109 of 127 people found the following review helpful
on March 12, 2013
What We Talk About When We Talk About God (WWTAG) is the first book Rob Bell has written since Love Wins blew up the internet. Since then, Rob has stepped down from his position as Lead pastor at Mars Hill, the church he founded, and moved to the Los Angeles area.
Writing book reviews is always tricky. But when Rob Bell writes a book, that review is even harder because you almost have to write a review about Rob himself before you can talk about the book. Well, I'm not going to do that. I'm going to stick to the book itself. If you like Rob, you'll probably like this book. If you don't like Rob, I doubt you'll like it. This review is for people who are more interested in God than Rob Bell.
WWTAG launches conversations about God into the twenty-first century.
Rob opens by acknowledging a problem many in the Church are afraid to face: for many outside the Church (and a growing number inside, too) the way we talk about God feels at best stale and outdated and at worst dangerous and primitive. Rob asks if God can keep up with the modern world.
The question is rhetorical. Rob immediately confesses that the God he finds in the Old and New Testament Scriptures, the God revealed in Jesus, isn't behind us somewhere, trying to keep up. Rather, God is ahead of us, calling us into a better future.
Rob uses the story of Jacob dreaming of a ladder to Heaven. When Jacob wakes, he confesses that God was there even though he didn't know it. The story reminds us that
God hasn't changed; it's Jacob who wakes up to a whole new awareness of who - and where - God is.
How do we talk about God in the wake of Modernity?
Rob offers three concepts: God is with us, for us and ahead of us. Contrary to the distant god of Modernist Deism, God is working around us, near us, accessible to us. But Rob is clear that this is not pantheism. God is not everything. We are not God. God is with us.
Contrary to the moralistic god of Modernist Humanism, God invites us to discover the persons we were created to be. God came among us as Jesus not to give us a list of rules, to legislate us into persons God could tolerate, but to show us the way back to life. But Rob is clear that this is not Prosperity Gospel. Jesus' good news is radical, counterintuitive.
Contrary to the primitive, tribalistic god who can't keep up with Modernity, a god of the gaps whose realm constantly loses ground to the onslaught of Science, God is ahead of us, calling humanity forward to be a better people. Every day is a chance to move another "click" forward as a people.
The primary criticism that'll be leveled against WWTAG will be its Progressivist bent.
Rob tackles the very difficult Scriptures of the Old Testament - like the genocides in Joshua and "eye for an eye" in Exodus by claiming that God meets human cultures where they are and then calls them forward. So what might be progressive in one culture ("Eye for an eye" in the nomadic, post-Exodus Israelite culture) can become regressive by Jesus' day.
Rob argues that the whole of Scripture is God calling humanity forward, and that in our interpretation we should always be looking forward too (since that's where God is - ahead of us). Here Rob leans most clearly towards classical liberalism. But even still, he's grounded squarely within Orthodoxy.
If you accept any sort of progressive revelation, it's hard to see how you can avoid Rob's conclusions.
Rob believes that God is taking the world somewhere, that God is calling us all to participate in that, and that we have the responsibility to be the people we were created to be.
At the same time, Rob never denies the reality of Sin, the hopelessness of humanity left to our own devices and he never denies that human nature hasn't gotten any better.
And for Rob, the answer to this dilemma is nothing but Jesus himself. Jesus is the sword that cuts through the Gordian knot of our sinfulness and opens the way into God's better future.
So why do we need to read this book?
WWTAG sounds exactly like the conversations I have over and over with people who genuinely want to know God but can't comprehend the god presented to them by the Church. Rob offers the Church new ways to talk about God that are still wholly faithful to the Church's historic witness to Jesus.
And we need new ways to talk about God. Not because God has changed. But because we have.
If you don't like Rob, you probably won't like WWTAG. If you're in the Church and you don't see any problem with the way the Church has always talked about God, this book will probably just make you mad.
