiness, or the festival of the wheats, or how to read it as relevant to the church today.
Many know that Noah was on a boat; often they forget (or never read) about him naked passed out in a cave.
Many know for certain that Jonah was swallowed by a whale (never mind the fact that the word whale is not in the Jonah story at all) and forget that the book ends with Jonah grumpy on the side of a hill.
In the New Testament people don’t recognize Jesus as Messiah because they weren’t looking for a simple carpenter’s son but instead they sought a warrior king of Davidic stature. They apparently forgot that Jesse didn’t even bring David to be seen by Nathan because there was no way this “runt of the litter” was God’s pick for a king.
These people that missed it were experts in the law, they not only knew Scripture but had it memorized, and they still missed God in their midst. So I guess that my “pastor-y desire is more than for those at my church to read their Bibles more (which they should) but to read it better as well. Rob Bell’s book is a reader friendly text that will challenge and I believe help you read the Bible better.
Is it a dangerous read? A book fraught with heresy?! No. Though he does use the “S” word once, it promotes a reading of Scripture that holds the Bible in high regard and the God that the Bible testifies to in even higher standing.
I feel no hesitation recommending this book to new and old Christians alike, for I believe that too many Christians don’t know how to read the Bible, and in turn it gathers dust on their shelves. After all it’s boring what with it’s genealogies and such (Bell talks about Genealogies in Chapter 29). It’s confusing why so many laws and so much repetition, a festival of the whats? Leviticus has a word for us today, and Bell addresses that in Chapter 30! Bell tells the reader that if they are “bored reading the Bible then you aren’t reading the Bible” Bell, WITB p.17. Bell shows that the Bible was written by real people at real times. This doesn’t cheapen it’s word for us today but gives it more depth and impact on its word for us today.
You may be wondering, “but Pastor Matt what of the outrageousness of Chapter 7?” Well dear blog reader, brace yourself…. Rob Bell tells the story of a person who is looking to sell their 1984 light blue Volvo in order to “upgrade” to a PT Cruiser. This is indeed outrageous. The first car I learned to drive on was a 1985 Volvo 240DL a standard transmission tank that I hope to own again some day. The thought that someone would trade it for a PT Cruiser is unsettling to say the least. Though if that is the worst Bell can do, than the book is probably still worth reading.
I don’t encourage you the reader to buy the book that you might support Rob Bell, though I am sure he would appreciate the royalties off said decision, I encourage you to buy it to support yourself and your reading of Scripture.
Blessings Pastor Matthew Codd