Rob Bell is promoting his new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, with the video below. As is usual with Bell, the video has great production values, along with a tone and attitude that seem targeted to today’s young people. But what caught the notice of well-known bloggers like Justin Taylor, Josh Harris, Denny Burk, Kevin DeYoung and Phil Johnson, is what Bell seems to say about hell. As his publisher says, “Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.”
The aforementioned bloggers sounded an alarm (very graciously, for the most part) that Bell’s may have slipped into universalism. But in calling into question the author’s view on eternal punishment, all hell broke loose.
Many of Bell’s admirers flooded blogs with angry comments. Justin Taylor alone received more than 1,000 comments over the weekend. But as an advertising professional, I started to wonder: Is this an example of bad theology or good marketing? You might assume that the author would be upset that the bloggers have taken exception with his perceived beliefs. However, it’s entirely possible that the firestorm was ignited intentionally.
The effect has been that Bell has received a windfall of exposure. You might think that he would have to be crazy to invite criticism from this group of largely evangelical bloggers. But they probably have eyed Bell with caution for some time. And as the well-known adage about public relations states, “I don’t care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right.” Criticism of the book (which no one has read, by the way) as served to bring Bell’s admirers out of the woodwork to confront the bloggers and express their support of him.
I may be completely wrong on this. For all we know, Bell may be intentionally drawing people in the a seemingly universalist view, only to reveal an orthodox view of hell when he has hooked them.
What’s your take on the controversy?