a tribe called blessed?: rob bell’s editor speaks out about the ‘love wins’ backlash

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Monday, July 11th, 2011

a tribe called blessed?: rob bell’s editor speaks out about the ‘love wins’ backlash

you likely don’t know the name mickey maudlin. i certainly didn’t until recently when he spoke out about the reaction to rob bell’s controversial bestseller love wins. so why is he speaking out? because he’s the executive editor at HarperOne—the publisher of the book—who worked alongside bell throughout the writing process.

his thoughts were particularly resounding with me, as i have shared many of his very thoughts as i’ve watched the backlash with, at time, a great deal of sadness and frustration. i’ll share his thoughts below.

i’m due to finish the book in a couple weeks (i’ve been reading it—one chapter a week—with a discussion group at church), so i finally feel like i can offer some basic thoughts (which i chose not to do until i actually read the book).

first of all, i’ve greatly enjoyed the book. beyond the theology, i simply enjoy bell’s writing style and his manner of communicating. theologically, prior to reading, i was more or less on the same page as bell anyway. with that said, he has certainly stretched me and caused me to pause and give serious thought to many issues. all in all, there wasn’t a lot that was fundamentally new information, but certainly, as bell does often, he communicated it in a way that was both beautiful and biblically hearty.

there are certainly areas of bell’s book that could be more fully developed and even parts with which i don’t fully connect, but it’s been very clear that a great majority (though certainly not all) of the backlash has largely been unwarranted and, worse, untruthful.

the source of a large percentage of the backlash can be characterized by one of the key points maudlin brings to light: tribalism. maudlin writes,

As a young evangelical, I was socialized to see the biggest threat to the church as theological liberalism. But now I think the biggest threat is Christian tribalism, where God’s interests are reduced to and measured by those sharing your history, tradition, and beliefs, and where one needs an “enemy” in order for you to feel “right with God.” Such is the challenge facing the church today and what the reaction to Love Wins reveals.

so while some rail against secularism or gay marriage or some other external force on the church, i, like maudlin, believe that the church will become more and more irrelevant because of the internal forces. while the cults of driscoll and piper and the like (even the ones that i often run with, if i’m honest…) rally (a.k.a. blog) together to fight other christians, the world looks at the church with less and less interest. and so do many within the church.

you can find maudlin’s thoughts in their entirety here or you can read them here:

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Rob Bell’s Hell
By Mickey Maudlin, HarperOne Senior V.P./Executive Editor

Nothing makes me more proud than to see a book I edited reach a wide audience. By that measure, I should be beaming over Rob Bell’s Love Wins. And I am. Not only has it spent fifteen weeks on the New York Times bestseller list (as of this writing), Rob has personally heard from hundreds of readers about how his book has been “a cure,” “healing,” “a lifesaver,” or has allowed them to connect or reconnect with the church.

Still, I cannot shake a deep sadness about the book. Considering how corrosive the effects can be on those who have been told they are “special” or that they are “God’s voice for a generation,” I was pleasantly surprised at the beginning of our work together to discover Rob to be a great listener and partner, eager for feedback, a hard worker, fun, and deeply grounded spiritually. He knew what God wanted him to do, and not do, and what his priorities were. At heart he is a pastor and an evangelist whose ambition is to overcome barriers to the gospel. In that way, he reminds me of Billy Graham.

And so, as someone who has spent his entire adult life in the evangelical portion of the church, I cannot help but be sad at the reaction to the book by many conservative Christians. The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution against Rob and the book. Bestselling author Francis Chan and Christianity Today’s Mark Galli have authored two of the six books opposing Rob. Leading evangelicals like Albert Mohler, David Platt, and John Piper have condemned him. Christian critics routinely use words like “unbiblical,” “heretical,” and worse to describe Rob. Most Christian bookstores refuse to carry the book. My heart goes out to Rob for having to endure this onslaught (which, in my view, he has weathered surprisingly well, thank God).

But why such hostility? Why would leaders attack as a threat and an enemy someone who shares their views of Scripture, Jesus, and the Trinity? What prevented leaders from saying, “Thanks, Rob, interesting views, but here is where we disagree”? When did “believing the right things” become equated with determining who is “saved” so that, as some have claimed, affirming Rob’s teachings might jeopardize one’s eternal destiny? (If salvation is dependent on having the right Protestant theology, how could the apostles be saved?) What exactly is so threatening about Rob’s expansive vision of God’s love and grace?

As a young evangelical, I was socialized to see the biggest threat to the church as theological liberalism. But now I think the biggest threat is Christian tribalism, where God’s interests are reduced to and measured by those sharing your history, tradition, and beliefs, and where one needs an “enemy” in order for you to feel “right with God.” Such is the challenge facing the church today and what the reaction to Love Wins reveals. So the success of Love Wins fills me with both hope and fear. But it has also made me thankful that I work for a publisher that is independent of these church wars and allows us to concentrate on books that offer hope and light. Because, with Rob, I really do believe that love wins.

Mickey Maudlin
Senior V.P. | Executive Editor | Director of Bible Publishing
HarperOne

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