Everyone else is weighing in, so I'll take a turn as well:
I think Rob Bell is brilliant. He's a gifted speaker, a very strong leader, and has an unbelievable eye for marketing and communication. I have no doubt whatsoever that the call on his life is massive.
That said, I cannot help but note the flurry of judgment chaotically flying about as of late. John Piper presumes Bell must be claiming universalism as truth. Countless loyal to Bell rebut any such statements by claiming Bell is finally a pastor in the public eye who is willing to address the truth by asking these important questions in our culture.
My question is this: does the framework of universalism really stack up as absolute truth?
Surely not. The suggestion itself crumbles under foundational truths found in the Word of God. But hey- people need to come to their own conclusions about issues as important as whether what God says is true in the first place. People taking other people's words for it are what got us into this mess to begin with.
So needless to say, I find all this dialogue to be engaging. I am familiar with this man's previous works. Three of his four releases are actually upstairs on my bookshelf at this very moment. Not once, thus far, have I surmised in my reading that this man has universalist beliefs. However, to be fair, he also has yet to address that topic overtly- until now.
According to www.robbell.com, the controversial book will be released next Tuesday, March 15th. The night before (Monday night), Bell will be speaking in NYC, and answering viewers' questions about all of this. The entire evening will be streamed live (details found here). It will likely be interesting- mostly because it will be at that point specifically that all the speculation will cease, and the world will finally know where in fact Rob Bell stands on heaven and hell.
Its my invocation that all of this is a genius marketing technique. If it turns out Bell has adopted universalist beliefs, I consider that a true misfortune. Either way- Bell has, from a promotional perspective, cornered both the Christian and secular worlds.
I will be tuning in on Monday night to catch the first glimpse of where this tremendously influential Christian leader's heart lies... because as far as we can tell now, it hangs in the balance.