Rob Bell, What We Talk About When We Talk About God

Understanding the way that our current cultural context affects the way we understand God is a real key to growing in Christ and having honest theological views that carry historical truths forward. Since we live in the most judicial society in the history of planet earth, we naturally see God in a judicial way. It hasn’t always been this way, though, and it won’t always be this way either. Since we are living in a time of massive transformation and discovery (a transition into what people are calling postmodernity) it is natural that we are able to examine our beliefs and our doctrines and make massive new shifts and growth that will help us love God, grow in faith and share this hope with others.

This is the goal of Rob Bell’s new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God. He aims to make a contribution to a growing body of Christians that are eager to follow God into the future, and not see God as something that belongs in the past and calls us back to the old days (which have been romanticized into some kind of perfect Christian era).

I will say, if you are beholden to some literal interpretations of poetry sections in the Scripture, this book will challenge you. Young earth creationists that like to fight for a literal seven day creation are sure to ban this book from their local library. Bell seems to ascribe to that funny creation theory that there was a big bang, but it was God who made the big bang. I’ve always thought that was the funniest of all the creation accounts, the agnosticism of creation, if you will.

In addition, the middle of the book is a less than scholarly treatment of quantum mechanics that can get a bit cumbersome. If you already are familiar with quantum physics, it’s a bit boring. If you are overwhelmed by science, it’s a bit heady. All the same, it’s a trendy summary of some recent developments in physics which is fun…but it does drag on.

It’s a great book, and one I will reach for a lot in the future for people who are struggling to believe in God, His existence, or His place in an ever changing world of new discoveries. If you are a Bell fan (guilty here…), or already  then some of the material will be repetitive, but for most normal people, this will be a great book with fun information and encouraging words to help us follow God wherever He leads.

Here’s some money quotes to remember for later:

  • p.2, “And then there are the latest surveys and polls, the ones telling us how many of us believe and don’t believe in God and how many fewer of us are going to church, inevitably prompting experts to speculate about demographics and technology and worship style and this generation versus that generation, all of it avoiding the glaring truth that sits right there elephant-like in the middle of the room. The truth is, we have a problem with God.”
  • p.7, “…have suffered great pain in their young lives, and the clean and neat categories of faith they were handed in their youth haven’t been capable of helping them navigate the complexity of their experiences. And so, like jilted lovers, they have turned away. God, for them, is an awkward, alien, strange notion. Like someone that they used to know.” (cue Gotye)
  • p.15, “What I’ve observed is that while we want more of a connection with the reverence humming within us, we often don’t know where to begin or what steps to take or what that process even looks like.”
  • p.18, “I believe God is with us because I believe that all of us are already experiencing the presence of God in countless ways every single day… I believe God is for every single on of us, regardless of our beliefs or perspectives or actions or failures or mistakes or sins or opinions about whether God exists or not.”
  • p.19, “…when I talk about God, I’m not talking about a divine being who is behind, trying to drag us back to a primitive, barbaric, regressive, prescientific age…”
  • p.41, “Neils Bohr said that anyone who wasn’t outraged on first hearing about quantum theory didn’t understand what was being said.”
  • p.93, “Certainty is easier, faster, awesome for fundraising, and it often generates large amounts of energy because who doesn’t want to be right?”
  • p.99, “Great effort, then, is often spent trying to prove that that God even exists, which can, of course, fail spectacularly.”
  • p.150, “…at the heart of Jesus’ message is the call to become the kind of person who is for everybody.”
  • p.179, “There’s a church near where I used to live that did a survey of its congregation, asking how important people’s spiritual lives were to them. Spiritual lives? as opposed to their other lives?”

And a couple promotional videos that Bell produced that contain ideas from the book:

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