on March 15, 2007
I agree with other reviewers that the title of the book is misleading (whether this is a reflection of crafty marketing or Rob Bell's uber-creative whimsy is debatable). This misnaming is unfortunate, because I think it confuses the reader (myself included) as to the overall goal of the book. However, a simple addition of a "/" renders the title more accurate: "Sex/God." As Bell emphasizes in his introduction, "This" (sexuality, intimacy, marriage,) is always about "That" (God and his loving relationship with humanity).
When read this way, I think the book becomes more coherent and compelling. In fact, I think it is one of the most inspiring theological statements on love, marriage, and intimacy that I have read. Rather than the typical, predictable, shallow Christian answers to defend traditional marriage and sexual purity, Bell provides a sweeping vision of how our intimate relationships reflect the self-giving love of our Creator. Not only that, but our self-giving love for one other person actually helps to manifest God's love to many other people. Even the pain of a failed relationship reflects the pain God feels and the risk God takes by loving us humans. Bell challenges us to think of sex, intimacy, and marriage in the most holy and reverent - yet also in the most realistic and practical - of ways.
Through all this, "Sex God" cleverly and somewhat subtly tells us as much about "God" as it does about "Sex." While we think we are reading about human relationships, we find ourselves learning about the Gospel - God's supreme love for us, manifest most explicitly in the sacrificial love of Jesus. "This" is really about "That."
"Sex God" is biblically grounded, yet never in predictable ways. I always enjoy Bell's trademark usage of vivid cultural context. His exegesis on the early chapters of Genesis and the latter verses of Revelation were particularly interesting, and he provides new insights to many well known passages.
I also appreciate Bell's concluding pages, which show sensitivity to people who are not married or dating without sounding patronizing. After spending an entire book extolling the Godly virtues of giving yourself wholly to another person, Bell reminds single people that, according to Jesus himself, they actually have a higher calling than the rest of us. And he also offers hope to people who have experienced failed and abusive relationships.
Much more could be said here, but suffice it to say that I am very eager to share this book with both my teen child and the college students with whom I work. And I immediately assigned the book to a couple for our premarital counseling sessions. "Sex God" is that good.
Yes, this book is about that.
Rob Bell delves into the link between our sexuality and our spirituality, and the result is a work that will open your eyes to the relationship that God seeks with humanity.
The basic premise is that we are all broken, always seeking a connection with others since our connection with God has been severed. We all want to be known and accepted as we are. Only God can provide us with this, but sex is the next best thing. So we all walk around with distorted concepts of who we are, searching for that connection through physical relation rather than spiritual.
The book is engaging, and Bell has a talent for teaching by using stories(sound familiar?). He is able to weave Bible history, Jewish customs, and contemporary culture together to form a picture of the relationship God desires with mankind. I especially enjoyed a passage on page 70 that describes that Garden of Eden as good, and for it to be truly good, it couldn't be forced on people. Hence, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
A few criticisms, however:
On page 63 Bell describes the universe as unfinished. He claims that "God's intent in creating these people was for them to continue the work of creating the world, moving it away from chaos and wild and waste and formlessness toward order and harmony and good."
I just can't agree with that statement. When God created the universe, it was good. He rested on the seventh day, content with His creation. There was "order and harmony and good." Then we, humanity, screwed it up. I get the gist of what he's saying, but the statement just doesn't make sense.
The other problem is on pages 20 and 22. Bell discusses a passage in which Jesus says "If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away." Bell later states "And that's Jesus' point with the "gouge out your eye" teaching. His point isn't that you should mutilate your body if you find yourself lusting after someone. His point is that something serious--sometimes hellish--happens when people are treated as objects, and we should resist it at all costs."(p.22)
I agree with him on his thoughts on people(specifically women) being treated as objects, but I don't think Jesus is just saying that bad things will happen when we sin. To me, Jesus is calling us to a higher level of spirituality. He goes on to say it is better to lose parts of your body than to lose your soul(paraphrased). This means that a life dedicated to God means a neglect of yourself.(Read more about this at The Humble Way blog) I think Bell slightly twists a verse to suit his topic.
Bell is also reluctant to name the author of epistles such as 1st Corinthians, etc. I don't know why, and it's not a big deal. I just wonder why. And, on a more petty note, this guy drops geographic names like Carmen San Diego:
"...I was in Canada..", "...stayed at a wildlife lodge in Africa.", "I was in London..". These are just some of the examples. I'm just saying, dude travels a lot. Maybe I'm just jealous.
