Grandville, Mich. – A cache of correspondence, manuscripts, and drafts of Love Wins, the controversial bestseller by Rob Bell has recently surfaced, shedding light on the evolution of the book as well as the process of publication.
The material was found in a dumpster, by public sanitation workers, outside of Mars Hill Bible Church, where Bell serves as pastor. Two manila folders were recovered. One large, unmarked folder contained ideas, outlines, early drafts, and print-outs of email correspondence between Bell and Les Molder, an editor at HarperCollins. A second folder labelled “Biblical Exegesis/Word Study” contained only 2 pages of handwritten notes.
The leaked files reveal that the original, working title of the book was Justice Loses, and the opening hook was not, in the earliest drafts, an anecdote about a Ghandi quote on a piece of artwork. In fact, Bell had originally planned to share an experience he once had in Poland. Here is an excerpt from an early draft:
Several years ago, I visited Auschwitz, and saw all kinds of remnants of the horrors inflicted by Nazis through concentration camps. And there was this one wall, in what was used as a gas chamber, where you could still see scratches from the fingernails of the prisoners that clawed the walls in final acts of desperation. Lot’s of people in the tour found this compelling. But I noticed that one visitor had etched into the wall “Be encouraged, Hitler is in Hell.”
Hitler’s in hell?
Somebody knows this for sure?
And felt the need to let the rest of us know?
Printed copies of email correspondence confirms that this version was abandoned on the professional advice of Molder, who appealed to Bell to choose “a more benign, sympathetic figure” to serve as the main character for his opening illustration. The correspondence reveals that Bell did not immediately submit to this advice, until Molder pointed out to him that using Bell’s own definition of hell as a present reality created by a person’s own sinful choices, Hilter was, in fact, in hell until his suicide in 1945. Writes Molder,
So, Hitler is in hell while he is living, but after he is dead, we can’t know for sure. I get that, but for the average reader this is potentially too confusing. Remember, your target audience isn’t used to having to make these kind of fine distinctions.
The files clearly reveal Bell’s penchant for incomplete, sometimes only one word, sentences and questions. One early draft contains a 6-page run of these short, incomplete phrases and questions, each separated by a hard return. Referencing this portion of the manuscript, Molder advises in an email,
You’ll want to keep that stuff to a maximum of 10 lines. Beyond that, we are going to have a really hard time passing it off as poetry (which is what we are still intending to do, correct? LOL!)
The correspondence shows Molder not just to be an editorial genius but also an savvy marketer. For example, just before the book with its original title was set to go to the printer, Molder urged a last minute title change. In an urgent email to Bell, Molder writes,
How tied are you to Justice Loses? I’m sure you’ve seen the Charlie Sheen train wreck by now. I’m thinking we can capitalize on some of the hype surrounding his shenanigans. Just brainstorming here, but what do you think about Duh! Love, Winning! ?
A few emails later, Bell and Molder had reached a compromise, and the book was sent to the printer with its current title.
At a press conference yesterday, Rob Bell said that he was “quite disappointed” that the files were now in the public domain, though he holds “no anger, bitterness, or resentment towards the garbage men who recovered and leaked the documents.”
When asked why he wanted to get rid of the documents, Bell responded, “The whole experience surrounding this book has been hard. I didn’t expect that denying what most believe to be a central tenet of Christianity would be so controversial.”
Bell teared up as he continued, “In the weeks leading up to the release of the book, we could blame the publisher for the content on the promo material, and we could accuse people of jumping to conclusions based solely on my provocative trailer. But when the book was released and people reached those inevitable conclusions after reading it for themselves, all of the pressure came to me. And it was hard, really hard.” For Bell, the easiest solution was to throw out the related documents.
To a question about why he didn’t shred the documents before disposing them, Bell responded, “I don’t like shredding. It’s too gruesome. Too final.”