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The Gods Aren’t Angry

posted by xscot mcknight

Kris and I sat down the other night to watch Rob Bell’s DVD called The Gods Aren’t Angry. My question: What do you think of it? Did any of you see this live and have a response?
Here are some highlights for me: first, it’s almost a history — a brief one no doubt — of the human attempt to appease the gods through sacrifice, bargaining, pleading, and manipulating. The big message is that God is satisfied with the sacrifice in Christ, a sacrifice that deconstructed all sacrifices. We can rest in the redemptive act of God in Jesus Christ. The 90 or so minute message ends with some excellent stories of how this pleading is present and can be resolved in our world.
The altar in the middle of the stage reminded me of the altars I’ve seen in Pompei and Ostia antica. I took long looks at those altars, working my imagination up to envision what it was like, but I also had to maintain distance from those who were listening to tour guides.
I saw the presentation as a kind of flip image of Yancey’s stuff on God’s grace. Instead of coming at this from the angle of God’s goodness and grace, Rob Bell comes at it from the angle of the futility of human attempts to control the forces and gods out there.
Because of my own study of atonement, I kept waiting for Rob to come forth with a theory of atonement but he didn’t, though I did hear at times a little Girard — the ending of all violence against scapegoats — and even Anselm, who famously emphasized the idea that God’s justice and honor were satisfied by the death and resurrection of Christ, the God-Man.



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Anonymous

posted July 31, 2008 at 6:32 am


Rob Bell review « amazing grey city

[...] Read the whole review here… [...]



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Rob

posted July 31, 2008 at 6:36 am


I saw the tour in NYC (about 8 months ago). I enjoyed it. Although he didn’t come forth with a spelled out atonement theory, if I remember correctly he presented a pretty holistic picture (i.e. not favoring one particular view) of the work of Christ.



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Brent D. Maher

posted July 31, 2008 at 7:01 am


I saw the tour in Indianapolis. If I remember correctly, Bell says that humans needed animal sacrifices in order to gain the confidence to approach God, rather than God needing the sacrifice to be in relationship with humans. It’s hard to tell if he is extrapolating a similar idea to the sacrifice of Christ. Any thoughts here?



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Scot McKnight

posted July 31, 2008 at 7:13 am


Brent,
I heard something like that, too. I took it to be accommodation by God. No?



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Ted Voigt

posted July 31, 2008 at 7:26 am


I saw it here in Kansas City and I watched it again on DVD this past weekend. I found it all very interesting, but I left with a very different impression than my friends who went with me. It seemed to me that Bell was talking about “gods” who were created by humans, and I didn’t feel like he said anything to distinguish the God of Abraham, Jesus, and Mars Hill from any of those made-up gods. I really liked some of the things he had to say, but I felt like maybe 99% of it could have been said by someone who didn’t believe God existed at all. And also with a few wording changes it could have made for an impressive argument for atheism. Did anyone else get that feeling? I like Rob Bell a lot and I’m not trying to slam him at all here, I’m just wondering if anyone else got that idea…



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Nathanael

posted July 31, 2008 at 7:45 am


I saw him when he came to Philly.
Here’s my review of the evening:
http://www.borrowedbreath.com/2007/11/27/the-gods-arent-angry/
Ted, I did not come away feeling like “…it could have made for an impressive argument for atheism.”
I agree with Scot’s assessment that Rob went out of his way not to divide by adamently asserting a preferential viewpoint of the atonement.
I thought he did a good job of welcoming us into the heart of God.
I may be a bit biased, since I am rather fond of Rob’s teaching style.
Shalom



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adam lehman

posted July 31, 2008 at 7:56 am


I love the idea of recognizing that human attempts don’t work at satisfying God. Reminds me a lot of Erwin McManus’ book “Soul Cravings” and excerpts from “the Shack.”
In both, they highlight how religion is sort of man’s renegotiation with God for love and acceptance. We set up expectations. We expect that if we do these certain things, God will look favorably on us and if we do other things, God won’t look favorably on us.
but (as noted by many married people) expectations kill relationships. If deep, intimate relationship with God is the point, then religion is a horrible way of getting there.



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Rob

posted July 31, 2008 at 8:07 am


#5, I didn’t get that impression Ted. He repeatedly stressed how the life, death, and resurrection of Christ was the turning point in history. Not sure how that would square with atheism?



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David Brush

posted July 31, 2008 at 8:30 am


Scot,
In my remembrance of the live version (which admittedly has some holes in it by now) I can affirm your take on it. What I did find interesting is that atonement was wrapped within the analogy of social mercy/justice. Each story had an element in which the grace/mercy of God was reflected off of an individual and imparted to another. I think we can affirm that whatever statement about atonement this is pointing towards it is one built on community or at the very least sustained by community.



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Daniel Lyles

posted July 31, 2008 at 8:35 am


#3, I like this idea of needing sacrifice in order to approach God. Louie Giglio’s talk on the magnitude of the universe and how massive the reality of God, confirms the idea of Jesus the man-God and the need for his sacrifice. If there is no corridor to God then our insignificance compared to the “I AM” separates with such vastness that it is incomprehensible to think we could ever approach a being such as He.



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Ted Voigt

posted July 31, 2008 at 8:35 am


yeah, you’re right, I may have overstated what I was trying to say a bit. However I do think that one could understand (or misunderstand, as it were) Rob Bell to be saying that Jesus message was, essentially, “the god’s aren’t angry” in a (human) effort to put an end to the brutal practices of sacrifice. He came at “the culmination of the ages” sure, but if one were to come at it with an atheistic point of view, that could just mean he had good timing. No reason a regular guy with some good ideas couldn’t be the turning point of history, right? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is what Bell is trying to say, just that it’s the impression I (and maybe I’m the only one) got from watching the show. Perhaps it was because Kansas City was one of his first stops and what I heard was the slightly-less honed version.