But if you have ever wondered how the Old Testament God fits with what you know about Jesus, give it a try. If you have ever cringed at the battle between faith and science and wondered if there's a better way, read it. If you have a hard time ditching the idea that God is a distant judge waiting to condemn you, read WWTAG.
And we all know people who have these same questions. So get two copies of this book, and read it with a friend. Enjoy the new conversations about God this book will spark.
Bottom Line: What We Talk About When We Talk About God offers a compelling post-modern incarnation of biblical theology. Read it with a friend, because you'll want to talk about it.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review purposes from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 7, 2013
To me, What We Talk About When We Talk About God speaks of the physical, spiritual, metaphysical and scientific aspects of faith in a known and often complex understanding of a God who exists, or to some does not exist. After listening to this audiobook, I immediately thought, "Wow, someone has written all that I have thought through my years of faith!" Then I was asked to do a review of the book and I'm always up to a challenge as a budding writer. At first I asked myself, "Why me?" but then after doing some research on the book, I see why.
Have you ever asked yourself, "What are they talking about when they talk about God?" If you have asked this question then this book is for your listening, but know that you need to come to this book with a level of understanding of the enormous machinations going on in and around the world to grasp the reality of what Mr. Bell is saying.
It is clear from the beginning that God is not OUT THERE, where everyone expects an omniscient being to be. He is IN HERE: your very soul, where he has been since the beginning of time. And Bell clarifies whether He is a he or a she. Deep I know, and to a believer this will come off as a WHAT? moment. Upon finishing this book you might come away with some understanding of how finely tuned into the universe you are and realize it is not something new and weird, but that it has been the thoughts of many for more ages than you can count. The thought of `someone' knowing your every thought and every move; every deed and every deception, might throw a few people off kilter. But if you believe in God and all His Glory nothing in this book will shock you, it will only solidify all you knew to be true within yourself.
Without getting too preachy I'll talk about the controversy that seems to haunt all books dealing with the word God or Jesus. In my research I stumbled upon a few comments that to me sounded as if they were mocking this book and I see that there are many in this world still sleeping and unaware of the magnitude of one Word!
Not to say that what Rob Bell is spilling is new truth. He is only a writer/minister expressing truth as he sees it. As we all know, everyone has an opinion on something whether it is the weather, wars, famine, killings, or the clothes people wear (or don't wear) to the tattoo craze happening. Before the technological age the world was not as corrupt as it is today but we have always been an opinionated people. What We Talk About When We Talk About God is an expression of Rob Bell's opinion on the state of this country and the heart and soul of man that has gone astray from the very essence of our being that God himself created us to be.
If you're the kind of person who reads the Bible and just don't `get it', this book might help in clearing some elusive thoughts for you. If you're the kind of person who thinks the Bible is just an extravagant fairytale written by some ancient men, then this book might clear up the fairytale aspect `God don't exist' for you. If you're a believer, you might listen to this book, like me, and say, "Wow! That makes total sense."
Like I said, no book about God is going to be understood by everyone who reads/hears it, just as the Bible itself can be misunderstood. Take everything with a grain of salt and believe what seems to be true in the very center of your being, your soul. That is the only place you'll find God dwelling. If you want to join a movement of reconnecting with the vitality that once existed in this world, this is the book for your listening pleasure.
The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God.
~ Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith
I've only listened to a few audiobooks but I do know how important the sound is to one's ears. Rob Bell narrates this himself with a strong tone coupled with a sensitive nature that the listeners, I believe, will connect to right away. A steady flow of reading throughout the book made What We Talk About When We Talk About God a pleasure to listen to.
From the editor: Unlike Joni, I have listened to hundreds of audiobooks so I'll throw in my two cents. Authors do not typically make good narrators. In fact sometimes they are very bad at it. But there are always those exceptions that prove the rule. Rob Bell is an exception. I attribute this to the fact that he is a pastor and is accustomed to using his voice to speak to people. One thing I always ask myself about a narrator is "does he sound like he's reading a book to me, or does he sound like he's really speaking to me from his own experiences, or his own heart?" Rob Bell sounded like he was speaking right from heart, about a subject that he is very passionate about. His narration made this, just as Joni said, a pleasure to listen to.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 2013
Like all of Rob Bell's audiobooks, he read this one himself. This is the only way to go if you ask me, because this way the reading gets the author's inflection, emphases, pauses, humor and articulation exactly right. The performance reading is superb.
