What is it?
It’s difficult to categorise. The subtitle says it best, probably – an attempt to repaint what Christian faith means for believers in the 21st century. Bell’s perspective is an exciting neo-evangelicalism. He has an orthodox faith, but he’s not hung up on doctrine. He re-reads the Bible and the Christian faith and finds a God of mercy and love – but not the liberal vagueness of Spong. Instead, his God looks like Jesus, a counter-cultural rabbi wandering around in sandals with a bunch of teenage fishermen. He recaptures the Jewishness of Jesus. He reads the gospels closely and finds things we pass over, because we don’t know the cultural context.
Without feeling at all systematic, he outlines both a basic theology and a Christian spirituality, covering the nature of the gospel, how we should read the Bible (by binding and loosing as a church!), how to be good news to the world and how he started a church.
The book has the capacity to re-enthuse, re-energise disillusioned evangelicals. To people who have seen too much bad stuff within the church, Rob has this inspiring speech to make:
We can choose to reclaim our innocence together. We can insist that hope is real and that a group of people who love God and others really can change the world. We can reclaim our idealism and our belief and our confidence in the big ideas that stir us deep in our bones. We can commit all the more to being the kinds of people who are learning how to do what Jesus teaches us. (176)
In his excited breathlessness, I feel like Bell’s prone to exaggeration and generalisation. He’s a little too quick to believe great stories about what the Bible really means. So, for example, he argues that DaViD adds up to fourteen in Hebrew, and that the groupings in Luke of fourteen names in the genealogy would have made people instantly think of David, and thus equate Jesus with David…
Rob, it’s a little far-fetched!
But I don’t know that it’s a problem. Every interpretation he makes is consistent with the trajectory of the Gospel. If he’s ever guilty of creative reading, he’s guilty in the same way as Saint Paul, who never cared particularly for the literal sense of a text. (The best treatment I’ve read of this is Richard Hays’ Echoes of Scripture in the Writings of Paul.)
I’ve written some quotes from the book on othervoices – my quotes blog: