On a Sunday evening last year, Rob Bell pulled up outside a stone building in Philadelphia, peered at the stained-glass window above the entrance, and frowned—the place looked like a church. Bell is the founder of Mars Hill Bible Church, a megachurch in West Michigan, and one of the most influential Christian leaders in the country. But when he goes on tour, to talk about his evolving faith, he tries to avoid churches, because he doesn’t want to cause trouble for any staffers brave enough to book him. “I don’t know where I’m anathema and where I’m considered to be on the good team,” he says. “The landscape is so confusing, in churchyworld, that I just gave up trying to navigate it.” The previous night, he had appeared at Lupo’s, a venerable rock club in Providence, where there was a stern warning posted backstage: “No spitting or throwing drinks on the stage or equipment.”
Bell is a provocateur, but a mild-mannered one, with a pinched, nasal voice that somehow projects calm. He is forty-two, tall and lean, and, in both his fastidiousness and his fondness for black clothes, he evokes Steve Jobs; indeed, Bell sees no reason that a sermon shouldn’t have the same cool, frictionless appeal as an Apple product launch, or a TED Talk. For much of his career, Bell was affiliated with the evangelical movement, which has been the most robust Christian tradition in America for half a century. To many casual observers, the aughts seemed like a triumphant era for evangelicals. In the elections of 2000 and 2004, evangelical voters provided crucial support to President Bush, and Rick Warren became the symbol of a sophisticated new kind of megachurch. In fact, the popularity of evangelical Christianity probably peaked sometime in the early nineteen-nineties, and may now be in decline. Some Christian leaders have predicted an evangelical collapse, as aging congregations fail to attract young adults. Bell is now loosely aligned with a cohort of pastors worldwide who are searching for ways to move beyond old-fashioned worship. (This movement is sometimes called the emerging or emergent church, but many pastors, including Bell, disavow the term.) Bell talks often about the demand for a different kind of church, one that can keep pace with the rising “waterline of culture.”
For his Philadelphia engagement, Bell had been booked into the Baptist Temple—which, he discovered, with some relief, had been deconsecrated and turned into a performing-arts center. He went inside for sound check and a quick nap; soon, a technician cued up his pre-show mix (Blur, Midnight Oil, Starsailor), and the hall started to fill up. Bell attracts an earnest crowd of young people, full of questions about the church they once loved unquestioningly. For many of them, Bell is a reassuring figure: proof that it’s possible to challenge certain articles of faith without leaving behind faith itself. (In Philadelphia, one college-age fan greeted him by saying, “If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t still be a Christian.”) Onstage, Bell told self-deprecating stories about botched sermons and humbling discoveries, and he cited the Dalai Lama as a paragon of Christian grace. In Bell’s monologues, Jesus comes across as a rebellious mystic, opposed to any form of small-mindedness. “He seemed to have no problem confronting the hypocritical religious establishment,” Bell said. “And he told these extremely mysterious, enigmatic stories that ended in such a way that sometimes they wanted to kill him and sometimes they wanted to crown him.”
Out front, on the sidewalk, a preacher had come to speak out against what he called “the lies of Rob Bell.” Without an amplifier, or any evident need of one, he issued precisely the sort of fierce warning that Bell takes pains to avoid: “It is a broad way that leads to eternal damnation, and many will enter into it.” This line, a standard weapon in every street preacher’s arsenal, arises from Matthew 7:13, part of the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus sets down a series of precepts and aphorisms. But “eternal damnation” might be a misleading translation: the original contains no reference to eternity, and, instead of “damnation,” the more common rendering is “destruction.” The Greek word is apoleia, which can also mean “waste,” or “loss.” (It recurs later in the Book of Matthew, to describe the Disciples’ indignant reaction when Jesus is anointed with precious oils: they ask, “Why this waste?”)
To anyone looking for loopholes in the doctrine of damnation, the Bible offers plenty, and last year Bell compiled many of them, in a book called “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.” Bell says that the book, his fifth, was inspired by a congregant who insisted that Mahatma Gandhi, because he wasn’t a Christian, must be suffering in Hell. In the opening pages, Bell recalls his incredulous response:
Gandhi’s in hell?
We have confirmation of this?
A different kind of pastor might have replied, modestly, that Christian eschatology—the study of the afterlife—offers few certainties. Instead, Bell set out to answer the question. He considered the possibility that Hell might not exist, or that it might be empty, or that it might exist on earth, or that it might be temporary. Maybe, he thought, Hell is an unpleasant place where posthumous repentance is possible and, in the fullness of time, inevitable. He never answers his own question about Gandhi, but he strongly suggests that the answer couldn’t possibly be yes. He quotes I Timothy 2: “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of truth.” And then he poses the impertinent question around which the rest of the book revolves: “Does God get what God wants?”
Even before it was published, “Love Wins” caused a sensation. The word went out that a prominent megachurch leader had rejected Hell, thereby embracing heresy. The outcry helped make the book a best-seller, even though a number of Christian bookstores refused to stock it. The central message of “Love Wins” is that the church needs to stop scaring people away, and, in publishing the book, Bell hoped to spark a movement toward a more congenial, less punitive form of Christianity. He knew that some Christian leaders would object, but he didn’t foresee how much. His detractors stated their case on blogs, from pulpits, and, eventually, in books. “Love Wins” appeared in March, 2011, and by summer there were half a dozen rebuttals in print, including “God Wins,” by an editor at Christianity Today, and “Erasing Hell,” by Francis Chan, a fellow-pastor. John Piper, a prominent theologian and minister who expounds the value of “objective Biblical truth,” posted a terse message on Twitter: “Farewell Rob Bell.”
In the end, “Love Wins” did turn out to be a kind of farewell. The members of Mars Hill found themselves having to answer for their membership in a church that was suddenly notorious. Eventually, Bell decided that it would be best for everyone if he left the church he had founded; in September, half a year after the publication of “Love Wins,” he told the congregation that he would be stepping down. By the time Bell greeted his fans in Philadelphia, a few months had passed, but he was still considering his own uncertain future. He ended his talk by delivering a lesson on openness to change. “You have been gripping tightly to how it was,” he said. “You calm yourself, and you breathe deeply, and you open your palms, and you say, ‘O.K., God. Apparently, this is ending.’ ”
“Everything I do, it probably all flows out of something that’s been there for as long as I can remember,” Bell says. “Like, a deep-seated, sort of old-school Jesus belief.” He grew up in a Christian household in Okemos, Michigan, outside Lansing. Sometime around his tenth birthday, he kneeled next to his bed, flanked by his parents, and said the first prayer he truly meant. He invited Jesus into his heart, he remembers, and he thought, Now I am a Christian, and God loves me, and when I die I’ll be with God forever. His new identity made him feel slightly removed from the world around him: he was an avid soccer player, but he learned to keep quiet when the other boys sang anatomically precise songs on the team bus. Bell had a vague sense that Jesus was a radical, and he liked the idea that Christian goodness, in a not always good world, might take the form of resistance, or defiance.
Bell’s parents both attended Wheaton, a Christian college outside Chicago, and Bell never considered going anywhere else. When he arrived, he says, “there were all these smart, funny kids who were Christians—I was absolutely blown away.” He formed an alternative-rock band, which he hoped to turn into a career. In the summer, he worked as a waterskiing instructor at a Christian camp, where, one week, he was pressed into service as a replacement preacher. For a few days, he worried about what he would say, but, when he stood before the campers, his thoughts were interrupted by a reassuring message: “Teach this book, and I will take care of everything else.”
After Wheaton, Bell enrolled at Fuller Theological Seminary, in Pasadena, which offered classes in systematic theology and ancient Akkadian, none of which excited him. Compared with the people around him, he was a theological conservative, more interested in spreading the message of the Bible than in contesting its interpretation. “I just wanted to preach,” Bell says. “I was totally single-minded.” He was hired as a youth pastor at a local church, where he was guided by his belief that faith is best expressed in deeds, not words. One day, he took his charges to a working-class neighborhood, where they knocked on doors and asked startled strangers if they could help them with anything. A beleaguered mother gratefully dispatched them to buy some milk.
Bell loved California, and he imagined that he would probably settle there. But then, during a trip home, he agreed to accompany his parents to Calvary Church, in Grand Rapids. Calvary was a big, nondenominational congregation, led by a great orator named Ed Dobson. Bell remembers being astonished: Dobson was a small man—“like, a hundred pounds, soaking wet”—with big hands and a deep voice, willing to hurdle the flower display in front of the pulpit, if it would help make a Biblical teaching stick. Bell befriended Dobson, and wrote him letters from California. When Dobson finally saw Bell preach, he was impressed. Bell’s style is conversational but theatrical, full of meaningful pauses that make listeners lean forward, and Dobson persuaded the leadership at Calvary to give him a chance. “Not all of the elders felt like I did—some of them were concerned that he was inexperienced,” Dobson says. “But I told them, ‘Look, he can communicate. He really doesn’t know the Bible, but, if we can add the Bible to his communication skills, we’ll have a winner.’ ”
At Calvary, Bell was put in charge of the Saturday-night young-adult service, which sometimes included rock bands and informal discussions. In 1998, he left to start his own church, Mars Hill, taking with him hundreds of Calvary congregants and the proceeds of a special offering, which came to about thirty thousand dollars. By 2000, attendance had grown to a few thousand, and the church soon found a home: a sprawling former mall, right off Interstate 196 in Grandville, a southwestern suburb of Grand Rapids.
At Mars Hill, Bell decided, there would be no dress code, no choir, no pulpit. He preached from a low, unadorned stage in the center of the room. And he cultivated a reputation as an unusually hip pastor: a young guy in slim trousers who loved Radiohead and artisanal bicycles. Bell didn’t think too hard about the theology of Mars Hill; he just knew that he had a knack for getting people excited about the Bible. In his early sermons, he combined emotional appeals with straightforward interpretations of Scripture. He did a series of “blood and guts” sermons, which explained sacrificial laws of Leviticus in gruesome detail. On the topic of sex, he warned dating couples against doing “things that only are proper within marriage.” And, in his eagerness to win new souls, he didn’t always avoid threats. “Jesus is your only hope, and God cannot accept casual, passive worship of him,” Bell told the congregation. “You either are headed to Heaven or you’re headed to Hell. It’s just that simple.”
Bell’s goal was to make worshippers, and himself, feel gently provoked. “A lot of preachers preach on their favorite subjects,” he said. “I would prefer to preach on everything that makes me squirm, because it makes me raise the bar—and then God really has to show up.” Bell talked to his listeners as if he were inaugurating them into a select club of the smart and the righteous, and congregants loved feeling as if they were part of a burgeoning movement. By the early aughts, Mars Hill’s membership was heading toward ten thousand.
The first few years of Mars Hill should have been thrilling. Bell was barely thirty, and suddenly he was one of the country’s most acclaimed young preachers. He was married—his wife, Kristen, had been one of his best friends at Wheaton—and his first son had just been born. But, as the church was thriving, Bell was digging into Biblical history, learning about the Jewish traditions that shaped Jesus’ life, and about the competing agendas that shaped his message after his death. “It started to make sense and become real,” he recalls. “Oh, wait—Herod actually lived! And a lot of what Jesus was saying was about first-century politics.” It became harder for him to view the Bible as a “hermeneutically sealed box,” as he had been taught. He started to doubt the inerrancy of the Scriptures, which made him doubt the faith that had sustained him; he was leading a church, but he wasn’t even sure he was still a Christian. He was exhausted, and, one Sunday, after the nine o’clock service, he hid in a storage closet, dreaming about running away so that he wouldn’t have to preach at eleven. He says, “I remember having moments of, O.K., I’m only going to say things that I know are true. ‘It’s better to be generous than stingy’—O.K., I can do that.”
In many churches, Bell’s newfound skepticism wouldn’t have been at all out of place. In a sense, he had belatedly discovered liberal theology, which treats the Bible as a collection of divinely inspired—but human-authored—texts, subject to multiple interpretations. Fifty years ago, it seemed obvious to many theologians that the future of the faith belonged to skeptics and doubters. In 1963, an Anglican scholar named John A. T. Robinson published a best-selling book called “Honest to God,” in which he argued that crude claims of Biblical inerrancy had long ago been debunked:
In the last century, a painful but decisive step forward was taken in the recognition that the Bible does contain “myth,” and that this is an important form of religious truth. It was gradually acknowledged, by all except extreme fundamentalists, that the Genesis stories of the Creation and the Fall were representations of the deepest truths about man and the universe in the form of myth rather than history, and were none the less valid for that.
A number of theologians went even further, arguing that Christians should view not just the Fall but also the Resurrection as an allegory. In an age when religion seemed to be in decline, some were eager to provide a less religious version of Christianity.
In retrospect, Robinson and his contemporaries were too quick to dismiss “extreme fundamentalists.” The early part of the twentieth century saw a revival of grassroots Christianity. Some of these Christians embraced the term “fundamentalist,” and they inveighed against the dangers of modern culture. Others, who sought to engage with culture, called themselves evangelicals. This was a new movement, and its innovation was to realize that a stern doctrine could thrive in a casual, contemporary context. Nowadays, the “evangelical” label has been adopted by a loose alliance of Protestants, who share a faith that emphasizes both clarity and intimacy: a perfect Bible and a personal Jesus. Despite the recent downturn, this movement has been astonishingly successful. Thirty per cent of white Americans are evangelicals—more than all the mainline Protestant denominations combined.
Bell was born in 1970, and he grew up in the world that the evangelicals made. When he invited Jesus into his heart, as a ten-year-old, he was speaking the expressive language of evangelicalism, even though he didn’t know that this tradition had a name. His college, Wheaton, has long been one of the most influential evangelical institutions in the country, and his seminary, Fuller, was founded to provide an evangelical alternative to the élite mainline seminaries. Bell’s mentor, Dobson, was also a product of the evangelical movement: starting in the nineteen-seventies, he was one of Jerry Falwell’s closest associates, and a board member of the Moral Majority, Falwell’s political organization.
At Calvary, Bell says, he came to regard the word “evangelical” as a kind of secret handshake. When worshippers asked if the church was evangelical, he understood them to be asking, “Is it safe, good, and O.K.? Is it kosher?” By affirming his evangelical identity, he could put people at ease. At Mars Hill, he cultivated a careful ambiguity, allowing worshippers to think that he was however evangelical they wanted him to be. He wanted to make a wide range of worshippers feel comfortable—until, after his crisis, he decided that he didn’t.