As for the content of this one, if you've never listened to Rob Bell before, then you are either in for a treat or one of his most hostile critics. "What We Talk About When We Talk About God" is an encouraging and exciting reminder of what being an authentic Jesus-follower is all about. And what is awesome about this book is that Bell takes us on this journey in ways readers might not otherwise expect. I won't give away too much here, but I do want to highlight 2 strong threads in this reading, just as a foretaste of the work's content. The whole thing is worth listening to.
Mr. Bell starts with a quick odyssey into the world of quantum mechanics and astrophysics, from the very small, brave new world of subatomic particles to the macro level of the outer regions of the universe, and he reminds us of humanity's unique position smack dab in the middle. Not only that, but also that the quirky behavior of things that we cannot fully apprehend at these unfathomably micro and macro worlds hint at the miraculous. Things that pop into and out of existence with nary a trace. Things that challenge everything we thought we ever knew about the nice, tidy and safe world of Newtonian physics. His point? There is more going on beneath the surface than we often realize, and that our world's most profound scientists, theologians, philosophers and ethicists are all asking remarkably similar questions. It is also his point that many of the miracles referred to in the biblical text may not be as "impossible" as many skeptics of the Judeo-Christian traditions might have us believe.
But that's only the beginning. I won't write a massive review that no one wants to read, but let me say that Rob Bell also takes on the recurring theme that critics of Christianity love to ride, namely, that the stories elaborated on in the Old Testament (OT) represent an archaic, genocidal maniac for a god character. Mr. Bell reminds readers that Jesus, as the full, incarnate representation of God is perpetually pulling us forward to where he is. We are not there yet, and in many ways we may have even gone sideways for a bit here and there, but this is precisely why God is NOT saying and doing the same sorts of things at the end of the Bible as he was at the beginning. For Abraham, Moses and Isaiah et. al, God was taking where THEY were in terms of morality, justice and understanding of himself, and pulling (sometimes shoving) them forward to the next, better step. To OUR modern ears and requisite confusion, what God was pulling THEM forward to still seems archaic and backwards, but for the people who first experienced it, it was radical, transformational and mind blowing. Bell's point is not only that perhaps we misunderstand much of the OT, but ALSO that God was not finished at the end of the New Testament. God is STILL pulling humanity forward to the next level of justice, mercy, peace and love, and yes, this progressive tractor beam into a more Christ-like existence can even include Christians.
The journey Rob Bell takes readers on is profound and can scarcely be done justice by this reviewer. Go, read the book. If you hear what Rob Bell is saying with your heart and mind open, and hoping to be encouraged and refreshed... you will be.
Listen to it; and thanks for listening to me.
47 of 63 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2013
I am a disturbed man. I am disturbed because people compromise the truth. I am disturbed because people marginalize the truth and swerve away from biblical reality. I am disturbed because a great communicator with a bright mind and a love for people continues down a rocky path. On Tuesday, March 12, Rob Bell unveiled his newest book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God. I am disturbed because one group of people uncritically accepts anything that comes off the end of Bell’s pen. On the other hand, I am disturbed by Christians who refuse to debate civilly with the likes of Bell. Instead, they cast stones and call names. They protest outside at his speaking events and drop nasty one liners on Facebook. Surely, there must be a better way!
In Bell’s previous offering, Love Wins, several fundamental doctrines were undermined, most notably the doctrine of hell. Bell argued then, ”If we want hell, if we want heaven, they are ours. That’s how love works. It can’t be forced, manipulated, or coerced. It always leaves room for the other to decide. God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins.” The author continues, “Restoration brings God glory; eternal torment doesn’t. Reconciliation brings God glory; endless anguish doesn’t. Renewal and return cause God’s greatness to shine through the universe; never-ending punishment doesn’t.”
