Sex God by Rob Bell (Book Review) ~ BitterSweetLife

Monday, January 07, 2008

Sex God by Rob Bell (Book Review)

My friend Rob isn't quite a Rob Bell fanboy, but he probably should be, since they share a first name. Apparently this does inspire some kind of loyalty, though, because Rob (my friend) keeps telling me that I should read Rob (Bell) before I condemn him like various other people do. Well, fair enough. Disappointing, though, since I was thinking I'd found an author I could just write off on hearsay and save myself some time. Sigh.*

Clarifying questions: Am I reviewing Sex God? Or am I reviewing Rob Bell? The answer: Sex God. I still haven't managed to read the one that really annoyed people (Velvet Elvis), so until I do, I probably won't fully understand the love/hate relationships that Bell seems to inspire. But here's my progressive take on Sex God (written in bursts, hitting some high points, as I read the book).

Bell's opening premise needs some refining: Sexuality is connectedness, relationship. That's either too deep for me or too broad a label, and I'm opting for the latter. The antidote to this vague idea is C.S. Lewis' The Four Loves (which Bell actually footnotes later), and a distinction between agape (selfless, sacrificial love) and eros love (erotic). Yes, we're sexual creatures--and sometimes sexy creatures--and we experience all our relationships within the frame of our sexuality, but finer distinctions need to be made. I'm here to tell you that there's a qualitative difference between the connections going on during a hot date and the ones happening during a game of no-pads rugby. I think it's a worthwhile distinction, although I see how Bell's broad brush painting helps define the canvas for his book.

Bell argues that we need to live "in tension", not as animals or angels but humans. I love his point, both in its form and content. Christians ought to lead the way in embracing their sexuality gracefully, but often fail to do so. And the phrase "living in tension" is a much better way of communicating our task than the often-cited "we need balance." I'm so sick of balance that I'm ready to ban gymnastics. But "tension" is akin to "entering the storm" (Bonhoeffer) and living bravely as God's people--neither treating sex as crude biology or as the great unmentionable. This motif also reflects the way Reb Bell writes Sex God; his writing comes off as creatively honest--not overly oblique or risqué.

My biggest critique is that I'm not sure Bell gives God a fair shake in the love-game, as he succumbs to that temptation that popular writers feel to depict God as the nervous boyfriend:

[In the Bible we find] a God who refuses to override our freedom, who respects our power to decide whether to reciprocate, a God who lets us make the next move (98)... In matters of love, it's as if God has agreed to play by the same rules we do. God can do anything--that's what makes God, God. But God can't do everything. God can't make us love him--that's our choice (109).

Of course there's truth in what Bell is saying here. God is not coercive. But I can't help feeling that all of this is more about God and his grace and less about us and our amazing freedom that God has to respect. He chooses to respect it because he made us that way.

Ultimately, I enjoyed this book. Sex God is a slim volume and a fast read--don't expect weighty theology--but I believe many people would benefit from digesting Rob Bell's ideas here. He thoughtfully tries to sketch the big biblical picture where sex is concerned, and the resulting panorama is redemptive, reflecting the intriguing way God has made humans, and how our sexuality may well point to eternity. The perspective that results is refreshing and needed.



Two "firsts" here. Sex God is the first book by Rob Bell and the first "book about sex" to appear on the Master Book List. Groundbreaking.

*Just kidding. And seriously, do I need to say this?

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rob said...

Don't you like people that respond to posts from the past? I thought I should at least say thanks for mentioning me next to Rob Bell! I'm not sure if I've ever been as honored. It is true that I like a lot of what he has to say, and I'm glad you enjoyed Sex God. Maybe I should try liking something Grudem writes just so things are even! :)

Ariel said...

You just saved this post from the ignominy of zero comments--thanks, man. And I agree, you owe me one now. Grudem might be a fitting exchange...or we could even up the ante and say you have to read a Piper and like it. Ha!

Ariel said...

Note: Scot McKnight has a two-part review of Sex God up. I found the second part especially helpful, as he points out some shortcomings of the book that I didn't pick up on. For example, Bell's habit of projecting Rabbinic meanings onto the text of the Bible, even though the Rabbinic traditions didn't develop until long after the Bible was written.


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife