In the new Publishers Weekly “Christian Marketplace Bestsellers” list, we see that Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” debuts at the No. 2 slot. This news accompanies a PW story on the controversial nature of “Love Wins” – Bell is being castigated in conservative quarters for what is described as his leanings toward universalism.

Amazingly, a response to Bell’s book is set to roll out April 21. Doc Holliday and Jesse Owens were fast, but if you want to see true speed, just observe a publisher that’s motivated.

Michael Wittmer’s “Christ Alone: An Evangelical Response to Rob Bell’s ‘Love Wins,'” is published by Edenridge Press.

From the PW article: “Said Quentin Schultze, CEO of Edenridge Press, ‘This is a great book that will contribute to the conversation that Bell started but without being too quick and snarky, as is unfortunately the case with so many blogs, including those that began attacking or hailing ‘Love Wins’ before their authors had read it.'”

Interesting. Tepid praise for his own title. I also find it interesting that the subtitle to Wittmer’s book states that it is an evangelical response. That is a shot across the bow, in that Bell and the so-called Emergent writers often identify themselves as evangelical. Personally, I believe they do so because – while they are quite aware of their unorthodox views – they recognize that by calling themselves evangelical, they gain entry into traditionally conservative circles.

The very fact that Bell’s book has debuted in the No. 2 slot on the PW bestseller list is an indication that, while it will be a pariah for conservatives, it already has a following in American Christian circles.

Wittmer, a professor of systematic and historical theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, is brave in taking on Bell and his brand of theology, especially in Grand Rapids. There are plenty of Christian “free thinkers” in that neck of the woods, and Bell’s own Mars Hill Bible Church is in Grand Rapids.

Bell and his friends have played for years on the fringes of orthodoxy. As author Bob DeWaay has pointed out in his research of the Emergent community, they love to be ambiguous. Doug Pagitt’s radio interview with John Shelby Spong, who denies the fundamentals of the Christian faith, is evidence of this; Pagitt is accepted in certain evangelical circles.

But back to Bell’s book and Wittmer’s book. I will read both in the coming weeks and so won’t comment on specifics regarding the books themselves. Yet it is legitimate to discuss the roiling controversies in Christian publishing today.

Happily for HarperOne, Bell’s publisher, the tsunami of interest and criticism necessitated an accelerated book launch, from March 28 to the 15th. Bell then launched the title at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, live-streamed with Newsweek’s Lisa Miller.

It’s just a guess, but it’s doubtful Newsweek would be much interested in a strongly orthodox Christian writer. I don’t believe they’ve initiated such a set-up with, say, John MacArthur.

Again, from PW: “Print and online media from the Baptist Press to The New York Times have covered the controversy. In a recent interview that ran March 19 in his hometown newspaper, The Grand Rapids Press, Bell commented that no one had expected such response. He said the question of heaven and hell is nothing new, and that he’s not saying anything that ‘hasn’t been said by people rooted firmly in orthodox Christian tradition.'”

In my travels and discussions with Christians across the country, I often dialogue about the battle between traditional beliefs and what I’d call modernists. It’s astonishing how little people in the pews know about Rob Bell, Pagitt, etc. Yet they see their young people leaving the churches in droves. In my opinion, this exodus of young people is due directly to the lack of biblical teaching in American churches today.

Meanwhile, Bell is no doubt reveling in the controversy. He would probably even “giggle” about it. But his evolving views on faith are a giant part of the American Christian landscape today and would horrify previous generations, even ones who believed the great “falling away” was on the horizon. One can listen to J. Vernon McGee’s radio broadcasts – the Bible teacher has been dead almost 30 years – and hear him warn that the culture was so rotten, the end couldn’t be far off.

That was three, four, five decades ago! McGee would be astonished if he could see the American church today.

Recently on his Facebook page, former Christianity Today editor Michael Maudlin (now editorial director for HarperCollins), extolled the new book, “Naked Spirituality,” by Bell’s Emergent colleague, Brian McLaren.

McLaren’s books and lectures do more than hint that his beliefs have moved away from conservative thought. And his associations are further evidence of this. Again, I am often surprised that more Christians are not aware of this.

In the end, when it comes to publishing, titles by the Bells and McLarens of our age will prove to be bigger sellers than those who refute their unorthodox views. I am reminded of Richard Abanes’ title, “A New Earth, An Old Deception: Awakening to the Dangers of Eckhart Tolle and His #1 Bestseller.”

Tolle, the spiritual guru praised lavishly by Oprah Winfrey, no doubt outsold Abanes.

But at least Rich was out there, warning. As is Wittmer, apparently.

Good for them.

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