Rob Bell’s Hell
By Mickey Maudlin, HarperOne Senior V.P./Executive Editor
July 1st, 2011 by admin
Nothing makes me more proud than to see a book I edited reach a wide audience. By that measure, I should be beaming over Rob Bell’s Love Wins. And I am. Not only has it spent fifteen weeks on the New York Times bestseller list (as of this writing), Rob has personally heard from hundreds of readers about how his book has been “a cure,” “healing,” “a lifesaver,” or has allowed them to connect or reconnect with the church.
Still, I cannot shake a deep sadness about the book. Considering how corrosive the effects can be on those who have been told they are “special” or that they are “God’s voice for a generation,” I was pleasantly surprised at the beginning of our work together to discover Rob to be a great listener and partner, eager for feedback, a hard worker, fun, and deeply grounded spiritually. He knew what God wanted him to do, and not do, and what his priorities were. At heart he is a pastor and an evangelist whose ambition is to overcome barriers to the gospel. In that way, he reminds me of Billy Graham.
And so, as someone who has spent his entire adult life in the evangelical portion of the church, I cannot help but be sad at the reaction to the book by many conservative Christians. The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution against Rob and the book. Bestselling author Francis Chan and Christianity Today’s Mark Galli have authored two of the six books opposing Rob. Leading evangelicals like Albert Mohler, David Platt, and John Piper have condemned him. Christian critics routinely use words like “unbiblical,” “heretical,” and worse to describe Rob. Most Christian bookstores refuse to carry the book. My heart goes out to Rob for having to endure this onslaught (which, in my view, he has weathered surprisingly well, thank God).
But why such hostility? Why would leaders attack as a threat and an enemy someone who shares their views of Scripture, Jesus, and the Trinity? What prevented leaders from saying, “Thanks, Rob, interesting views, but here is where we disagree”? When did “believing the right things” become equated with determining who is “saved” so that, as some have claimed, affirming Rob’s teachings might jeopardize one’s eternal destiny? (If salvation is dependent on having the right Protestant theology, how could the apostles be saved?) What exactly is so threatening about Rob’s expansive vision of God’s love and grace?
As a young evangelical, I was socialized to see the biggest threat to the church as theological liberalism. But now I think the biggest threat is Christian tribalism, where God’s interests are reduced to and measured by those sharing your history, tradition, and beliefs, and where one needs an “enemy” in order for you to feel “right with God.” Such is the challenge facing the church today and what the reaction to Love Wins reveals. So the success of Love Wins fills me with both hope and fear. But it has also made me thankful that I work for a publisher that is independent of these church wars and allows us to concentrate on books that offer hope and light. Because, with Rob, I really do believe that love wins.
Senior V.P. | Executive Editor | Director of Bible Publishing
A free discussion guide for Love Wins is now available online at SmallGroupGuides.com.