What We Talk About When We Talk About God

What We Talk About When We Talk About God

by Rob Bell


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New York Times bestselling author Rob Bell, whom The New Yorker describes as “one of the most influential Christian leaders in the country,” does for the concept of God what he did for heaven and hell in his book Love Wins: He shows how traditional ideas have grown stale and dysfunctional and how to return vitality and vibrancy to lives of faith today.

Pastor Rob Bell explains why both culture and the church resist talking about God, and shows how we can reconnect with the God who is pulling us forward into a better future. Bell uses his characteristic evocative storytelling to challenge everything you think you know about God. What We Talk About When We Talk About God tackles the misconceptions about God and reveals how God is with us, for us, ahead of us, and how understanding this could change the entire course of our lives.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062049681
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/04/2014
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 229,001
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Rob Bell is a New York Times bestselling author, speaker, and spiritual teacher. His books include Love Wins, How to Be Here, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, Velvet Elvis, The Zimzum of Love, Sex God, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, and Drops Like Stars. He hosts the weekly podcast The Robcast, which was named by iTunes as one of the best of 2015. He was profiled in The New Yorker and in TIME Magazine as one of 2011’s hundred most influential people. He and his wife, Kristen, have three children and live in Los Angeles.


Grand Rapids, Michigan

Date of Birth:

August 23, 1970

Place of Birth:

