I first read Rob Bell’s What Is The Bible when it was a series of blog posts on Tumblr and again when it became a book in 2017. It absolutely blew me away. Many of the ideas have been touched on in Bell’s other work (for example, in his first book Velvet Elvis he recommends N.T. Wright’s How Can The Bible Be Authoritative in the end notes). Those little bits were great but left me wanting much more. In this book, Bell lays out his view on the Bible explicitly and in great deal. Plus, IMO, this is Bell’s best written book yet, so it’s a great place to start if your new to Bell (What We Talk About When We Talk About God is of course his second best… and Velvet Elvis gets a strong nostalgia boost for me because it was my first).
As thorough as What Is The Bible is, it’s basically an introduction to a big topic and large conversation. It gives you a taste of some of the different ways scripture has been understood but barely scratches the surface. If you find the book as compelling as I do, you’ll be begging for more reading material. Luckily, Bell includes a further reading list at the end of the book. I’ve tracked most of these down and have read many of them. I’ve discovered some new authors that have become my new favorites (Dallas Willard, I’m talking about you!).
When I saw Rob Bell at his Holy Shift tour, someone asked him, “I haven’t read your book yet but how can I learn more about the Bible?” Bell replied, “Go to the book store, grab my book, open to the end, take a picture of the reading list with your phone, then put the book back!” (Haha! So Good! Raise Your Glass!). Now you don’t even need to do that, you have this post and it links you straight to where you need to go. Without further ado:
The Reading List
Thomas Cahill’s The Gift of The Jews and Desire of the Everlasting Hills. Both were excellent! These two books are part of a larger series by Cahill. I made the mistake of doing some of them as audio books but his books are generally better in paperback because he includes lots of visuals.
Bruce Feiler’s Walking The Bible and Where God Was Born. Bell notes that the references at the end of these are “Pure Gold”. I personally found these a bit tedious, but judge for yourself.
Ellen Frankel’s The Five Books of Miriam: A Woman’s Commentary on the Torah.
The JPS Torah Commentary Series.
James L Kugel’s The Bible As It Was. This book is huge and it’s incredible. I’ve read chunks of it but will probably be reading and referencing it for some time to come.
David Bivin and Roy Blizzard Jr.’s Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus.
Kenneth E Bailey’s Poet and Peasant.
Marvin R Wilson’s Our Father Abraham.
John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L Reed’s Excavating Jesus.
Richard A Horsley’s The Liberation of Christmas.
Anything by N.T. Wright. Bell recommends starting with his New Testament For Everyone series. I have found these very helpful myself.
Anything by John Dominic Crossan. Bell recommends starting with God and Empire.
Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Prophets, or God in Search of Man, or Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity. In Millones Cajones, Bell also leans heavily on Heschel’s Sabbath. I tried that book and found it very profound, but it was over my head spiritually for sure… hopefully some day!
- The Prophets
- God in Search of Man
- Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity
Ethelbert Stauffer’s Christ and the Caesars. It’s about Revelation.
Eugene H Peterson’s Reversed Thunder. Also about Revelation.
Alexander John Shaia’s Heart and Mind. I haven’t gotten to read this one yet, but you might already be familiar with it from Shaia’s several appearances on the RobCast. Very interesting take on things.
Nancy Tenfelde Clasby’s God, the Bible, and Human Consciousness.
Lawrence Kushner’s God Was in This Place and I, I Did Not Know. So good.
Kenton L Sparks’s Sacred Word, Broken Word. This book is a great next step after reading What Is The Bible. If I had it to do over, I think I’d have read this one first.
Petter Enns’ The Bible Tells Me So… This book is really good and very funny. I thought the audio narrator on Audible was really good too.
Robert Farrar Capon’s (pronounced Cape-Un) The Mystery of Christ… and Why We Don’t Get It. This book is very odd, but overall I enjoyed it.
Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy. Could this be the best on the list? It is incredible. And Bell says that this book changed everything for him.
Jurgen Moltmann’s The Spirit of Life.