(2500 words, and I’m not past the three-page preface. This could be a long series.)
‘Many have these questions…’ (p. ix)
The last couple of pages of the preface discuss what in academic terms is called methodology. Bell is concerned to allow, even encourage, questions about central matters of faith. He criticises those communities which shut questioning down, asserting that ‘I believe that discussion itself is divine.’ (p. ix) pointing to Job and other Biblical examples.
There is no doubt that restless and urgent questioning is an authentic part of Biblical spirituality. If something seems wrong or unfair to us, we do well, Biblically, to speak openly about our doubts and questions, to refuse to be told to simply accept a received orthodoxy (Job…), to take our questions to God in prayer (see the psalms!). There is also no doubt also that asking provoking questions is a good teaching technique, sometimes – Bell points to Jesus, appropriately; within the world of education we more often reference Socrates.
Biblical spirituality is honest and open about doubt and questions, but never celebrates them. Job wants answers, he wants to understand, he doesn’t just want a good discussion with no resolution. And (as any teacher knows) all the skill in education is asking the right questions. Rather too many of Bell’s questions through the book are unhappily loaded, of the ‘have you stopped beating your wife yet?’ variety. Others implciitly invite us to assume that caricatures are accurate portraits. Bell, who in his previous work has always come across as laid-back and amiable, is out to bait people here. That seems a great shame.
The graciousness and generosity of God should be defended in a gracious and generous manner.