First, many people have noted the power of Social Media in commenting about the book. But Social Media was also at play in terms of interpreting the commentary and the controversy.
Scot McKnight was one of the first to pull together the themes, some of which continue to stick. In an interview with Christianity Today on the same day as my post, he (1) predicted the controversy would be here today and gone tomorrow (“in a week it will all be gone”); (2) he said that I would owe Rob Bell “a huge apology” if I was wrong; (3) he suggested the book’s pre-pub publicity “worked perfectly” and that I and many of my readers “bit” on it; (4) and he said that John Piper’s infamous tweet (“Farewell, Rob Bell”) was a “flippant dismissal of Rob Bell” and “unworthy of someone of Piper’s stature,” and that a phone call or private letter to Bell would have been better.
I still disagree with all four of these suggestions.
Let me comment, briefly, on just one of these points since Challies seemed to echo it, going even further and saying that “we got gamed.” The implication seems to be that HarperOne’s publicity department cooked up this brilliant strategy and that we walked right into it. Like all books, the marketing folks want it to sell well. More specifically, they want people to be intrigued, provoked, and motivated to discuss it, buy it, and recommend it. With this book, they succeeded spectacularly. But the fact that this sort of thing is not replicable points more to the idea that this was the result of a “perfect storm” rather than a carefully crafted plan hatched in a smoke-filled office in Manhattan in order to goad or provoke the “New Calvinists” into making their book a bestseller.
Many have lamented that those of us who were critical of Bell helped him and his publisher to sell a boat-load of books. My opinion is that we should not care one iota about that (cf. Matt. 6:19). What matters, as one friend put it, is the question of “influence,” not “sales.” And I hope that the controversy made Rob Bell’s ideas less influential, not more. But ultimately that is not ours to decide. Our job is to seek to be faithful.