BelVelv 06-9-135      


 Repainting the Christian Faith


Rob Bell

Zondervan, 2005, 194 pp.  ISBN 0-310-27308-0


Rob Bell is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, MI, a church that began with 1000 people the first Sunday and uses no marketing plan.  The book is a rambling, broad-ranging survey of Rob’s spiritual thinking-in-progress on repainting the Christian faith for this generation. 


The book is very popular, as is, obviously the church.  Perhaps its popularity comes in part because Rob renounces many of the things our contemporary culture doesn’t like about church: superficiality, hypocrisy, judgmentalism, categorizing.  I like much of what he says and, at the same time, some of it makes me uneasy.  Many younger evangelical leaders react to a generation of doctrinal rigidity and behavioral legalism by going the opposite way.  They are willing to consider giving up some of what may be bedrock truth and stretch grace toward license.


“…every generation has to ask the difficult questions of what it means to be a Christian here and now, in this place, at this time.” (13) [Every generation must interpret the faith for its culture.  And it is difficult to avoid interpreting the faith through the culture, that is, some cultural norms and values get embedded as “truth” in the reinterpreted faith. dlm]


“…this book is for those who need a fresh take on Jesus and what it means to live the kind of life he teaches us to lives.” (14)


“An atheist is a person of tremendous faith.  In our discussions about the things that matter most then, we aren’t talking about faith or no faith.  Belief or no belief.  We are talking about faith in what?  Belief in what?  The real question isn’t whether we have it or not, but what we have put it in.” (19)


“Everybody is following somebody. Everybody has faith in something and someone.  We are all believers.” (20)  “…and I’m trying to follow Jesus.” (21)


“Jesus’ intention was, and is, to call people to live in tune with reality.”  “Jesus at one point claimed to be ‘the way, the truth, and the life.’”  “He was telling those who were following him that his way is the way to the depth of reality.  “…the best possible way for a person to live.  It is how things are.”  “So the way of Jesus is not about religion; it’s about reality.”  “Perhaps a better question that who’s right, is who’s living rightly?” (21)


“Sometimes when people are backing up their points and the Bible is used to prove that they are right, everything within me says,’ ‘There is no way that’s what God meant by that verse.’  Several hundred years ago people used Bible verses to defend their right to own slaves.” (43)


“…the Bible is open-ended.  It has to be interpreted.  And if it isn’t interpreted, then it can’t be put into action.  So if we are serious about following God, then we have to interpret the Bible.  It is not possible to simply do what the Bible says.  We must first make decisions about what it means at this time, in this place, for these people.” (46)


“In the Jewish context, action was always the goal.  It still is.” (47)  “Jesus expects his followers to be engaged in the endless process of deciding what it means to actually live the Scriptures.” (50)  “The Bible is a communal book.”  (51) 


“In Jesus’ world, it was assumed that you had as much to learn from the discussion of the text as you did from the text itself.  One person could never get too far in a twisted interpretation because the others were right there giving their insight and perspective she didn’t have on her own.” (52)  “I don’t think any of the writers of the Bible ever intended people to read their letters alone.” (52)


“When you hear people say they are just going to tell you what the Bible means, it is not true.  They are telling you what they think it means.”  “The idea that everybody else approaches the Bible with baggage and agenda and lenses and I don’t is the ultimate in arrogance.” (54)


The Bible is alive.  “These ancient stories are our stories.  These stories are reflective of how things are.” (59) “They are alive and active and teaching us about our lives in our world today. (60)


“We have to embrace the Bible as the wild, uncensored, passionate account it is of people experiencing the living God.”  “We cannot tame it.”  “To grab a few lines of Jesus and drop them down on someone 2,000 years later without first entering into the world in which they first appeared is lethal to the life and vitality and truth of the Bible.” (63)


“The writers of the Bible are communicating in language their world will understand.  They are using the symbols and pictures and images of the culture they are speaking to.  That’s why the Bible has authority – God has authority and is present in real space and time.” 


