Monday, September 5, 2011

Clear As A Bell?

I borrowed the new Rob Bell book, Love Wins (Rob Bell 2011), from a friend a few weeks ago and found it super frustrating. Bell is a Michigan pastor and one of the leaders of the Emergent Church movement – a movement that I have a lot of interest in and feel strongly that the traditional 20th century American Evangelical church needs to be challenged by some new thinking and even new
“movements.” Maybe I’m most frustrated because I expected more – a better written book – out of a leader of a major spiritual movement.

But some of my complaint is stylistic, I’ll admit. First of all, this is a 200 page book, exactly 200 pages, as if Bell’s contract specified that length and so he had to stretch things to make them fit. And the book’s use of lots of white space on the pages and Bell’s grouping of prose as if it were poetry is part of that conspiracy. See this Chapter 1 excerpt:

“Does this mean, then, that going to heaven is dependent on something I do?

How is any of that grace?
How is that a gift?
How is that good news?

Isn’t that Christians have always claimed set their religion apart – that it wasn’t, in the end, a religion at all – that you don’t have to do anything, because God has already done it through Jesus?”

Bell uses this short, stacked question format over and over. Very much 5th grade-boy-needing-to-stretch-his-composition-to-fit-teacher’s-assignment if you ask me.

But also note Bell’s style – barrage them with questions – that will fill up space!  In the early chapters just about every line is a question. Now, a book with the subject of questioning tradition should have a lot of questions. But Bell’s extremes leave the text unfocused and in many chapters it is hard to follow his thesis, even though I think I know what he’s getting at – and I may even agree with him, by golly. I just expect more of a spiritual leader purportedly on the vanguard of new Christian thought.

Rob, baby, work on that next book, ditch your current editor, clear your head - and write more like a scientist.  My advice anyway.


james said...

"write like a scientist"
using passive voice?

I know some who do better, but passive voice still afflicts wide swaths of the literature. I've never seen scientists write in that abominable rapid-fire question style, but I've run across it from the "Einstein was wrong" and the magic energy field types.

Sponge-headed ScienceMan said...

James, I wasn't thinking so much of the voice, as I was the reasoning and flow of the text: put forth a hypothesis and state the argument to support it. I had a hard time following Bell's "train."

james said...

That could be fun: imagine theologians trying to estimate their systematic errors.

Dubbahdee said...

I have not read the book. I have viewed the trailer video run out to market the book. I suspect, like many trailers, that it captures the best parts of the book to the extent that there isn't much left unsaid.

Bell's speaking style in the video is kind of soft. He employs the questioning tone -- stopping just short of the super-annoying poet's voice intonation. It is too bad, as I think that questions he raises are well worth grappling. I don't understand those who dismiss his questions out of hand.

I guess I had hoped that they might have been asked by a better wrestler.

Sponge-headed ScienceMan said...

Dubbahdee - I agree, I very much welcome Bell's questions. See this timely USA Today article citing new work by Barna.