Review: What is the Bible by Rob Bell

A friend told me that he was reading, What is the Bible by Rob Bell and afterwards he had some thoughts and questions regarding it. I was unaware of the book so I was curious. I had already read Love Wins and wanted to know how Bell would approach this topic. Some Christians might be surprised that I would read a book by the “infamous” author. I wonder how many people have made up their mind about Bell and his material before reading one paragraph from one of his books. I don’t agree with Bell on a lot of things but at least I’m making an informed decision as to why I don’t.

Why do preconceptions like that grind my gears? Society in general is so quick to jump on the cultural mass media bandwagon. “Trump is a racist!” Why is he a racist? Can you show me some data that supports that claim? “No I can’t.”

I read books by people who are reformed, charismatic and everywhere in between. Why? Because I never want to stop learning and growing, no scholar, preacher or teacher has perfect theology, I surely don’t. Yet, sadly I see it online every day, Christians who are stuck in their echo chamber. They are full of prejudice towards other doctrines and think they are the sole arbiter of truth. When Christians start to blacklist books and burn them, I ask myself, would a form of Christian totalitarianism appeal to them?

Now what do I think about this book? For starters I wouldn’t burn it. Can it shake your faith so much that you stop believing that the Bible is the word of God and Christ is real? If it accomplishes all that, I would argue your relationship with Christ was at best questionable. You might read it and have questions, that’s good and understandable. Hopefully it is a catalyst towards discovering for yourself, why do I believe the Bible to be the word of God?

The good:

I do like Bell’s writing style. It’s engaging in a personal sort of way and it comes a cross as a conversation between the reader and him. Primarily, I like the book for one reason. He tells us that reading the Bible literally isn’t always the best way to understand the Bible. Which I fully support and often tell people to engage different texts with different methods. A strict literal hermeneutic quickly runs into challenges when scripture switches to different literary devices such as allegory, hyperbole, figurative, metaphors, imagery, etc. Most of us know that Jesus isn’t a literal door, nor a literal lamb, but many adhere to strict literalism and only deviate from it when a literal rendition wouldn’t even make sense to a 3 year old.

“I’ve heard people say that they read it literally. As if that’s the best way to understand the Bible. It’s not. We read it literately. We read it according to the kind of literature that it is. That’s how you honor it. That’s how you respect it. That’s how you learn from it. That’s how you enjoy it.”
Bell, Rob. What Is the Bible? (p. 80). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

This is subjective in all likelihood, but I must share it since it’s the overall sensation I took away from the book. Too many people approach and think about the Bible as something ethereal. The 66 books of the protestant Bible are divine, but also very human. Humans wrote it, it is God-breathed but the narrative is about human loss, victories, tears, laughter and so much more. That’s not the primary role of scripture, the primary role is to know and understand God but we learn about Him through the human experience of others. Moses, Isaac, Peter or John were not supernatural beings, as much I sometimes entertain the idea that they must have been at least half-human and half-supernatural. No, encouragingly for me they were fully human, just as I am.

The bad:

Unfortunately, this section will be longer so buckle in. 🙂

I must admit, I’m confused. I don’t know if Rob Bell is a Christian at all but that’s not for me to judge, that’s between him and God. At times in the book he came across as talking out of both sides of his mouth. I still don’t truly know what he thinks about the Bible, Jesus or what it means to be a Christian. 

“That’s how we got the Bible. Some people wrote some things down.”
Bell, Rob. What Is the Bible? (p. 19). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Statements like that make me wonder, what is his motive? Yes, people wrote some things down but is that all it is? The undercurrent running through his book is a subtle erosion of the foundational truth that the Bible is something more than some people documenting how humanity evolved morally over time.

“This story is about an evolution in human thinking about the divine.”
Bell, Rob. What Is the Bible? (p. 63). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

“The authors of the books of the Bible, then, weren’t just writing—they were selecting and editing and choosing and making decisions about what material and content furthered their purposes in writing and what didn’t.”
Bell, Rob. What Is the Bible? (p. 21). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

His description gives the impression that how we got the Bible was merely a human endeavor and that God had no part in narrating or inspiring the written word, nor played a part in the events that took place.

