deja vu all over again

I saw in the paper yesterday that Rob Bell will begin his new book tour in Grand Rapids next month, and his slightly pretentious trailer (I read books! I take notes! I am creative!) is already drawing comments from a few blogs. If history is any guide, here is what is about to unfold, again. Theological conservatives and people who know how to read books will rightly point out that Rob is trying to communicate something, and that something is a distinctly liberal, unorthodox take on the gospel (Paul Tillich, to be exact). Rob and his supporters will claim that he said no such thing, and they will use the controversy to sell books and gain an even larger hearing for the ideas that they say are not there.

So here is an idea. What if we greeted the release with silence, not because we will likely agree with what is written but because we just don’t think it’s that important. Do you remember the next book Brian McLaren released after A New Kind of Christianity? Me neither. Why should this time be any different? Perhaps this book will become so important that we will have no choice but to engage, but I think it would be wise for conservatives to see if Harper Collins can generate publicity on their own, without our help.

If you do decide to weigh in, you might want to take a page out of Rob’s playbook. Rather than utter clear and coherent statements about the message of the book, which the author will simply deny, why not be content to raise questions? When discussing the book with its admirers, simply ask what they think the book is trying to say. If their answer is thin or inadequate, ask “Are you sure?” until they come closer to the truth. If they or Rob refuse to claim a definite position, then say you don’t see what there is to talk about and walk away. You might ask one last question before you go:  Why did you pay good money for a book without a point?

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  1. I have been wrestling with whether or not to read the book. Part of me wants to ignore it and the other part of me wants to read it because bad theology requires a response from good theology. From the trailer this book seems to be even more incoherent than Love Wins.

  2. Craig: Ignoring something is a response. Just know that all publicity is good publicity, from the perspective of the author and publisher.
    Richard Muller had a sign posted on his door which said something like, “Orthodoxy does not have to defeat heresy. It only needs to outlast it.”

  3. Deja vu indeed. Predictable conservative response(s). Condemnation again, even before one has read the book again. Trying to mend the fences after the flock has bolted again. Pot shots again (“pretentious” “people who know how to read books”). Sigh.

  4. JW: I don’t see why “people who know how to read books” is a potshot, as it’s merely saying that people assume that every act of communication is trying to communicate something. Surely you agree. And so I wonder, What do you think was the message of “Love Wins”?

  5. I think “Love Wins” delivered on its promise, perhaps best summed up by the subtitle: “A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.” Would I have liked it if it was perhaps more definitive? Maybe. But I think it’s a mistake to dismiss the book because it’s not the book I (or you) would have written.

    I agree with your sentiment that “that people assume that every act of communication is trying to communicate something,” and Bell is surely communicating something, but don’t think that was all you were aiming to convey by your comments. They were loaded (which is fine, it is your blog).

    And at any rate, I am so weary of responses that frame this conversation in terms of liberal / conservative. That evokes fights from the 20th Century that seem increasingly irrelevant as we go forward in a post-Christian context. It seems to me that Tillich and those unhappy with him were still both assuming the majority of Americans were going to be some ‘kind’ of Christian, liberal or otherwise. That is no longer the case. And the video clip in question does seem to want to speak to readers who don’t care or know about these differences.

    I’m tempted to dismiss you and many of the blogs on your roll as (neo)fundamentalist. But is that true? It seems to me it is different day. I hear from you more than just re-tread fundamentalism that is a bit more frienldy (‘look now we watch movies, and we are ok with some dancing’), but posts like the one above (and the whole response to Bell) make me wonder if I am wrong.

    Hope this isn’t too unclear, just a few notes on the fly…

  6. I don’t foresee Rob selling many copies of his latest book. Merely because the audience he once had has left him. I liked his other books. His book on Jesus wants to save Christians had some interesting points to think and grasp about. I particularly liked the idea of wealth requires resources to maintain along with military resources which can have unattended consequences. He uses Solomon as an example as he slowly compromises his principles in order to maintain his wealth. But his last book put the nail in the coffin for me to even bother with him anymore.

  7. Thanks for your kind and thoughtful response, JW. If that phrase was loaded, it was expressing frustration over the pretense that the book didn’t espouse a view on hell, atonement, or salvation. That frequent claim is insulting to the intelligence of readers.

    I suspect that we have different notions of what the gospel is and what is essential to pass on to the next generation. If we talked further, you might well conclude that my faith won’t survive in the 21st century, and I might come to think that your faith is no longer Christian. What we need is a Christian faith for the 21st century, and I think that your clarity is a step forward in that dialogue. We should both oppose vague notions that dampen discussion more than they help it. Let’s say what we mean and mean what we say. Though you and I most likely disagree on important matters, I respect you for having the courage of your convictions. Your clarity shows respect to me, and I thank you for it.

  8. Thanks Mike! I really appreicate that response. I’ll be reading…

  9. I want to see a picture of this trailer? Is it heaven on earth or hell on wheels?

  10. You can Google it Gary, but I strongly urge you not to watch it. I’m not sure if your heart is strong enough.

  11. ” but I think it would be wise for conservatives to see if Harper Collins can generate publicity on their own, without our help”

    Mike, aren’t you helping create some of that publicity with this post???

  12. Probably. That’s why this is a one-off and I didn’t link to anything, even my own book. Life is messy.

  13. I am totally convinced this is the right approach. Tell the big names.

  14. Frank, I thought we were the big names!

  15. RB has certainly proven something – He can market. He is a lousy exegete, theologian, historian and so on – but he certainly can market himself.
    For those who think he is still about the questions and not really “liberal” – Does the endorsement of Ken Wilbur (Buddhist/pantheist/whatever)and Bell’s own embrace of panentheism in Velvet Elvis – not predict the tract he was already on? Love Wins merely takes his panentheism to its logical extension.
    Does this make me a “neo”fundamentalist? Gee I don’t know – if so do I have to give up my Lynyrd Skynyrd albums?

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