What Is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything

By: Rob Bell

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Best-selling author and minister, Rob Bell, dives deep into the Bible, using a fresh perspective to look at old, tried and true stories. He shows us how this ancient library of books is still relevant and revolutionary so many centuries after first being recorded. He argues that we shouldn't ask, "Why did God say . . .?" But instead, we should be asking other questions, such as "What's the story that's unfolding here and why did people find it important to tell it? What was it that moved them to record these words? What was happening in the world at that time? What does this passage/story/poem/verse/book tell us about how people understood who they were and who God was at that time?" By taking this multi-dimensional approach, he looks deeper into the meaning behind these stories that many often take at face value, revealing new truths that readers might not have considered before. And he invites us to come on this journey of discovery with him to "turn the gem" that is the Bible and find out for ourselves just why and how it's still revealing things to us even today.


I've been eager to try a Rob Bell book for quite a while, so when his newest one, What Is the Bible? was chosen as our latest church book club read, I dove right in. I can easily say that I was not disappointed. I may have mentioned in some of my previous reviews of Christian books that I've been on a spiritual journey for the last sixteen years, and throughout that time, my thinking has evolved beyond the general beliefs of the traditional evangelical church in which I was raised. I no longer think that a literal interpretation of the Bible is the only way to read it. Not to mention, as one of our other book club members pointed out, whose interpretation is truly literal? Depending on who you talk to, what church denomination they come from, and what translation of the Bible they're reading, a single verse could have multiple interpretations. That's why I've come to believe that it's not just up to ministers and other authority figures in the church to interpret Biblical meaning. We each have to look at it on an individual basis and figure out for ourselves what it means to us.

In What Is the Bible?, that's largely what Rob Bell encourages us to do. Our pastor who leads our books club, as a parallel, told us how the children's ministry of our church works with regards to teaching the little ones. She explained that rather than telling them a story and what the takeaway message is from that story, the lessons are designed to get the kids asking questions. So why shouldn't we, as adults, do the same? Yes, I know some faith leaders of a more authoritarian mindset feel that questioning God's Word is subversive, but as Rob Bell points out, many stories in the Bible are subversive. Personally, I feel that when we ask questions, we show that we're open and seeking answers, and it's in those teachable moments that we can grow spiritually. Can asking questions lead us away from our faith as some believe? Possibly, but I think that it can also strengthen faith if we let it. After all, faith is all about believing in a power greater than ourselves, and as long as you have that foundation, then learning more about where the Bible comes from and what it has to say shouldn't cause that faith to waver even if you find something that seems to disprove what you previously knew.

Rob Bell has a fresh and interesting way of looking at the Bible. While I was reading the main chapters, the heavens opened up, light shone down, and angels sang.;-) Yeah, I know I'm being pretty hyperbolic there, but that is how I felt through most of the first three sections of the book. I learned so much and saw both old favorite Bible stories and passages with which I was less familiar illuminated in a whole different light. Occasionally I might feel just a tad uncomfortable, and I realized it was because my old way of thinking was being challenged. Yet at the same time, everything Rev. Bell said somehow made perfect sense in a way it never had before. For the first time in years, I felt excited about the Bible, because I was seeing something new that was worth exploring.

I know in recent years Rob Bell has become a controversial figure in the Christian church, but I also know that he has a lot of followers, many of whom are like myself. We've seen contradictions in our reading of the Bible, or can't reconcile it with our knowledge of known history, science, or other facts, or we simply struggle with some of the things it seems to be saying, which is one of the dangers associated with trying to adhere to a literal interpretation. Critical thinkers like myself eventually hit the proverbial wall where things just don't make sense anymore. What I appreciate about Rev. Bell is that he seems to understand all these doubts. I love his use of "turning the gem" as a metaphor for needing to look at the Bible from many different angles to see all of its facets. In using this imagery he also illuminates the idea that the Bible is the living Word of God that is still speaking to us and revealing things to us centuries or even millennia after it was first recorded. Part of my issue has been that I didn't know the right questions to ask to find some of the answers I'm seeking, but What Is the Bible? gave me some great questions with which to begin. Although where to find the answers, since I'm not a biblical scholar, is perhaps a little murkier, there is also a recommended reading list at the end of the book, at which I'm planning to take a closer look. At the very least, this book has given me a jumping off point on where to start, and after reading this book, I'm definitely leaning toward becoming a Rob Bell fan. At the very least, I'm very much looking forward to checking out his other books, and if they're half as illuminating at this one was, I'm sure I'll enjoy them as well.


Rob Bell