One of the most hotly anticipated books to hit the market in recent years has just been published. No, I'm not talking about The Loose Women Book for Lovely Mums (Hodder), I'm talking about a controversial mega-church's controversial pastor's controversial new book: Rob Bell's Love Wins (HarperCollins).
This new work of non-fiction (or "fiction", depending on your viewpoint), is "a book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived" and, at time of writing, is number three on the Amazon.com charts. Remarkably for a book on a religion (especially one by someone even the majority of Christians in the UK have probably never heard of, let alone the atheists), it is currently sitting high up on the Amazon UK bestseller list, and has come very close indeed to topping its Movers & Shakers, Hot Future Releases and Most Wished For bestseller charts.
As is often the case with such small genres (the religion sector accounts for less than 1% of all book sales in the UK), the success of one book can have a huge impact on the figures, and 2011 may well turn out to be the biggest year on record for the religion sector in the UK thanks to the firestorm created by Bell's new book (and the fact a few UK publishers are cashing in on the 400th anniversary of the KJV by releasing "anniversary editions").
But what's all the fuss about?
Well, it all started a few weeks ago when HarperCollins US released a cheeky little video trailer for the book, which suggested Bell was going to tackle the doctrine of predestination, and the belief that although God is a loving God (I John 4:8, John 3:16, etc) who claims He "desires all people to be saved" (I Timothy 2:4), He's actually going to consign the billions of unbelievers to eternal torment in Hell.
Or not - and that's Bell's point, although he doesn't specifically rule out the non-existence of Hell, which is what people thought he might do, and the reason why it has become such a major news item internationally, propelling it to the sharp end of the bestseller charts.
Because, based solely on the trailer, the publisher's advance information and in rare cases, a sample chapter, some well-respected US pastors and theologians, and then hundreds of thousands of Tweeps ("Rob Bell" trended along with "The King's Speech" over the Oscars weekend) crucified Bell and his new book, WITHOUT HAVING ACTUALLY READ IT.
Thanks to the firestorm, then, someone other than God-knocker Richard Dawkins could reach the summit of The Bookseller's Religion bestseller list for the first time since The God Delusion was released back in 2006. It stands a very good chance of being only the second pro-religion non-fiction book (after Ratzinger's Jesus: Part One) to make The Bookseller's weekly bestseller charts since records began in 1998. And perhaps the only book (bar David Eagleman's Sum, perhaps) to become a "bestseller" thanks to Twitter.
If Bell hadn't trended, it wouldn't have become the news item it did, prompting quite as many sales as it has. It is something for the likes of pastor John Piper and elder Justin Taylor to think about—you could partly be responsible for others following the "heretical" and "satanic" guy...
As for the book itself . . . Well, I can confirm that the lovely people at HarperCollins UK sent me an advance copy last week and I have ACTUALLY READ IT. Back when I was a believer (G and I fell out a few years ago), I was big fan of Bell's (I suppose I still am to a certain extent) as I found the way he tackled Scripture incredibly refreshing—even though I didn't always agree with him 100%.
But if you think I'm going to review the book you are very much mistaken. I don't fancy a TwitterCrucifiction as well . . .