Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Jesus Wants to Save Christians, by Rob Bell and Don Golden, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), $19.99 (224 pages) Due out in October.

I thoroughly enjoy the creative material that comes out of Rob Bell’s grace-filled and artistic brain. Even when I disagree with him, there is no denying he is tapping into a deep well of truth and riding the wave of a new movement of the Holy Spirit which the church, especially in America, so desperately needs. Rob Bell, and until recently, Don Golden have been doing this together at Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, and undoubtedly this book comes out of some of their ministry together. This third of the Bell books, this time with collaboration from a partner in ministry has the same bite and passion as the first two, but mostly missing are the personal stories and anecdotes which peppered Velvet Elvis, and Sex God. This book is all business, and it is God’s business the writers are about. Whether the Evangelical world wants to hear this or not, these authors feel it needs to do so desperately. This book deserves a thorough review.

It is thus with some excitement that I recently discovered that my friends at Zondervan had sent me a pre-pub copy of Jesus Wants to Save Christians (and boy do many of them need it!), which as it turns out, is a good faith attempt to articulate a specific theology for our post-modern situation, articulating what the author’s call a New Exodus perspective. New Exodus theology is of course not totally new, though it will be new to many in the blogosphere, and in the Introduction our authors acknowledge right off the bat an indebtedness especially to the work of Professor Tom Holland who teaches Biblical Theology at Wales Evangelical School of Theology, and has focused in his writings on the Pauline corpus (e.g see his Contours of Pauline Theology). Thus we could say that Bell and Golden are attempting to turn some of that Welsh grape juice into vintage wine in this little book, or perhaps we should envisage the process the other way around, since Holland’s is the more technical scholarly work, and this book more the distillation and clarification. But let the buyer beware--- anyone brave enough to take on and milk the All American sacred cows of greed and sex are bound to get to some other nice little non-controversial golden calves like ‘Christians and politics, or Christians and war’, or Christians and social justice, or Christians and the oppressed and the poor-- right? Right.

One of the things I immediately resonate with about this book is its attempt to do theology out of the Grand Narrative or meta-narrative of the Bible. This is precisely what I have been arguing for, for a long time even when it comes to more didactic material such as Paul’s letters (see e.g. my Paul’s Narrative Thought World). What we discover pretty quickly in the first chapter is that this book is more than just a theological exercise by young theologians (to borrow a phrase from Helmut Thielicke’s classic little guide), it is something of a social manifesto, a probing of the necessary socio-political implications of the Gospel. Writing this is of course either a brave or a foolhardy thing to do in schizophrenic America which actually thinks you can keep religion and politics (and church and state) in hermetically sealed off comports in one’s brain, ones town, and one’s nation, and never the twain should meet. In short, this book comes at precisely the right time (due out October) in the latest political cycle of things.

The book begins with a retelling of the tragic tale of Cain and Abel which gives the authors the opportunity to suggest that this story is about all of us—somewhere East of Eden, trying to build a city and a civilization outside of Paradise and in a fallen world. Ain’t it the truth. But this book is especially about the indigenization of human falleness in America particularly, and how our behavior as an Empire, in some ways much like the Roman Empire, is a particular manifestation of what is deeply wrong with human society, something which is more like the behavior of Cain, than Abel.

One of the roots of the problem in America is pointed out at the very outset of the book is put in these terms—“A Christian should get very nervous when the flag and the cross start holding hands. This is not a romance we want to encourage”(p. 18). Indeed, if pushed far enough it becomes a form of idolatry, the ultimate fallen behavior. And of course Bell and Golden are right. When you are spending a trillion dollars in Iraq and untold billions here in America for Homeland In-Security, and invest 50 billion in one plane with helicopter features as a ‘better weapon of mass destruction’ and of course it still is not making us safe, indeed it makes us feel less secure in many cases not more, isn’t it time to ask—Is fear or faith dictating our dominant national behavior in such matters? What’s wrong with this picture from a Christian point of view? At least Bell and Golden are brave enough to ask the right questions about all of this, even though doubtless they are going to be slammed as unpatriotic, rather like Jews were by the Roman Empire when they refused to worship at the altars of the Emperor cult.

And interestingly, quoting Colin Powell no less they put their finger on it early on: “The only thing that can destroy us is us. We shouldn’t do it to ourselves, and we shouldn’t use fear for political purposes—scaring people to death so they will vote for you, or scaring people to death so that we create a terror-industrial complex”
(Colin Powell in interview in GQ October 2007
I knew I liked that Colin Powell. With this opening salvo, Bell and Golden turn to a retelling of our story, our meta-narrative, the story of salvation history.

CHAPTER ONE In the first major chapter of the book, the authors turn to Exodus and isolate a particular key motif. If we ask what it is that gets the ball rolling, the juices flowing, and more to the point what sets God into motion and into action, it is the cry of the oppressed. Whether it’s the blood of Abel crying out, or the oppressed Israelites laboring under Pharaoh’s hard yoke, it is the cry of the oppressed for help that sets the Biblical story in motion in regard to God’s divine intervention and redemption activity. God doesn’t just hear, he is a crisis intervention specialist. But not like an EMT team. More like someone who is rescuing his own bride to be, and longs to have a permanent binding covenantal relationship with them. And God has a mission for this bride, to become a priest, a mediator between God and humankind, a light-bearer to the nations.

Much is made by Bell and Golden of the word sa’aq which Walter Bruegemann has referred to as the primal scream of a wronged people. Not a lament or a cry of resignation but the strong voice of a person badly wrong crying out and believing it will be heard and remedied. God responds to the primal scream of humanity for liberation, freedom, rescue. The cry for release from injustice and oppression.

Egypt is viewed as the epitome of anti-kingdom. It is seen as what happens when sin becomes structured into society itself and its laws. “Egypt shows us how easily human nature bends towards using power to preserve privilege at the expense of the weak.” (p. 27). Pharaoh is “part of a larger system, a complex web of power and violence and industry and technology that exploits people for its expansion and profit.” (p. 26). Bell and Golden are enunciating a certain kind of non-Marxist liberation theology, but they have indeed drunk from the well of Horsley and Crossan as they trek across the desert towards the oasis they are looking for.

