Looks like Rob Bell has stolen my thunder with his new book Love Wins and now front page coverage on Time Magazine. Well, good for him! Having only read the Time article and not the book (yet), I don't have full knowledge of his arguments, only that he is making the case for an alternative to the traditional understanding of hell--an evangelical-style Universalism. And a view I wholeheartedly endorse and defend in a chapter in my book.
What's fascinating to me is the reaction of the evangelical world. From John Piper tweeting "farewell Rob Bell," to the claim his arguments are out of context and ambiguous, to Amazon reviews that charge he made the flimsiest case or that claim “hell is essential to the gospel,” to David McDonald at The Ooze who makes the outrageous assertion that Bell is irresponsible for writing the book in the first place! “Rob Bell has deliberately chosen to expose the world to some of our ugliest flaws,” he says, referring to the reaction of the Religious Right. Are you kidding? Rob Bell is irresponsible because he knew how people would react to his book? Was Jesus irresponsible because he knew how the Religious Right of his day would react to his message?
Then there's McDonald's even more ridiculous assertion: “Rob Bell was also irresponsible in publishing this book this way because of what he did to everyday, ordinary pastors like me... Rob Bell has forced the rest of us to speak up about our own beliefs concerning the Final Judgment.” You can't be serious! Then McDonald goes on to admit he has rarely if ever taught on the subject for 15 years because he'd rather talk about the good news not the bad news.
Now let me get this straight. Rob Bell should have shut his trap about this subject because he's making us all look bad that we purposely avoid a large swath of scripture because we don't have the courage to address it head on. I'm sorry, David McDonald, and anyone who agrees with you, but Rob Bell is free. Free to preach on the whole biblical narrative and ask the tough questions to ascertain the truth. And you're free to avoid those questions. Just don't blame Rob Bell when you do.
I look forward to reading this book. From Amazon reviews, in my mind, it appears the book's only weakness is that it doesn't exegete the eternal punishment passages very well, nor back up the claim of Universalism in the early church with solid evidence. Perhaps an oversight by Bell, but hardly a reason to reject his case with the growing number of other books on the subject, e.g. The Inescapable Love of God, The Evangelical Universalist, and even a more conservative variety in Hope Beyond Hell (and the Universal Life chapter in my forthcoming book). Really, we ought to thank Rob Bell for being responsible and courageous to address difficult questions and be willing to rethink this problematic doctrine in light of the biblical and historical evidence.