“The point in the book of Acts isn’t the early church. The point is the God who is at work in and through the early church to change the world.”  “The point is to ask, what is God up to here, now?”  “How should we respond?” (65)


“If you come across truth in any form, it isn’t outside your faith as a Christian.  Your faith just got bigger.  To be a Christian is to claim truth wherever you find it.” (81)


“It is dangerous to label things ‘Christian’.”  “The problem with turning the noun into an adjective and then tacking it onto words is that it can create categories that limit the truth.  Something can be labeled ‘Christian’ and not be true or good.”  “This happens in all sorts of areas.  It is possible for music to be labeled Christian and be terrible music.”  “Christian is a great noun and a poor adjective.”


“I was playing in a punk band a few years ago, and we were playing clubs and bars and festivals and parties.  People would regularly ask us if we were a Christian band when they found out I was a pastor.” (84) [The contemporary church of the younger generation seems to exult in the taboos of a previous generation.  I understand that Jesus went to the wedding in Cana, but the Scripture doesn’t say he was playing in a punk band there. dlm]


Regarding this book: “Don’t swallow it uncritically.  Think about it.  Wrestle with it.  Just because I’m a Christian and I’m trying to articulate a Christian worldview doesn’t mean I’ve got it nailed.  I’m contributing to the discussion.  God has spoken and the rest is commentary, right?” (87)


“Missions then is less about the transportation of God from one place to another and more about the identification of a God who is already there.  It is almost as if being a good missionary means having really good eyesight.  Or maybe it means teaching people to use their eyes to see things that have always been there.  They just don’t realize it.  You see God where others don’t.  And then you point him out.  Perhaps we ought to replace the word missionary with tour guide, because we cannot show people something we haven’t seen.”  (88)


‘It is searching for the things they have already affirmed as real and beautiful and true and then telling them who you believe is the source of all that.” (88)


“…I started out playing in bands, back when alternative music was…alternative.”  “I understood music to be this raw art form that comes from your guts.”  “Strip it down.  Bare bones.  Take away all the fluff and the hype.  This ethos heavily shaped my understandings of what a church should be like: strip everything away and get down to the most basic elements.  A group of people desperate to experience God.”  (98)


“The thought of the word church and the word marketing in the same sentence makes me sick.” (99)


“The more honest, the more raw, the more stripped down we made it, the more people loved it.”  No five-year plan, no vision statement, no goals, no ‘demographic.  “All we cared about was trying to teach and live the way of Jesus.  It’s still all we care about it.” (101)  [As we interpreted it. dlm]


1000 came the first Sunday.  Two years later there were 10,000.  (103)


“It is one thing to be forgiven; it is another thing to become more and more and more and more the person God made you to be.” (108)


“The problems come when salvation becomes all about me.  Me being saved.  Me having my sins forgiven.  Me being reconciled to God.  The Bible paints a much larger picture of salvation.  It describes all of creation being restored.” “Salvation is the entire universe being brought back into harmony with its maker.  This has huge implications for how people present the message of Jesus.  Yes, Jesus can come into our hearts.  But we can join a movement that is as wide and deep and big as the universe itself.  Rocks and trees and birds and swamps and ecosystems.  God’s desire is to restore all of it.  The point is not me; it’s God.” (109-110)


“…no amount of success can heal a person’s soul.  In fact, success makes it worse.” (110)  “Success doesn’t fix anything.  We have the same problems and compulsions and addictions, only now we have more stress and more problems and more pressure.” (111)


Rob understands God to have indicated to him, “Your job is the relentless pursuit of who God has made you to be.” (114) [I first misread this as ‘Your job is the relentless pursuit of God…,’ which I preferred.  dlm]


“What happens is our lives become so heavily oriented around the expectations of others that we become more and more like them and less and less like ourselves.  We become split.” (114)


“I meet so many people who have superwhatever rattling around in their head.  They have this person they are convinced they are supposed to be, and their superwhatever is killing them.  They have this image they picked up over the years of how they are supposed to look and act and work and play and talk, and it’s like a voice that never stops shouting in their ear.” (116)


“I realized that my life was all about keeping the adrenaline buzz going and that I was only really happy when I was going all the time.”  (117)


“Sabbath is taking a day a week to remind myself that I did not make the world and that it will continue to exist without my efforts.”  “Sabbath is a day when my work is done, even if it isn’t.”  “Sabbath is a day when I produce nothing.”  “…let the engine come to an idle.”  (117-18)


“So many leaders in Christian communities are going so fast and producing so much and accomplishing so much that they become a shell of a person.  There is no space to deal honestly with what’s going on deep inside them.” (119)


“You have read the accounts of Jesus’ life.  Have you ever noticed how everybody seems to know the Bible?” (126)


In the account of Peter trying to walk on water, the author says Peter didn’t lose faith in Jesus (who was still walking on the water) but lost faith in himself, in what he can do that his teacher is doing.  (135) Is this interpretation correct?  Is our real problem that we lose faith in what we can do? 