Lansing, Michigan


B.S., Wheaton College, 1992; M. Div., Fuller Seminary, 1995

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Hum 1

Chapter 2 Open 21

Chapter 3 Both 81

Chapter 4 With 97

Chapter 5 For 127

Chapter 6 Ahead 153

Chapter 7 So 175

Epilogue 209

Acknowledgments 213

Resources, Nods, Notes, and a Few Shout-Outs 215

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What We Talk About When We Talk About God 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
mojo_turbo More than 1 year ago
Rob Bell is a New York Times Best Seller, he is most famous for Love Wins, and Velvet Elvis, Rob is also the former senior pastor of Mars Hill in Grand Rapids Michigan and in 2001 he was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by Time magazine. Now with his new release, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, it’s clear that Rob Bell isn’t going away. And that’s a good thing. The world needs Rob Bell. There is something about the value of life that makes it heavy and significant. There are “heavy” and “precious” moments in life. We realize this when those closest to us brush death, or when we meet new life. Life is heavy and significant, but it is also small and precious. We get it, but we kind of don’t. Why is this? Maybe it’s because all of life is profoundly mysterious. In his book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God…. WWTAWWTAG? No, too long. How about just TAG? Ok…? In his book, “TAG,” Rob adds voice to the discussion we all have about God and his existence or non-existence. Are we a sum of our biology? Or is there something more? Is science right? Is the entire world an accident? Christians would say “No” that this thing called “God” is responsible, but that answer sounds too…. archaic. Is God still a valid answer? How God is described by Christians strikes many today as being mean, primitive, backward, and at odds with science.  Science has discovered a “rightness” to the world. Science has always represented order. You can look at science. You can write science down on paper. But Rob Bell points out that when we take a closer look (perhaps at a sub atomic level) even science is profoundly mysterious. We live in a really weird world. The world may not use the word “God” when they talk about life, but many still intuitively feel a sense of reverence and awe in it. Could we all agree that there is more to life than science? Do we live in a world where we know it all? Probably not, but one day we will. Possibly. But isn’t that faith? Christians are often described as people of faith, but don’t we all have faith? In his book, Rob uses relative language to talk about God. He uses the words with, for and ahead (and you know they’re important because the font is bolded). God is with us God is for us God is ahead of us For a long time the traditional way to talk about God has been that God is far away on a cloud with a beard, but that image doesn’t work for us, because people are very aware that there is something wonderful and sacred here on Earth. After all, the Christian story is about a God who came here…. to be with us. You might also hear about all of the things that God is against. God’s book is a giant book of “NOs” and restrictions. God doesn’t want you to have any fun. God doesn’t want you to enjoy your life. God wants to restrict you from being… you. But the Christian story is about a God who actually frees slaves, breaks chains and a God who actually destroys irrelevant laws. The Christian story is “pro-you.” God is for human flourishing. Plus, like we said earlier, the idea of God seems so distant and back-in-time. If you say that you believe in God, then “smart people” look at you like a puritan or a  space alien. The idea of God seems like a cave painting. The idea of God seems like an Oldsmobile. But the Christian story is about a God who goes on ahead of us. Don’t we all feel that “tomorrow” is going to be better? Sure, we don’t have a cure for cancer now, sure people are hungry today, yes, there are people who are slaves today, but tomorrow things will be better. Right? God says one day, people will “beat their swords into plows.” In other words, the Christian story is that one day… the world will get better. God has a future for us and he desperately wants us to get there. TAG is a wonderful book that reads easy like a friend and is filled with Rob’s wonderful stories and anecdotes. This book is certainly for those who question the whole “God thing” but who admit there is something more. This book is for Christians who are desperate for a new word. This book is for people who loved Velvet Elvis and for people who hated Love Wins. Rob Bell has written a book for us, and he isn’t going away. And that’s a good thing. Thank you to Harper One for providing me a free copy for a fair and honest review.
YoyoMitch More than 1 year ago
God, as a topic of discussion, has been near the top of the list since human beings realized that noise coming out their mouths could be a means of communication.  How to describe the indescribable, finding a common definition, even reaching an agreed upon language in order to talk about “God” are places for argument, confusion, culture clashes.  Rev. Bell has taken to this potential morass with clarity, fervor and sufficient logic that it can serve as a launching point for a meaningful discussion of “God,” however that Being can be imagined (or denied, as the case maybe). Written from a Judeo-Christian perspective, this book begins with a discussion about the universe, physics and atoms.  The author speaks, intelligently, of how much there is yet to learn about the 3% of the universe, both the one in which Earth is a part and the one(s) found in the atom, which has been discovered.  He highlights the vast emptiness present in all of creation, from the void found between the nucleus of an atom and its “edge,” to the Dark Energy just now being detected in space and can only deduct this is “a mystery” that cannot be solved so must be accepted until more answers are found.  In "Both," he addresses how experiences can move us to a transcendent place yet we have not “moved” anywhere - words are used in an attempt to describe what is beyond words. “Words and images point us to God, they help us understand the Divine, yet they are not God.” (p. 88).  We seek to describe an experience and accept the inability to accurately do so as a matter of course.  The chapter “With” speaks to the unity of all Creation, how “each is a part of the other.”  At an atomic level, all of Creation is in constant motion and flux, atoms being a part of the hand one second and the handle the next.  Nothing occurs without affecting “everything” on some level.  “For” speaks to how God is “on the side” of Creation; any bad that occurs is due to creation’s insistence on ignoring what is the good, progressive and honorable in favor of the greedy and self-centered. “Ahead” points out that God is constantly calling Creation to a brighter, just place where all are equal, enjoy plenty and delight in merely being alive.  Yet again, Rev. Bell points out that the “backward” view of God (that following God leads to a return of slavery, increased misogyny and a society led by the few to the detriment of the rest) is not Biblical, does not fit with the nature of God (as he conceives this Being) and cannot be reconciled with the “record” of God as it intersects with the history of Creation. I found this book to be challenging, absorbing, stretching, consistent and inviting.  It does not vary too far afield of how I have come to understand God so it was not offensive to me but I could see how some (much?) of his discourse could be controversial to some readers as it challenges their Theology and/or vision of God.  I would like to discuss this book with people of different faith systems or of no faith system, it offers the occasion for the sharing of how different, or alike, the concept of God is held by multiple, varied individuals. I learned recently that Rev. Bell is no longer pastor of the Mars Hill Bible Church, the congregation he founded.  According to Wikipedia, he left that fellowship after his previous book, Love Wins, caused such fallout that he left to: “reach a broader audience” and “forced him on a ‘search for a more forgiving faith.’”  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Rob Bell does it again! This is a phenomenal read if you want to know what a true, consistent, compassionate and loving God we have. Rob Bell paints a picture of a humanity that loves the other more than the self, in the midst of reading you want to go out and LIVE what he is preaching. Rob talks about the God that is WITH us, FOR us and AHEAD of us. If you are looking for a striking read that will have you yearning for a world that is actually as God intended...this is it!