But seriously, this is a book I would actually recommend spending money on, and it's also worth your time. Some people criticize Rob Bell for being weak theologically, and I can see their point. I wouldn't go to him for Bible commentary. But he definitely has insight into relationships, especially those concerning people and God. Read this expecting the relational side of God's love to be revealed.
on March 3, 2007
First of all, this book is not so much about that, despite the title. The title almost immediately sets you up for an anti-climactic rest of the book. The title is good marketing, but not necessarily truth in advertising. This is ok. Buying this book is not about that.
Think about why you bought it first. You bought it because you really like Rob Bell, and in your mind you run through conversations that you'd like to have with him when you two are hanging out at Starbucks, which I'm sure he'll have time for. Given that that's what this is about, just realize that you're getting the next best thing. You're hanging out with him. He's talking about what's on his mind. You get to listen in. Even though it's a monologue, it kind of scratches that itch that all of his fans have been having.
So for that reason, it's a pretty good book.
In keeping with the postmodern, emergent ethos, which Bell leads while disavowing, the book is not linear. He starts out with a provocative introduction which broaches the sacramental without using that word, and then a powerful first chapter that reaches into our deepest longings for the dignity for which we were created. Immediately we are on board and want more. Particularly in hopes that he gets to the s-e-x.
The second chapter skirts around our "disconnection" from the created order, which makes me wonder if we're walking through a systematic theology of creation, sin, salvation (I was soon dissuaded). I'm also wondering if we've taken on a neo-Tillichian doctrine of sin-as-victimization, but I don't think the book's theology is quite so intentional.
The third chapter I like even better, as a modern discourse on the first three chapters of Genesis and the thoughtful suggestion that our sexuality is poised between our place as animal and angel, as physical and spiritual beings. Now I'm really into this book. Chapter four plays with the temptations and addictions that throw us off course from that dignity we wanted at first. Chapter five looks at our reaching out for love to fix the hurt, portrayed through the clever and playful illustration of a little girl running away from Rob Bell when he asked her to dance in Junior High. I think we're supposed to say, "Oh, good choice, girlie, look where you'd be now." The cross is God's act of making himself vulnerable to our rejection in the same way.
Now here's the break. From here on out, the structure is not too clear to me, and, from what I read, to other reviewers. Six is about couples needing to submit to each other rather than women to men. Seven is (subtly) about retaining the mystery of sex within marriage. Eight is about loyalty, nine is an implied analogy between heaven and marital intimacy, and ten is an offer of forgiveness for those who have failed.
Then I realized what I was reading. It's not systematic theology; it's the emergent "Why Wait?" program. Which is fine. I just wanted to hang out with Rob Bell, and when I got the chance, he had sex on his mind. Cool. I like listening to him, whatever he's talking about.
My only two suggestions for his third book are these. First, the endnotes are not cute, and it is not impressive to see how many books you can recommend. They perforate a book that already requires attention. Secondly, pensees do not need to be released in hardback at twice the cost of a paperback.
Those aside, it's a worthwhile recommendation for the religiously exposed who don't really understand Christian mores regarding physical intimacy.
on August 17, 2011
Most of the reviews I read on this book pertained to the controversy of the subject matter. Being that I'm extremely open-minded and was just plain curious, I went ahead and ordered a copy. Thirty-five pages in, this book went into the trash bin, and I consider it a sin of the highest degree to destroy books. This never deserved to be published; I assume it was printed based on Rob Bell's reputation rather than its own merits. My tossing the book has absolutely nothing to do with offensive content. The lack of momentum in the logic is beyond frustrating. The anecdotes are filled with so much unnecessary fluff that when he finally gets around to making a point, you can't figure for the life of you how he got there. At first I questioned my own lucidity, being low on sleep when I began the book and having heard what a great author this guy is. But even now that I'm fully rested, half of the points this guy has tried to make so far have gone over my head, or I can JUST make the connection if I cock my head to the side and squint really hard. And then once he does get around to the point, he repeats it like a broken bloody record, like he's clinging onto that wee bit of logic for dear life. Let's see, he says this couple sat next to him at a concert, and had said that on the way there they'd both had the feeling they would sit next to someone of significance. Lo and behold, they sat next to a pastor. But the point here, people, is that the human race is violent and disconnected. Then, this woman told him she's a prostitute, wanted to kill herself, and wanted to know if she'd go to Heaven or Hell. The fact that she had a daughter named Faith is what made the author realize that HE could have been THAT prostitute. I'm sorry, but he sounds like one of those jerks who's gotten so bloody full of himself that he thinks everything out of his mouth is pure gold. I know it's judgmental as I've certainly never met Bell before, or heard one of his sermons, or even read any of his other books. But I feel like arrogance is just oozing out of the pages. I was determined to plunge on ahead, but he lost me at "As soon as Adam and Eve were thrown out of the garden, they became disconnected from each other. From the earth. We're all born into this disconnection. Is that why the first thing newborns do is cry?" Adam and Eve were still LIVING IN THE WILDERNESS with ONLY EACH OTHER TO CLING TO and NEWBORNS CRY BECAUSE THEIR LUNGS NEED TO EXPAND. Seriously, every time I try to crack this book and read a few pages before turning in, I end up fuming at the stupidity and unable to sleep. I'm a very avid reader, and I rank the quality of this writing down there with Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire series (which, if you haven't read, is akin to McDonald's dollar menu for your brain). Come to think of it, I do believe both authors are praised based on the shock factor of their books as opposed to the actual quality of writing.