One of the more interesting points in this chapter is that God deliberately calls his people away from the city away from fallen civilization to a place where he can speak to them “And it happens in the wilderness, which has global implications. Because the Sinai event happened in the wilderness and not in the midst of a nation or city or province where someone could make ownership claims, it was for all the people of the world.” (p. 29).
This first chapter could be called a tale of going from Exodus to Exile. And there are many helpful and key points along the way. What does God do when his oppressed people, once they begin to prosper, turn around and oppress others? Does God stand idly by when that happens? No, he sends his very own people off into exile. There is both a helpful exposition of the ten commandments in this chapter and then an eye opening exposition on Solomon and how he became like Pharaoh, an oppressor.

In regard to the ten commandments the authors stress that this is an exegesis and a reminder of the Israelite experience in Egypt and thereafter. So for example, it reminded them they lived in Egypt in a polytheistic environment which was an insult to the one true God, as he was about the only God not honored there! The Sabbath commandment is said to remind the Israelites that Pharaoh made them work every day without rest, that is it reminds them of their life as slaves not allow shalom or restoration or a time to honor their God.
The ten commandments then are seen as a new way of being human, getting one’s life in proper order in relationship to God and others. God’s people are to go and hear the cry of other oppressed peoples—the widow, the orphan, the stranger in the land, the foreigner. “They’re commanded: Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan… Do not deny justice to your poor people….It is as if God is saying, ‘The thing that has happened to you—go make it happen for others….God measures their faith by how they treat the widows, orphans, strangers—the weak—among them God’s desire is that they would bring exodus to the weak, in the same way that God brought them exodus in their weakness.” (p. 35). And later when they speak about the perfidies of Solomon they remind us that it was the Queen of Sheba who said “Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king to maintain justice and righteousness.” (p. 37). But in fact Solomon failed in this enterprise and became a king like unto Pharaoh. The authors then chronicle not only the buildings based on slave labor, but the building up of homeland security at Megiddo and elsewhere. And Solomon becomes an arms merchant, buying chariots and horses from Egypt and selling weapons of war to the Hittites and the Aramaens. (p. 41). Solomon creates an anti-kingdom for his own pleasure and protection and honor, in direct violation of Deut. 17.16-17 telling a Israelite ruler what he must not do.

One of the gems of insight is that “The Bible is full of stories in which the ‘pagan’ characters seem to have better insight into the ways of God than the people who are supposed to have that insight. See Jethro in Exodus 18, Rahab in Joshua 2, the magi in the Gospels, and Numbers 22, we’re not sure about Balaam’s donkey” (p. 198). To this they add the telling example of the Queen of Sheba who reminds Solomon that his job as ruler is to uphold justice and righteousness, not build a glam temple on the backs of slave labor, and set up military bases in Megiddo, Hazor and elsewhere in the Holy Land, or have loads of concubines and wives, and thereby one’s heart is turned away from the Lord. The one oppressed has become the oppressor, and where this leads is straight to exile, do not pass go, do not collect any more shekelim (see 1 Kngs 11). What’s the point here? “God doesn’t have a problem with eating and drinking and owning things. Its when those things come at the expense of others having their basic needs met—that’s when the passionate rants of the prophets really kick in.” (p. 46). They are right on the money about this.

Another of the major themes of this chapter is that God wants or needs a body on earth. No, this is not Mormon theology coming out of the mouths of Bell and Golden. By body they mean a tangible people, a real people of flesh and blood to carry out God’s will and plan on earth. Herein we see the deep impact that Jewish scholars like Abraham Joshua Heschel have had on their theologizing (see p.200). God gives power and blessing so that justice and righteousness will be upheld for those who are denied it (p. 44).

CHAPTER TWO The second major chapter in this book is entitled ‘Get Down Your Harps’ and chronicles what it means to be in exile. One of the major leitmotivs in the first two chapters is that it seems that for a fallen people “take away the comforts of kingdom, deprive a person of the structures and institutions of empire, and they just might find the spine to envision a new tomorrow. Push a person to the limits of suffering, and they just might become a revolutionary.” (p. 54). No not a Che Guevara kind of revolutionary. A non-violent sort who is sold out for God, and whose bread is God’s Word, and whose hope is in the Lord, not in empire, or military protection or the like. As this chapter goes on to show, one Exodus was not enough. There needed to be an Exodus from Exile as well, and vision borne in exile that was big enough to include all of humanity—a cry for all of humanity to come home to their God.

‘The kings of the Babylonians, the prophets concluded wasn’t the real problem any more than Pharaoh the king of the Egyptians was the real problem for their ancestors…The real problem, the ultimate oppressor, is something that resides deep in every human heart. The real reason for their oppression is the human slavery to violence, sin, and death.” (p. 57). It is the Cain in all of us that is the real problem.

One of the stresses in both the first two chapters is the conditional nature of God’s promises in some respects—God had told Moses that if his people would be faithful and obey fully then they would be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. And on the other hand, if they did not. If they forgot their true identity and story, there would be consequences, called covenant curses (p. 59). Penalties happen when you break a contract. Exile is a consequence of a nation’s infidelity.

But the vision of return, the vision of remarriage would involve a new sort of marriage covenant, according to Jeremiah, one where truth was buried deep in the inward parts of the believing people. And they would not go back to the Solomonic days, they would go forward, according to Isaiah into a place of beating swords into plowshare—exchanging destruction for food production. Turning spears into pruning hooks—exchanging the implements of killing for the implements of rescuing the least the last and the lost. And then there is the word about one’s worst enemies coming to love the Lord and be one’s brothers.
Jerusalem would become a city without walls, Israel a country without borders, and human beings people without racial bias, ethnocentricity, or national bias. “In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria a blessing on the earth. The Lord almighty will bless them, saying ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance” Is. 19.24-25). Hmm…. This doesn’t sound anything like some TV preachers’ visions of the future.

Salvation to the ends of the earth, which Isaiah also forsees means no more partiality. God is the God of all people, he loves them all, and desires to redeem them all. The lion is going to lie down with the lamb and not dream of lambchops. The wolf is going to den with the sheep and not wolf him down. And we will study war no more…… “For the prophets in exile, no vision was too large, no dream too big, no hope too beyond what would happen in the new exodus….A movement bigger than any one nation, bigger than any one ethnic group, bigger than one religion” (pp. 67-68).

