My mom had an Oldsmobile.
She bought it brand new in May of 1989. It was a huge improvement over her previous car: a very old, silver Chevy station wagon that even had a huge “Jazzercise” bumper sticker on the back. The new car, an Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera, was awesome in comparison. It was clean, white, and I remember that distinct, “new car” smell. And I was thrilled because she got it just in time for me to take it to my senior prom.
But that new car smell disappeared a month later. In fact, it had developed a horrific odor. As we were pondering the source of this mysterious stench I suddenly remembered something: my prom date and I, and the other couple we were with, had placed our left-over Chinese food in the trunk. In the excitement of all the senior prom festivities we forgot about it.
Can you imagine what four-week old Chinese leftovers baking in the trunk of a brand new Oldsmobile in the central California summer sun smelled like?
Think: “weapon of warfare in World War I”
Despite our best attempts, that brand-new Oldsmobile never smelled the same again.
Apparently, Rob Bell had an Oldsmobile, too.
The main point: God is like an Oldsmobile: outdated, defunct, a relic suitable only for collectors. God “couldn’t keep up with the times.” For Bell, the God of scripture “served [him] well for those years”. But that was then, this is now. “Things have changed”; we are more advanced and we therefore need an equally advanced Diety, too. God needs to be improved, retro-fitted to a new world that operates with new ideas.
I am all for helping people to rightly understand who God is and how he has revealed himself in scripture. However, Bell seems not to be interested in correcting misunderstandings of God but rather to help fashion a god more palatable to the modern mind. After all, the center of understanding God comes not from a God who has revealed himself in scripture, but from our own spirituality. For Bell, when it comes to understanding God, the first and most reliable source is ourselves. Twenty years as a pastor has taught him this: people have “a growing sense that their spirituality is, in some vital and yet mysterious way, central to who they are as a person.” That’s the essence: one’s own personal spirituality is the source of authority. And that is why God must be changed. God must be made into their image; a god made according to the “art and imagination” of how they want to think of God.
But something doesn’t smell quite right… and it isn’t my mom’s Cutlass Ciera.
The book is scheduled for release next Tuesday, March 12.