“Much of this cynicism is due to the way stories like these have been told—often by well-meaning religious people trying to prove that there actually were two animals at a time that went into an ark. Yes, the boat really was big enough, or, Of course God had a plan for where to put the elephant poo. That sort of thing. What this stilted literalism does, in its efforts to take the story seriously, is often miss the point of the story. This story was a major leap forward in human consciousness, a breakthrough in how people conceived of the divine, a step toward a less violent, more relational understanding of the divine.”
Bell, Rob. What Is the Bible? (p. 94). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

This paragraph encapsulates Bell’s entire thesis. The Bible is full of stories that probably didn’t happen, and we should pick and choose nuggets from it to form our perception of the divine.

“In the book of Acts, there’s a story about a man named Peter who falls into a trance. Like you do.”
Bell, Rob. What Is the Bible? (p. 163). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

“Like you do.” If he has a hard time believing that people fall into a trance, no wonder he has a hard time believing some of the more supernatural stories found in the Bible literally took place.

“He’s alive? (Interesting that the people who were closest to Jesus and spent years with him don’t recognize him post-resurrection. Hmmm. The next time you hear someone insisting that it was an actual, literal resurrection, make sure you add that bodily must mean that he didn’t look like he looked before.)”
Bell, Rob. What Is the Bible? (pp. 184-185). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Let’s assume Mr. Bell is a Christian, that he believes that Jesus was God incarnate. Would it be a huge leap in reason to presume that Jesus could mask His identity being God and all? Personally, I can’t imagine a true Christian would write like Bell does. Here we have another subtle question to sow doubt. This is the most foundational doctrine in Christianity, that the resurrection was an actual event that literally took place. If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is without foundation, and so is your faith. (1 Corinthians 15:14).

“Did Jesus Have to Die? No. He didn’t. He was killed.”
Bell, Rob. What Is the Bible? (p. 241). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

I think the Bible begs to differ. Through Christ we receive a right standing before God which would have been impossible without Jesus Christ taking on our sins. “He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21.

“This is why the Father loves Me, because I am laying down My life so I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from My Father.”
John 10:17-18.

Jesus wasn’t a powerless man that was killed because He brought dishonor to the Pharisees and Sadducees. He freely laid down His life for us, no human power could take it away from Him.

“So when you read that God told them to kill everyone in the village, someone wrote that. That’s how someone understood that event. Don’t drag God into it.”
Bell, Rob. What Is the Bible? (p. 295). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

This will be the last quote from the book. I still have around dozen quotes that I would like to discuss but I think that’s probably not necessary. I have to ask, are you as confused as I am? What does Mr. Bell believe? Let’s try and brake that paragraph down.

So when we read Exodus 23:20–23, that is not God talking? That is just someone writing down fiction because that’s how they wanted to frame the event? Let’s not drag God into it… What God are you talking about? God of the Bible? How can you believe in the God of the Bible when you don’t believe what the Bible says about Him? This is so contradictory it hurts my brain.

A lot of Mr. Bells arguments remind me of a Biblical character found in Genesis 3. “Did God really say?” The whole book is about sowing seeds of doubt and systematically removing everything that makes the Bible supernatural. If you believe that Jesus Christ descended from heaven, lived, died, rose again, ascended back to heaven and is by the right hand of the Father but you struggle with Jonah and the fish, the flood or other events just read what Jesus said. If you believe Jesus was without sin and didn’t lie, we must believe what He said about these events, right?

“For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. “For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark …”
Matthew 24:37–38

“The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
Luke 11:32

Hopefully after reading this blog you have an informed opinion on why you agree or disagree with Mr. Bell. For my part, he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Acting as if something is true, then stripping away everything that makes it true and still acting as if it’s somehow true and holds any value. This is not teetering on being illogical, this fell over the edge and crashed into stupidity.

“Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. “Be on your guard before him and obey his voice; do not be rebellious toward him, for he will not pardon your transgression, since My name is in him. “But if you truly obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. “For My angel will go before you and bring you in to the land of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will completely destroy them.”
Exodus 23:20-23