To their credit, Bell and Golden point out that when Isaiah talks about this new leader, they see that he was to be like Solomon, only wiser and better. One who would use power purely to help the oppressed and the poor. One who would in fact be a servant—a suffering servant. A righteous and just servant. The authors see the promises in Isaiah 7,9,11 pointing to a leader that not only has a miraculous conception but can rule forever, some sort of interesting servant who is both truly human and yet truly divine. A prince of peace who will bring shalom forever.
What if David had another son, like but much greater than Solomon? “What started as a promise of hope for a particular group of people beside a particular river turned into a universal hope for all of humanity, whatever river they find themselves beside.” (p. 71). But these dreams were deferred for a long time. These hopes were left hanging in air, and even the moment of Macabbean glory did not fulfill these dreams. What or who could? The Old Testament leaves us hanging like the last episode in season 4 of Lost.

CHAPTER THREE Bell and Golden subscribe to the theory that Jews of the first century in Israel saw themselves as still in a sort of exile since the Roman oppressors were in their land, and they were not free, since even their temple was abutted by a taller Roman installation like the Antonia Fortress. I would call this occupation which involved some oppression to be sure. But not exile. The portrayal of Jesus as the true Son of David, like Solomon was supposed to be, is poignant and accurate, beginning on p. 78. There is also a stress on how much the story of Jesus is seen in light of Isaiah 40ff. and further there is a stress on how the ministry of Jesus is seen as not just one more return from exile, one more exodus, but in fact a new genesis—the beginning of the kingdom on earth leading to the new heavens and the new earth. There is a stress on the universal intent and scope of Jesus’ ministry—“this new son of David isn’t just leading a new exodus for a specific group of people; he’s bringing liberation for everybody everywhere and ultimately for everything everywhere for all time.” (p. 83).

There is a helpful discussion, beginning on p. 85 of the Emmaus road story. The authors remind us that Jesus’ frustration with the two fellow travelers is not because they believed the prophets and Jesus’ death had dashed such hopes. It is because they had not believed the prophets that spoke of the servant suffering. “For the fellow traveler, Jesus’ death isn’t the end of hope; its actually the beginning of hope.” (p. 86). Jesus was not going to change the world by killing, but rather by dying. “If evil always takes some form of violence, then more violence isn’t going to solve anything.” Jesus came to change the paradigm for “those addicted to the myth of redemptive violence.” (p. 87, and here an indebtedness to Walter Wink is acknowledged). Instead there is the truth of redemptive suffering and death. Violence cannot bring peace, the death of the prince of peace can, for only by absorbing the world’s attempt to be Cain over and over again, can the paradigm be changed, and the world be changed, and even God’s people be changed.

CHAPTER FOUR This chapter begins with a bit of a historical problem. Apparently the authors think that Philip the Evangelist is the same person as the Philip mentioned in the Gospels. This is probably incorrect. The Philip of Acts 6-8 is not one of the apostles, but someone picked to relieve the apostles of their table waiting duties, and their duties to care for the widows. And a picture is painted of this Philip that he comes from an ultra orthodox region of northern Galilee including Bethsaida. This idea they got from Ray Van der Laan, and it is likely wrong as well as it is based on what that region was like long after A.D. 70 when it became a haven for Jews after the debacle and destruction of Jews in Jerusalem. Bethsaida was not known as part of the orthodox triangle in Jesus’ day. Indeed, it was known as a border town dangerously close to pagan influences from Gerasa and elsewhere.

In their retelling of the story of Pentecost they connect it with the Mt. Sinai experience of Moses, and the Jewish tradition that Moses got the Big Ten and these truths were then spoken in the languages of all nations. This story is more likely to be alluded to in Acts 2 than the usual suggestion that Babel is alluded to, for Acts 2 is quite specifically not about the return to one world, one language. It is about how the Good News can be indigenized in all languages and cultures.

One of the features of Bell’s approach to Scripture is to look for small correspondences between Biblical stories and then connect them—for example the mention of 3,000 killed at Sinai, and 3,000 added at Pentecost. Some of these connections are far more plausible than others and this one is just barely possible. The danger of course is to read too much into the use of specific numbers that were not particularly symbolic for Jews (though there were perhaps a dozen or so numbers that were symbolic) or specific terms, like the word ‘east’, as in east of Eden.

Another example occurs in this same chapter where the reference to too much wine is taken as an allusion to weddings and marriages, and then we are told that Pentecost is about the beginning of the new marriage with God. This is something Luke does not even remotely suggest, and indeed what is said by Peter rules it out--- the taverns are not open this early in the morning. He’s not thinking weddings, he’s thinking happy hour. Or again in this same chapter the fact that the Ethiopian eunuch is riding in a chariot is used to connect this story to the chariots of Pharaoh, never mind this eunuch is already a God-fearer reading an Isaiah scroll! Is the chariot seen here as a symbol of oppression and baptism a liberation from that sort of oppression? Luke does not say or imply that is his message here. He is concerned about Good News traveling to the ends of earth, by means of folk like the Ethiopian (see my Acts commentary).
We are then given the picture of ultra-orthodox Philip who would have qualms about baptizing a eunuch. But nothing in the story indicates this was an issue for Philip at all. And indeed, we are not given a scenario where Philip has a crisis of conscience before baptizing the eunuch. This is reading too much into the story, on the basis of dubious background info. Context is great when it’s the right contextual info, to illuminate the text.
There are however better connections made later in the chapter for example between Paul in Rom. 1 seeing himself as a servant and sort of priest to the nations, thus fulfilling what is said in Exod. 19 and elsewhere. Bell and Golden are right, that the new covenant did want to emphasize the more universalizable aspects of the prophets words, and indeed of the words of Moses.

If we wonder where the title of this book comes from it comes from insights like the following: “Paul is gathering with the religious leaders, trying to persuade them about Jesus. He doesn’t first go to the Gentiles, he goes to the religious faithful, he attends their gatherings, he speaks to them in their language. Paul does this because he knows that if the church gets converted, the whole world will follow.” (p. 115, emphasis added). Of course in Acts 28 Paul is talking to Jewish leaders, not Christians, and of course they are synagogue leaders, not church leaders, and it is not clear whether the whole world’s following is meant to be an allusion to Rom. 11.25 and context where the full number of the Gentiles and all Israel being saved are connected. This is the weakest chapter in this book in terms of sound exegesis at various points, but it does manage to stay on message and rightly emphasis the new creation theme and the new covenant character promised in Isaiah and Jeremiah. The early Christians did believe they already lived in the age of fulfillment. Indeed every conversion was already a new creation, at least in that life.

