Jesus Wants to Save Christians - Rob Bell & Don Golden

When we're on top, when the system works for us, when we are capable of managing our lives, what is there for God to do?

But the cry—the cry inaugurates redemptive history. These slaves in Egypt cry out and God hears and something new happens. Things aren't how they were. Things change.

I'd read about this book in a magazine, and just from the title I knew it was probably one of those "subversive" books trying to make a point about how un-Christian Christians tend to be. Rob Bell and Don Golden are the current and former pastors of the Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, and are much hipper than what most people (including most Christians) think of as pastors. Their book itself is almost painfully hip: the title is spelled out on the cover in an almost illegible font (designed specially for the book and the related Alternate Reality Game), and there's a whole lot of bright green on the pages.

I will admit that when I first started reading it, I found myself getting pretty annoyed. It bugged me that paragraph breaks were double-spaced, especially because the authors were so fond of paragraph breaks in the middle of sentences, like so:

Egypt is an empire,

built on the backs of Israelite slave labor,

brick by

brick by


I suppose if the book were typeset normally and you took out the extraneous breaks, you could cut out about a quarter of the pages. And then there's the endnotes. I, personally, am not a fan of endnotes. I much prefer footnotes, where I can glance down and see if it's something interesting or just a reference, rather than trying to keep track of two bookmarks. (Although I did find out later that there are some endnotes related to the ARG as well. Hint, hint.)

Ok, my last gripe, and then I'll get on to the content. The authors really like the phrase "Which takes us back to..." In the introduction, they use this phrase six times on two pages, as the beginning of a paragraph each time. (On the next page they shorten it to "back to.") I suppose that's just personal style, but it really started to grate.

So, now you're probably thinking, why would I want to read this book? Well, it turns out the content itself is not so bad. The book zooms through the Bible, from the beginnings of the Israelite nation and the Exodus to their exile in Babylon and eventual return, to Jesus' arrival and the spread of Christianity, and finally to the church today. More specifically, the church as it is in America today.

The main point of the authors is that God's actions throughout history have been to save the oppressed, working against empires; but that America today has largely become an empire itself. How do Christians today truly grasp what the gospel is about from that perspective? There's a chapter filled with sobering statistics: "One billion people in the world do not have access to clean water, while the average American uses four hundred to six hundred liters of water a day."

The point isn't for us to feel guilty, which isn't useful. It's to convince us that America fits the description of an empire, and that we need to be very careful how we respond to that. How do we respond to the needy and oppressed? For that matter, who do we consider the needy and oppressed? The book raises some very tough questions for American Christians that I believe are well worth considering.

I found that if I imagined that I was listening to somebody speaking the text out loud, as in a sermon, I found the line breaks and repetition much more acceptable. It's more like a transcribed speech than something written to be read on paper. I do think it would be a good starting point for a group study, but it would be important not to stop with gaining knowledge, but to continue on to some sort of action and change.

Fed to jonathan's brain | March 29, 2009 | Comments (0)


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