Tag Archive: reviews


For any of you who may not know who Rob Bell is, let me begin by saying that he is perhaps one of the more creative, out of the box, and relevant deep thinkers in the Christian faith that I have seen in the last few years. He seems to package charisma, oratory skill and decent content all in one package that truly makes a person want to re-evaluate their life and to come to know God in a fresh way. Bell is also the writer of the NOOMA videos, short videos about topics in the Christian faith that are structured in such a way to make you think for yourself. I first encountered these videos as a seminary student and have used them multiple times in youth ministry to spark discussions.

Bell is an author too. He has written numerous books including Velvet Elvis, Sex God, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, and others. His most recent book, Love Wins, was just released on March 15th, 2011, and has sparked an amount of controversy in Christian circles. The controversy is twofold: (1) the claims that the book makes appear at times to step outside of what would be considered Christian orthodoxy, and (2) Bell’s reputation (especially with the emerging generation) coupled with his charisma is such that I suspect he could convince a drowning man to buy a case of aquafina…or dasani…or both

Rob Bell’s influence on our culture is what it is; it cannot be changed and we cannot fault the man for being who he is. Some of the content of this new book however makes me squirm. I say that I am almost defending Rob Bell because I don’t think the book is as bad as some are making it out to be; however, it certainly does push the boundaries in several areas.

Lets start with the good stuff. There are some really great things in this book. First, Bell encourages us to rethink our talk about heaven and hell. The full motivation and mission for our Christian life here and now ought not be to escape hell and get to heaven as fast as possible (contrary to some of those great old hymns of the church…and this comes from someone who still does enjoy hymns!). The hope of the New Testament Christians was not to escape earth and go to heaven but rather they looked forward to participating in a new kingdom on earth that was governed and lead by Jesus Christ. When Jesus was crucified, resurrected, and went back to heaven, their desire was for the approaching day of his return where they would participate in a new kingdom on a perfected earth that was governed and lead by Jesus Christ. Bell wants us to recast our thinking about hope so that it not so much about ‘there and then’ but participating in something ‘here and now’.

Jesus said it best himself: “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15, NIV). Jesus Christ’s presence on earth changed things; it brought the kingdom of heaven closer than ever before. From this point on we see an increase in spiritual things on earth: healing, resurrection, gifts of the Spirit. There is a dynamic feature of the kingdom of God that is presently breaking into our world on a regular basis and participation in that kingdom ought to be our greatest motivation and mission…not just getting out of here as quickly as possible.

The journey is as important as the destination.

Now, lets dig a little deeper. Bell is accused of being a universalist in his theology (i.e. all will end up in heaven at some point, love will win). He denies this and I (think) I believe him. He does spend time in his book talking about human existence apart from God and what that looks like…I can only assume he imagines that some will continue to choose this existence?

There are two things however that he indisputability argues for that I am not quite so sure about: Bell speculates about the possibility of repentance even after death and speculates about the fact that many people from other faith groups (Islam, Buddhism) will be given equal position in the kingdom of God when Christ returns. Bell actually does more than speculate: he attempts to convince his readers to consider the idea that life could be this way. He calls it a ‘better story’…

Neither of these thoughts is new in Christendom and space does not permit a full examination of either of these here. The first is complete speculation and does not seem to have biblical merit. The second is more murky; most Christians would suggest that though we are all born into sin Christ will accept unto himself those souls who die before having the ability to choose or not to choose God. We talk of an ‘age of accountability’ although attempting to place a firm number on this is difficult and likely not useful. What I believe that Bell is appealing to here is the notion that some people in some parts of the world and in some faith groups may recognize that there is a higher power than themselves but not know exactly what the nature of this higher power is; they have never heard of Jesus. Bell speculates that if a person has not had an opportunity to hear of Jesus, despite their age, God will look favorably upon their spiritual pursuits. I think however in our world of information and social networking that this case very much a minority. Most Muslims follow Islam not because they have not yet heard of Jesus but because they choose Allah over Jesus. This is a fatal flaw in Bell’s argumentation.

Bell’s unique writing style, almost poetic, and confident way or writing (without any citations or references except a list of ‘you should read this’ books at the end) gives somewhat of a false authority to what he has to say; the fear is that Bell’s compelling style and the voice that he has in the young adult generation of the present day is going to lead to spiritual confusion en mass. I must say that I am concerned about the same thing.

