The subtitle for Jesus Wants to Save Christians (Zondervan), A Manifesto for the Church in Exile, tells readers they might not like everything Rob Bell and Don Golden have to say. The coauthors from Mars Hill Bible Church doubt that Christians living in a prosperous country engaged in two wars truly understand Scriptures addressed to religious minorities oppressed by various empires.
To take readers into the world of the Bible, Bell and Golden trace redemption from Genesis to Revelation using British theologian Tom Holland's "New Exodus perspective."
As with Velvet Elvis and Sex God, Bell and Golden offer some quirky chapter titles (such as "Air Puffers and Rubber Gloves") and free-form typesetting. But this book offers more serious theological reflection and biblical commentary. Bell and Golden draw readers into wrenching experiences such as Egyptian slavery, Babylonian captivity, and Roman tyranny. This approach pays off when they reach Revelation, where they show how the apostle John wanted to encourage Asian Christians under Roman rule to trust God's sovereign care.
"Were the people in John's church reading his letter for the first time," Bell and Golden ask, "with Roman soldiers right outside their door, thinking, 'This is going to be really helpful for people 2,000 years from now who don't want to get left behind'?"
Their transition between the biblical world and modern-day America in the chapter, "Swollen-Bellied Black Babies, Soccer Moms on Prozac, and the Mark of the Beast," is jarring. But Bell and Golden do not strain the analogy between the United States and former empires. Their applications are more pastoral than geopolitical.
"In empire, you believe in that which you preserve, you preserve that which you are entitled to, and you are entitled to that which you have accumulated," they perceptively observe. "That is the religion, the animating spirit, of empire."
Unfortunately, Bell and Golden do not always show such hard-headed frankness. In their zeal to sever any connection between violence and redemption, for instance, they selectively recount the Old Testament, passing over the Israelites' God-ordained destruction of their enemies.
And as the book progresses, Bell and Golden frequently mention the universal scope of Jesus' atonement, flirting with the implication that its benefits are not just universally available, but also universally effective.
Despite these concerns, Bell and Golden deliver a tough message the American church needs to hear. Jesus does not redeem his church so Christians can prop up a self-interested empire, even the United States. He instead commissions his people to serve their neighbors at home and around the world.
"The church must cling to her memory of exodus, because if that memory is forgotten, the church may forget the poor, and if the poor are forgotten, the church may forget what it was like to be enslaved, and that would be forgetting the grace of God," they write. "And that would be forgetting who we are."
Collin Hansen, CT editor at large and author of Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists.
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Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile is available from ChristianBook.com and other retailers.
Leadership magazine reviewed the book in two parts on their Out of Ur blog.
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