CHAPTER FIVE This chapter begins with a bang, the big bang of the bombing that began Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003. As is reported here while we were busily lauding the precision of our new weapons, in fact the hospitals nearby were reporting almost entirely civilian casualties—women, children, the elderly, and men. Not soldiers, not a one, and not Saddam Hussein. The accurate report from that day of one Iraqi trying to overcome the disaster is given. He said “Due to this [inhuman] behavior. America will fail. She will fail completely among the countries. And another nation will rise and take America’s place. America will lose because her behavior is not the behavior of a great nation.” (p. 118). The bombs you see fell in the wrong place, and any one who calls innocent people killed ‘collateral damage’ has certainly forfeited the right to think they stand on the moral high ground.

Now Bell and Golden are well aware of all the good that Americans have done in so many corners of the globe. They are well aware of , and agree that the loyal service of someone to their nation, is often to be applauded and honored. They quite agree that those who actually sacrificed their lives so we could live in freedom deserve our respect. That is not the issue. The issue is that Jesus has called Christians to participate not in Empire and ‘military solutions’ but in the Gospel and the attempt to save the world for true freedom in a very different manner. To the questions about the unjust terrorist act called the Crucifixion which happened to Jesus, and how we should respond, Jesus’ suggests “those who live by the sword shall die by it”. In short, Christians are not called to participate in the ‘military solution’.

Jesus has “an entirely different understanding of what just took place in Jerusalem [to himself], an understanding that strikes at the core of their entire worldview [which looked for the military restoration of Israel], and in the process of explaining to them what really just happened [namely the fulfillment of God’s plan—see Lk. 24], he reaches out to save them from perpetuating the very thing he came to save them from.” (p. 121, emphasis added). That is he came to save them from, among other things, the ways of Cain, the ways of violence to try and solve our problems. This stress on the Christian call to non-violence is both welcome, and Biblical. Its what Jesus would do.

Bell and Golden are quite right that it is difficult to read the Bible from the posture of the oppressed when one is part of a nation that is not under oppression in the way ancient Jews were. When one is part of the world’s biggest super power it is hard to read the Bible with the eyes of the original writers of these stories that saw super-powers as the ultimate manifestation of evil, and even severely criticized their own nation when it briefly became a super power under Solomon. While it would be easy to put America on a guilt trip for how much it has and has done to obtain it and how much better we have it than any other country in the world (see pp. 122-23) Bell and Golden take the high road.
They do want to deconstruct the sense of smugness and entitlement, and make us realize we have indeed been blessed to be a blessing, and we need to get on with it, not being a curse to other nations. They stress that prosperity brings with it the temptation to forget not only one’s past poverty and exodus from it, but to forget one’s God who did the blessing and rescuing.
They stress that what so often is a telltale sign that you have in fact forgotten God is “you forget the people God cares about…the widow, the orphan, and the refugee.” (p. 124). They are right about this. One measure of the character of country is how it treats the foreigners and strangers in the land. They stress “Entitlement leads to becoming immune to the suffering of others, because ‘I got what I deserve’ and so, apparently, did they….In the empire of entitlement, when the fundamental awareness is lost that this is all a gift, luxuries can begin to seem like necessities. Excess can become normal. And it can be very easy to lose perspective on just how much we have.” (p. 125).

But Bell and Golden are not just critiquing luxury and excess. They are wanting Americans to see themselves in different places in the Bible than they usually see themselves. “If you are a citizen of an empire that has the most powerful army in the history of humanity and is currently on the way to spending a trillion dollars on a war, passages in the Bible about those who accumulate chariots and horses from Egypt are passages about you and your people.” (p. 128). It is no surprise that the Psalmist contrasts those who trust in chariots and those who trust in God.

One of the more key insights that Bell and Golden emphasize that makes the Bible a different sort of book is that the Bible records how God wanted God’s people to be self-critical. The Bible records both the good points about Solomon, but also the full critique of his attempt to make Israel like the other nations, an accumulating empire. This is a God thing, as not too many empires are self-critical. “This is a warning to us of the powerful impulse within an empire to tell only one version of the story, the version that glosses over the dark side and injustices in order to serve the larger story of continued supremacy and success.” (p. 130). When you begin believing your own rhetoric, you are self-deceived.

Not surprisingly in this chapter considerable time is spent on the book of Revelation, which is rightly seen as a profound critique of empire and the Emperor cult and the tendency of God’s people to compromise with the pagan culture and its values.
The critique of some popular forms of Dispensational interpretation of Revelation is trenchant: “Imagine how dangerous it would be if there were Christians who skipped over the first century meaning of John’s Letter [i.e. Revelation] and focused only on whatever it might be saying about future events, years and years away. There is always the chance that in missing the point, they may in the process be participating in and supporting and funding various kinds of systems that the letter warns against participating in, supporting and funding. That would be tragic. That wouldn’t be what Jesus had in mind. That would be anti-Jesus. That would be anti-Christ. Were the people in John’s church reading his letter for the first time, with Roman soldiers right outside their door thinking, ‘This is going to be really helpful for people two thousand years from now who don’t want to get left behind.”? (p. 135). They ask the pertinent question—how do the children of the empire hear a critique of the fallen tendencies toward and the existence of empires? They spend the final major chapter of this book trying to answer that question.

CHAPTER SIX The title of the final major chapter is striking—Blood on the Doorposts of the Universe. The image of course comes from the original Passover, which is seen as an occasion where the power of the Empire was rendered inert and the Pharaoh powerless to stop the angel of death because the God of the exodus was going to hear his people’s cry and rescue them. An extended comparison is drawn between the original Exodus which involved the sacrifice of a lamb, and its blood on the doorpost in lieu of the loss of the first born son, and the new Exodus in Jesus’ blood on the cross where in fact, by contrast God’s first born did lose his life. The lamb, and more specifically the sacrificed lamb becomes a symbol of freedom, of that which sets a people free. The authors then go on to discuss the Passover meal Jesus celebrated where he reinterpreted two of the elements, bread and wine, in light of himself, and his own coming sacrifice. When you change the referents of the symbols, you are changing the symbol system, and in this case that means new covenant, and not just a renewal of the old one.

