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So, is Rob Bell a heretic? Does this question even make sense in an American culture that has so many kinds of Christianity? Just what kind of Christian is he? Whatever one thinks of Rob Bell, there is no denying the intense controversy surrounding him in the American religious landscape—and that these contentions raise important questions for multiple audiences:
Should evangelicals be afraid of him?
Should young Reformed evangelicals see him as their mentor? Should Wesleyans call him one of their own?
Should pastors, of whatever label, take him as a model?
Should the spiritual but not religious see him as a kind of spiritual avatar?
The onrush of responses to his work indicates that many see him as a voice of faith. Increasing numbers of evangelicals, particularly young evangelicals, are asking questions about the faith. They are questioning the exclusive claims of Christianity and hoping for a more fruitful relationship with cultures outside the faith community; they want answers to their toughest questions.
One of the most fascinating questions this book will explore is the degree and depth of Bell's influence on the American Christian community. As a scholar of American religion, I believe that the decline and even the end of the Protestant establishment is an inevitable outcome of our religious history. The Protestant mainline is no longer mainline; establishment Protestantism simply doesn't attract a large audience any more. The evangelical networks don't fare much better. It, too, is fragmented, and some argue that we've seen the "End of Evangelicalism." The center of American Christianity no longer holds, if it ever did. Is Bell's work and person catalyzing a new kind of American Christianity? And what are the contours of this new form?