About six years ago, the Rev. Rob Bell was -- in terms of mainstream news -- hotter than hell.
In other words, lots of reporters thought he was totally cool because he was turning the world of megachurch celebrity culture inside out with his headline-friendly attacks on centuries of Christian doctrine about heaven, hell and salvation (plus some other predictable topics linked to faith, culture and politics).
It's all part of a news-media equation that is familiar to all public-relations professionals who promote religious books to the mainstream. If an evangelical writer wants great press, all he or she has to do is attack the core beliefs of evangelicalism. The same works for Catholics, Anglicans (Newark Bishop Jack Spong wrote the book on this), Mormons and pretty much everyone else.
The bottom line: Rebellion against conservative orthodoxy is almost always news. So Bell's "Love Wins" book was a big deal, for many.
So Bell took his post-congregation revival tour to Atlanta the other day and CNN.com was all over it, producing a long, long, print feature with this headline: "Outlaw pastor Rob Bell shakes up the Bible Belt."
Let me stress that an update on Bell is a valid subject for a feature story, even if the former megachurch pastor is no longer making headlines. Also, there have been lots of interesting responses to Bell's redefinition of heaven and hell, some of them book length (see "God Wins"), which means that it would ultra-easy for CNN editors/reporters to find articulate responses -- from a variety of theological perspectives -- to what Bell is still saying.
No, honest. Don't laugh. It would have been so easy for CNN to produce an interesting, complex, accurate, balanced news feature on this Bell event.
Want to guess what happened?