Rob Bell is not an author to shy away from controversial subjects, as his last book clearly shows. And in this regard, his new book is no different. What We Talk About when We Talk About God is Rob Bell’s latest attempt to re-articulate the tenants of the Christian faith for a generation of believers (and non-believers) who may have been turned off to a more traditional approach to the faith. In his characteristic manner involving seemingly disconnected stories and ideas, he takes the reader on a journey through what he believes about God.
But, the book is not about God, or even about how we are supposed to talk about Him, so to speak. It is more about what we are saying with the words we use to talk about God. Yes, he is defending his vision of God, but he is more concerned with the reader’s connection to this God.
The book does not begin or end or even contain a defense of the existence of God. He comes at the topic assuming that God exists. In fact, the book begins with a sort of rebuttal of the idea that God definitely doesn’t exist. Using quantum physics he explains that a whole lot of things happen beyond explanation that all scientists can say about them is that they happen because they do. An example he uses is the fact that, at a subatomic level, particles will travel from point A to point B without traveling the distance in between. As he carries on this discussion, the implied question seems to be, “If this kinda stuff can happen, who are you to say that God absolutely doesn’t exist?”
The most controversial section of the book are probably the three chapters about what he believes that God is. He uses the words “with,” “for,” and “ahead” to describe Him.
For Rob Bell, God is here with us rather than in some other realm that He leaves from time to time to come down and do “God type things” when we ask Him to or when He feels like it. God is here, with us, now. All around. Whether we are at church, surfing, washing dishes, or stocking grocery shelves (those are some of his examples), God is there. And we need to be “open” to that reality.
God is for us. He is on our side. He wants what is best for us. He wants us to be all that we can be in this life, not just in the one to come. In fact, He is on our side so much that He died for us. In this chapter, in fact, the God = Jesus truth is clearly shown in that it seems the two words are used interchangeably. Something I am sure a lot of reviewers who are looking for heresy will be quick to overlook to find some sort of New age idea tucked away.
God, according to Rob Bell, is ahead of us, drawing us into His future. He doesn’t want us to look back and long to be in some sort of pristine, past utopia that we seem to have lost somewhere along the way. Rather, He wants us to look to Him and move into His reality and work toward His way of doing things that are “clicks” ahead of where we are now.
It almost sounds like, in fact, that he is advancing a form of Amillennialism. God is here, now, reigning, demanding that we prepare the way for His glorious return.
Bell concludes the book with a “what does all this look like” commentary. For Rob, this looks like God’s people seeking to do what He has called them to do in this life. He calls reader to repent of their sins and believe in the God that is right here, right now, on our side and calling us forward.
All in all, I feel this is Rob Bell’s least controversial book. It does challenge some of our conceptions of God, but not any conceptions that are gleaned from Scripture. Rather, he questions our cultural views of who God is. I liked this book a lot, and, while it’s not my favorite of his books, it’s an important book and I think we would do well to take Rob Bell a little more seriously this time around.