Two Thumbs Up for Rob Bell and Thomas G. Long

Two very fine books this week, both highly recommended.

What We Talk About When We Talk About God  has not garnered the attention that Rob Bell’s earlier book Love Wins did. But like Love Wins, What We Talk About…. is worth your time to read. Bell writes for two main readers it seems to me. He writes to people who have left the faith or are thinking about leaving and those who were never part of the Christian faith to begin with but have a hunch that perhaps there is something or someone “out there” but can’t believe in a micromanaging, punitive old guy with a beard. Rob Bell has a gift for talking about traditional Christian doctrines without using technical theological language or jargon. He writes a wonderful chapter on the incarnation without that word once.  The book is organized around 7 words that create an open space for talking about God. Hum. Open, Both, With, For, Ahead, and So.

Here is what Rob Bell says about this book:

“…this is not a book in which I’ll try to prove that God exists. If you even could prove the existence of the divine, I suspect that at that moment you would in fact be talking about something, or somebody else. This is a book about seeing, about becoming more and more alive and aware, orienting ourselves around the God who I believe is the ground of our being, the electricity that lights up the whole house, the transcendent presence in our tastes, sights, and sensations of the depth and dimension and fullness of life, from joy to agony and to everything else.” (page 15)

For progressive Christians ( and for other Christians too) this book articulates an substantive yet engaging way of talking about God and our faith. Bell sketches a vision of God that is big enough to make sense of science and the cosmos and also personal enough to care about us, to save us. If you struggle and stumble for ways to talk about God, this book offers a vocabulary to use- Hum, Open,  Both, With, For, Ahead and So.

Besides wondering who God is, people also wrestle with questions about evil and suffering. Thomas Long’s book What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith is a very good, thoughtful, learned, and humble discussion of the topic. In the “Preface” Long says this book is for preachers. But just preachers is too small an audience. This book is for anyone who has had to comfort a suffering person or who has suffered themselves- so all of us.

From Long’s “Preface”:

[the concern of this book is about] how believers can hold together important faith claims that seem, on the surface anyway, to be incompatible: that there is a God, that God is loving and just, that God is powerful, and that there is undeserved suffering in the world/ Understood this way, theodicy is not about coming up with excuses for God’s behavior in a world of evil but about how faith in a loving God is plausible, given what we know and experience about suffering. (page xii)

Long neither claims nor pretends to give the final definitive answer to the question of suffering and evil. He states, correctly I think, that while we cannot know and understand everything about suffering we can know somethings. While we may be speechless initially in the face of tragedy, we need not remain without hope and a degree of understanding. The books starts by thinking about why suffering and evil are a problem at all. Why don’t we simply accept suffering as our due? Then he tackles “the impossible chess match”, Is God willing to prevent evil but not able? Or is God able but not willing? Or if is God able and willing, why is there suffering? Long explores why we cannot avoid talking about the problem of evil, dangers in having that conversation and what we can say with some assurance and where we need to be silent. He also has a very fine chapter on the book of Job.  This is a difficult subject and Thomas Long handles it with wisdom and kindness.

This is some of what I’ve been reading. What have you read that the rest of us ought to?


By the way, I linked to Amazon not because I think you should necessarily buy the book from them but because they have the “look inside” feature to give you a sense of the book.


Two very fine boo

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