Bell eventually strengthened his faith; he knew that the Bible was redemptive because he saw its message transforming the estranged couples and struggling addicts he counselled. But his crisis taught him to distrust anyone who claimed that Biblical interpretation was a simple matter of following rules. It also spurred him to consider the limits of evangelicalism, which makes room for all sorts of sincere expressions of faith but not, often, for sincere expressions of doubt. As the God in his sermons became more abstract, he retained the habit of preaching about the sacred importance of seemingly secular topics like generosity. Outside the church, he created a popular series of stylish and moody DVDs, called “Nooma,” after the Greek word pneuma, which means “breath,” or “spirit.” The videos were achingly sincere, with Bell tramping through washed-out forests and airports and alleys, gazing meaningfully into the camera; many of them look like rejected treatments for Coldplay videos. But they resonated among young believers, who were relieved to discover that Christian messages could be hopeful without always being cheerful.
Successful pastors often build empires, leveraging the power of their personal brands. A booming church might open satellite campuses, where worshippers can watch the weekly sermon on a big screen, beamed in from the mother church. But Bell rebuffed the supporters who urged him to open a Christian school, or a Christian resort, or a Christian humanitarian network. Instead, he set about reinventing his church. Originally, Mars Hill had been led by an all-male team, just like Calvary. (In I Timothy 2:12, Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”) In 2003, Bell came to believe that excluding women from leadership didn’t fit with the Bible’s inclusive message. (In Galatians 3:28, Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”) At a series of rancorous meetings, Bell faced opposition from so-called complementarians, who believe that men and women have distinct roles in the church, and in society. They felt that Bell had already made up his mind, and they were right; in the aftermath, attendance decreased by about two thousand. In 2006, Bell preached a series of sermons titled “The New Exodus,” which was dedicated to the proposition that churches are called to fight poverty, oppression, and environmental degradation. Some heard Bell’s message as an announcement of political liberalism, and attendance dropped by another thousand.
In some ways, Bell was relieved to no longer be running a ten-thousand-person church—in fact, he didn’t much care for running any kind of church. Officially, anyway, he was merely the teaching pastor; the church was run by its board of elders and its executive director. In 2008, he reduced his sermon load to twenty per year, and in 2010 the church hired Shane Hipps, a young pastor with a style reminiscent of Bell’s, to handle the rest. By 2011, when Bell published “Love Wins,” he was as much a touring speaker as a pastor, and he should have been used to controversy. Unlike many provocateurs, though, he doesn’t seem to like thinking of himself as a polarizing person. In writing “Love Wins,” he was dreaming of a world without Hell, but he was also dreaming of a world without arguments—as if the right book, written the right way, would persuade Christians to stop firing Bible verses at each other and start working to build Heaven on earth. But the evangelical tradition was already engaged in a strenuous and long-running argument with other branches of the church. And, without quite meaning to, Bell found himself arguing, too.
All Christians believe that Jesus will come again, to judge the living and the dead. But they disagree about the nature of this judgment. There is plenty in the Bible to suggest that Hell is big and cruel—a place of eternal conscious torment, sparing fewer souls than it claims. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells his disciples, “If your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.” (The word translated as “hell” is gehenna, which refers to the Valley of Hinnom, a fiery garbage dump outside Jerusalem.) But few of these Bible verses, read closely, seem definitive; visions and allegories outnumber rules and regulations. And, in the early years of Christianity, some scholars suggested other interpretations. Clement of Alexandria, a second-century theologian, regarded posthumous salvation as a logical possibility: “God being good, and the Lord powerful, they save with a righteousness and equality which extend to all that turn to Him, whether here or elsewhere.” This is a solid verdict, except for its ethereal final word, “elsewhere,” which suggests more possibilities for salvation, in the afterlife. Clement’s most famous student, Origen, imagined life and the afterlife as a divine refinery, in which souls undergo progressive purification until they are fit for reconciliation with God.
As the church matured, these speculations were pushed to the margins; Hell became a permanent feature of Christian eschatology, although its depiction was never standardized. Dante’s striated inferno reflected the Catholic taxonomy of sin: his Hell was a divine penitentiary, where souls suffered in proportion to the evil they had done. (Hoarders and squanderers pummel one another in the fourth circle; in the populous eighth circle, hucksters and swindlers occupy ten separate trenches.) Hieronymus Bosch painted Hell as a riot of mutations—a sick parody of the natural order. The doctrine of Calvinism, by contrast, emphasized the inherently sinful nature of humanity. Calvinist Hell wasn’t weird; it was the status quo. In 1741, Jonathan Edwards nearly caused a riot in a small Connecticut church by delivering a sermon called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” which depicted Hell as the only fitting punishment for the crime of being born:
The God that holds you over the Pit of Hell, much as one holds a Spider . . . looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the Fire; he is of purer Eyes than to bear to have you in his Sight; you are ten thousand Times more abominable in his Eyes than the most hateful venomous Serpent is in ours.
