Rob Bell’s most recent book, a collaborative project with Don Golden is powerful and challenging.  Bell brings his characteristic Hebrew scripture, culture and narrative knowledge to illuminate how the modern American church is in exile; In fact, the book’s subtitle is A Manifesto For the Church in Exile.  Bell’s point centers on four places in the biblical story, Egypt, Sinai, Jerusalem and Babylon.  He describes these places in terms of spiritual, cultural and narrative markers rather than strictly their geographical locations.  In his spiritualization of these places the authors make certain to point out that they do not intend to encourage or facilitate racism, religious hatred or intolerance or anything along those lines.

Bell universalizes the Egypt experience by relating the Israelites enslavement and cries to God.  He points out how the God of the Bible always hears the oppressed’s cries.  He liberates the Israelites trough an atoning process that involves first-born son’s paying the price and that event becomes Passover, which we remember as a sign of God’s response and grace.

After Egypt we move to Sinai, where God speaks to Israel, and where a marriage covenant of sorts is made.  The picture of Sinai is of marriage with God, of receiving God’s word and of near immediate adultery.

We move on to Jerusalem, God’s promised land and blessing and living in that.  Here, though, Bell shows two possible outcomes of blessing; we can either remember the slavery, deliverance and blessing and the God who did that, or we can do what Israel did, forget about Egypt and institutionalize our ways against God’s.  Here we see Solomon building God’s temple upon the backs of unwilling workers, slaves.

We move on from here to Babylon, the effect of living against God’s ways and desires.  Israel is conquered and taken back into slavery.  In Babylon we get the picture that Israel stops worshipping in their sadness.  They are back in slaver, yet the prophets speak for God and relate God’s desire for bringing all of creation back into right relation with God.  They speak of another son of David who will use his power in suffering service and will right wrongs through his life.  His life will be God’s blessing of all people and will be the fulfillment of covenants made at Sinai and earlier.

We then see Jesus.  We understand his place in this narrative calls back at least 500 years prior to his life on earth.  He is the one to make things right with God, all things.  He is the one to show God’s love to all nations, even enemies.  This book shows how we are in the midst of empire living.  We have the opportunity to be the Jerusalem God designed or to fall into the path against God’s desires will and plan.

America is so blessed, and God blesses so that others will be blessed, those without a voice, those without power, those without.  Because God always hears the cry of the oppressed.  Bell shows us our incredible opportunity to live as God’s Church and help enact God’s will here on earth, just like is would be in heaven.  I highly recommend this book, but do so with this preface; you will be challenged, you won’t be the same, and hopefully you will be more of who God created you to be.

2 pses.  check out Marko’s review here, and i also think this book is very similar in subject to Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution, but maybe more people will be able to identify with it.  I am glad we have voices like Shane and Rob and Don calling us to more.