I have to say that I'm not a huge fan of Bell's Nooma series, and I think I went into the book expecting to not like it. Or maybe I was just cautious.
First impressions: The subtitle of this book is 'Exploring the Endless Connections between Sex and Spirituality.' 'Spirituality'? I would expect a Christian writer not to use words that have the connotations this word does. Spirituality to me (and most other people I've asked about it) is referring to things like Eastern religions, meditation, New Age, etc. Right off the bat it seemed to me like he's trying to appeal to everyone who is interested in any kind of 'spirituality.'
Bell's writing style is much like his speaking style in the Nooma videos. He's quite conversational, which makes the book fairly an easy read. However, he writes in what I call the 'artsy' style of writing, with very short paragraphs and often leaving spaces between individual words which
Like that. It felt like every couple of pages he had some point that apparently could only be made by separating the words in that way. I was going crazy by about page 30. I'm sure it appeals to some people, and as much as I think it should be, page layout style is not a moral issue, so I'll leave that alone for now. ;)
I thought he did have some interesting thoughts on a few issues. His discussion about lust, for example (pg. 72-84), I found very helpful. He discusses Ephesians 4:28 ('Those who are have been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands.') in terms of the need to replace the bad with something good, rather than just trying to stop the bad and fighting the craving.
The writer of Ephesians understands that to tell the thief not to steal and
leave it at that doesn't have a very high chance of being helpful. The
thief will be left with a battle on their hands that will pit them against their
Whatever it is that has its hooks in you, you will never be free from it
until you find something you want more. It's not about getting rid
of desire. It's about giving ourselves to bigger and better and more
I also appreciated several of his comments on marriage in chapters six to eight. He seemed to have a fairly balanced view overall on submission in marriage. I found the chapter seven discussion on the chuppah (Jewish wedding canopy) and the significance and application of this symbolism in Christian marriages particularly useful. He talks about the exclusivity of the marriage relationship and how too many couples today take their issues out from under the 'chuppah' or bring too many people under the 'chuppah' with them - discussing things with other people that really should stay within the marriage relationship, telling everyone else about their problems with their spouse rather than trying to work them out with their spouse as they should.
However, throughout much of the book I had a vague sense of unease at the way he seemed to go out of his way to make the book 'inclusive,' to appeal to those who were not Christians. Even the way he puts all Scripture references in the footnotes at the end of the book rather than immediately following the quote bothered me. Clearly there's nothing inherently wrong with references in footnotes, but it just felt to me like he was hiding it, you know? Obviously I don't think there should be two categories of books: those for Christians and those for non-Christians, and never the two shall meet, but it felt like he was hiding or watering down the Christian beliefs.
His choice of words in several sections also concerned me. He spoke of 'life force' and 'channeling your energies' in a couple of places, which sound very much like New Age, mystic terms. I suppose it's possible that he used these terms quite innocently and didn't mean them in that context, but I can't imagine that neither he nor his editor realized how these and other phrases sounded and didn't change them.
At one point in the book where he is discussing creation and how Eve was created to complete Adam, Bell refers to Genesis 1 as the 'creation poem.' Poem? Sounds to me like he's not taking a literal view of the creation narrative.
One final issue that I had a big problem with. In chapter seven about the chuppah, Bell gives some history on how Jewish weddings were celebrated, including all the wedding guests waiting for the marriage to be consummated before the party really began. Bell says
Which is a bit different than in our culture. Sometimes when a couple
is living together, one of their friends tells them they should make things
right in God's eyes by making their relationship a legal marriage. But
maybe it's already a marriage in God's eyes, and maybe their having sex has
already joined them as man and wife from God's perspective.
This isn't a low view of sex. It's a higher view of sex. It's a
higher view of marriage. It's people living in the reality of the
decisions they've already made.
Again, I think it's possible that he's trying to point out that by sleeping with someone you are giving part of yourself away that is only meant for your marriage partner, and that God only intended the sexual relationship for within marriage. But...that certainly doesn't sound like what he's saying. And there's no disclaimer after this paragraph saying that he believes in marriage and isn't saying that people don't have to get married. He just leaves it. Which can only make me think that maybe he doesn't think people need to get married if they're 'married in God's eyes.'
Overall, this book made me uncomfortable despite it's few thought-provoking sections. It all felt very 'out there' and universalist to me. I do admit that I sometimes have a hard time critically evaluating this type of book and separating the writing style from the content. I am much more a concrete type of person and really don't like the 'airy-fairy' or 'post-modern' style - but that doesn't necessarily mean it's wrong.
Have you read the book? What are your thoughts? (Let's keep it constructive, though, please!)