The most striking feature of Edwards’s sermon is its lack of proportion: the petty offenses of a short life, on one side, and the endless horror of Hell, on the other. Hell was a vivid symbol of an awesome, unreasonable God, which is precisely why many nineteenth-century pastors, in search of a more lucid doctrine, began to deëmphasize it. Some, like the abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher, embraced the “social gospel,” urging Christians to worry, instead, about eradicating the various hells on earth. For others, the move away from preaching Hell was more a matter of emphasis. Dwight Moody, perhaps the most successful evangelist of the nineteenth century, talked constantly of Heaven, which for him was the primary afterlife. The alternative was real, but secondary: an unheavenly place—a non-place, even—defined mainly by what it wasn’t. “In that lost world, you won’t hear that beautiful hymn, ‘Jesus of Nazareth Passeth By,’ ” Moody said. “He will have passed by. There will be no Jesus passing that way.”
A consensus seemed to be emerging: even if Christian leaders disagreed on the fine points of eschatology, they agreed that God didn’t actively torture unrepentant sinners, spiderlike, forever. In 1962, John Hick, a liberal theologian, called the doctrine of eternal torment “an idea which most contemporary theologians treat as a matter of merely historical interest.” One alternative was annihilationism, which held that lost souls would merely cease to exist. Another, more radical alternative was universalism, which held that all lost souls would eventually be found. (In one universalist interpretation, the famous lake of fire, in Revelation, exists not to torment the unsaved but to purify them.) Many churches came to embrace a more malleable doctrine, known as separationism, which cast Hell not as a punishment but as a voluntary form of loneliness—in the words of John Paul II, “the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy.”
And yet, despite the efforts of liberal theologians, old-fashioned Hell has been hard to eradicate. Surveys show that a majority of Americans still believe in Hell—though a bigger majority believe in Heaven. The Bible is full of severe-sounding judgments, impelled by a sense of urgency that is hard to explain if, in the end, there will be no lasting consequences. And so, while mainline churches adopted more abstract, allegorical doctrines, evangelical congregations held fast to the idea of eternal conscious torment. Piper, the theologian who bid Bell farewell on Twitter, speaks for many in the evangelical mainstream: “Hell is unspeakably real, conscious, horrible, and eternal.” Plenty of pastors have found, like Jonathan Edwards in Connecticut, that the doctrine of Hell doesn’t necessarily hamper recruitment efforts, despite the fears of liberals. From a certain perspective, the idea of a punitive Hell can seem oddly comforting—an affirmation that suffering is real, and that God is good enough to save you from it.
In 2005, in a book called “Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith,” Bell observed that “the life beyond this one is a continuation of the kinds of choices we make here and now.” And though “Love Wins” is bolder, it sits firmly within the mainstream of academic theology; it even arrived bearing an endorsement from Richard Mouw, the president of Fuller. Bell never denies the existence of Hell, and he never promises that all people will reach Heaven. But he points out that the references to Hell in the New Testament are infrequent, inconsistent, and often ambiguous; it’s never quite clear who’s going, or for how long, or what happens there. The Greek word aiónios, for example, is often translated as “eternal,” as when Jesus warns of “eternal fire,” even though a more literal translation would be “age-long.” There are, Bell allows, verses about judgment, banishment, and doom, but there are even more about restoration and renewal, and on one page he lists ten of his favorites. Often, he presents his insights as verse, which makes sense, because he specializes in invocation, not contention:
No more anger, no more punishment, rebuke, or refining—
at some point
Bell’s abiding hope is that everyone will be united with God, fulfilling Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 2: “Every knee should bow . . . and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The ellipsis is Bell’s, and it is strategic: the missing words are “in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” A reader looking for Hell might reasonably find it there, in the phrase “under the earth”—a translation of the Greek word katachthonios, which occurs nowhere else in the Bible. Bell’s book is full of carefully chosen and sometimes carefully truncated quotations. At one point, he quotes a letter in which Martin Luther, the father of Protestant Christianity, considers the idea that God might offer salvation to dead people who failed to choose it while they were alive: “Who would doubt God’s ability to do that?” But Bell doesn’t mention Luther’s deflating answer to his own question: “No one, however, can prove that He does do this.”
