Rob Bell was once a rising star in evangelicalism. Back in the day, many conservative evangelicals overlooked his pithiness and obscure descriptions of doctrine because his voice was different, his reach was broad (for example, the Chicago Sun-Times dubbed him "The Next Billy Graham"), and he seemed to be orthodox. Over time, many evangelicals began to distance themselves from Bell as he minimized the virgin birth of Christ in Velvet Elvis or even when he toyed with ethereal thoughts on quantum physics in "Everything is Spiritual." But, the nail in the coffin was his placation of Hell in Love Wins. This book's release even lead to an apparent denouncement from John Piper.
Like Batman, this hero became a reviled vigilante in the eyes of the very ones who once praised his work. Eventually, even Bell's own congregation couldn't handle the controversy.
Why is all of this important? Because he has a new book on the way. In What We Talk About When We Talk About God, Bell "shows how traditional ideas have grown stale and dysfunctional and reveals a new path for how to return vitality and vibrancy to how we understand God." (Here's the somewhat confusing trailer.) I'm not sure if this book is about evangelism or perhaps some sort of theology on the doctrine of God, but it's sure to sell and sure to confuse more than help Bell's target audience of people disillusioned with "traditional" Christianity. Get ready to immunize your church for the next wave of Bell.
Christian leaders have already chimed in on this subject and undoubtedly more will. Here are a few worth reading:
If you want mystery and the ethereal stuff of faith without the burdens of inerrancy and orthodoxy, you could go his way. I do happen to love the “numinous” nature of Christianity, too. But I find it, and see my senses most come alive, not when I’m plumbing uncertainty (which leads ultimately to destruction), but when I’m peering into the mind of God in Scripture. This is why I so love Jonathan Edwards: because his vision of God, thoroughly biblical, is so transcendent, captivating, grand, large, deep, soaring, and exciting.
[Y]es, people will take it seriously and the book will no doubt sell in vast quantities. As the old song has it: Find out what they like and how they like it and let them have it just that way.
Steve Knight also talks about Bell's promotional event for the book and the positive response he received from his supporters.