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adam lehman

posted July 31, 2008 at 8:38 am


David.
interesting. what if Bell wasn’t even really talking about atonement? Then we’d be trying to decifer some sort of cryptic message that isn’t really there. Kinda like reading the Bible without knowing the culture or setting or intention of the biblical authors…



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Rob

posted July 31, 2008 at 10:00 am


Saw the tour in S.F. There were I think five protesters outside of the building with signs calling Bell among others (Emergent/Emerging/Promise Keepers/Purpose Driven Churches) heretical. They even had bullhorns!
I found the talk very engaging and as thorough as you could be trying to cram all of history up to the time of Jesus into an hour and a half.
I really enjoyed your book on atonement and it felt like Rob was playing with many of “the clubs” available to him so it was hard to see how he felt exactly about each one. This drives a few of my friends absolutely crazy but I found it a great venue for others to hear about the story of Christ…which I think is what he was going for.



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Jonathan Stegall

posted July 31, 2008 at 11:06 am


I saw the tour in Atlanta last November, so my thoughts are a bit rusty, like some of the other comments. I just recently bought the DVD, but haven’t had a chance to see it since it arrived.
I was greatly in favor of the message he was presenting. I think he could have been presenting the atonement without endorsing any theory, which greatly appeals to me.
In any case, I think part of the beauty of the message is that it has the potential to bridge an understanding of ancient and biblical cultures with an understanding of today’s cultures, the lack of which I think is one of the worst failures of most church teaching. It was great to see the OT explained in a way that can address why we think God seems barbaric, and great to see how radical the NT was, among other things.
At the time, one of the things that hit me the most on a personal level was one of the stories he told of his own life, and the friend who taught him, “you don’t have to live like this.” You don’t have to live like this. I need to be reminded of that a lot, I think.



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Sam Andress

posted July 31, 2008 at 1:54 pm


I saw it in Portland and there was a palpable feeling in the room that something was being released.
My part is when Rob talks about God has already done it. You can’t do a thing, Calvin eh? I also liked his shot at how so much popular Christianity perpetuates the same old fear and guilt mongering sacrifical systems.
With you Scot, I do think that Rob framed things how Rene Girard does, and I happened to find Girard to be mindblowing when I read him for the first time at Fuller.
I recently showed the DVD to friends at church who have heard of Rob but never seen him and there response said it all. “If this is the type of communication that can become the face of Christianity, we do have hope for honest and truthful speech without all the show and dazzle.”



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Rob

posted July 31, 2008 at 2:09 pm


Sam #15 and/or Scot, which Girad work would you recommend as a first read?



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Scot McKnight

posted July 31, 2008 at 2:28 pm


Rob,
I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning



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Stephen Mook

posted July 31, 2008 at 7:24 pm


Scot,
When I saw it live, I didn’t find the linkage to Girard. Much more of a deconstruction towards the theology, the historical, and often present thinking, that’s it about what we can or need to sacrifice to God in order to be atoned for our sins. Rather then God serving and sacrificing (Matt 20:28) for us. A message that might seem simplistic to the studied but still a popular misconception (even if Rob’s means to getting to these sacrificial ends differ from others.) It is this needed deconstruction which was communicated in a captivating narration that gave flesh to this good news.
Good news from someone who seemed to be learning the depth of this sacrifice right along with the rest of us. I appreciated this childlike post resurrection view of the present world.
I took my girlfriend to see it and with her growing up outside the church walls, she found it hard to follow because his stories, jokes, and points, were intended for an audience who new the bible stories. This was an interesting critique, since I’ve heard many assume Rob’s ministry is for the unchurched. When it’s been for the church to reclaim the beauty and truth of the church.



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Dwight Parker

posted July 31, 2008 at 8:18 pm


I saw Rob on the “…gods…” tour at GWU in Washington DC, and was completely impressed. I went with a group, that in Christian spiritual terms, was like the United Nations. Myself (red-letter Christian), N.,an ex-hippie veteran of both Woodstock and the ’68 Democrat convention now a liturgical hardcore would-be Anglican ultra conservative, T. and K. a lesbian couple, T. attended a small group I used to lead they attend a purpose driven high school auditorium church, S. a Methodist preacher’s kid bitter single very professional, and D. a rebellious pentecostal (AOG) woman. My catholic friends were busy and the only Ukranian orthodox person I know moved, so it could’ve been more diverse but it was a wild bunch in one vehicle nonetheless.
We had a long discussion afterwards and we all related that in our differing ways we got the same message. We don’t please God by our actions. I have repeated so often since then, when referring to instances where I feel I’m trying to earn God’s favor as “pitching virgins into the volcano.”
I thought Rob did a fantastic job. I felt the audience for his message was exactly the folks I brought with me, whose theological discussions are exactly on the level of the material he presented. Deep, but accessible.



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Sam Andress

posted August 1, 2008 at 1:08 am


Rob,
Scot is right. Then I would go with Scapegoat and if want to round it off, Girard’s work called: Things Hidden Sine the Foundation of the World (particularly the second half).



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nathan

posted August 4, 2008 at 6:06 pm


I wonder how any of you would respond to the contrary assertion that God is angry and hates us? (a’la the other Mars Hill and some folks fighting “the truth war”)



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