Talking about God with Rob Bell, Part 1

What-We-Talk-about-When-We-Talk-about-God-hc-c-677x1024Rob Bell is at it again. Right around 2 years ago, Bell released his book Love Wins (which I reviewed here). This caused quite a stir in the evangelical Christian community. Now, Bell has written What We Talk About When We Talk About God (the video here sums most of it up). This book has not caused as much of a stir, but is certainly worth discussion. Once I was able to get my hands on the book, I read it and enjoyed it, and I’m going to give it a couple of posts here on the blog. There are essentially three parts of this book and to discuss them all would be too long for just one post. In this post, I’ll looking at the first 3 chapters. The next posts will explore chapters 4-6 (with, for, and ahead) and then the last chapters (so and epilogue). In the last post, I’ll also give my general review.

His book opens with a comparison of our talk about God with an oldsmobile (see his book trailer for the story). This sets the stage for why Bell is writing. Oldsmobiles are outdated being left behind and God seems to be getting the same treatment. In our fast paced world, God, especially the God of the Bible, seems to be treated as old and no longer necessary. Bell’s experience, however, has been that people recognize in their lives that there is something beyond them and they can feel it (the hum) in their lives, but most religious discussion of God has turned them away. That’s why he’s writing this book. We need to change the way that we talk about God. We need to speak about God in a way that connects to people. God seems irrelevant, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

The next two chapters, serve as an extension of the introduction. They prepare the way for Bell to talk about how God is with us, for us, and ahead of us. “Open” is a jump into science. Much of it is very similar to what he spoke about in his video “Everything is Spiritual.” The heart of this chapter is that the universe is not as definable as we think it is. Because of this, it is very sensible for us to talk about God. Bell writes, “When we talk about God, then, we’re talking about something very real and yet beyond our conventional means of analysis and description.”

Chapter three, titled “Both,” is focused on the paradoxical nature of talking about God. One one side of the paradox is the fact that God is beyond us and beyond our understanding. We can know God, but we cannot fully know or understand him. On the other side of the paradox, we must talk about God. For us to know him, we have to talk about him.

When it comes to the first section of this book. I’m really pleased. I’m not so sure about the science, but ultimately, talking about God is theology. I think more people need to hear what he says about how we discuss theology. We use words and phrases to describe the indescribable. There is humility needed when approaching theology. Many people think that they have solved the riddle of God or that they have theology down, when really they have barely scratched the surface.

The part that I am cautious about is the discussion of updating the way talk about God. While I don’t disagree with Bell, if not careful this can lead anywhere. This requires humility. Sometimes we need to recognize that we speak incorrectly about God or in an unhelpful manner, and that does require change. On the other hand, we need to also be willing to stick to the truth when it is unpopular.

Part 2 of the review
Part 3 of the review

6 thoughts on “Talking about God with Rob Bell, Part 1

  1. David Russell Mosley 04/02/2013 / 8:28 am


    I wonder, could you say more about his interaction with science? It seems, from what you wrote, almost as if he's suggesting that thanks to Quantum physics, God is something within the universe that science can study, or at least should make room for. Is this right or am I reading too much into it?

  2. Peter Stevens 04/02/2013 / 8:59 am

    Part of it is a little hard for me to follow with his science. On one level he is saying that there is more to this universe than we can explain, so it's extremely reasonable to say that God is out there. Just because we cannot explain him does not mean that he doesn't exist. We can't explain why many of the subatomic particles behave the way that they do.

    There are also times, however, that he seems to connect to spirituality. Not in a way to say that God can be found in quantum physics, but in a way that everything is interconnect. The atoms and particles that are currently making me will not be the same ones that are making me later. Particles move and change, but I'm still me. There is something that makes me me beyond my atomic and particular make up. There are times, and I will address this more in my post on Friday, that he seems to border on New Age in the way that he incorporates quantum physics with spirituality, but he is clear to say that he doesn't believe in pantheism, but that there is one clear God. He just uses quantum physics to spiritualize our “physical” existence. Much the way that he does in Everything is Spiritual.

  3. David Russell Mosley 04/03/2013 / 3:38 am


    That makes some sense, however, I still think he's in danger of making God just another thing in the universe (and therefore a thing we can do without) if he's trying to say that God is out there are the same basis that we can't explain the behaviours of subatomic particles.

    I'll admit, I had even thought of the potential problems of New Agism and pantheism. It sounds like he's a little out of his depths when it comes to how science and theology can interact.

  4. Peter Stevens 04/03/2013 / 2:28 pm

    The thought of New Age connections occured to me because of my time in IDS 101. Dr. Knopp discusses the connections between quantum physics and new age beliefs.

    You make a good point, but I don't think that Rob Bell has gone quite that far. There is a danger of trying to find God in nature that could lead to God just being a part of nature. I think what needs to be emphasized from the book is that we cannot claim to rule out God, when there is so much of our own universe that is unknown. The question is, however, even if we could understand our whole universe, would that rule out God?

    Ultimately, I think Bell is trying appeal to those who think that science solves everything, when it doesn't. There is something about us that makes us alive, that gives us the living spark, that science cannot find by examining all the subatomic particles.

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