I saw in the paper yesterday that Rob Bell will begin his new book tour in Grand Rapids next month, and his slightly pretentious trailer (I read books! I take notes! I am creative!) is already drawing comments from a few blogs. If history is any guide, here is what is about to unfold, again. Theological conservatives and people who know how to read books will rightly point out that Rob is trying to communicate something, and that something is a distinctly liberal, unorthodox take on the gospel (Paul Tillich, to be exact). Rob and his supporters will claim that he said no such thing, and they will use the controversy to sell books and gain an even larger hearing for the ideas that they say are not there.
So here is an idea. What if we greeted the release with silence, not because we will likely agree with what is written but because we just don’t think it’s that important. Do you remember the next book Brian McLaren released after A New Kind of Christianity? Me neither. Why should this time be any different? Perhaps this book will become so important that we will have no choice but to engage, but I think it would be wise for conservatives to see if Harper Collins can generate publicity on their own, without our help.
If you do decide to weigh in, you might want to take a page out of Rob’s playbook. Rather than utter clear and coherent statements about the message of the book, which the author will simply deny, why not be content to raise questions? When discussing the book with its admirers, simply ask what they think the book is trying to say. If their answer is thin or inadequate, ask “Are you sure?” until they come closer to the truth. If they or Rob refuse to claim a definite position, then say you don’t see what there is to talk about and walk away. You might ask one last question before you go: Why did you pay good money for a book without a point?