Jewish Journal

Rob Bell: heretic or marketing genius?

by Brad A. Greenberg

March 15, 2011 | 2:03 pm

I’ve been trying to keep up on all the Rob Bell drama, but it’s proven more voluminous than anyone other than, say, the online editor of Christianity Today. Fortunately Sarah Pulliam Bailey is more than capable, and she has a good rundown here of all the Bell latest.

In case you missed it, Bell, the head of Mars Hill Church and author of “Velvet Elvis,” a book I couldn’t get 10 pages into, has a new book out today. It’s called “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived,” and it’s roiled a lot of feathers. As I mentioned last week:

The gist of the book is that, according to the publisher, “a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering.”

That’s a pretty bold statement for a Christian minister. Especially one of Bell’s rockstar evangelical status. And, as you could imagine, it hasn’t one over well.

Among those who have denounced the theology behind Bell’s book are Justin Taylor, whose post on The Gospel Coalition suggested Bell is a universalist and the type of false teacher that the Bible warns about. Taylor wrote that in late February, before he had read Bell’s entire book (though the promotional video Bell released left little mystery). USA Today’s Cathy Lynn Grossman checked in with Taylor to see what he thought after having read the whole book:

“Whether you like it or not, the Bible presents true teaching and warns against false teachers, even those who look like great people,” says Taylor, digging at Bell’s highly stylized videos circulating online and among churches coast to coast.”

But Richard Mouw, president of the world’s largest Protestant seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary based in Pasadena, Calif., calls Love Wins “a great book, well within the bounds of orthodox Christianity and passionate about Jesus.

The real hellacious fight, says Mouw, a friend of Bell, a Fuller graduate, is between “generous orthodoxy and stingy orthodoxy. There are stingy people who just want to consign many others to hell and only a few to heaven and take delight in the idea. But Rob Bell allows for a lot of mystery in how Jesus reaches people.”

It’s difficult to remember the last time a book about Christian theology had this kind of buzz before it hit bookshelves. So far, I’d say Rob Bell wins.

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