This book is not for the faint of heart or the easily influenced…but if you can read critically and are ready to exercise your faith (and perhaps clarify some aspects that you were a little rusty on) I would encourage you to analyze what Bell has to say here.

Shane Bertou is facilitating a discussion of this book chapter by chapter on his blog at http://www.shanebertou.wordpress.com. They are currently on chapter 1 and will be moving to chapter 2 this week. I am going to try and follow this conversation and perhaps add to it. I invite you to do the same.

So I watched Glee last night…and about half way through the episode I was having a bad case of déjà vu about their portrayal of God, faith and Christianity; it just seemed like they were perpetrating all the cliché statements of pop culture concerning faith. I felt as though the whole foundation of Glee (i.e. the plight of the underdog) had more depth and more integrity than what was playing out before my eyes.

My hope was restored as the show concluded as there did seem to be an attempt to present a balanced perspective; no solid conclusions were reached but there was balance.

All of this has me thinking about the role that prime time television plays in educating our culture. If I were not a person of faith I may have finished watching Glee last night and been somewhat perplexed. Is faith really worthless? Is there really no God; Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) certainly had a convincing argument to support this fact. What about supernatural things taking place in our world today; are they really as ludicrous as a ‘grilled cheesus”?

I think that we all (myself included) need to take a step back from prime time television to realize that its purpose is not to educate but to provide lighthearted and satirical entertainment at the end of a busy day. These programs give us a moment to exit the constraints of the real world where the rules are changed and characters are free to say and to do what they wish. In a stuffy world of confusing political correctness and nauseating conversations about proper etiquette, the genre of shows like Glee help to provide relief and humor from all of this; to this end they do accomplish their task.

There is an unfortunate and undesirable side effect related to the humor and comic relief brought about by prime time television; many people actually believe everything they hear.

The writers of last night’s episode of Glee managed to fill the show full of clichés and stereotypes related to having faith and not having faith. There was the appearance of the image of Jesus in a physical object (the ‘grilled cheesus sandwich’), there was the classic ‘I asked for it and God did not answer, ergo he does not exist’ argument, there was the notion that keeping faith out of school is a good thing, there was the extremely trendy statement ‘God created me a homosexual and yet condemns me for this very fact’, and a host of other popular statements. There was enough reality and emotion in what was presented for the viewer to be almost convinced that this is the way the real world actually is.

The thing is, the writers of this episode of Glee were under no obligation to provide a balanced ‘peer reviewed’ perspective of faith and of God. Prime time television in general is under no obligation to ensure the complete accuracy of the information that they present and they are under no obligation to resolve every dilemma that they raise. Their genre is one of entertainment and not education; however this distinction is becoming muddy in our present day.

I am sure that some will commend Glee for confirming God’s non-existence last night without realizing the subtle nuances that were present and without really examining the arguments that were raised. Let me (gently) correct the record as one who works in and studies faith and God: none of the arguments and/or dilemmas presented on Glee last night were new, nothing presented on Glee last night is as simple or as clear-cut as it may have appeared, and no new conclusions or syntheses about faith and God were construed by the characters on the show. It certainly was entertaining, but that is all.

I commend the writers of Glee for achieving somewhat of a balance last night. Emma Pillsbury’s (Jayma Mays) reminder that although God works and speaks in mysterious ways, but probably not through a grilled cheese sandwich, was a tactful way to dismiss the ‘grilled cheesus’ while not dismissing faith. I also commend the writers for demonstrating the faith of students like Mercedes Jones (Amber Riley) as firm and unwavering. Finally, I think that it was in good taste (and balance) that once Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer) seemed to accept prayer as a legitimate expression of sympathy and grief we see his comatose dad begin to respond to his son’s presence for the first time.

I am not sad that this show aired, in fact I am somewhat glad. Glee’s whole foundation is built around exposing stereotype and cliché in a comical fashion. The basis of the show is about the competition between sports and arts in a local high school and the typical students involved in each. Last night’s episode placed the topic of faith and spirituality in the minds and conversations of the general public and this is not necessarily a bad thing.

To fix our confusion of the genres of entertainment and education I think that conversation and blogging such as this is so necessary so that once we jump back into the real world we can make sense of what we saw and perhaps dreamed about just the night before.

What do you think?