This book can help you escape becoming a Christian literalist-fundamentalist
At the onset, let me affirm that every person who listens to a story, any story, has the right to read it literally.
The cause for worry is that it’s an extremely short hop from literalism, applied to so-called ‘scriptures’, to fundamentalism and fanaticism. A far cry from wisdom.
Stories that are figurative are often confusing for the birdbrained (no insult intended towards birds), especially religious birds, who want meaning fixed and sacralised, set in stone.
But if you want to escape becoming a Christian literalist-cum-fundamentalist, it would be a wise move to read Rob Bell’s new book “What is the Bible?”.
You would quickly realise why Evangelical Fundamentalist leaders like John Piper condemn Bell as a heretic. Firstly, he is far more knowledgeable than the likes of a Piper who generally parrots and spouts standard Evangelical Fundamentalist doctrine and dogma.
Rob Bell perhaps has his feet in the shoes of the poet-warrior-prophet-king David who said in Psalm 119:99, “I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation.”
His detractors want to crucify him, mostly out of sheer envy or sheer terror, for his insights that are the result of a different sort of meditation and contemplation from what Evangelical Fundamentalists are accustomed to.
His new book drives the fundamentalists as crazy as his earlier book ‘’Love Wins” did. Because it offers a take on that ‘inerrant, infallible’ text that makes for a more exciting and different sense from what percolates down from Evangelical Fundamentalist theological fortresses and their ‘lords’.
Rob Bell calls the Bible an ‘ancient library of poems, letters and stories that can transform the way you think and feel about everything”. In other words, he agrees with the fundamentalists that this book is relevant for human transformation. But then, he goes on to demonstrate how the ‘library’ actually differs from the wares peddled the fundamentalists.
A profound statement he makes is that the Bible is not a ‘Christian’ book to be appropriated by a group of people to ‘help them divide themselves from everyone else” (and among themselves!). No, it’s a book about being human and about human beings who are wrestling with the notion of a G-d who is seeking to pull everything together into Unity in the Messiah Yeshua.
Bell’s close reading and re-reading of the books in this library, combined with his understanding of Jewish hermeneutics pertaining to the Torah and Tanakh (Jesus was a Jew), and the political and historical contexts in which the texts are located, opens up a ‘Pandora’s Box’ of treasures, including Hope, for the modern-day sceptic of religions and religious manipulation.
Every chapter has an exciting title — Moses and his Moisture, Stoners and Swingers, Anakephalaiossathai, Smoking Firepots - and so on. Each one explodes in the head with ‘truths’ that I have never heard any fundamentalist ‘lord’ enunciate, and I’ve listened to a helluva lot of them in my 60-odd years on this planet.
I have read most of the stuff put out there by these fundamentalist ‘lords’ in past ages and in the present — Piper, Rick Warren, Timothy Keller, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, Calvin, Luther, et al — but Rob Bell is in a different class altogether with the likes of Richard Rohr, Raimon Panikkar, Bede Griffiths, Thomas Merton, Swami Abhishiktananda, Sadhu Sundar Singh, et al.
One senses that Bell’s kinship is more with the deeply erudite, explorative, investigative Early Church Fathers and has, thankfully, diverged from the road most taken by the more contemporary, superficial Evangelical ‘experts’ who try to recast the glory of G-d through eyes jaundiced with doctrine and dogma in their miserable attempts to ‘defend’ Yeshua, the Truth. He doesn’t need apologists or apologetics, He doesn’t need legalists, He requires those who seek Wisdom as “hidden treasures’.
The book is organised, and Bell avers that it is hodge podge, willy nilly, hither and thither, to reflect the ‘form’ of the library itself, with the intention of drawing readers closer to G-d, referred to as that mystical “something” or “someone”, that which cannot be exactly named, that which every human being desires and seeks after. In other words, Bell is unravelling the ‘twilight language” of the Bible, which Buddhists would easily recognise, or the ‘dark sayings’ that Solomon and Yeshua used.
When one reads the texts in this library, one might easily miss that ‘Something more going on here’, Bell warns. More so, if one is that die-hard Evangelical Fundamentalist who has locked or boxed himself or herself up in his/her literal, legalistic and formulaic closet of ‘salvation’.
Then again, it is a sign of life that reading these texts must lead to questions about ‘The Nature of that Something’. Follow the White Rabbit and the seeker will get glimpses of “Where that Something takes us’. And the journey does not end because there are always ‘The questions that always come up’. Only a coward would resort to proof-texting when faced with such life-questions.
As a reader, one will find oneself looking again at some of the fundamental questions both Christians and non-Christians ask. What is sin? What is predestination? Did Jesus have to die? Is it (the Bible) the Word of God? Is it authoritative?Is it inerrant? Is it inspired? What about the contradictions?
I won’t go into the details here. All I can promise is that this is one book worth reading and grasping, especially if you want to escape the traps laid for souls by Evangelical Fundamentalists with their surefire assertions and arrogant certainties built on the arguments of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide.
The latter are especially blinded to the the orthodox understanding of the Early Church Fathers that it was the Church that created the Bible, and not vice versa!
What’s more? Reading this book will bring the seeker after that Something closer to Yeshua HaMashiach and help him or her understand the meaning of why He had to manifest Himself in the flesh and what it was that He came to do and teach, to establish.
Finally, in his Endnotes, Bell refers us to an amazing bunch of books that one can peruse at leisure. All of it can work together for the good of those not just escaping the Evangelical Fundamentalist plague, but also hoping to ‘draw nigh to G-d’ just as one is, as a human being, and enter into an authentic experience of the numinous, The Mystery whom the lover of G-d knows as Yeshua HaMoshiach.