Guest Post by Deacon Toy Adams

Rob Bell’s new book What We Talk About When We Talk About God came out today. Luckily I was able to get my hands on a copy of it two days ago because it was out at a local Books-A-Million store (probably mistakenly). So I have been finishing up the book while most of my friends are just now receiving it (@HelloGregory)! And I am thrilled with it.

bell book

It isn’t an academic book if that’s what one is looking for. This is a book for everyone and it offers a fresh and exciting framework for thinking about God than does most mainline theological approaches. I must tip my hat to Tripp and Bo for doing something (perhaps) as Rob Bell might as well admit to being Process.

Also what I found (unexpectedly) was that Bell is a Tillichian!Thus, I will provide a few examples (so to not spoil it for anyone that hasn’t read it yet) from the book in which Process and Tillich surface so maybe Tripp will believe me (by the way I am going to one of his book signings on Thursday in Nashville so I will be sure to ask him about this in person as well)! I will start with parallels to Tillich and then Process.

I will offer a Rob Bell quote and then a Paul Tillich quote side by side to demonstrate my point:

Rob Bell: “…I should be clear here about one point: this is not a book in which I’ll try to prove that God exists. If you even could prove the existence of the divine, I suspect that at that moment you would in fact be talking about something, or somebody, else.”

Paul Tillich: “God does not exist.  He is being itself beyond essence and existence.  Therefore, to argue that God exists is to deny him”

For Tillich, God did not exist for God was beyond existence. For Rob, I would assume, this is headed in the same direction. God isn’t some object that one can point to and say, “There it is! I found it—it’s God!”

Which leads me to example number two:

Rob Bell: “When God is described as father or mother or judge or potter or rock or fortress or warrior or refuge or strength or friend or lawgiver, those writers are taking something they’ve seen, something they’ve experienced, and they’re essentially saying, “God is like that.” It’s an attempt to put that which is beyond language into a frame or form we can grasp.”
Rob Bell: “what I’ve experienced time and time again is that people want to talk about God…I’ve found people to be extremely keen to talk about their beliefs and lack of beliefs in God. What I’ve observed is that while we want more of a connection with the reverence humming within us, we often don’t know where to begin or what steps to take or what that process even looks like.”

Paul Tillich: “Man’s ultimate concern must be expressed symbolically, because symbolic language alone is able to express the ultimate.”

Both express how that all language about God is symbolic and it ultimately fails us, yet God is still a matter of Ultimate concern within all of us. Theology is a matter, for Rob and Tillich that we are drawn to because it is vital to our being human.

There are at least a dozen more quotes and ideas in Rob’s new book that made me think “Oh, that’s totally Tillichian” but I will conclude the Tillich references with one last quote:
Rob says “This is a book about seeing, about becoming more and more alive and aware, orienting ourselves around the God who I believe is the ground of our being, the electricity that lights up the whole house, the transcendent presence in our tastes, sights, and sensations of the depth and dimension and fullness of life, from joy to agony to everything else.”
No explanation needed. If you are remotely aware of Tillich’s theology, this will smack you right across the face.

Now I will demonstrate a few examples of the Process Theology that surfaces in the book:

In chapter 1 Rob says, “I believe that God isn’t backward-focused—opposed to reason, liberation, and progress—but instead is pulling us and calling us and drawing all of humanity forward—as God always has—into greater and greater peace, love, justice, connection, honesty, compassion, and joy… and I want you to experience this pull forward as a vital, active reality in your day-to-day life as you see just what God has been up to all along with every single one us.”
This is lure of God that prompts the possibilities and potentiality for all of creation to move forward in union with God toward Shalom. This is a God of persuasion and not a God of coercive dominance.

Chapter 2 is where Rob breaks out a lot of Process ideas as he talks about science and metaphysical ideas. Rob says, “Matter is ultimately energy, and our interactions with energy alter reality because we’re involved, our world an interconnected web of relationships with nothing isolated, alone, or unaffected.”
This is an absolute Process goldmine.

In chapter 2 Rob also says, “There is a movement forward, toward greater and greater awareness and consciousness and connectivity, that has been unfolding across the history of the universe, an ever-expanding enlightening that transcends any one of us, all cultures, and humanity as a whole. A massive and epic holism that continues to increase in complexity and depth and dimension to this very day.”

In chapter 3 Rob says, “…we have an intuitive awareness that everything is ultimately connected to everything else, and I believe that is one more clue to who it is we’re talking about when we talk about God. How we eat is connected to how we care for the planet which is connected to how we use our resources which is connected to how many people in the world go to bed hungry every night which is connected to how food is distributed which is connected to the massive inequalities in our world between those who have and those who don’t which is connected to how our justice system treats people who use their power and position to make hundreds of millions of dollars while others struggle just to buy groceries which is connected to how we treat those who don’t have what we have which is connected to the sanctity and holiness and mystery of our human life and their human life and his little human life which is why we hold up that baby’s hand and say to the parents, “It’s just so small.””

I could literally go on and on but everyone needs to read it for himself/herself. It’s packed with Process and Tillichian theology. And this is fantastic news for me, as I tend to agree heavily with both Process and Tillichian theology.