What is Rob Bell talking about when he talks about God? A lot of people would like to know. Bell sparked a nationwide conversation with his last book, Love Wins, by challenging popular Christian assumptions about heaven and hell. He's ready to do it again with his new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God. I was able to read an advanced copy of the book and ask Bell a few questions about it. Although he draws a lot of attention among evangelicals, and his roots are within that stream of the church, Bell's theology and cultural messages seem increasingly in sync with more liberal traditions of the church. That was affirmed this past weekend when, for the first time, Bell openly endorsed same-sex marriage. As he continues to move farther away from conservative theological and social positions, will evangelicals follow him?
Early in the book you write, "God appears to be more and more a reflection of whoever it is that happens to be talking about God at the moment." How have you seen this tendency to project your ideas onto God, and how do you guard against it?
We guard against such things by always coming back to what Jesus came back to: How does your understanding of God shape you? Is it making you more compassionate and courageous and honest and less judgmental and more likely to love your neighbor? For Jesus this wasn't an interesting intellectual exercise in which we get our mental furniture properly organized, this is about the kind of people we are becoming right here and now. Some ideas shape us some ways, some ideas shape us another. That's one of the central themes of the book: I began to realize in the depths of doubt that some beliefs made me a better person and some didn't...because we all believe something. The question is: What is that belief doing to you?
You reference Helmut Thielicke's statement that those who speak to the hour's needs will always skirt heresy, but they'll also gain the truth. How can you tell when you're "skirting" heresy and when you've crossed into it? And does that even matter.
This is why I find Eucharist so powerful-you gather with others to center and ground and remind yourselves of the body and blood given for the healing of the world. The Christian faith is ultimately an incarnated reality in which the mystery of God is born in flesh and blood–love your neighbor, as Jesus would say. Jesus comes to give us actual lived life in a whole new mode of being. So yes, it matters. Certain paths are destructive and others make the world a better place.
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