The book itself is widely popular. To give some credence to this, see this link about his blowing up the blogosphere. At one point, Rob Bell became the top trending topic on twitter (no small feat)...and this was before the book came out. Bell has been on Good Morning America and other programs to talk about the book.
Currently (March 22, 2011) the book rests at #4 on Amazon's rankings (Pope Benedict's is #25). That's not #4 out in the religion and spirituality section, but overall. The #1 book is probably the best book that I have personally read all year Heaven Is For Real.
So, why is Bell's book so popular?
First, Bell is one of the most popular pastors in America today and has been called our generation's Billy Graham. He has released incredibly popular short films called Noomas and several other books, Velvet Elvis perhaps being the most popular. He does a fantastic job of getting after questions people want answers to and does so in a way that takes a unique view of history and theology that few can pull off.
Second, this book is about hell and in particular Bell proposes that perhaps hell doesn't last forever and that eventually everyone goes to heaven. See the video promo for the book. This could be also called universalism, although Bell won't except this title and others support him in this. If you are confused with all the titles in regards to salvation, Scot McKnight wrote an article to help straighten everything out. For a really good interview with Bell on this, watch his recent interview on MSNBC.
Third, some people do not like Rob Bell. And this is their opportunity to go after him.
Personally, I really enjoy Rob Bell. I like to ask people the question, "If you could have lunch with any three living people, who would they be?" Rob Bell has been in my top 3 for the last 7 years.
But, this doesn't mean that I agree with him on everything.
I have yet to read the entire book, so I don't want to critique Bell's argument just yet. Certainly, there will be some truth in it and at other times we will have to part ways. In the end, I always enjoy Rob because he brings tough questions and the reality of Christianity to the forefront. If we merely avoid the questions, I believe Christianity ultimately become irrelevant to modern men and women. I like THAT he addresses them even if I don't always agree with the WAY that he addresses them. But, I usually walk away with a deeper perspective on the issue and a greater historical understanding.
Of course, as a Catholic it is easier to agree to disagree with an evangelical. I don't expect to or need to agree with them on everything. If I were an evangelical, this might be a different story.
Because Bell's argument is so popular and he opens up some great questions, I wanted to give a Catholic perspective to all of it. Through it, I hope to personally come to a better understand of what the Church teaches on these subjects and why. Also, I don't think the Church has answered all of these questions definitively yet. There is room within orthodox Catholicism to wrestle with these questions. At the same time, we are fortunate enough to stand with a tradition that has wrestled with these questions for 2,000 years.
The journey should be exciting....
Have you read the book?
What are your thoughts on it so far?