Bell knows that he is often accused of selective quotation, and, while he denies misleading his readers, he doesn’t deny leading them. “ ‘You’re just picking the verses you like’? I think everybody is,” he says. The Bible is full of contradictions, and there is no way to resolve them without considering the broader context. (Jesus in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” Jesus in Matthew 10:34: “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”) In Bell’s view, the so-called literalists are no less selective in their interpretations than he is, and a good deal less honest about their own biases. If “Love Wins” leads some readers to conclude, in exasperation, that nobody really knows what will happen in the afterlife, Bell would probably consider that a victory. [cartoon id="a17148"]
Bell’s most persuasive critics have defended the necessity of Hell by using the language of freedom. The grant of free will means that human beings must have real choices, including the choice to refuse salvation forever, not just for a few years or decades or centuries. Bell concedes this possibility, although he’s not sure that any human could refuse God forever. Timothy Keller, a New York pastor, argues that a loving God also needs the capacity for wrath: “God must, and does, actively judge and reject those who have rejected him.” This judgment is God’s way of taking human agency seriously: to sweep everyone, eventually, into Heaven would mean ignoring the foolish choices of the unrepentant. As Luther observed, there’s no reason that God can’t extend grace and mercy into the afterlife—but there’s also no clear evidence, in the Bible, that this is the case. Earlier this year, at a Christian men’s retreat in Washington, Keller accused Bell of “backing away” from the Bible, in the hope of making its message more palatable.
Bell is not wrong, though, to perceive a tension built into the evangelical view of God as both an intimate companion and a wrathful judge. “Love Wins” is an elaboration of a basic tenet of the church: the certainty, which Bell has felt since boyhood, that God really is good, in a way we can recognize. In one sense, Bell followed the logic of evangelicalism to its conclusion: forced to choose between his personal Jesus and his perfect Bible, he chose Jesus, and set out to reëxamine the story he thought he knew. It is dangerous to be guided solely by your moral intuition, but surely it’s no less dangerous to ignore it. And even Keller concedes that the evangelical idea of Hell is unsatisfyingly incomplete. In his view, some questions about the afterlife will have to wait until we get there. At the retreat, Keller said, “When we find out what the answer is—about how God could be merciful and just, and still have it set up that way—we won’t have anything bad to say about it. We’ll be completely satisfied.” This is a wise and gentle demurral, but it’s also a profoundly unsettling view of God, who will seem “merciful and just” once we’re dead—but not, apparently, until then.
With the success of “Love Wins,” Bell emerged as a kind of celebrity pastor. He made the cover of Time, and his book tour was a cross between a travelling revival and a debate society. He spoke in bookstores and at colleges, and he submitted to an unusually thorough and erudite interrogation, on MSNBC, by the journalist Martin Bashir—who, as it turned out, attends Keller’s church. In West Michigan, though, the book put pressure on the people around Bell, who found themselves having to defend statements they might never have heard, let alone approved. Congregants reported that friends and family members were asking why they were allowing themselves to be led by a false teacher. Church leaders printed up a sheet of talking points to help staff members deflect the charge that Bell was a universalist, because many Christians consider universalism heretical:
“Love Wins” does not promote universalism as it is commonly understood (all will be saved, regardless of their faith), so we ask that you would please avoid using that term. It’s a loaded word and may only serve to confuse and detract from the heart of the book.
Kristen Bell was moved by the support of the Mars Hill congregation, but she also found it exhausting to hear the latest stories about former members criticizing her husband; some weeks, she just stayed home. “There was a cost,” she says. “And part of the cost was, we couldn’t keep doing what we were doing at Mars Hill.” Attendance dropped by another thousand, reducing the congregation to about thirty-five hundred. Then, just as the controversy was subsiding, and the church was stabilizing, Bell announced that he, too, would be leaving. Although he had grown to love West Michigan—he and Kristen were bringing up three children there—he had decided that he couldn’t stay.
Mars Hill announced the news in an e-mail to members and in a statement on its Web site, which crashed beneath the deluge of visitors. During Bell’s Sunday sermon that week, he talked about his departure. In a quavering voice, he said, “A new vision, a new venture, and a new calling have been birthed in my bones.” And although he declined to add details—“It’s better to wait,” he said—he revealed that he was moving to California, and he said that he would deliver his final Mars Hill sermon in December.
A few days later, a report from Deadline Hollywood, an entertainment news site, filled in some of the blanks: Bell was working with Carlton Cuse, a television producer whose credits include “Lost.” Bell had met him at a Time dinner celebrating influential people, and, according to the site, ABC had already bought the rights to a new show from them, “a drama project with spiritual overtones.” What began as an idle conversation, about a mainstream TV show that was both faith-oriented and hip, had evolved into a finished script called “Stronger,” about a music teacher who is also a spiritual mentor.
A week before Christmas, Bell arrived at Mars Hill to preach his final sermon. Because he vividly remembers the early days, he still sometimes talks about Mars Hill as a gritty, scrappy place: a church with no sign, no steeple, no cross, and hardly any decoration. This is all true, but Mars Hill is also a comfortable, well-run facility, with plenty of parking and age-specific child care. It was just after eight o’clock on a seasonably cold morning, and worshippers were trickling in and stamping the snow off their boots. Buffet tables in the hallways offered bagels and fair-trade coffee, and each one had a “joy box,” where worshippers could deposit whatever sum they deemed appropriate. In the main sanctuary, which was once a jewelry-and-electronics emporium called Witmark, an Irish indie-rock band was onstage, playing songs of devotion.
