Well, let me take this opportunity to exhort many of my fellow Christians to take the time to occasionally read those with whom we don't see eye to eye. Many people will miss out on the depth and insight of this book simply because it is written by Rob Bell. Although I would surely differ from him on some important issues and might not recommend all of his material, I will refer to this book again and again for pastoral reminders of the Gospel-centered wonders of human sexuality.
What is This Book For?
The subtitle of this book is Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality. Basically, Rob Bell discusses what a lot of churches and pastors won't: Sex and God. Many don't even think the two words should even be mentioned in the same sentence, much less have any connections. That fact about sex is that God created it and it brings Him glory. Sex doesn't make God blush. God intentionally designed sex, with all of its biological and emotional pleasures, to create a special connection between a married man and woman, which in turn points to a special connection between God and His people. Thus, sexuality is never an end in itself. When the divine design of sexuality is misunderstood or misused (like in fornication or homosexuality), the soul satisfying intention is also lost. In reality, only Christians can understand what sex is truly about. Unfortunately, sex is often considered taboo in church or Christian discussions. Yet, humans were created as sexual creatures. To partake of sex outside of its marital design is destructive and will wrench the soul of true sexual satisfaction; yet to reserve any discussion of sex for only married people can likewise have adverse affects. There should be a healthy balance of sexuality in the lives of people of all ages, namely, acknowledging that God is for sex and has created humans to be sexual, yet to explain that God has wisely designed that sex is to have its fullest Gospel expression in Christian marriage. Rob Bell's overall emphasis in this book is that sexuality was created by God to ultimately be a spiritual act that serves as an image of Him with His people. Very good. Rob Bell talks about sex to Christians, and he does well.
Key Chapters and Quotes
"You can't talk about sexuality without talking about how we were made. And that will inevitably lead you to who made us. At some point you have to talk about God" (15).
Chapter 3: Angels and Animals
These two words describe the extremes that people go to when it comes to sexuality. "Angels " are those who abstain totally from acknowledging sexuality in any form until marriage. His idea comes from Matt. 22:30 that basically mentions that in heaven there will be no more marriage or sexuality. "Animals" are those who indulge in sex and are lead along unhindered by sexual impulses. Good chapter with good discussion.
Chapter 6: Worth Dying For
This is Rob Bell's chapter on leadership and submission. This is maybe one of my favorite chapters. Basically he wraps up leadership and submission by saying both husband and wife are to submit to each other (though the husband as head) with the mindset of Christ's selfless death, hence the phrase, "worth dying for." This chapter is partly geared toward women. He challenges them to not give themselves away (or to fill the void of wanting to be loved) to a man who will not treat them as if they were worth dying for. Good.
"The husband's waiting for the wife to submit is actually a failure to lead" (117).
From chapter nine, Whoopee Forever:
"If you are single, and you've been sent messages or it's been hinted at or even said to your face that you are somehow missing something, that you [as unmarried] aren't good enough, that you don't fit-that's not true. It's not just that you're fine single. The premise of the Scriptures is that you are able to serve God in ways that those who aren't married can't. The tilt is for being single, not away from it" (164).
There are more things to quote, but they are connect to larger ideas apart from which would just seem dumb. Read the book.
My main concern obviously revolves around the things he says that are questionable. One should definitely be ready to spit out some bones here and there. Bell speaks a lot by asking questions, which is somewhat indicative of an attitude of uncertainty in truth. There were times where I saw how my thinking drastically differs from his. For instance, he would say that sex equals marriage, and that, say, a cohabiting couple might be married in God's sight (137, notice the uncertain approach). I don't agree. For one, Jesus didn't recognize the woman at the well (John 4:18) as having a husband even when she was living with a man (and most likely having sex). Also, if God viewed sex as creating a marriage then the Bible would not speak of fornication, only adultery. Things like that. I think Bell is inclusive in his view of denominations, considering things like the Protestant ordinance of the Lord's Supper to be the same thing as a Roman Catholic Mass (28). Then there is the fact that he presents God's love as God taking "a giant risk" (97) and making Himself vulnerable to heartbreak by creating people. He stresses that God lets us make the move when it comes to loving Him, and would never "override our freedom" by His power (98). All the 5 points of Calvinism in me cringe at such a human view of God's love. Those are a few examples. But, I think any discerning reader may see through these issues, for they don't necessarily undermine is whole point.
Rob Bell is very gifted, clear, readable, and pastoral. I enjoyed reading this book. His writing style is very, well, bloggish (if that makes sense). He writes his book as if he were writing a blog, that is, with very simple expressions that model a casual conversation. A whole paragraph might be the word, "Yes." It will keep your attention and you will get through a chapter in no time. Yet, I am not sure that I would recommend it to all indiscriminately. There are things that I would want someone to have strong convictions about first before picking this up. This book is definitely useful and should be considered, but I would have people begin their notion of Christian sexuality by first Googling the word "sex" with the name "C.J. Mahaney" or "John Piper."
Ok, well, that is probably the last book for me this summer. School starts Monday. I will have a summary of this summer's activity on the Booked Blog in a few days. Keep it locked.