Good Stuff from Rob Bell

I just finished Rob Bell’s newest book Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile. It was especially interesting to read it just after finishing Jesus for President, because so much of it correlates what Shane Claiborne says. Rob Bell, however, brings a softer and milder tone to the same radical concepts brought out in Jesus for President.

Much like Claiborne, authors Rob Bell and Don Golden retell the story of the exodus and offer that redemptive event as the paradigm for salvation and the foundation of the church. Bell has a knack for language and I connect well with some of his rhetorical devices. In general, however, I didn’t find anything especially new or contributing to the areas he addresses. However, due to his creative use of language, it’s always a profitable read to journey alongside him through the Old Testament, setting the framework for the redemptive work of Christ.

The authors use the four-fold outline of Egypt, Sinai, Babylon, and Jerusalem to frame the redemptive walk through Scriptures in a way that I found to be especially helpful. While, the overall scope of the book wasn’t especially groundbreaking or new, there were a few places where I found myself exceptionally convicted by his words. I would definitely recommend Bell’s book for the skeptic of the resurrgent anti-empire theology that has emerged in the post-9/11 days, as he has a way of conversing about these matters is a less confrontational and aggressive tone. As one example, I found it helpful to be reminded that the United States does much good all over the world and that should be celebrated and God should be thanked for that. However, Bell goes on to write, America is still an empire, and the entire Bible is written from the perspective of a people who are under the oppression of the empire. So . . . for us to quickly jump into Scripture, we ought to be careful where we see ourselves.

I thought I would include the passage below (forgive the length), but I found of the entire book, this selection below stands out as challenging to me personally and my ministry setting. I believe this strikes at the heart of the challenge before many of us in the suburban context. This section (for me) was worth the price of the book, and reflects an issue that I will be working and studying in the coming months in connection for a paper I’ve proposed for next year’s Christian Scholar’s Conference in regards to youth, empire, and pacifism. This speaks volumes (as well as some others below): Read herein the challenge before all youth pastors:

“And the students in this church, these are good kids. They are from families who just want to see their kids become good Christians. Imagine just how much is available to them. They hgave more at their finger-tips than any generation in the history of the world – more information, more entertainment, more ideas, more ways to kill time, more options.

Many of them own more than one pair of shoes.

There are even some among them who have eaten at least one meal every day of their lives.

So we are talking about a miniscule minority of kids in the world.

At the exit off the highway near their church their is a Best Buy and a Chili’s and a Circuit City and a McDonald’s and a Wal-Mart and a Bed, Bath and Beyond, much like the other towns in thier state and in their country. The music they listen to is distributed by one of five major corporations, which also own the movie studios that create the movies they watch, which are also connected to the corporations that create the food they eat and the commercials they watch, which also have signifricant ties to the clothes they wear and the cell phones they own, and the ring tone on their cell phones, the one by the artist who is signed to the record lable that is owned by teh same company that owns the cell phone company and the advertising agency that announced the artist’s new album, which is owned by the same company that owns the beverage compalny in whose advertisement the artist appeared, drinking the particular beverage, singing the song that is now a ringtone on the students’ phones that they purchased at the mall across the street from the Olive Garden next door to the Home Depot on the other side of the Starbucks.

And so each week they gather to hear a talk from the pastor.

Their pastor tells them about the Jesus revolution.

About Jesus resisting the system.

About the blood of the cross.

About many of the first Christians getting arrested.

About Jesus having dinner with prostitutes and tax collectors.

About people sharing their possessions.

About Jesus telling a man to sell everything.

About the uniqueness of their story in the larger story of redemption.

How do children of the empire understand the Savior who was killed by an empire? How does a twelve-year-old who has never had hunger pangs that lasted more than an hour understand a story about a twelve-year-old providing fish and bread for thousands of chronically hungry people? How do kids who are surrounded by more abundance than in any other generation in the history of humanity take seriously a Messiah who said, ‘I have been anointed to preach good news to the poor?’

How do they fathom that half of the world is too poor to feed its kids when their church just spent two years raising money to buy an addition for their building? They gather, they sing, they hear a talk from the pastor, and then they go back in the car with their parent and they go home; the garage door opens, the car goes in, and the garage door goes down.

This is the revolution?

This is what Jesus had in mind?

And so the youth pastor turns to you and says again, ‘I just can’t get my students to engage with Jesus. Do you have any suggestions?

What do say?

How do you respond?

Your only hope, of course, would be to remind him or her that there is blood on the doorposts of the universe!” (p. 136 – 138)

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