I listened to Rob Bell’s interview with Lisa Miller of Newsweek about his new book Love Wins. Miller’s questions were pointed and focused, much like those which were asked by the crowd and online viewers, but Bell’s responses were rarely direct. Instead, he offered a series of philosophical reflections blended with stories that left thick ambiguity hanging in the air.
Some will defend the thick ambiguity as the style of Jesus, who often answered questions with questions, but most of the people I know watching the interview were aching for a solid answer and explanation on what Rob really believes and why he believes it—which is a fair desire considering that at the end of the day this is still a book promotion.
Do I agree or disagree with Rob? The answer is neither. I found the responses so vague and nebulous I’m not sure what Rob believes.
So without a pre-release, I can’t comment on the book, and find myself wishing a whole lot of other people would hold their tongue and keyboards, too. I’ve been embarrassed by the number of online snipers taking shots at Rob in the name of Christianity who haven’t even read the book yet. Where are wisdom, discretion, and self-control?
As I reflect on what I watched the image I have in mind is one of a boy playing in a mud puddle in the middle of a storm. He’s got a wide smile and glimmer in his eye. He’s joyful and delightful. To be honest, watching him puts a smile on my face. And I wince at the mudballs that are being thrown in his face by kids passing by. I’ve felt the sting and nursed the welts myself and wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
Not everyone is throwing mudballs though. Others are diving in and building their own mud castles on the shores of the puddle. Still others and gathering and watching the events unfold.
Yet when I look up to the sky, I’m reminded that we’re in the middle of a storm. Lightening peels. Thunder crackles. Flood waters rise. People are leaving the church and walking away from faith in droves. Maybe it’s not the best time to stir up the mud in puddles. Maybe it’s not the best time for ambiguity and murkiness.
I find myself wondering who will really win from Love Wins?
Some may say Rob wins as his book will sell because of the surrounding controversy, but book sale numbers aren’t a balm for the unkind words that have and will continue to be spoken about him. I have to believe that Rob knows this book will cost him the kinds of things that money can’t buy but has chosen to engage anyway.
Others will say that love wins as the book stirs conversation and forces people to examine their faith. Oh how I wish that were true! But I’ve read too many scathing reviews of Rob and his ideas online. If anything the book will lead many to draw lines between “us” and “them” as the exchanges between people of faith online become even more personal and mean spirited. I don’t think people are going to know us by our love if they read the reviews and interactions on this book.
A few might suggest HarperOne wins. They may be right. With a pre-release campaign that’s currently pushed it to No. 6 on Amazon.com, HarperOne will win financially, but let’s not forget that publishing is an industry facing countless challenges and it’s going to take a lot of sales from a lot of books to carry the publisher.
So who wins? Maybe nobody really wins. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe like stumbling upon a boy playing in a mud puddle on a stormy day, we glance over, smile, and then get on with the rest of our lives.
Who do you think wins?