Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Reading: Jesus Wants to Save Christians & What We Talk About When We Talk About God by Rob Bell

Two book reviews in one blog post!  I know!  It's intense but it has to be done.  I just can't separate these two books...much like I have a hard time separating all of Rob Bell's books but these two are special cases because I didn't like either of them and I am writing this review to tell you why.
To start off, I must remind you, the reader, that I am on the fence with Rob Bell.  I don't know what to think of the dude.  When I first heard of him I found his ideas to be earth shatteringly brilliant and complex.  Then his new book came out, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, and his publisher posted a book trailer on YouTube.  I had yet to read any of Bell's books and so I watched the trailer and after the three minutes went by, the video ended and I had no idea what Bell was talking about or, more importantly, what the book was about.  I then proceeded to read the comments for enlightenment, which was a bad choice in itself, and found that most commentors were against Bell.  I had always thought the Christian audience loved Bell.  Apparently not.  The commentors were tossing around insults which mostly included the word "heretic."  I wanted to come to Bell's defense but just couldn't bring myself to do so because after watching this book trailer and having not read any of his books, I had no idea who this guy was or what he was really trying to say.  Ever since then, I've never viewed him the same.  I thought reading his books would change things but the truth is, they haven't.  I've now read five of his six books.  Some were nearing excellence, some were terrible, and one was okay.  I feel crappy for saving the best one for last because I'm not sure I can take another Rob Bell book.
Let's start off with a basic assessment of these two books as a whole.  As per the usual with Bell, I can't say I quite understood the point that either of these books was trying to make once I reached the ends of both.  What do we talk about when we talk about God?  I don't know!  I guess I should mention that I listened to What We Talk About When We Talk About God instead of reading it.  Right now, I am searching my mind and trying to remember what it was that the book taught me and the answer is quite plain - nothing!  The book taught me absolutely nothing.  Jesus Wants to Save Christians I actually read and I can almost say the same thing for it because while it didn't teach me anything, there was one pretty great chapter that confirmed my beliefs about American Christianity and why it is so messed up.  That was the only past of the book that made sense at least.
Bell has a habit of talking in circles.  Yes he has some creative thoughts and seems to do a good job of painting familiar pictures in a new, relatable light that helps the reader understand concepts better but my problem is that these paintings need to be relevant to what the book is said to be about.  No lie - there is a chapter in JWtSC titled "Genital Free Africans."  No, I promise I am not lying.  What does a chapter title like that have to do with the idea that Jesus wants to save Christians?  This is Bell's way of trying to be abstract and unique and modern but the only thing that comes across to me is someone who is trying too hard and who is annoying.
Here is a brief summary of thoughts that I gathered while reading/listening to these two books.  Jesus Wants to Save Christians basically talked about how the old testament is still relevant in today's culture despite popular belief and What We Talk About When We Talk About God was about science and atoms and a bunch of other things.  I guess listening to the later book was a bad choice.
I know I am being very broad and harsh in my approach to reviewing these two books.  That was not originally my intention.  But I am looking back on my notes and finding that I just don't know what else to say other than that I was very disappointed with both of these texts.  Do I think they are worth reading?  In some cases, yes.  Bell has some good ideas but he needs to finalize what he is saying.  I frequently asked myself while reading, has this dude taken an English class?  WWTAWWTAG was the bigger disappointment for me.  I listened to that book all day and found myself thinking, what was the point?  That book taught me nothing and I have no idea what Bell was going for.
The only guess I can make is that I am not the person who fits into Bell's audience and that is okay.  I know tons of people get a lot out of his books and I respect him as a person.  Would I recommend these books to a literary person?  Absolutely.  I think it is important to read Bell's books because of the way he relates these mundane ideas to modern day examples.  Is he for everybody?  No.  If you are like me, you will hate his writing style and the demeaning tone he takes at times.  You will hate how he tries too hard.
I give both of these books 2 out of 5 stars.  The premise for both was good but the final outcome left me asking, what the heck did I just read?

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