Not long after nine, Bell walked through the crowd and up onto the stage, where he was met with a standing ovation. “Dear Mars Hill,” he began, and then he read an eleven-page letter of farewell. He talked about “the mystery at the heart of creation,” and told the worshippers, “You were once an idea—this church, this place, this community, was once simply a hunch, a dream, a vision.” When he was preaching at Calvary, Bell used to emphasize the importance of being born again in Christ; church members would often ask one another about the day they surrendered. But Bell has come to think of rebirth as an open-ended process. “I feel like I’m just getting started,” he said, and he sounded a little bit as if he had been born again, again.
Bell says he is certain that Mars Hill will thrive without him, and perhaps it will. The current president of the council of elders is Betsy DeVos, a prominent Michigander. (Her husband, Dick, was the 2006 Republican gubernatorial candidate.) DeVos says, “We knew it was only a matter of time before Rob would be compelled to use his gifts in other ways.” Earlier this year, after a period of indecision the church announced that it had found a replacement: Kent Dobson, a broad-minded pastor who also happens to be the son of Bell’s mentor, Ed.
Bell speaks fondly of Mars Hill, but he has also developed a certain skepticism about the idea of a church as a big, sustainable institution. “A conservative Bible megachurch, if it’s really true to the Jesus that’s in its Bible, it has the seeds of its own destruction within itself,” he says. “If it really is serving everybody, it ends up subverting its own thing.” A truly Christian church, in his view, should be an experiment, wary of firm doctrines and predictable sermons. But a healthy megachurch needs structure and consistency; it needs to keep lots of people happy at once. And so, beyond a certain point, it must be cautious—a very un-Biblical commandment. For a time, Bell sought to solve this problem by dechurchifying his church; he asked his congregants to think of themselves as a community of “disciples of Jesus” instead. And although he eventually reconciled himself to the term “church,” he insists that churches can, and should, foster spiritual exploration. He says, “How do we make space, when we gather, for people to have experiences with that thing that can’t be named?”
Bell often talks about the current moment as a “historic” opportunity for the creation of a new kind of church, one geared toward young people who aren’t inspired by the old evangelicalism. Nowadays, he often describes “Love Wins” as a strategic project, designed to make Christianity more inviting to people who might reject it out of repugnance for the doctrine of Hell. When Bell talks this way, he can sound an awful lot like the theological liberals of the twentieth century: scholarly reformers, idealistic but slightly smug, who were shown up by the preachers they derided as “extreme fundamentalists.” Given the recent history of mainline Protestants, it’s unclear that a more liberal theology would be healthy for the evangelical movement. Many of the most vibrant churches in America today are Pentecostal or charismatic; they emphasize ecstatic, sensual experiences like speaking in tongues and faith healing. Throughout American history, the most successful church movements have been not the ones that kept up with contemporary culture but the ones that were confident enough to tug hard against it.
From a certain evangelical perspective, Bell’s life can look like a cautionary tale: his desire to question the doctrine of Hell led to his departure from the church he built. And maybe, like many other theological liberals in recent decades, he will drift out of the Christian church altogether and become merely one more mildly spiritual Californian, content to find moments of grace and joy in his everyday life; certainly, that’s what many of his detractors expect. But it’s also possible that his new life will end up strengthening many of his old convictions. Before, he was a dissenter in evangelical West Michigan. Now he is a lifelong believer in secular Southern California. And, in that world, his faith may seem more distinctive—and more important—than his doubts.
It turned out that Bell was wise not to tell the congregation too much about his plans in California. Great is the mystery of the television industry, and in the months after Bell arrived in California he and Cuse tried, and failed, to get approval to shoot a pilot for “Stronger.” In the meantime, they worked on a plan for a different project: a faith-inflected talk show, starring Bell. (Bell and Cuse organized a few tapings in Los Angeles, and are putting together a reel to show network executives.) Bell’s family settled in Orange County, near the ocean, and he worked on a new book. He went surfing nearly every day, and took to wearing non-black clothes. Soon, he looked so much happier and healthier that one old friend asked if he had got a hair transplant.
After a few months, though, Bell started to think that he might be ready to be a pastor again, if only for a few days. He announced to his e-mail list that he was organizing a retreat in Laguna Beach, and he accepted the first fifty people who responded. The schedule they received told them to expect two twelve-hour sessions, “with just the right breaks for food and surfing.”
The group convened in a small motel conference room, with windows that opened onto the Pacific Ocean. More than half the attendees were pastors; for them this was a professional-development conference. And although they were excited to spend two days with Bell, not all of them were excited to tell people where they were. One young pastor, from a small church in the Pacific Northwest, said he didn’t want to be dragged into a “Love Wins” controversy. “I wanted to take a picture, put it on Facebook, but then I thought, Nah,” he said, sighing. “It’s just too much negative energy.”
