One leading evangelical, John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, wrote, “Farewell Rob Bell.” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in a blog post that by suggesting that people who do not embrace Jesus may still be saved, Mr. Bell was at best toying with heresy. He called the promotional video, in which Mr. Bell pointedly asks whether it can be true that Gandhi, a non-Christian, is burning in hell, “the sad equivalent of a theological striptease.”
Others such as Scot McKnight, a professor of theology at North Park University in Chicago, said they welcomed the renewed discussion of one of the hardest issues in Christianity – can a loving God really be so wrathful toward people who faltered, or never were exposed to Jesus?
In an interview and on his blog, he said that the thunder emanating from the right this week was not representative of American Christians, even evangelicals. According to surveys and his experience with students, Mr. McKnight said, a large majority of evangelical Christians “more or less believe that people of other faiths will go to heaven,” whatever their churches and theologians may argue.
“Rob Bell is tapping into a younger generation that really wants to open up these questions,” he said. “He is also tapping into the fear of the traditionalists – that these differing views of heaven and hell will compromise the Christian message.”
Mr. Bell, who through his publisher declined to comment on the book or the debate, has resisted labels, but he is often described as part of the so-called emerging church movement, which caters to younger believers and has challenged theological boundaries as well as pastoral involvement in conservative politics.
As the controversy exploded last week, HarperOne moved up to March 15 the publication date of Mr. Bell’s book, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.”