Our church book group just discussed this title and we had a great time. Our pastor suggested the title a while back as he had heard some rumblings that some of the more fundamentalist types in the area did not like it. We are an ELCA Lutheran church. So of course we knew we needed to find out what horrible subversive material it contained. We tend to be a bit of a rebellious group anyway in the fact that no one tells US what we can not or should not read. The clincher seemed to come when he couldn't buy it at a local Christian bookstore and was told they wouldn't even be stocking it and would not take a special order. I envisioned the clerk with nose in the air and a sanctimonious attitude, but I am dramatizing. After that we knew we would read it.
Not sure about the others in the group but I didn't read reviews or articles until after finishing the book and pondering about it a bit. I just wanted to read it, and to think about what was presented, and not have my mind fogged up with anyone else's slant either for or against this man's preaching. The author, Rob Bell apparently is or was a preacher at Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan and is the author of several books with interesting titles such as Velvet Elvis and Sex God. What I liked about reading it with the group was that we had a month to read, think, and reread before we met. That meant having plenty of time for laying it aside and letting ideas or questions germinate before discussion. I found the style a bit off-putting. I guess I'm not one for streaming thoughts written into a book but I did get used to it. Pastor said he thought that Bell had simply made a book of notes from his sermons. Maybe.
It isn't my intent to regurgitate Bell's ideas. Instead I hope to give you my/our impressions of what he seemed to be saying or at least what we thought we heard. Might I start by saying there is nothing and I do mean nothing in this book that I have not heard, or read, or even questioned myself at some time in my life. The biggest idea he seems to be presenting is that there is more love coming from God than many of us are taught to believe.
Bell's biggest target for questioning in the book is hell. In that it may not, or actually probably is not what you have always imagined it to be. Some of the negative Internet articles stated that Bell says there is no hell. I did not hear that in this book. I/we heard:
- hell may not be what you have always been told that it is. Which many of us fairly intelligent beings have already questioned,
- part of hell may be on this earth today,
- God is the father of all and loves all of his creations not just Christians. It is not our right to judge who is “in” with him and who is not,
- heaven may not be what you expect. Many visions of what it is and how one “gets in” are created by man and not scriptural,
- God intends all of his children to be with him in heaven and how they get there is not up to us to proscribe. This idea was pondered by better scholars than us and there is much room to question why we feel the need to name those who are kept out,
- the Good News of love, peace, forgiveness, needs to be spread much more and we need to stop wielding scriptures like weapons which drives more people away from the Word than gathers them in.
There were other topics we discussed also but that was a week ago so I am getting a little forgetful. We all, to a person at the meeting agreed we liked this book. We are not afraid to read and think about ideas we are not familiar with. We don't have to agree to all this man's teachings but it is ok to think about them.
My biggest problem was …. no footnotes. Can I really be saying that? But seriously when he made references to scripture he did include where they came from but when he talked church history and such I needed references to feel secure. Pastor was a great help but what about those reading without a built-in reference person?
After finishing the book there was plenty of time to check out some of the articles. Holy Cow! There were all kinds of things to read on the Internet, some nice, some supportive, and some so vitriolic they almost burned my retinas. One article said Bell had set off a firestorm of controversy. How the heck could I have missed a whole firestorm? Be as it may, I missed the firestorm but again I say what the what? Why should this man's perspective be so threatening to some people? Because it shouldn't be. Believe what you like. Let others believe as they choose. Let it be.
I am still curious about Velvet Elvis so if you have read it and recommend it let me know.
In case you wish to know, some other authors we have tackled are as follows:
C.S. Lewis, Sarah Miles, Anne Lamott, Philip Gulley, Mitch Albom, Chris Cleave, Morris West, William P. Young and those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head.