The author continues the dialogue (according to emergent standards) in What We Talk About When We Talk About God. The writing is witty and inquisitive. Bell has mastered the art of asking questions and has adjusted his eyes and tuned his ears in order to understand postmodern culture.
One of Bell’s central claims in the book is this: “We have a problem with God.” He argues that many people are rethinking the nature of God. Personally, I think that Bell is on to something here. He is keenly aware of a shift that appears to be taking place in the minds of some people that concerns the nature of God. Consider some of the ways that the nature of God has been recast in recent years, especially with the rise of open theism, inclusivism, and universalism. Bell is not only aware of this “mind-shift” that has to do with the nature of God; he embraces it himself. He compares God to the classic Oldsmobile. This old car served many people in its day but has since been proven irrelevant. Bell ponders what he calls the “tribal God” – “… the one who’s always right (which means everybody else is wrong) – is increasingly perceived to be small, narrow, irrelevant, mean, and sometimes just not that intelligent.” Bell quips, “Is God going to be left behind? Like Oldsmobiles?”
What We Talk About When We Talk About God essentially argues that the old view of God (the Oldsmobile view) is outdated and needs to be updated. The argument revolves around three words: “With, For, and Ahead.” Essentially, Bell argues that God is with us, for us, and ahead of us – all of us.
With: God is with us. He is the “energy, the glue, the force, the life, the power, and the source of all we know to be the depth, fullness, and vitality of life from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows and everything in between.”
For: God is for us. ”I believe God is for every single one of us, regardless of our beliefs or perspectives or actions or failures or mistakes or sins or opinions about whether God exists or not.”
Ahead: God is ahead of us. ”It’s as if human history were progressing along a trajectory, an arc, a continuum; and sacred history is the capturing and recording of those moments when people became aware that they were being called and drawn and pulled forward by the divine force and power and energy that gives life to everything.”
These affirmations are all very interesting and will likely receive much positive feedback. But do they stand up to the scrutiny of Scripture? I offer four specific critiques that go to the core of the book.
1. Being Certain About Certitude
Bell stands shoulder to shoulder with postmodern thinkers who mock the possibility of certitude. Anyone who has studied the Enlightenment (Christian and non-Christian alike) will admit a posture of arrogance during these days. But certitude does not necessarily entail an arrogant attitude. Indeed, even Bell is pleading for a particular kind of knowledge that is wedded with humility. Orthodoxy should include bold propositions and large doses of humility.
What is troubling about Bell’s discomfort with certitude is that certitude appears throughout the book. His certitude about the world, the laws of physics, and the nature of God conflicts with the argument against certitude!
2. A Failure to Distinguish Between Law and Gospel
I am increasingly aware of and concerned with Christian thinkers who fail to distinguish between law and gospel. What is concerning about this particular work is that neither emerge clearly. When the author argues that “God is for every single one of us” law is essentially extinguished. Additionally, the gospel appears to be inclusive; it is a gospel that appears to cut across all kinds of theological traditions, including traditions that fall outside the pale of orthodoxy.
3. A Failure to Distinguish Between the Creator and the Creature
The notion that God is “with us,” “for us,” and “ahead of us leads readers away from the importance of the Creator-creature distinction. The apostle Paul made this distinction plain in his message to the philosophers in Athens: “The God who made the world and everything in it, being the Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24-25, ESV).
Acts 17:22-31 reveals a Creator God who is the cosmos shaper, the kingdom shaker who lives above creation. He is the all-sufficient Ruler, Life Giver, and Destiny Maker. And he is the righteous Judge who “commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed …” (Acts 17:30-31, ESV).