ConvictionVsTolerance More than 1 year ago
Don't know of a better book on a holistic approach to faith and science in the idiom of our day. From page to page, Rob Bell's words struck me with an uncanny relevance in both observations of and suggestions for the human race of today. Somehow, he puts into words things we might sense or think but would struggle to articulate, and when I encountered such treasures in this book I'd exclaim, "I've thought just that!" or "I've felt this! Yes! Life is like this!" or "Oh, wow, we do say this!" It will press you--whether a theist, atheist, agnostic, or consider yourself as something else on the worldview spectrum. Christians will be pressed by his scientific views. Atheists will be challenged by his open understanding of "God." His constant play with the theme of "either/or" versus "both/and" undergirds the whole book, and I find this to be one of the most helpful and important themes for a time when we are so intensely woven together in a pluralism of worldview. We face stark tension between Conviction and Tolerance. We will perish without both and yet this tension has caused the worst atrocities. Fundamentalism is not only scary in religion but science. But I'm also haunted by how many in my generation seem to have no substantial convictions...for anything really. Rob offers such hopeful perspective on how to engage with this tension in ways that will produce more love and less hate. This book helps me immensely to be a passionate Christian of both conviction and yet openness. We are living at the highest peaks so far in the Information Age. We are connected to fellow humans more than ever through technology and yet lonelier than ever. It seems that I encounter people sharing this observation everywhere; it truly is a core issue for our race and its dilemma and gift of consciousness. Rob helps us greatly, I think, with the bittersweetness of our awareness.
LosAngelesDan More than 1 year ago
Some readers will come to this book with closed minds. Pity; Rob Bell asks us to consider what the concept of God might mean. An open minded reader will accept or reject some of his ideas. But this conversation needs to be engaged, if we are to understand what the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant churches mean, when they, and we, talk about God. Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
paoniapeony More than 1 year ago
I read the review for Rob Bell's book - do not want to finish at this time. It will not leave my page. I'd just like for it not to be there every time I open to the Barnes & Nobel Site.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Extremely heretical author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An excellent approach to debunking the "certainty myth" of so much that is associated with religious fundamentalism, of any stripe. Bell does it in a thoughtful and compassionate way without setting up religious straw-men to tear down with doctrinal arguments. His use of what scientists are now discovering about the world that we live in makes great sense to someone like me who started out life with a scientific background; but I wonder how many non-scientifically inclined folks my age (retired) will find it that way. Nevertheless, his approach is probably the only approach that will make sense to the emerging generations of today. No matter which end of the religious spectrum you find yourself on, from Fundy to atheist, you will need to engage his thoughts, if you are to be a part of the conversation of this age. Well worth the money.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Once again rob bell speaks God's message of love.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Rob Bell is a very accomplished writer, however I was a little disappointed in this book. He is a liberal Christian pastor and his theme of God going forward, proves that. I think it is, the liberal who is pushing God forward to coincide with their thinking, rather than letting God be "The same yesterday, today and tomorrow"
AmandaListon More than 1 year ago
Wow, that title is a mouthful isn’t it? Let’s start this out by saying I’m a Rob Bell fan. Maybe to those outside of the Christian community this doesn’t mean a lot but I think most Christians have to define themselves as either on his team or not. When he released his previous book Love Wins I was so impressed and thankful for his fresh perspective on the Bible but the book was divisive to say the least. He’s come back with What We Talk About When We Talk About God and it is his best, deepest, most inspiring book yet. With every chapter I found myself feeling release, if that could be called an emotion. I was letting go of the fear and anxiety associated with what I didn’t know or couldn’t understand about God as Bell takes the reader through life, science, ancient history, and not-so-ancient history, all things that some churches try to pass off as things that can’t go hand-in-hand with God. It’s inspiring how much more beautiful everything becomes when we really examine the world God created and look for aspects of himself therein. The entire second chapter is full of science, yes, science, and was not boring at all but almost too fascinating for me to read all at once. God is so obviously showing himself to us, and we can’t be afraid to look. Embrace science, embrace history, embrace culture. These are parts of God, not things hindering us from him! If we have to tell ourselves to stay away from science because it’s too big for God, we won’t be able to handle God and this knowledge, then God has failed. And our God never fails! How many more people would be willing to hear what Christians have to say about God if this was the message? That you don’t have to blindly accept everything but that just like everything else, a relationship with God is something that is nurtured and is constantly evolving? This book is truly revolutionary.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love every second of this book except one part. The author doesn't believe that humans were created until millions of years after the earth, which in my opinion doesn't really fit with what the bible says. Other then that, this book was on spot and mostly biblically sound. It brought up awesome points that were awe-inspiring.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've never read this book, though it does look interesting I just wanted to point out a possible clerical error from the descripton above.  Under the "Meet the Author" portion, where it mentions the title of one of the other books the author has written, it lists the title as "Sex God" (twice) whereas before that, under "Editorial Reviews", it lists the title as "Sex & God". Just wanted to point that out as it may cause a little confusion; it did for me at first, anyway.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This guy calls himself a christian, but in reality is a wolf in sheep's clothing. Don't waste your time.