On p. 150 much is made of the fact that Christ is called the firstborn of all creation, which is taken to mean that Jesus is the representative of all of creation. In fact Colossians is talking about his being preeminent over all creation, but they are right in general about the point they are making. Christ did die for all. God is reconciling all things unto himself through the blood of the cross. This is the language of estrangement overcome, not liberation from bondage, but it is said to be for all of creation. Probably preeminent over creation and preeminent and first in the new creation of resurrection is what Col. 1 is about, a statement about Christology, not so much about new exodus. In fact “making peace thru the blood of the cross” is more about cessation of hostilities between God and humankind, not about liberation from Egypt like oppression and bondage. The problem with paradigms is that when you try to read new Exodus into too many things, some texts get distorted like Col. 1.

The authors go on to stress that Paul apparently saw himself as, like Christ, a thank offering poured out for the world. They argue (see pp. 152-53) that we are all supposed to be offering ourselves as sacrifices and servants, for the world. One striking remark comes while they are discussing 1 Cor. 9, and notice that Paul does not say “to the strong I became strong” whereas he does say to the weak I became weak”. The reason this is notable is because of the previous antinomies (I became a Jew to the Jew, a Gentile to the Gentile etc.). Why not? Because a Eucharist is not about self-strengthening or identifying with the strong. “For someone to receive, someone has to give. For someone to be fed, someone has to provide the food. …if someone somewhere benefits, then someone somewhere has paid something” (p. 152). Eucharist is about self-giving, not self-aggrandizement or self-enhancement.

One of the things that is strongly critiqued in this last chapter is a consumer approach to church, especially when that makes a church an exercise in niche marketing for a specific subculture or cultural group. As Bell and Golden stress that doesn’t look like the new humanity talked about in Ephes. 2 that Christ died to create. They put it this way-- “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 adjusts its strategy to meet that consumer need.” (p. 161). The question is what does it look like to break ourselves open and pour ourselves out for the world, as Jesus did. A church’s authority in the world comes from its Christ’likeness is in essence what they are saying.

At this juncture, lest we think that Bell and Golden might be suggesting something ‘liberal’ about politics they make clear that is not their intent--- “This is why when Christians organize politically and start flexing their muscle, making threats about how they are going to impose their way on others, so many people turn away from Jesus. Jesus’ followers at that point are claiming to be the voice of God. But they are speaking the language of Caesar and using the methods of Rome, and for millions of us it has the stench of Solomon, its not the path of descent.” (p. 164).

In other words, they are all for Christians living out the radical demands of the Gospel, but they do not see this as a political program by which a Christian group weds itself to a particular political party or movement, and uses the world’s tactics to try and accomplish God’s ends. This would not be taking the way of the servant, the way of sacrifice, the way of eucharist. Giving unconditionally to others is different from demanding things of others, manipulating others, brow-beating others, and the like. Working for justice in the world does not just help the oppressed, it rescues us from becoming oppressors and forgetting we were once slaves who were set free by God. “The Eucharist is about people with the power empowering the powerless to make a better life for themselves.” (p. 168). The church is said to be an organization that exists for the sake of non-members.

”The church is the living, breathing, life-giving, system-confronting, empire-subverting picture of the new humanity.” (p. 172). Or at least it is supposed to be, but have you seen an American church much like this? I hope so.

EPILOGUE Perhaps the strongest plea from the end of this little book is that we are all indeed our brother’s keeper. And so “Jesus wants to save our church from the exile of irrelevance. If we have any resources, any power, any voice, any influence, any energy, we must convert them into blessing for those who have no power, no voice, no influence.” (p. 179). In other words, like God we are to hear the cry of those in need of help, relief, food, medicine, rescue, redemption because in fact all of this is the social outworking of salvation, and the spiritual and social dimensions of salvation should not be severed. God wants to save the whole person, body and soul, life and situation.

These two rather young men believe passionately in the whole Gospel for the whole person in the whole world. Listen to how they put it in the end, because indeed Jesus needs to and wants to save the American church from irrelevance—
“Jesus wants to save us from making the good news about another world and not this one. Jesus wants to save us from preaching a Gospel that is only about individuals and not about the systems that enslave them. Jesus wants to save us from shrinking the Gospel down to a transaction about the removal of sin and not about every single particle of creation being reconciled to its maker. Jesus wants to save us from religiously sanctioned despair, the kind that doesn’t believe the world can be made better, the kind that either blatantly or subtly teaches people to just be quiet and behave and wait for something big to happen ‘someday’.” (p. 185). In other words, “do not ask for whom this Golden Bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”



Unknown said...

Ben, I've followed your blog since your critique of Pagan Christianity. I've enjoyed your thorough thoughts and writing style.

I must say that when I saw that you were going to review Rob's new book, I thought you were going to rail on him for his theological inconsistencies or sloppiness as most others do. I am impressed at your favorable critique and interaction with his and Don's thoughts.

I wish that all reviews done by Christians would be accomplished in this manner. One should respect the person and what they're trying to say, while also disagreeing and stating why you disagree without denigrating the person.

Thanks for your example, and I pray that I can be equally as gracious with those books or authors I review and interact with.


Unknown said...

Exile is also a prominent theme in NT Wright's understanding of New Testament theology.

There's probably more Wright here than Crossan.

Friar Tuck said...

At the risk of getting off subject, what resources do you know of that tie the Exodus experience to the Book of Revelation?

Living the Biblios said...

At the risk of being exposed as one of those Christian that Jesus needs to save... here goes.

The theology laid out is fascinating and I dearly love proclaiming Scripture as a meta-narrative story, and the critique that the church and America needs to self-examine itself is right on.


For Bell to say, "Jesus came to change the paradigm for 'those addicted to the myth of redemptive violence.' (p. 87), is a downright inadequate view of the cross/ atonement. It is that very violence against Jesus that redeems a soul from the bondage of sin and gives one the justifying righteousness of God.

What Scot McKnight says to Brian McLaren, in the latest issue of Christianity Today, also looks applicable to Bell. McKnight states, "I question whether a cross that only undoes violence is enough to create liberation, peace, and a kingdom vision." (CT, 9/08, p. 65.)

It's interesting that Bell writes on the Lord's Supper. McKnight observes about it, "not a word is said there about violence and systematic injustice. Other words are given to explain the event: covenant, forgiveness of sins, and blood 'poured out for many.'" (CT, 9/08, p. 65)

Given the political season we're in, I admit to being irked by Bell's conclusions about America and the military...

Simply put, the passivity of Jesus that led to his cross is not an absolute prescriptive text against Christians participating in their government's military!

