Rob Bell is rapidly becoming one my heroes. The nooma DVDs are an inspiring breath of fresh air, and the books of his I’ve read – Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith (on Amazon) and this one ( Jesus Wants to Save Christians (on Amazon)) have been excellent.
He has studied the 1st Century Jewish culture extensively, and brings alive the teachings of Jesus in an amazing way. I find that a lot of what he says just Makes Sense, and he avoids the “theological fancy footwork” that some people seem to employ to make parts of the bible say the opposite from what a ‘plain’ reading would suggest. In fact he says that a ‘plain reading’ isn’t even possible: even assuming the Bible is the directly inspired Word of God, we still have it through 3 filters (the person wrote down what he thought God said, someone else translated based on what they thought the first person said, and we read it based on what we think the translator said).
Elvis is more accessible, and really scratched me where I was itching – but Christians is an altogether less comfortable book.
It’s all about empires, and empire building – harking back to the Jewish Empire in the days of King Solomon, through the Babylonians, the Roman Empire, up to the (according to the author) American Empire. Us Brits get away without a mention, but I’ve no doubts that the same analysis applies to the British Empire.
The central tenet (as I see it) is that Empires are inherently and unavoidably anti-Kingdom. Whenever a people grow strong, and start investing resources in developing and protecting that strength – there will be other people who are disposed, suppressed, and abused – and it is these people that Jesus came for. This is quite uncomfortable, because we in the west principally associate with the empire.
Rob Bell is not saying that wealth, health, and security aren’t important – but he is saying that when we stop seeing it as a blessing (and the means by which to bless others), and start seeing it as our right, and something to be defended and protected… at that point we lose the plot.
To quote from the back cover:
There is a church in our area that recently added an addition to their building which cost more than $20 million. Our local newspaper ran a front-page story not too long ago revealing that one in five people in our city lives in poverty
This is a book about those two numbers
It’s a book about faith and fear, wealth and war, poverty, power, safety, terror, Bibles, bombs, and homeland insecurity; it’s about empty empires and the truth that everybody’s a priest; it’s about oppression, occupation, and what happens when Christians support, animate, and participate in the very things Jesus came to set people free from.
It’s about what it means to be a part of the church of Jesus in a world where some people fly planes into buildings while others pick up groceries in Hummers
The book isn’t at all judgmental though. It’s like the difference between a parent telling off a child for being too scared to go on a slide, and a parent running up the stairs going
hey this is great – come on, you’ll really enjoy it.
There is one major downer though.
Yes, even in a book this good.
What is the problem?
If you haven’t guess from the above, it’s the incredibly annoying and disjointed layout, which I think is meant to emphasize the point. Turn to any page of the book, and you will find several one-line paragraphs of five words or less. One page has got one sentence spanning 7 paragraphs, where each line is 3 words.
It’s very hard to read.
Not the content (although that is hard to read, but in an ‘this isn’t very comfy’ way), just the layout.
Rob – if you read this review, I loved the book. I am being very challenged by what you wrote, and how seriously (or not) I take my responsibility as a human and as a Christian on this planet. I am inspired by most of what you say and write, and it has lead me at things to seriously question my assumptions and change my world view. But I was really annoyed by the one line paragraphs, and it hindered and distracted my reading!