David Shankbone/Wikicommons

Rob Bell is a controversial figure. To some, he provides a new—and more useful—lens through which to view the Christian faith. To others, he embraces a wishy-washy view of the Bible that fails to commit God’s more difficult edicts.

His book, “Love Wins: A book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived,” shook the core of the Evangelical Christian worldview with its claims of universal salvation. Upon its publication, many decried Bell as a pastor whose teachings create a meaningless, watered-down version of Christianity that is more a system of ethos than a religion headed up by a supernatural deity.

It may be that a similar outcry will arise as Bell’s new work, “What is the Bible?” becomes available. Rather than focusing on issues of salvation, this book focus on how we should read the Bible, posing what Bell believes is the most important question to ask ourselves as we read: “Why did people find this important to write down?” This human-centered approach appears, at first, to leave God out of the picture, entirely.

But upon interviewing Bell, it becomes clear that his theology isn’t the disaster the Evangelical world has made it out to be. In fact, his insights into how Christians can better read and interpret their sacred text are astute, useful, and faith-affirming.

So wherever you fall upon the spectrum of Christian belief—all the way from fundamentalist to liberal—there is something to learn from Bell’s thoughts. His ideas are subversive, exciting, and rather than twisting the Bible to fit our modern narrative, Bell advocates look at this sacred text exactly as its writers would have.

Read on and consider his thoughts. You may just find a few gems of wisdom, and through these, an entirely new way to read the Bible.

What was the need you perceived that inspired you to write “What is the Bible?”

“I was in a band when I was in college—the band broke up, and I somehow ended up giving a sermon, and I had this moment of awakening, like ‘I’m going to reclaim the sermon as an art form.’

In the tradition that I came from, sermons are something that you give from the Bible. So I started reading it and I went to get a graduate degree and did all that, but I discovered that when I actually read it and studied it, people weren’t talking about the things that were actually happening in the pages of this ancient library.

So, this started with me, 25 years ago, getting caught up in something—a movement, a realization that the Bible was written by a minority group of people who had been conquered by one global military superpower after another.

So these people are fundamentally suspicious of coercive military power—which is why so many Americans misread the Bible at a deep, deep level. When you’re a citizen of a global military superpower, you may miss some of the essential themes of this book, which is about resistance to these very things.

I noticed that the more I read where this book is actually coming from—the Old Testament is edited together in Babylon. These people have been violently yanked from their homeland and taken into exile. No wonder they tell stories about people doing violence in the name of their God—they’re saying ‘Do you see how completely evil this is?’

A lot of the critiques about the Bible are actually completely missing the dangerous, subversive, poetic, intelligent, interesting things that are actually going on.

Maybe at some level my work has been to right some wrongs, you know what I mean? It’s an injustice that people don’t think about the Bible and Rage Against the Machine in the same breath. Or you think about Bernie Sanders talk about a widening gap between the rich and the poor—yes, welcome to Amos. Welcome to the minor prophets.

The idea that this ancient library of books is somehow aligned with many of the things in our culture that are the exact opposite of what these writers were intending to communicate makes me upset.

This wasn’t like ‘Gee, what is the hot topic.’ I had been thinking it would be interesting to try writing the book on Tumblr, and writing a chapter a day. It was almost like almost like clearing RAM space in my head—I had 25 years of stuff on the Bible. Like, oh yeah, the Abraham and Issac story—that’s actually about something else. Oh, yeah—the Jonah being swallowed by the fish. That’s actually about Nineveh and Assyria and ‘can you forgive.’ These stories are about a bunch of other things that are much more interesting and pressing questions that people are asking today.

So I got about a week or two into writing this stuff on Tumblr, and the response was like nothing I had ever seen—the response was so electric. And then my publisher, right away, was like, ‘Why don’t you just do this as a book?'

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus