Well, not you or me, but our champions. And not his face or name, but the cover story is about him and his new book. The story is worth reading, but not because you’ll learn much about the doctrine of hell, or what Bell thinks about it. What you’ll learn is an effective route to getting Christianity featured by a national news magazine.
What amuses the writer is not the questions Bell raises but the responses they have engendered among celebrity evangelicals:
Such a simple premise, but with Easter at hand, this slim, lively book has ignited a new holy war in Christian circles and beyond. When word of Love Wins reached the Internet, one conservative Evangelical pastor, John Piper, tweeted, "Farewell Rob Bell," unilaterally attempting to evict Bell from the Evangelical community. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says Bell’s book is "theologically disastrous. Any of us should be concerned when a matter of theological importance is played with in a subversive way." In North Carolina, a young pastor was fired by his church for endorsing the book.
And the writer is curious whether these vehement public reactions point to a deeper problem in the evangelical community:
The ferocity of the reaction suggests that [Bell] is a force to be reckoned with. Otherwise, why reckon with him at all? A similar work by a pastor from one of the declining mainline Protestant denominations might have merited a hostile blog post or two — bloggers, like preachers, always need material — but it is difficult to imagine that an Episcopal priest’s eschatological musings would have provoked the volume of criticism directed at Bell, whose reach threatens prevailing Evangelical theology. [Emphasis added]
I think the question “Why reckon with him at all?” is a valid one. We comfort ourselves with it when we see the defenders of other orthodoxies (climate change, political correctness, Darwinism) react ferociously when their thinking is challenged. And why not? Where the matter is truly settled, e.g. round vs. flat earth, the orthodox barely respond to a challenge at all, or at best draw straws with a sigh to see who will give the patient explanation this time.
Rob Bell’s question is a time-worn one, and so is the answer. Neither Bell nor his critics have anything new to say about the doctrine of hell, and I think the world understands this. So how to understand this quick, fierce response to someone who raises a supposedly settled question? A casual observer assumes that when the questioner is ostracized, the question is nowhere near as settled as the orthodox so loudly proclaim.
Being orthodox myself, I prefer to blame championism—the defenders of the faith must be seen giving a vigorous defense, in order to be worthy of their pay. We in the choir sing their praises. And the world gets another good Eastertime laugh.