Rob Belled: Corn-Pone Opinions Prevail Amongst the Din of Twitter
This past weekend, when Twitter lit up with the name "Rob Bell" as a trending topic, my first instinct was to jump into the fray. But I waited. What I wanted to write required that I do so.
Rob Bell is the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan—which is not to be confused with the very different Mark Driscoll and his Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Youth groupers around the world know Bell from his NOOMA films, but he has also written several books including Velvet Elvis and Sex God. Bell is a controversial figure with often-unorthodox beliefs. For this reason, it should not have surprised anyone when his publisher set up a promo page for his new book, Love Wins, which 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." And yet, some people were surprised. Very, very surprised.
Justin Taylor got the furor started with hasty comments about the book on his blog at The Gospel Coalition. Taylor essentially called Bell a universalist and stated that Bell is "moving farther and farther away from anything resembling biblical Christianity." This set the spark for a conflagration of comments and tweets, which was fueled even further when John Piper, the famous pastor and author of Desiring God, tweeted smarmily, "Farewell, Rob Bell." With that, what one blogger said about a book he hadn't read, went viral. To date, Taylor's post has over 1200 comments and was "recommended" by over 24,000 people. Rob Bell became a trending topic and the victim of all kinds of slander.
In the intervening days, many commenters, including my colleague David Sessions at Patrol, have made an effort to understand and interpret Saturday's events. Sarah Bailey at Christianity Today has a helpful roundup, and Jason Boyett has a reasoned interpretation.
I'm sure there's much we can learn from the flurry of responses to Bell's not-yet-published book. Since evangelicalism is a many-headed beast, it's often difficult to get a sense of the whole at once, but it is never easier to see the whole creature than when it stands in the klieg lights of controversy. Although I agree with many of my friends and colleagues who saw some unsavory qualities come to light in these events—the lack of humility, the meanness of Christians in discussions on theology—I think the clearest and most disturbing lesson may be that evangelicals are just as quick to comment, in a prideful desire to be noticed, as the media at large.
Jonathan D. Fitzgerald is the managing editor of Patrolmag.com, and writes on the various manifestations of Christianity in culture. Follow him on Twitter or at his website, www.jonathandfitzgerald.com.