Jesus wants to save Christians is Rob Bell’s (he of the Noomas and Velvet Elvis) third and probably most substantial book, co-authored with Don Golden from World Relief.
Its subtitle ‘A Manifesto for the church in exile’ neatly encapsulates the heart of the book. Church shouldn’t be about empire and in the USA it is. Church should be about the mission of God which is calling people and creation out of exile (slavery to sin) and into the new reality of God’s purposes.
The book isn’t long, 181 pages and only slightly more words and as ever stylishly produced, the cover is definitely intriguing. There’s lots of white space because Rob writes
in an interesting way,
that is supposed to make you pause
and realise how important
that last sentence really was.
Which after a while, gets a bit annoying and to my mind eventually just seems a bit pointless. Overplay your hand and a great writing device just seems to be a bit gimmicky. But these quibbles aside this book has greater substance than his previous two and will no doubt continue to polarise opinion. Republican Christians I imagine are not going to like his sincere questioning of America’s use and misuse of power. Reformed Christians are not going to like the lack of wrath as Bell describes the atonement and so on…
Firstly, because the first section is telling the story of the Bible this feels a more deeply scriptural book, there’s lots of scripture here. This is good, we’re engaging with the text. The arguments will be about interpretation.
There are some interesting connections made that I’m not sure about, do the 3000 saved on Pentecost in Acts really mirror the 3000 killed after the Golden Calf incident? Was the gentile Luke really that clued in? Not sure, but it’s an interesting idea.
Bell seems to see Jesus as our great representative, so his blood reconciles, rescues and redeems, it does when we trust in it, save us from exile and slavery to sin. But there’s nothing here on justice, holiness etc…
The two dominant themes are exodus & exile and Eucharist. The Church should be on an exodus to a new reality, calling people out of exile. The Church as the body of Christ should be broken and poured out for the poor and the needy of the world. Remember the poor and don’t be seduced by the empire.
As a call to be involved in the needs of the world this book works well and on that level I commend it. As a retelling and subverting of a story that gives churches rights and standing in the Empire, I applaud it. Sentences like “The authority that the church has in culture does not come from how right, cool, or loud it is, or how convinced it is of its doctrinal superiority” hit the mark and do so often.
But I just wonder if it’s all been done better elsewhere. Shane Claiborne attacks empire with more verve and bite, NT Wright informs us of exile and exodus with greater depth and insight, Ron Sider calls us out on poverty with greater authority.
This is a good book, if you don’t know that God cares for the poor or your teenagers are a bit too self-obsessed then give them this. It’s cool enough and punchy enough and short enough to work. But as a manifesto it lacks real depth – there’s not much on practical application here, no stories to get us thinking, no actions to follow other than to ‘hear the cry of the oppressed and do something’ which is helpful only to a point.