Reviewed by David Foreman
I’ve read the Bible cover to cover.
More than once.
I’ve read much of it dozens of times, and some of it hundreds of times.
I’ve studied it. Meditated on it. Dissected it. Taught it. Preached it.
Made it much the focus of my life.
Eventually, to some degree, I discarded it. Dismissed it.
I’ve considered that it may be a book to be banned.
(OK. Not really. The book shouldn’t be banned. But many people should be banned from owning a copy until they learn some responsibility.)
How I wish I had had the eyes to see, and the ears to hear the kinds of wisdom, insight, approach, and understanding that is represented in Rob Bell’s profound book, “What is the Bible?”
A lot of the basic understanding here is understanding I’ve had for awhile now. Some of this was addressed in Brian McLaren’s “A New Kind of Christianity” (see my review). But, the specific perception of various individual passages that are discussed here are really, really eye-opening.
You’ll revisit stories with which you thought you were well acquainted.
Noah and the flood.
Abraham and his son.
Jonah and the big fish.
The parable of The Good Samaritan.
The “take-away” on these stories has (at least in my tradition) almost always strayed from the real point. But, they will take on a breath of fresh air as you understand them the way the original audience would have understood them. And we find out why Americans often miss the major themes of the Bible!
There are stories we look at and think, “How backwards and barbaric!” And a lot of it was backwards and barbaric! But, looking closer, in the midst of this we can see actual steps forward in the evolving understanding of God.
We go through lots of passages, Old Testament and New. We get into all the violence that causes some to pronounce “There is no God,” and others to just accept it (or even appropriate it, so to speak) and use it as a justification for their own hate. There’s a chapter titled “What’s the Worst Question to Ask When You’re Reading the Bible?”
It’s a question that believers and atheists both ask!
One portion discusses the word and concept of “sin.” It’s become, for many of us, a cringe-worthy word. Here you’ll find what may be the best material on the subject I’ve ever seen.
Rob also addresses many of the standard questions he gets, like “Did Jesus have to die?” “What about all that wrath?” and (concerning Abraham) “What kind of God would ask a man to sacrifice his son?” I loved the answer to that one!
The last chapter, “A Note on Growing and Changing,” has some great advise for those of us with family and friends who don’t see things the way we do. (And who doesn’t fit that catagory?!)
I once suggested a book to someone thinking he might enjoy the unique perspective. He didn’t read it (which is fine). But, what he did do was “analyze” the book based solely on its title, and then arrogantly proclaimed, “Book solved!” I remember thinking, “WTF?”
This is not a book to be solved. This is a book to be eaten.
Chewed slowly. Swished about like a fine wine.
Will you agree with everything in it? Not likely. Can you find (or make up) reasons to tear it apart? Of course you can.
Can you be inspired, encouraged, educated and entertained?
I sure was. There is just so much here!
But, as is often the case, many who could benefit the most from digesting this book will shun it as either heresy or fantasy. Religion has a long history of calling truth heresy, and intellectuals have a long history of dismissing anything “spiritual.” Still, for those who let it, Bell’s book can be another compelling part of their journey. With lots of “ah-ha” moments.
I suppose you could read “What is the Bible?” and leave the experience unchanged.
But I can’t see how.
- It’s possible to resist the very growth and change and expanding consciousness that God desires for you by appealing to your religious convictions. (Read the story of Peter in Acts, chapter 10!)
- You can’t take people where they don’t want to go.
- The deepest forces of the universe are on the side of the oppressed, the underdog, and the powerless.
- I’ve heard people say that they read it literally. As if that’s the best way to understand the Bible. It’s not. We read it literately.
- [In the story of Jonah] the dude who sees himself as us is furious because of how chummy God and them have become. He’s so furious he’d rather die than live with the tension.
- I would often hear people say, We need to get back to how they did it in the early church. But reading the Bible, you learn that it’s not about trying to be something you’re not. We open our eyes to the divine invitation right here, right now in this [world].
- When people debate faith vs. science they’ve already missed the point. Faith is about embracing truth wherever it’s found, and that of course includes science.
- To make broad dismissals of the scriptures as having nothing to say to the modern world about what it means to be human is absurd and naïve. These are radical, progressive, open, expansive, extraordinary stories… told from the perspective of actual people living in space and time.
- The divine is always at work.