But when your wife tells you to write a comment about about something you do! Karla, my lovely wife of nearly 18 years, is not one to engage in theological debate. She has been my greatest supporter through my theological education, but her eyes glaze over within a few seconds of hearing a theological or biblical debate. She's practical and no non-sense. But on the issue of heaven and hell and God's will in allowing people entrance into heaven or sending people to hell she is always frustrated. She believes the Bible, she loves God, but she hates the doctrine of hell. and she doesn't understand the God behind it. She cannot understand how God could send a person to eternal torment because they did not accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. But she is not a universalist. She won't be. And my guess is neither is Rob.
When Karla heard about the book Rob has written she immediately wanted to watch the promo video. Not because of Rob (who the heck is Rob Bell?!!) but because the questions Rob is asking are her questions. The tensions Rob is willing to entertain in a public forum are exactly the ones she struggles with. And apparently so do thousands of other biblical evangelicals.
I have two thoughts for what its worth.
1. I think this book is important. Not because Rob will somehow set the record straight or because he has some new insight on the age old issue, or because he is in some papal position to render the final word on the issue, but because he is raising the issue for discussion. A discussion that is going on all over our country in living rooms, dorm rooms, coffee shops, driveways, bus stops, pubs and anywhere else where there are believers in Jesus who care about people.
2. I think we need to wait to read the book. There's no sense prejudging. It seems to me that what his critics are up in arms about is that he asks questions. But since when are questions out of bounds? Are there any questions that are "off limits"? I hope not. While the particular social contexts within which we are raising questions matter (e.g. church, academy, etc), the minute we put a limit on the kinds of questions we are allowed to ask, we've ceased being people of the book. We've become instead a people of dogma. For the life of me I can't figure out why John Piper would say something like "Farewell Rob Bell"? Was it because in the promo he asked "Will only a few select people make it to heaven and will billions and billions of people burn in forever hell "? Was it because he raised provocative questions that everyone is asking? Was it because he hinted at answers that press traditionally articulated answers?
Rob Bell may offer heretical views in this book, we won't know until it is read. But my suspicion--grounded as it is like everyone else's on almost no evidence--is that Rob is less a heretic and more a critic of biblical answers that don't speak in ways that make sense to people. Again my very uninformed guess (and we'll have to see if I'm a prophet or not) is that Rob will greatly nuance a traditional opinion on the matter in which he will be willing to let things that are unknowable remain so while emphasizing primary NT themes.
I suppose both sides will just have to wait an see. I will review the book when it comes out for the blog.