Things are always needing repaired. Needless things holding it down must be stripped and removed. It needs to be updated and recasted. And to Bell, so does the Church. In the end, Bell makes the same argument, and as a result, the same mistake, of other Emergents: the Church and its faith are outdated, it is time for a remodel; a repainting.
Bell doesn't try to redefine or reshape the faith, just repaint it. Make it new. Make it excited. Make it worth believing in again. Times have changed. God hasn't. We need something new, something fresh, something worthwhile.
Bell is one of the most influential, and coolest, pastors in America. I came across Rob Bell through one of my youth. I as aware of him, but paid not attention to him. He is heavily influential to young people and his church in Grand Rapids continues to grow. I do not say this with glee. Bell presents a number of problems to the faith. His approach to ministry, his understanding of the gospel, and his theology are all dangerous. His influence means that we must be honest and straightforward.
I will not walk the reader through the whole book. Just note the books premise: the Christian faith needs to be repainted. And repaint it he does. Bell suggests, while always clinging to mystery, paradox, and ambiguity, to universalism/inclusivism, failed view of Scripture and the gospel. These are all foundational issues. To miss one of them is to destroy the Christan faith.
But Bell is honest. The difference between him and someone like me is the difference between a brick wall and a trampoline. To him, the Christian faith is like a trampoline. God has no boundaries or shape. But we use things, like springs, to describe God. We refer to the Trinity and other doctrines that seek to explain and give deeper meaning to the mystery of God. These springs can be removed, re-examined, re-formed, and re-shaped if need be. The springs are not God, but tell us something about Him. We are called to explore God, the faith, and its theology.
The problem, at least to Bell, isn't the jumping, but "Brickianity." There are trampoline persons and brick persons. Brick people build boundaries that say, "if you don't accept, say young earth creationism, then you don't believe Jesus died for your sins" (this is the example Bell gives). To Bell, this creates barriers and boundaries that do not allow exploration or mystery or paradox. It carries the idea that we can have God all figured out so long as we affirm these bricks and their meaning. Bell couldn't be more against this approach to the faith.
Now apply this to all areas of Christianity. What does this mean about Sola Scriptura? Well, it means that it is ludicrous to think that we can read Scripture without cultural and experiential baggage we carry with us. What does this mean about the Church? It means that preaching and monologues are brickianity, "communities" is trampoline jumping. What does this mean evangelism? It means to call on people to join you on your journey to godly living, not just calling on people to repent, believe, and convert. What does this mean for the gospel? It means to think less about salvation as a one-time event where Jesus absorbs our sins (penal substitution) but that we are constantly living saved lives: environmentalism, Bell says, is a spiritual and gospel issue.
As you can see, Bell has completely repainted the faith as he set out to do. Though at time subtly, Bell repaints (actually he redefines) the faith into something it is not. To Bell's proponents, they would describe me as a Brick person. I affirm orthodox creeds and orthodox faith. But nonetheless, Christianity is not about what we want to explore, or what we want to believe, but what God says. Let God build bricks where he wants them if He so wants them. We offend God whenever we don't say, do, obey, think, and believe in what He expects and demands us to believe. In the end, trampoline faith is cowardice.
Bell presents a number of problems to the Church and they must be addressed. Christians must be careful not to fall for Bell's charisma and thus sell their souls. Though Bell has some valid insights (even a broken clock is right twice a day) his overall thesis and goal is dangerous. Why should any of us think that we can paint a better picture than the master piece God Himself has painted? Our problem isn't that we need to new paint job, but we need to get the old one out of our basement.