If you haven’t already heard, Rob Bell is being judged. Or so say his defenders in the wake of a post by Justin Taylor that concluded that Bell “is moving farther and farther away from anything resembling biblical Christianity.” Perhaps there is something to question in saying something like this before reading the book. However, are both Taylor and John Piper really being patently unreasonable in coming to this conclusion? I mean here’s how the defense goes: Bell is just being provocative. He’s asking these questions to get people to really think about what they believe and why they believe it. Look at his endorsements. He couldn’t be advocating universalism. Asking questions doesn’t make one a heretic. This is just a marketing ploy, and it worked brilliantly. That’s why Bell is a great communicator. Reformed people don’t get it.
Okay. Here’s the deal.
If Bell’s book is not an argument for universalism, and that Bell’s rhetorical questions are not meant to ridicule the traditional beliefs of eternal conscious suffering, penal substitutionary atonement, and salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, then the marketing mechanism is a paradigm example of what Harry Frankfurt has defined as “bull****.” This is a good reason not to think Bell is a good communicator. This strategy of communication is pretentious, deliberately vague, and falls just short of lying. The “he’s being provocative” defense doesn’t help much in that provocation is not necessarily a virtue. It becomes vicious when you misrepresent yourself, acting like a phony, just so you can make a point and sell some books. Being forthcoming, clear, and presenting a persuasive argument, while considering contrary views in their best possible form, is always intellectually virtuous. Why not go that route? Because it doesn’t sell? Sounds like a good reason not to read the the book!
To be clear, I am not saying this because I am a Young, Restless, Reformed fanboy. The good Lord knows that I have been critical of things Piper and Taylor have said for years (after all, I am an Arminian egalitarian!). I think its fair to point out the wisdom of judging an author after reading their book, but to be surprised at their response to Bell’s promotional material, I think, shows a staggering lack of empathy for how they might hear what Bell is saying. I take their clear, serious-minded positions over the equivocation and obfuscation of a marketing ploy any day.