30 September 2008

jesus wants to save christians

Rob Bell and Don Golden, Jesus Wants to Save Christians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008).

A few reviews have already been published regarding Rob Bell's latest book, so I'm not entirely sure what I can contribute to the conversation in terms of originality. I especially agreed with the review posted on jesuscreed.

I tend to be a fan of Rob Bell's whenever I run across his work. Most are familiar with the NOOMA video series, and the many times I have been asked to give my opinion regarding them for use by various churches and small groups I have responded in the affirmative. Further, I think that Rob Bell's previous book efforts have been, though not without fault, very good reads. Having said that, I believe that the content he offers here is a solid statement and challenge for the church. This is by far his best book so far and should be read and discussed by church leaders and laity alike. (And, yes, the blocks on the cover are pretty cool and you should have to figure it out for yourself. . .)

In the opening chapter, Bell/Golden propose a reading of the story of Scripture in such a way that Exodus (the book and event) is understood as the beginning. This does not discount Genesis, but rightly sets forth the notion that the biblical story is one of exodus for the oppressed. Further, he sets forth the story of Israel in the context of four geographical locations: Egypt, Sinai, Jerusalem, Babylon. These four locations work to demonstrate the arc of Israel's storyline as an exodus motif - the enslavement, exodus, empire, exile.

Chapter Two addresses the Babylonian exile and the emerging hope of a return and restoration for Israel. The reading here is faithful to the biblical text and the context of Second Temple Judaism. Much of this chapter is given to the prophetic voice which was present during this time period, emphasizing the hope for those oppressed over and against the imperialism which dominated the political scene. Chapter Three then turns this hope to the fulfillment found in Jesus. Again, I am impressed with the presentation and detail of historical motifs emerging from the Second Temple period in Bell's discussion. This "David's other Son" idea is developed well in the context of messianic expectation.

Of note with these two chapters, however (and this has been mentioned elsewhere and was particularly striking during my read-through) is that Bell barely interacts with any secondary literature on the topic. His perspective has obviously been influenced by perspectives such as N. T. Wright, yet Bell/Golden never acknowledges nor interacts with such writing in his book. This is a major disappointment for me, and almost displays a lack of concern for academic rigor. I'm not asking him to present a doctoral dissertation here, but some credit and interaction would be quite fruitful.

From this point, Bell/Golden covers the movement of the gospel in the early church (Chapter Four). Here he demonstrates the cultural significance of its outward movement, and the radical shift from the Judaism of this period to the universal message of salvation found in the church.

Chapter Five bounces from Revelation's message of kingdom against anti-kingdom (christ against anti-christ) into our modern world. I appreciate his statistics regarding the reality of poverty in the world and the sharp pain that is felt in war. While his biblical reading is quite accurate, his perception of current events demonstrates a few large holes in understanding the nature of recent history. Interestingly, this lack only amounts to a few paragraphs and the book could have easily been written without them. But they are present nonetheless. His provided possible 'american' responses to those who oppose our country (119) are hardly the only perspectives which could be given and are, quite honestly, reductionistic within the context of his argument. But this (believe it or not) is a minor quibble, because Bell/Golden refuse to decry America simply for who it is, yet is honest enough to point out its faults as they are revealed by Scripture.

The final chapter ("Blood on the Doorposts of the Universe") is simply brilliant. Bringing together the themes which have been developed throughout the book, Bell/Golden call the church to be the church in light of the story of Scripture and the kingdom of Christ. Building on the concept of Eucharist, his aim is to show how the church is called to be the presence of Christ into the world by bringing the fulfillment of hope, peace and the new humanity.

Finally: I, too, am tired of overly-used white space in the book. This may have been cool and interesting once (kind of twice), but is really just becoming annoying. The only redemption on this is that I didn't really have much time to read this book and was happy to see pages with ten words where there could have been fifty. But even then, it wasn't redemptive.

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