And Scripture speaks of the creature who was created by God (Gen. 2:7). The creatures (Adam and Eve) were originally free from sin but fell and as a result became sinners by nature and by choice (Gen. 3:1-7). As such, these sinful creatures have no inherent righteousness, no desire for God (Rom. 3:10-11). Subsequently, all creatures are born with a hatred in their hearts for God (Rom. 8:7-8). They are dead in sin (Eph. 2:1-3), and they are enslaved in sin; totally unable to come to Christ apart from God’s empowerment (John 6:44). These creatures are dependent upon God for everything. These creatures, while given the ability to make free choices, are determined (Acts 17:26; Prov. 19:21; 21:1). And these creatures are accountable to a righteous and sovereign Judge (Rom. 2:5-11).
4. A Failure to Reveal the Whole Truth About God
The notion that God is “with us,” “for us,” and “ahead of us (every single one of us) may sound good initially but falls short of the biblical model. It is true that God is with his people. We see this especially in the incarnation of Jesus, the One who is named Immanuel – or God with us (Matt. 1:23). Yet God is not “with” the man who has rejected the revelation of God in Christ. ”… Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).
It is true that God is “for us” – that is to say, he is for his people. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39, ESV). Yet God is not “for” the man who has rejected the promises and purposes of God. He resists the proud (Jas. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5).
And it is true that God is “ahead of us” – he works on behalf of his people (Isa. 64:4). Indeed, he works all things for good – but not for all. The promise in Romans 8:28 is this: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV). And Scripture is clear on this point: God does not give sovereign grace to all people. “For many are called, but few are chosen”” (Matthew 22:14, ESV). The one who resists God’s authority; the one who refuses to take refuge in God will endure the wrath of almighty God (Ps. 2:12; Deut. 32:35; Rom. 1:18-24).
The model presented in What We Talk About When We Talk About God appears to have something in common with panentheism which says that the world is “in” God. So in the final analysis, the book appears to make much of God’s immanence and make light of his transcendence.
A.W. Tozer rightly said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Tozer continues, “Among the sins to which the human heart is prone, hardly any other is more hateful to God than idolatry, for idolatry is at bottom a libel on His character. The idolatrous heart assumes that God is other than He is – in itself a monstrous sin – and substitutes for the true God one made after its own likeness.” Therefore, we must beware of our propensity to fashion a god that suits our particular needs. We must always subject our vision of God to the Scriptures and allow God’s Word to have the final say.
My plea to fellow evangelicals who disagree with Bell is to engage with biblically minded sensibility. Name calling and ad hominem attacks must stop. May our debates with those whom we disagree be filled with kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (Col. 3:12). And when we talk about God, may our talk reflect the biblical vision of God that emerges in Scripture. May we bow before his transcendent majesty. May his holiness stop us dead in our tracks. May we find comfort in his immanence – for he finds great delight in working for his people. May we marvel at and worship this great God who tends “his flock like a shepherd and gathers the lambs in his arms” (Isa. 40:11).
Soli Deo Gloria!
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2014
I really liked Rob Bell's other books, they were all inspiring and Christian books that brought me closer to a deeper understanding of God. This book did not do any of that at all in fact it leaves me with key questions about what has happened to Rob. He makes a whole book about God but it's not the biblical God, it is not the God that gives commandments, that makes man in His image, it's not even a God with an image, it's like a historical encompassing god that is whatever you want it to be, such as just spirituality in general. The God of the bible is a jealous God, but Rob ignores anything like that doesn't hardly mention the bible...
