Summary: A decent (quick) book on the Christian understanding of marriage without a lot of Christian language.
I generally don’t like reviewing books that have a lot of controversy. So I have not reviewed many of Rob Bell’s books (but I liked Velvet Elvis and Sex God). I went to college with Rob and Kristen (they were a year in front of me) so I have paid attention to Rob’s ministry. (I didn’t really know Kristen, but Rob is one of those people that it is hard not to know who he was at college.)
I originally did not have any interest in picking up The Zimzum of Love. There are a ton of marriage books being jointly written by well known pastor couples recently. I tend to avoid book trends because they are often following the trend, not writing good books.
Books and Culture’s parody review of Zimzum of Love did not help my desire to read the book, although I don’t think that the parody was all that helpful and after reading the book I didn’t think it was all that accurate either. (Although it does have a few good points.)
Then I read Richard Beck’s review on his blog Experimental Theology (I am a regular reader). As you might expect, it is like Beck and Jason Hood (the Books and Culture reviewer) had read two very different books. But mostly it felt like Hood was taking issue with Rob as a persona than really dealing with the book as a book. (Not dissimilar to why a lot of Evangelicals initially rejected Bonhoeffer because of the early fans of Bonhoeffer were liberal ‘Death of God’ theologians as Martin Marty’s book illustrated.)
If you are not up on your Rob Bell trivia, he just premiered his new show on the Oprah network. Relevant Magazine reviewed Rob’s new show and despite all the hand-wringing that has been going on, said it was a fairly standard Christian fare that cited scripture and preached in a way that would not be unusual on a Christian TV network. It is just that on Oprah’s network it has high production values and an audience that would mostly never touch a Christian TV network.
And then I read the most popular Amazon Review of the book and it made a great (accurate) point. The Zimzum of Love is what you would get if you wanted someone to talk about the Christian understanding of love and marriage, but not actually use Christian language or a lot of scripture. A lot of Christians are not interested in that type of book and are using the book to show why Rob Bell ‘has jumped the shark’ (seriously I am sick of that metaphor) and left orthodox Christianity.
But there is a good reason to that we need books exactly like that. First, the world is not made up of exclusively Christian readers that are well versed in Christian lingo. Second, as CS Lewis was fond of saying, if you cannot explain the concept to an average person then you probably do not really understand it. Third, what is important is the Christian concept of marriage as exclusive, self-giving, God-ordained and permanent. If the Bell’s communicate that, then what is the problem?
Most of the negative reviews seem to not have read the book. I can’t figure out where this book is anti-biblical, although that is one of the most common complaints.
There are some issues with the book. First it is short. That is not necessarily a negative. This is a great length for a small group to read together and discuss. And it is not 80 percent filler. Second, it is quirky. Much of the book is written as dialogue between Kristen and Rob with lots of line drawings illustrating the ideas. I listened to the audiobook (I long ago learned that Rob’s books are written to be listened to rather than read.) So I didn’t have any frustration with reading dialogue, I just listened to the dialogue. The only real problem with the audiobook is that they have to describe the drawings when they are essential instead of showing them to me in print.
So what exactly is Zimzum? Actually it is Tzimtzum (but the updated spelling does help marketing.) It is a 16th century Jewish Kabbalah concept. The idea is that because God is everywhere, when God created the world, God withdrew to make room for creation to grow. According to Beck, there were a number of 20th century Christian theologians that made use of the idea to talk about the hospitality of God. Where the Bells are adding to the idea, is that they talk about having mutual zimzum in marriage. That marriage grows in the space were we voluntarily withdraw to allow this new holy thing to grow. They spend some time on the ‘leaving and cleaving’ idea of Genesis 2:24 that gives room for the new thing to grow.
The overarching concept of the book is that when there is space between the couple that is holy and unified, it needs to be encouraged. When there is space between the couple that is more about separation (and there will be at least occasionally) one or the other or both have to overcome the space. Sometimes the space is based around the lack of health by one person (physically, spiritually or emotionally) and the other has to take up the slack and help the other get healthy. Sometimes there are just natural ebbs and flows in marriage and we have to work to keep the marriage strong.
This is not a long book, the 160 pages are only 2 hours and 12 minutes in an unhurried reading of the audiobook. I alway hate spending a lot of money on a short book, even if the shortness is actually a feature, not a bug, of the book. So I think the $12.74 that is the current Kindle edition price, or the nearly $20 hardcover cost, is a bit of highway robbery.
But again, this is a book that is available through my Scribd subscription (review) and I am still in my initial 2 month free trial. So it was free to me, and well worth that price.