Romans 13-- "authorities" and their "swords" is a distinct institution ordained by God. The commands to "turn the other cheek" and "suffer for the sake of righteousness" apply to individual Christians and the Church-- not to the institution of government.

Obviously, there are Christians who are conscientious objectors, but God gave government the responsibility to use the "sword." Christians who serve in the military do no inherent wrong, for they participate in that which God gave government the right and responsibility to do!

Lest anyone say these military Christians are off the hook to be mindless robots, may it never be. We need genuine believers to prevent Abu Grahib moments.

You state that for Bell: "The issue is that Jesus has called Christians to participate not in Empire and ‘military solutions’ but in the Gospel and the attempt to save the world for true freedom in a very different manner."

Yes, guns and bombs are not how the Gospel goes forth, because its aim is at one's heart and will. We do not believe in coerced conversions. But again, that does not negate the need for the military to quell evil in the world.

Bell is confusing categories. The institution of the Church is not called to wield the sword-- government is! And God is wise to assign the sword to government and the gospel to the church.

Would Bell tell Christians to not join the military during WW2, while Hitler was busy exterminating the Jews? Bonhoeffer thought otherwise!

Yes, governments don't always use their military in righteous ways, but if we put all governments on a "right use of the military" scale, the United States has done more than any nation in the world to preserve and defend the weak and oppressed (that's biblical, isn't it?).

To address the Christian's role in the Empire and military, a better answer is found more along these lines:

First, studying the example of "empire supporting" believers like, Daniel and Nehemiah.

Second, consider the example of Israel and God's command for His covenant people to bear the sword. Why Jesus didn't urge his followers to follow in Israel's footsteps here testifies to his mission--no human sword could ever do the job of saving humanity from sin and its warring ways. But when God returns at the end of Revelation to judge the world and finally establish His kingdom, the language of John is a war.

Ben Witherington said...

A few quick responses. It is interesting that Wright shows up nowhere in the footnotes in this book, but Crossan and Bruegemann fairly frequently. Secondly, Rob by no means thinks Christ's death serves the sole function of ending the myth of redemptive violence. Of course not. That is only one of its facets, and he is stressing it because it is the most neglected in Evangelical circles. See his video on the scapegoat to get a fuller view of his atonement theology.

As for Revelation and new exodus, I don't want to speak for Rob, but I would note-- the central repeated Christological image in this book is the slain but living lamb standing in heaven. That is surely a new exodus motif.


Rodney Reeves said...

living the biblios said:

"Simply put, the passivity of Jesus that led to his cross is not an absolute prescriptive text against Christians participating in their government's military!"

So, does that apply to Christ-believers who live in nations who fight wars against America?

Regarding the war imagery in the Revelation, you're missing punch the rhetoric. God never marshals an army to fight against the powers of evil. Instead, he has slaves who imitate the Lamb: martyrs for the testimony of Jesus.

Unknown said...


I have really respected pretty much everything you have written here since I discovered your blog. And, I am sure, will continue to do so. But when it comes to Rob Bell, if you don't mind me showing the flag for the other side for a moment, here it is:

I have read the guy, and found him alternatively both intriguing and worrisome. After thinking about it for a long while, I have decided that he's about 20% intriguing and 80% worrisome. I think he, along with the other emergent authors, asks alot of the right questions, questions that more evangelicals should be asking, but has a knack for coming up with the wrong answer every time. He is, to me, one of the clearest examples of one of the problems he decries the most -- people who read scripture to get out of it exactly what they wanted to see in it in the first place. The fact that he does his *eisegesis* from a largely "left wing" perspective instead of from the fundamentalist perspective that he hates so much only makes him biased in another direction. And honestly, from your review, as positive as it was, it sounds like he is doing this all over again. Yeah, I know, alot of evangelical criticism of him has been knee-jerk and ill informed. But after I took the time (several months) to inform myself and quiet my reflexes, I had to conclude that he was 80% wrong after all.

If anyone wants a fair-minded view of the emergent movement, Rob Bell included, I would highly recommend the book that crystallized my thoughts on it after several months of thinking on it: "Why We're not Emergent (by Two Guys Who Should Be)" by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck.

Thanks for listening.

CP said...

I think in fairness to Bell i think one of the driving forces he has is for Evangelicals(especially in the USA)to think through who they are and what they are doing. Lets be fair that you dont attck the man for the beliefs but the belies themselves. I have listened to probably 40 sermons of Rob Bells online and read his previous two books and i don't agree with everything he says, but he certainly is getting us all thinking through the issues for ourselves. Hopefully we can get a sense of the need to ask all of these questions for ourselves and see where we are at.
Ben, thanks again for a great review and a fair one at that. Its funny how many on here want to condemn others for wrong belief and not being from a 'fundamentalist' position while continuing to look through their own 'hermeneutical lense' believing they themselves are 100% how silly we are sometimes....all the best friends.

dave said...

Thank you so much for taking the time and energy to give so much insight and detail; what a service.

Pray the Body really grapples with this book


ATS 91

Nate Dawson said...


I've been a part of Mars Hill for nearly 7 years, while spending a couple of those years on staff with Don.
Having personally interacting with Don and Rob on many fronts, and with my current study under "Tom Holland" in Wales, I feel I can respond with some authority to many of the comments thus far.

⁃ With Padro...I'm also greatful for Ben's comments on this book. Having seen much of the book develop through the teachings of Don and Rob, it should be known that it is not 'all talk.' The staff at Mars Hill continue to critically evaluate how such a new exodus teaching, especially in regard to the poor and oppressed, should be implemented into its 'church life.'

⁃ To First Assembly...Wright does see Exile / Return from Exile as one of many implicit narratives found within scripture, another one being creation / new creation, Don's mentor while working toward his MPhil was Dr. Tom Holland not Tom Wright.

Dr. Tom Holland sees the New Exodus Motif as the hermeneutical key for understanding the biblical narrative, not least the Apostle Paul. Holland states at the beginning of Contours of Pauline Theology, that Paul never strayed from the Old Testament teachings, nor from the teachings of Jesus. The prominence of the "new exodus motif" in the prophetic books of scripture could here be cited in-definately, especially Isaiah.

