"Drops Like Stars" – Review
Rob Bell is one of the best communicators of Jesus today. As a thirty-nine year old hipster, whom many see as the face of the emerging-church-movement--though he himself rejects the association--his teachings can be described with one simple word.
In recent years, many pastors and churches have tried to become “cool”, “relevant”, or “new” to attract a younger, post-modern generation. To do so, many have chosen to squelch everything about God that they believe to be mundane, uncomfortable, and ancient—this unfortunately includes most of the Gospel. Many of these churches have services that seemingly blend self-help seminars with rock concerts.
But that isn’t Rob. He’s cool, but not on purpose. He’s relevant, but only because he uses modern metaphors to describe ancient situations. And he’s new only in the sense that he uses fresh words to convey old ideas.
In fact some of my favorite, humbling words of his include: “Every fresh and original thought you think you have, somebody smarter a long time ago in Europe said it.”
Rob doesn’t think what he says is cool, he thinks what he says is true.
His teachings clearly convey his belief that the Gospel, properly communicated, is relevant and provocative on its own. Rob’s coolness exists because he swims into the depths of theology and comes up still breathing, able to communicate the experience in a provocative way.
His communication of the Gospel always reminds me of the story of the man who found a pearl of great worth and became so energized over it. His sermons and books all have this same excited conversational style. It’s like Rob has found something incredible under the water, and you see him emerge from the surface exclaiming, “You will not believe this! This is incredible! Come, check this out!”
And while some “cool” churches shy away from discussing the cross, you’ll seldom listen to Rob without the Resurrection story entering his words. He is relevant without watering down the Gospel, an astonishing gift in today’s world.
He’s written four books and preached on three different tours, and preaches most weeks at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I’ve listened to almost a hundred of his sermons and have read all of his published words. Though I disdain the phrase “favorite-pastor”, if I had to name mine it would be him.
In addition, his NOOMA videos present short, 15-minute films on many spiritual issues—pain, wealth, noise, and love--and are incredibly conducive to small-group discussion.
He is an incredibly artistic man who uses graphics and art relentlessly in his communication. A simple look at Rob’s website or the website of Mars Hill will describe his style better than I can with words.
So I thought I’d throw out some needed background on Rob before I talk about his latest book, “Drops Like Stars” (Zondervan, hardcover, 160 pages, $34.99). I received a free copy of this book in the mail, and before I even opened the box I realized that this book was out-of-the-ordinary, even for Rob.
This is because the box was huge. Huge as in I-wonder-if-it-will-fit-on-my-shelf huge. I was expecting to open the package and find a high school yearbook.
Once I peeled back the cardboard, I saw an incredibly beautiful book. The distinct style allowed me to know it was Bell’s before I even looked at the author’s name. As I thumbed through the pages I felt as if I was strolling through a museum; there was so much color and graphic design that it was more like skimming an art catalog than a theology book.
Later, after eventually finding myself with a few hours to spare, I sat down for a thorough read-through. But it didn’t take a few hours.
It took 30 minutes. To read the whole book.
The subtitle of the book is “A few thoughts on creativity and suffering”. I would put a strong emphasis on ‘few’.
Most pages only have a line or two of text, some only one or two words. In fact a good number of pages don’t have any words at all. But I don’t think that the scarcity of words necessarily dampens the book’s impact.
What Rob does say in those few words is deep and engulfing. Suffering is a topic that has been discussed for millennia, even back to the first words of the Bible—the miseries of Job are purported to be the earliest writings of Scripture. Instead of attacking the ‘why’ of suffering, though, Rob sits in the reality of pain and then asks ‘now what?’.
What do you do when you experience dark trials in life? Where do you go from there?
Instead of feel-good sentiments that try to cover the pain, Rob explores the intersection between creativity and hurt. He walks right into the pain and probes it. He ponders how we can think outside-the-box regarding suffering.