There are also serious inaccuracies. It is said that there is more energy in a human than in several nuclear warheads, that is clearly based on Einstein's e=mc2 and calculating the energy of a human based on his mass. But then when determining the yield of the nuclear warhead it seems based on actual yield rather than assuming all the mass turns into pure energy. He also says God doesn't want tribes but in Revelations which is yet to come true it states that God recognizes 12 different tribes and churches. Rob also ignores that God's people are those that keep his commandments. He ignores that God is unchanging, and that God wants us to openly study scriptures personally. He even states that a church that is tribal is anti-God, but in Revelations again God points out that some people are His and others are not based on criteria laid out. Then Rob mentions alot of anti-American things such as our possession of a great deal of weapons per capita as compared to the rest of the world, but he doesn't mention any other countries that also amass many weapons per capita. Our going to war in Iraq for oil (not that subtle). Also points out we are the only nation to have used nukes, but ignores the justification for doing so just to prove a very biased point. Then he mentions God being progressive and there is indeed progression throughout the Bible but it's not a continual progression more like God gives a law and consequences, and Jesus teaches forgiveness that it is better to forgive than to punish. The Bible also states that there will be no more speaking in tongues or prophecies and that the Bible is completes so there is no more additions to be had until Revelations is completed and we are reunited. So the progression can't be shown to be continual. I was a huge fan of Rob Bell's teachings and I am extremely disappointed now, I hope that he gets back to the biblical God ASAP.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2014
I loved the ideas in this book. This is the God I grew up with. Someone who loves you and wants to see you happy and well. Also, he talks about science and religion. In the deep South, where I now live, there's a lot of religions that treat science like it's heresy, or simply dismiss it. Mr. Bell's explanations are in plain English with everyday examples. When you read his book it's like having a discussion with him in your living room. All I can say is if he was my preacher, I would still be going to church.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2013
Rob Bell is able to put words together in such a way that makes meant to sit next to him at he dinner table. He does not talk AT his listeners, but he has an amazing viewpoint on God, God's Teachings, and on Humans.
In the terms of he old Testiment, one would "take up the yoke" of a Rabbi they admire. Of course I ake up the yoke of Jesus Christ, but clearly, so does Rob Bell, and he explains thing brilliantly and lovingly.
Keep writing, and keep reding, Mr. Bell!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 18, 2013
I have a whole new understanding of a whole lot of things. I have always been interested in cosmology and quantum physics. Bell's information is so easy to understand and very current. I was surprised that a minister was writing about these topics. How cool! Then he shifts to religion, Christianity, and Jesus. Bell made me think of things in a whole new way. Wonderful!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 16, 2014
We talk about God, whether we believe him or in him or not. We pray often, only in a huge crisis or not at all, but here's always a bit of nagging, no matter where we are, that we're still not sure of this God. Who is he, what is he really like, and do I fit into His plan...if there is one. I love the way Rob Bell takes all of these things and seems to scatter them all and then bring them all back together again in an intelligent and sincere way. Great read for any Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, agnostic or atheist (possibly anyone else I've left off of the list)
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2014
I've never been disappointed with a book by Rob Bell. And I have read many of his books. He is truly gifted. Anyone who can shake up the foundations of the Evangelical faith like he did with "Love Wins" is a sheer genius in my estimation. And, while I don't believe "What We Talk About When We Talk About God" is as hard-hitting and riveting as Love Wins, it still doesn't disappoint. Bell has a way with words to adequately convey complex material into simple laymen terms. I particularly liked the portion of this book about atoms, sub-atomic elements, and how we are all interconnected as one. And, how not all things can be known (i.e. the randomness of electrons). And, then Bell somehow was able to point all of this to God. I also like how he dispells the many misconceptions we have about God and describe Him in such a way that He is always with us and for us. We don't have to be right with God before being with God.
To be honest, there was some repetitiveness from his other material placed in this book. There were at least two chapters that sounded very similar to his other book "Velvet Elvis". Nevertheless, this was still a classic Rob Bell book. It appeared to me this book was geared toward an audience that was either disenfranchised with the church and those who are seeking. There was a lot of vagueness and broad strokes. While inevitably he does point the reader to Jesus, it's not an in-your-face, Bible-thumping, way that many people are put off by, including myself.
So, while "What We Talk About When We Talk About God" is not a deep theological treatise, it does point the reader to God and Christ Jesus. And, I applaud Bell for this effort. I recommend this book for Rob Bell fans and to those who are seeking to understand who God is in ways you have never heard or understood before.