⁃ To living the biblios...beware when one says "but." Redemptive Violence is a term from Walter Wink so for further consideration one should engage his work. While the cross is important, of course, I would argue that the ushering in of the new exodus by Christ is quite redemptive in nature, especially in regard to Christ's resurrection and our future resurrection. Its as if we live between the two resurrections as "new exodus people i.e. the church." Furthermore, the church is called in this age to work for redemptive purposes whether it is peace and security or taking care of the poor and oppressed.

⁃ Knowing Rob personally, he has many times stated that he has friends who know very well that they are called to be in the military for various reasons, while also having friends who reject military service based upon our current unhealthy world involvement. Therefore, Rob is here promoting a place in which Christian must discern, within community, where God is leading them missionally.

Nate Dawson

Unknown said...

Thanks for the post, Ben. I haven’t read any of Rob Bell’s books, so I really appreciate the review and summary (and your website.) But in the matter of Christians and certain foreign policy issues, I’m not sure I understand his point. Beginning Chapter 5 with a vivid description of the horrors faced by Iraqi civilians followed by the conclusion that Christians should be opposed to “redemptive violence” seems facile at best.

My father grew up in Nazi Germany. In the war he lost many relatives and saw his country destroyed. He can paint a picture of horrors similar to the one that leads off Chapter 5. And yet, having "raised the question" he pursued it to the point of saying, "It is good that someone was there to stop the Nazis, even with what we lost."

If Mr. Bell is not arguing for pacifism pure and simple, in which case, perhaps he would have been “braver” to "raise the question" of World War II or the intervention to stop the genocide in Rwanda, then the Christians who believe that the war in Iraq was necessary to prevent greater violence and evil at least deserve the courtesy of a fuller treatment of the facts.

What were the conditions that led to the war? Did the U.S. military deliberately target those civilians? What were our options and the likely result of the other choices? If you are not arguing for pacifism, then these are questions that need to be answered before you skip on to a vague conclusion.

A policeman’s job involves nothing if not the implicit threat of violence against those who break the law, followed by the entire society’s concurrence in the criminal’s forcible imprisonment (again ensured by the threat of violence.) And yet, I never hear the need for police, or even the propriety of a Christian’s serving in the police force, questioned.

Wouldn’t it seem shallow and sophomoric to dismiss, without argument, the need for a police force as springing merely from an un-Biblical "addiction to the myth of redemptive violence” followed by Scripture references that point to our need to trust God rather than man?

(Incidentally, if Christ’s submission to the cross is a model for how we react to terrorism, is His violent cleansing of the Temple a model for our response to theft and impiety?)

The problem with Mr. Bell is not that he “bravely raises questions.” It’s that he doesn’t ask nearly enough.

So, if he has arguments to make in the case of Iraq I would listen with respect and attention. But framed as it is, his criticism of Christians living in the American “Empire” seems more like boilerplate political sloganeering than a serious attempt to help us conform our outlook to Scripture’s grand narrative.

(I'm sorry for going on so long.)


sam andress said...

Ben, excellent review and to say again it is refreshing that you were generous in some of the places where there are stretches because you understand that big picture of what they are trying to communicate. Bell (and Golden) in this book are truly a gift of God. I can't tell you how many of my non-Christian friends who I have given Nooma's and his other talks to that say, "wait, Jesus was about those things, huh?" and "how come this guy is not trying to sell me anything but making me see things differently?"

By the way, Richard Bauckham does a nice job on the New Exodus in his "The Theology of the Book of Revelation."

Ben Witherington said...

Michael thanks for your thoughtful response. I think most Christian ethicists would say that there are criteria for what counts as a just act or a justified war, and most would certainly say that the actions against the Nazi meet such a criteria. I think what Rob is trying to say is that Christians have a responsibility to respond to violence differently than nations do. The duty roster of the two groups is not identical.


Gary said...

Another thanks from me, Ben for your lengthy review. The only downnside for me is that I'll now feel like I don't really need to read it.

I've been reading a lot of Tom Wright, Hauerwas, Yoder and Brueggeman over the last few years, so I'm guessing I'm not likely to be too scandalized by any of Golden/Bell's points. I AM glad to see some of the better points in recent biblical scholarship being put into popular level books.

One aside on the violence question. I can't recommend highly enough a volume I recently read: John Howard Yoder's When War is Unjust: Being Honest in Just War Thinking. I'm sure many readers here are aware that Yoder was a pacifist, but he was also very concerned that those who were of the just-war position would try to develop and live out their just-war position in a consistently christian way. The book is based on notes he hoped would be used for a course in military ethics. There is more on that in the forward to the book.

In any event, if one is of the just-war persuasion, then there are still a lot of troubling questions to ask about how we Christians in America are to regard our positions and activities around the world.

Brian said...


Thanks for the review of Bell's book.
You wrote: "Probably preeminent over creation and preeminent and first in the new creation of resurrection is what Col. 1 is about, a statement about Christology, not so much about new exodus. In fact “making peace thru the blood of the cross” is more about cessation of hostilities between God and humankind, not about liberation from Egypt like oppression and bondage."

In general, do you think a particular biblical passage can have *only* one meaning? If the text is inspired, can't it have more meaning that the original author intended? Just curious about your perspective. Thanks.

Ben Witherington said...

Whether there is a surplus of meaning in a text is largely determined by its genre, not the issue of inspiration (or lack thereof). Apocalyptic literature tends to be deliberately multivalent, not so with ordinary discourse like Paul is offering. Of course an author can always say more than he realizes at the time, but that then would not produce another meaning-- it would give depth and trajectory and signifance to the meaning he had encoded in the text.


Brian said...


Thanks for your answer. I appreciated the way you were much more precise and thus clear, with your words than I was. 8)
I take it then, that you still feel Bell and Golden's take on Col. is too "off topic" rather than mining the depths of Paul's words, eh?


Ben Witherington said...

Definitely. I'm hard pressed to see new exodus themes anywhere in Colossians.


normajean said...

Geez, for the amount of times I've watched Bell get pummled by *conservative evangelicals*, I hardly see any reason to panic from this review. Bell doesn't seem half bad.

The Seeking Disciple said...

To be honest it appears to be boring book. It seems from my reading of your post here that Bell and Golden once again are trying to do two things toward evangelicals. First, they want our theology to be more liberal. Their sources appear to lean upon liberal theologians. Second, they want to condemn America (as though Ameican is an an evangelical nation or that we control it).

For emergents the bottom line is that they are liberals masking themselves as evangelicals. From the likes of Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt, etc. these guys are liberals who do not speak for evangelicals nor to them. Their embrace of politics to the left (particularly McLaren and Bell) and their love for liberal theology shows in their writings and "sermons."