“I have been told that I need to believe in Jesus.  Which is a good thing.  But what I am learning is that Jesus believes in me.” (134)


“The issue then isn’t my beating myself up over all of the things I am not doing or the things I am doing poorly; the issue is my learning who this person is who God keeps insisting I already am.” (141) “There is this person who we already are in God’s eyes.  And we are learning to live like it is true.  This is an issue of identity.  It is letting what God says about us shape what we believe about ourselves.” 


“Beating others [i.e. Christians] up about who and what they are not is going the wrong direction.  It is working against the purposes of God.  God is not interested in shaming people; God wants people to see who they really are.” (142)


“When we stumble and fall back into old patterns, we call them what they are: old patterns.  Old ways.  Old habits of the old person.  [Sin? dlm]  Something new is happening inside us.”  “Eternal life then is a certain kind of life I am living more and more now and will go on forever.” (143)


“Hell is full of forgiven people.”  “The difference is how we choose to live, which story we choose to live in, which version of reality we trust.  Ours or God’s.” (146)


“For Jesus, heaven and hell were present realities.  Ways of living we can enter into here and now.  He talked very little of the life beyond this one because he understood that the life beyond this one is a continuation of the kinds of choices we make here and now.  For Jesus, the question wasn’t, how do I get into heaven? But how do I bring heaven here?” (147) 


“What’s disturbing then is when people talk more about hell after this life than they do about hell here and now.  As a Christian, I want to do what I can to resist hell coming to earth.  Poverty, injustice, suffering – they are all hells on earth, and as Christians we oppose them with all our energies.  Jesus told us to.” (148)


The parable of Lazarus says the righteous were those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, etc.  The judge condemns those who didn’t help the hurting.  “They chose hell instead of heaven, and God gives them what they wanted.”  (148)


“For Jesus, this new kind of life in him is not about escaping this world but about making it a better place, here and now.  The goal for Jesus isn’t to get into heaven.  The goal is go get heaven here.” (148)  “Jesus wants his followers to bring heaven, not hell, to earth.” (149)


“A Christian is not someone who expects to spend forever in heaven there.  A Christian is someone who anticipates spending forever here, in a new heaven that comes to earth.” (150)


“I am learning that the church is at its best when it gives itself away.  And this is because blessing is always instrumental.”  “God chooses people to be used to bless other people.” “The significant idea in Genesis 12 is that Abraham’s calling is universal.  It is for everybody.” (165)


A group of people blessing others is called a church.  “The church doesn’t exist for itself; it exists to serve the world.  It is not ultimately about the church; it’s about all the people God wants to bless through the church.  When the church loses sight of this, it loses its heart.” (165)


“…serving people is the only way their perceptions of the church are ever going to change.  This is why it is so toxic for the gospel when Christians picket and boycott and complain about how bad the world is.  This behavior doesn’t help.  It makes matters worse.  It isn’t the kind of voice Jesus wants his followers to have in the world.  Why blame the dark for being dark?  It is far more helpful to ask why the light isn’t as bright as it could be.” (166)


“…the most powerful things happen when the church surrenders its desire to convert people and convince them to join.  It is when the church gives itself away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return, that the way of Jesus is most vividly put on display.  To do this, the church must stop thinking about everybody primarily in categories of in or out, saved or not, believer or nonbeliever.”  (167)


“Very few people in our world are offering anything worth dying for.  Most of the messages we receive are about how to make life easier.  The call of Jesus goes the other direction: It’s about making our lives more difficult.  It is going out of our way to be more generous and disciplined and loving and free.  It is refusing to escape and become numb to and check out of this broken, fractured world.” “We want our friends to know up front that the costs are high….” (169)


“Ultimately our gift to the world around us is hope.” (170)



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