This was an incredibly poetic book. Bell didn't really get into sex as we commonly think of it in American society, or even how Christians should address sex, like Smedes does in Sex for Christians. Rather he goes to what sex actually is.
And that's really the point of the book. Sex isn't an act that you do. It isn't an adjective describing a fine looking woman. It's feeling comfortable in your body. It's that combination of soul and body that only we (humans) possess.
Many books of course discuss this, pointing out how wrong it is to objectify women, and how sex can be something holy, an act of worship, for Christians don't think little of sex, but rather they think incredibly highly of it. Bell does something else here though, and it's a bit indefinable. Using scripture, interviews, and his own experiences, he awakens in me a new understanding of the reality of agape love when applied to eros, of how to truly love a woman, and be loved in return. In large part this is because of the use of prose-poetry, where he gets at the gut of the subject, rather than simply the skin. Bell shows us, seemingly for the first time, that sex really is only a poor imitation of the eternal relationship with God.
This was a book you have to drink in, and that slowly, contemplating and ruminating on all it has to offer. I've come across only one other book that reaches these heights - Songs of Songs. And truly, Sex God is a Song of Songs for the 21st Century.
on July 30, 2007
This is my first book to read by Rob Bell and it will probably be my last. It's not a bad book, but Bell just seems to be an inch off of the target. I would read two or three pages and be able to follow his reasoning and then he would hit a point that just was off in left field. I know a lot people like him, maybe because he makes this strange and, at times, unbliblical statements (or at least riding the fence) that make you just stratch your head.
Certain things like where he says that in the Old Testament sex meant you were married because when I man raped a girl he had to marry her. From here he makes the conclusion that God may not be against cohabitation if the cohabitors are sincere and loyal to one another. He said it this way, "sex, in the ancient world, was marriage." I just see that as unbiblical because for the very reason that the link between marriage and sex was severed the man must now be forced to recognize and respect that link. It is not about having sex is equal to being married; it is that marriage and sex are connected and when you separate them and deny this connection, you deny their sacred nature of both. It is things like this in almost every chapter where he is a little off.
One more instance is where he says that being sexual is being intimate or connected with another. I like what Rich Mullins said much better when he said that we have made the mistake in this generation to think that to be intimate with somebody we must have sex; Christ was very intimate with people but he never had sex. I think what Bell is doing is taking the word "sexuality", which in it has the implication of connection, and saying that being sexual is not about physicality. With Bell's definition a logical conclusion would be that Jesus was very sexual even though he never had sex. Again I think it may just be Bell trying to be controversial and changing the connotation of the term "sexual" and thus raising some eyebrows. If you want a good book on Christianity and sex look elsewhere ("Real Sex" by Lauren Winner or something), he just doesn't quite get it I think.
As a non-Christian, I found this book puzzling. Not sure who the target audience is: adolescents? adults? I like thought-provoking books of various theologies, but this one annoyed me.
The author starts anecdotes and doesn't finish them. In Chapter 1, there's a touching story about a prostitute who comes to the pastor with detailed suicide plans, and she wants to know if she's going to heaven or hell. It is revealed that she has a daughter named Faith, so the pastor feels a connection with the suicidal prostitute. And that's the point of the story.
But as a reader, I didn't care about his epiphany, I cared about the prostitute herself. Did she live, or die, and does the pastor even know? A lot of the illustrative stories are like this. The point is made in the author's mind, he whams you over the head with it like it's going to be as significant to you as it was to him, and then the flesh-and-blood person behind it is forgotten.
Choppy. Writing. Here are some example of entire paragraphs:
"Happens all the time."
"And the eyes."
"Him submitting to her."
Sorry, but this is juvenile and fake-hip. Bad writing. Doesn't make you. Relevant.