In his exploration of creative suffering, Rob taps into a true variety of sources. His words dance from famous theologians like Pope John Paul II and Frederick Buechner all the way to Johnny Cash and internet-phenomenon Hugh Gallagher.
Like many of Rob’s writings, the words aren’t as significant as they are in typical books. In Rob’s writings the words are only one medium that the message is communicated through. They only contribute to the experience, which is a great way of describing what reading through this book is like.
An experience. Sitting down to ponder these words isn't 'reading', it's participating in an experience.
The pictures and colors engulf you into the narrative that Rob paints in a way that can’t be described without reading the book yourself. After finishing the book, there wasn’t really a pithy quote or grand idea I came away with, but instead felt my soul refreshed by the experience.
I felt comforted by the reality that this God of creativity doesn’t see my sufferings and pains the same way I do. That kindled a unique hope within me. It’s a hope that doesn’t say “God will fix this” or “God will get me through this” but instead says of suffering “This is all a part of the story, this is all a part of the art. This is not something to get past but something to embrace.”
Rob likens the hammerings of pain to Michelangelo’s chipping away of marble to reveal the magnificent “David” waiting within.
Instead of skipping through or reluctantly bearing our sufferings, Rob suggests embracing them as a natural parts of the creative process. We are all being formed by the Creator of creativity—whether we recognize it or not—and it is through suffering that He often chips away excess to reveal and develop our beautiful core.
So, in short, I really liked the book. My one qualm, as with any book I enjoy, is that I wish the book was longer. I’m sure almost all readers will agree with that. Before even looking, I knew many people would give the book bad reviews, if only for the length. If you look at this book hoping for thick theology, you will surely be disappointed. If you embrace it as art, you will experience it as a rare gift.
Rob's going on a yearlong tour with the material that the book is based on, traveling all over the United States, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Check out his tour stops; there's a good chance he'll be stopping near you. Also, I encourage anyone who finds Rob remotely interesting from the words above to check out his podcast or any of his recent sermons. If you listen to one or two of his talks you'll get a much better feel for his distinct style of communicating the Gospel.
"Drops Like Stars" is one book that will likely have a permanent position on our coffee table for a long time, which I think was part of Rob’s goal. The book’s huge size, short length, and beautiful art all is very conducive to casual perusing by an amalgam of people, Christians and non-Christians alike.
Though I though the book is great, I highly recommend skimming through it at a bookstore before purchasing it. The price is fairly high considering the length of the book—$34.99 cover price, though Amazon has it for $23.09—and I think many people will pay the high price expecting a thick Rob Bell theology book and be thoroughly disappointed upon receiving the thin coffee-table volume.
With all that said, this book, like its author, can be described using one of many adjectives—fresh, relevant, and compelling all come to mind. The pictures and graphics suck you into a deep experience. But in the end, I closed the book thinking one simple word to describe the whole package.
“If you live the same life as Jesus Christ, your thorn-crowned head, you must expect only thorns, scourgings, nails—you must look only for the cross. For the disciple must be treated as his master, and the member as its head. And if God offered for your choice, as he offered to *St. Catherine of Siena, a crown of thorns or a crown of roses, without hesitating choose with her the crown of thorns and press it down upon your head that you may resemble Jesus Christ."
“You know that you are the living temple of the Holy Spirit. You are to be placed as so many living stones by the God of love in the building of the heavenly Jerusalem. You must expect then to be hewn and cut and chiseled with the hammer and chisel of the cross. Otherwise you will remain as rough stones that are good for nothing but to be despised and thrown away.
“Don’t wince under the hammer that strikes you. Have an eye to the chisel that cuts you and to the hand that shapes you. The skillful and loving Architect may wish to make of you the chief stones of his eternal edifice and the fairest statues in his kingdom. Then let him do it. He loves you. He knows what he is doing. He has had experience. All his blows are skillful and straight and loving. He never misses, unless you cause him to by your impatience.”
- St. Louis de Montfort (1673–1716)