A Review of Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile. by
Rob Bell and Don Golden.
By Chris Smith.
Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile. Rob Bell and Don Golden. Paperback: Zondervan, 2008.
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Jesus Wants to Save Christians came as a pleasant surprise for me.For several years now, Rob Bell’s books have been creating quite a buzz among the younger generations in our churches ( This book was even named the 2008 book of the year by Relevant Magazine ), but I honestly haven’t been impressed with Bell’s previous books.His writing style maintained through all of his books to date, consists of a stream of rapid-fire bursts of words, often in the form of mini-paragraphs of a sentence (or less).This style has proven controversial, drawing criticism that it panders to the shorter attention spans of younger generations, but I suspect that Bell is more of a preacher than a writer and that his styles plays better in an audiobook format than on the printed page.
Certainly, the rhetoric of Jesus Wants to Save Christians is that of a sermon.Bell and his co-author Don Golden trace the arc of biblical history, and they do so through the lens of the oppression of empire and of God’s hearing the cry of the oppressed people.Certainly, this theme is not a new one, and indeed is one that – since the peak of the liberation theology movement in the 1970’s and 1980’s – has been drawing increasing attention in seminaries and some churches.What is striking about this book however, is its audience, comprised mostly of young middle class Americans, growing up in the heart of the empire and not exactly what we would consider an “oppressed people.”
Over the first two-thirds of the book, Bell and Golden tell the scriptural story in terms of empire and of God’s liberation, and they do so in an engaging fashion.The authors describe human history using the imagery of significant places in Israel’s story as told in the Old Testament – e.g., Egypt (empire), Sinai (“God is near”), Jerusalem (domestication) and Babylon (exile).The story that Bell and Golden tell here is definitely not your father’s reading of Scripture, but I do believe that there are many young ears that are eager to hear the Christian story framed in this way.
The final third of the book begins to examine what this reading of Scripture means for Americans today, living at the heart of empire.The authors first paint a number of pictures that drive home the point that we are Empire, that we control and consume resources at a rate far beyond that of any other nation.In the final chapter, they examine how the Eucharist reminds us that “there is blood on the doorposts of the universe,” or in other words, that we as God’s people are called to broken and poured out for the healing of all humanity and indeed of all creation.From the Eucharist, Bell and Golden go on to describe the “new humanity” that Christ is bringing: the Church, those who share in the Eucharist.In good preaching style, they say some things here that undoubtedly will be challenging for his primary audience: e.g., that our faith is not about being hip or cool, or about being with those who are “like us,” racially, economically, socially or age-wise.They drive this point home:
A church is not a center for religious goods and services, where people pay a fee and receive a product in return. A church is not an organization that surveys its demographic to find out what the market is demanding at this particular moment and then adjust its strategy to meet that consumer niche.
The way of Jesus is the path of descent. It’s about our death. It’s our willingness to join the world in its suffering, it’s our participation in the new humanity, it’s our weakness calling out to others in their weakness.
To turn that into a produce blasphemes the Eucharist (161).
In the book’s epilogue, Bell and Golden summarize the journey that they have taken over the course of the book.They conclude:
[Jesus] has chosen the path of descent;
He comes into Jerusalem on a donkey,
not a horse,
And he dies,
Maybe that’s what he means when he says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” The “do this” part is our lives. Opening ourselves up to the mystery of resurrection, open for the liberation of others, allowing our bodies to be broken and our blood to be poured, discovering our Eucharist. Listening. And going.
Because when we do this in remembrance of him,
the world will never be the same;
we will never be the same.
Now that is a manifesto (186-187).
Jesus Wants to Save Christians is an important book that needs to be read in our churches, and especially by our young people.The story that it tells, and calls us into, is simple and clear.There are a few points at which the rhetoric becomes hyperbolic, but this is forgivable if we understand Bell primarily as a preacher.I also wish he would have given at least a few practical ideas for how we might start moving in the direction of being a Eucharistic people.On the whole, this is an inspirational book, not in the sentimental sense of making us feel good about who we are, but rather like a freight train that slams into us, knocks us off our complacent butts and drives us forward in the way of the cross, the way in which we are called to go as we take of the bread and the cup of the Eucharist.
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