Finally, the author's theology of sex can, I believe, be summed up in thusly: Animals don't have spirits; they are bodies without spirits. Angels don't have bodies; they are spirits without bodies. Humans have both spirits and bodies, so we mustn't treat sex as just physical or just spiritual. (Then he points out how being celibate can demonstrate a life of high sexuality.)
Back to Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, a book I enjoyed much more, a book where the author reveals his own struggles and doesn't just pick out snippets of other people's lives to illustrate his points.
Rob Bell is refreshing. He is taking new looks at subjects with fresh language and perspective. I got this book after reading Velvet Elvis. He is a thinker, He is funny. He is relevant about the issues of life and what people talk about today. I also bought it because I read the review about the guy who bought it and used it in an upcoming wedding that he conducted. Do you have a wedding coming up, then this book is for you.
In Sex God, Rob explores ideas like sexuality and identity and where does that come from, what does being made in the image of God look like today and what does love look like today between a man and woman, or a family?
His Chapter titles are great -- 'God Wears Lipstick', 'Sexy on the inside', 'Angels and Animals' and 'She ran into the Girls Bathroom', keep you turning the pages of this great book. His chapter on marriage is worth the whole book and his cross-cultural understanding of the Biblical story gives a new generation of readers fresh insight.
This book is for men and women and how they treat each other. It is for couples considering marriage or for those who have been married a long time. It is for parents to talk with to their children. Rob writes about the common misconceptions about sex and what people search for, what has let them down and what their soul longs for.
Page 156/7 - "It's easy to take your clothes off and have sex. People do it all the time. But opening up your soul to someone, letting them into your spirit and thoughts and fears and future and hopes and dreams..... that is being naked." This book will help you find out what love is all about and how you are apart of something much bigger.....
on March 21, 2011
In my opinion, this book is better written than Velvet Elvis (VE), but it gets a lower grade for a couple of reasons. One, I needed to read VE when I read it. The struggles that I'm dealing with combined with the emotional response put it at 5 stars.
That being said, Sex God allows itself to be used in more ways by more people. His writing is heavily criticized by many, but in many ways it models what we see in scripture concerning the issues of sexuality.
As a pastor, I see this book as a very positive possibility for premarital counseling and maybe even some marital refreshers. I really believe that this can be used for both followers of Jesus as well as non-followers.
Another major critique is the titles and subtitles used in the book, and this might actually be the strongest criticism. There is one chapter that is titled, "Whips, Chains & Fruit" which doesn't bring up the "purest" of images. Yet, I remember that I was either in 7th or 8th grade (approx. 17 years ago), that I heard this phrase repeated by several students in silly manner, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but whips and chains excite me." Bell uses this particular chapter to talk about how we lust for what could be yet never delivers. Fruit was lusted after by Adam and Eve and what they were hoping for was not what they received. Another chapter was titled, "God Wears Lipstick," and if anyone read it, would understand that this was how the image of God calls for humanity to be human. That will make more sense if you read the chapter. The major flaw in this criticism is that Bell is speaking the language of the culture without being of the culture. And nothing mentioned bothers me if I heard another preacher say it from the pulpit, though that would probably be a major disagreement with those who complain.
The final criticism I have seen is that Bell does not believe in certain doctrines in orthodox manner. To that I respond: Really? Do you even know what orthodox doctrines are? Bell does not promote premarital sex. He talks about what that looked like in ancient times and how God gave provisions to protect women who were raped and groped. He says that those who have premarital sex are tied to a similar concept and that couples who are living together are married in the same kind of sense as what is talked about in the Torah. This is true. Bell also does not look down on abstinence, he holds it in very high regard. Yet several say that he wants people to be like animals in their sexuality (something he is against in his chapter on Animals and Angels).
What it comes down to is that there are several people who don't care about the deeper stuff. And that is fine. Not everyone needs to pick up this book and read it. In fact, that would be a mistake. But for those of us who struggle in our sexuality (and we are not talking about gender preference) and intimacy and have been hurt by those in power, this book helps to console while moving us to action. I have issues with trusting people in power and this book helps to uncover the disconnectedness that I experience in these situations. In other words, I have problems submitting and I have problems when those that I think should submit, do not. Bell does an extraordinary job of addressing that, and that is why the book is better than VE.
on June 22, 2007
I'm not a strong Rob bell fan so for those of you who are fans, no offence. Some of his Nooma videos I like, some I don't.
The book has not so much to do with sex, only indirectly. he spends time talking about the dignity of the human body and that we have deeper issues in our souls...
Bell is an extremely gifted communicator who tells stories which are profound, though not nearly as profound as Bell tries to make them out to be. At the end of a chapter one feels moved, but upon reflection when I asked myself what he actually said or what I learned the answer was...very little.
Great style, little substance.