Good job here Ben of breaking down the book for us but I won't be buying it anytime soon.

Ben Witherington said...

One of the problems in this sort of discussion is the labels 'liberal' and 'conservative'. They really aren't helpful, especially if 'conservative' is equated with 'Biblical'. The radical might be more apt because in fact if we look closely the Bible has much in it that profoundly critiques both what has come to be called liberal or conservative theology.

Take for example Gal. 3.28 for a minute. Here indeed is a statement with wide ranging ethical implications. Paul says that in Christ there is neither Jew nor non-Jew. That is, ethnicity, or nationality for that matter shouldn't count in Christ. Or again, he says there is neither slave nor free. That is, one's social status or standing is irrelevant in Christ-- irrelevant. And he adds 'there is no male and female in Christ for all are one'. If we bother to look at the context of this saying and its close parallels in 1 Cor. and Colossians, it is impossible to take this to mean merely that we are all equally saved in Christ. No, the spiritual transformation is supposed to lead to a social transformation of our relationships in Christ. In other words, the Bible critiques a lot of what passes for 'conservative Christian thinking' about gender, race, family, nationalism and a host of other subjects. They problem with 'liberals and conservatives' is ironically the same--- THEY AREN'T BIBLICAL ENOUGH. Bell and Golden to their credit are trying to help Evangelicals see this problem. They should not be called 'liberals' for doing so. On that showing folks like Amos or Jeremiah were flaming liberals in OT times.


brad said...


I'm curious about you're defining Roman oppression as occupation rather than exile. Is it reading too much into a text like the Parable of the father and his two sons to interpret the older son's statement, "I've been slaving for you all these years" as a statement about Israel's continued exile even in the land of their inheritance?

It seems to me that in living for his own interests the son has actually become a "slave in the place of his inheritance." That sounds very much like the language of exile. Am I, as you suggest in your review, reading too much into the text? And how exactly would you define exile?

charles ray loudermilk said...

Hey BW3,

I know many liberals and have witnessed there legislation both from the courthouse as well through actual legislators. The distinct difference between "liberals and conservatives" is on group mostly believes in and wants to promote the God of the Bible, where as the other group wants to extinguish God from all of public realm and silence the gospel that Yeshua is the only way to heaven an without Him you are already condemned to damnation due to sin. Call me crazy, but I thought that couldn't be anymore obvious.

Peterzog said...


I also want to thank you for this review of Rob and Don's book. I really enjoy your thorough evaluation.

Can you give your thoughts on Rob's repeated usage of phrases like "reconciliation of all things", "all people", "...every single particle..."? Is this a reference to a belief in universalism? Do you think Rob is saying every person ever created will be saved (reconciled)? How should we interpret Col when it says "the reconciliation of ALL THINGS"?

The book also seems to allude that an eternal hell is a form of violence and is inconsistent with Wink's myth of redemptive violence. Is this also Rob's way of saying hell is not a destination for the "wicked"?

I would not be surprised if Rob does subscribe to a universalistic perspective due to his close relationship with McLaren. I have never heard him say anything definitively to this point. Am I off track in my wonderings here?


watershed said...

I was given this post by a friend here in Grand Rapids and just wanted to thank Ben for taking the time to write on this new book.

I do believe that NT Wright has had influence on Rob in respect to the 'Exodus motif'. He (Wright) spoke on this when he was here at Calvin College several years back and Bell's series in 2006 may have been partially birthed out of some of those talks. I am pretty sure Rob was in attendance.

jejeel said...

Have you guys seen these sites yet, AND AND Looks like Rob is doing something different, again. It will be interesting to see how this ends as it seems to be an extension of the book in some respects.

Anonymous said...

Velvet Elvis: What are your thoughts on Rob Bell's discussion of John 14:6: “Jesus was not making claims about one religion being better than all other religions…Rather, he was telling those who were following him that his way is the way to the depth of reality” (p. 21). Marcus Borg’s teaching as some suggest? [].

Now Rob Bell forgets to add the part, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” So clearly Jesus is making the claim (14:6) that access to the Father’s presence in heaven will only be through Him and no other; Jesus is making the claim that his way is the better way. This is the case because he is “the truth.” And those who follow Jesus, who come to the Father though his “way” will be the ones who gain eternal life. Part of reality is that Jesus is the only way to God. This verse seems to being only speaking of this reality, and not any other reality/life now, abundant life.

Unknown said...

on this last point about access to heaven, John 14: I guess it depends on how you posture Jesus here. Is he presenting himself as heaven's bouncer who's goal is to keep people out of heaven? Or, is it that anyone who is there, will be there because of His saving Work? I think Jesus is presenting himself as the only bridge to God, the one reaching out to all humanity, offering a path to God. He is a bridge, not a barrier to heaven. Some may not know what to call him, but will (like Paul alludes to in Rom 1-2) see General Revelation, listen to their conscience, and throw themselves on God's mercy. They might not know the name Jesus, but they would "know Jesus" by Grace and be in heaven. So some might make it who don't know to "believe in Jesus", but they haven't rejected Him and they have walked in the light they have been given.
I loved the book. I agree it is sloppy in some details in both testaments and I think Golden may need a Greek class, but it makes a pretty strong argument from beginning to end. Paul certainly saw himself being poured out as a drink offering. May we the church learn how to live this vision.
Just some thoughts about Philip and Bethsaida. It could be that Bell & Golden think these books were written after 70AD with post-70AD issues in mind (ie-emphasis on Pharisees who weren't powerful until after 70 because the church was dealing with them daily, etc...). Therefore, Philip being from Bethsaida might have implied extreme piety to the reader/hearer, especially if the writing is happening after 70AD. I agree that Philip is an Apostle in Acts, so they should have caught that, but they might be intentional about the Bethsaida thing as to the author's original intent (even if I don't agree with them). I also agree that they read many things into the encounter with the Ethiopian, however, I don't think it's a stretch to point out the irony of the chariot. Luke is keenly aware of issues of Empire in Luke-Acts and Chariots symbolize only one thing in Scripture: Military might that is getting too big for it's britches. At least that's my opinion.
Also even if Philip didn't express any hang-ups verbally it could still be Luke's intentional irony that he doesn't, given the place he is from. That could be Bell's point.
Thanks for the great blog and discussions!