Bell spent much of the morning sharing his current enthusiasms, which range from Martin Buber to Coldplay, and explicating some Bible verses he had been thinking about. He lingered over Matthew 13:13 (“This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand’ ”), which he took to be a meta-sermon: a reminder to preachers that they can’t control how their words are heard, or aren’t. That afternoon, he led an intensive discussion of Spiral Dynamics, an ostensibly secular theory of human development, which he has recently been studying. (It holds that all people progress through stages of increasingly sophisticated consciousness; Bell believes that people at different stages might need different kinds of churches.) Bell surprised the group by bringing in Cuse, who talked about his effort to inject “spirituality” into “Lost.” Cuse calls himself a questioning Catholic, a believer in search of a doctrine. Bell is comfortable with this kind of amorphous faith; it strikes him as more authentic than some other forms of Christianity. At one point, a man got up and identified himself as an atheist who had come to doubt atheism itself. Bell gave him a tentative spiritual diagnosis, and no prescription at all. “Something within you has a longing,” he said. “You have a bucket—I call that the God bucket. And I wouldn’t go much further than that.”
By the second day, Bell’s fifty disciples were starting to seem more like a group of old friends, enjoying a long-awaited reunion. Over lunch, Bell organized a surfing expedition: there were rented wetsuits and boards, and just about everyone got a chance to ride one of the mild Laguna Beach waves to shore. Bell’s twelve-year-old son, Preston, arrived, on a skateboard. After the Bells moved to California, Preston joined a youth group at a small evangelical church, and he had asked his parents earlier that day if he could address the conference. In the meeting room, he spoke about his faith, and someone asked if he had any advice for parents who wanted their children to know Jesus. “Don’t force it, because it’ll happen,” he said. “God’s going to be real, sooner or later.”
Preston’s testimony changed the tone of the gathering: it was as if everyone had been reminded what was at stake. Afterward, the group went to a restaurant next door for a goodbye dinner, and one of the attendees paid everybody’s check. When people wandered back into the meeting room for the final gathering, they found Bell sitting beside a small table, with a big glass of red wine and half a loaf of bread. “I’d like to serve you each Communion,” he said, and he talked about how every blessing requires a blesser. “Christ’s body is broken and his blood is poured out—there isn’t any other way for it to work.”
One by one, members of the group made their way to Bell. He held each person’s left shoulder with his right hand, made eye contact, and said, “The body of Christ, broken for you.” A piece of bread. “The blood of Christ, shed for you.” A sip of wine.
The communicants returned to their seats, grasping the people they passed; if you listened closely, you could hear sniffling. When it was done, Bell took Communion, too, and he was preparing to send people back to their motel rooms when a man raised his hand. He said, “Rob, I don’t mean to be presumptuous, but can we just take a moment to pray for you?”
Five months after leaving Mars Hill, in a motel by the ocean, Bell had created a temporary, miniature version of the thing he had just left behind: a church. “It is the most frustrating institution in the world,” he said the next day. “And yet, when it’s firing on all cylinders, there’s absolutely nothing like it.” ♦
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Bell at the 2011 Time 100 gala
Robert Holmes “Rob” Bell Jr. (born August 23, 1970) is an American author, speaker and former pastor. Bell was the founder of Mars Hill Bible Church located in Grandville, Michigan , which he pastored until 2012. Under his leadership Mars Hill was one of the fastest-growing churches in America. He is also the author of the New York Times bestseller Love Wins and the writer and narrator of a series of spiritual short films called NOOMA . In 2011, Time Magazine named Bell on its list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World . He has since become a freelance writer and speaker appearing on various talk shows and national speaking tours on topics related to spirituality and leadership. He also hosts a popular podcast called,’The Robcast.’ In 2018, a documentary about Bell called “The Heretic” was released. 
- 1 Biography
- 1.1 Education and ministry
- 1.2 Mars Hill Bible Church
- 1.3 Other projects
- 1.4 Television
- 2 Beliefs
- 3 Publications
- 4 References
- 5 External links
Biography[ edit ]
Education and ministry[ edit ]
Bell is the son of U.S. District Judge Robert Holmes Bell , who was appointed to the federal bench by Ronald Reagan .  
After graduating from high school, Bell attended Wheaton College in Illinois. While at Wheaton, he roomed with Ian Eskelin of All Star United . With friends Dave Houk, Brian Erickson, Steve Huber and Chris Fall, he formed the indie rock band, “_ton bundle”, which was reminiscent of bands such as R.E.M. and Talking Heads . During this time _ton bundle wrote the song “Velvet Elvis”, based upon the same Velvet Elvis painting that he used in his first book, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith. Wheaton College was also where Bell met his wife, Kristen. The band _ton bundle started to gain some local fame and was even asked to perform at large events, but when Bell was struck with viral meningitis  these plans fell through. 
Bell received his bachelor’s degree in 1992 from Wheaton and taught water skiing in the summers at the college’s Honey Rock Camp, making about thirty dollars a week. During this time, he offered to teach a Christian message to the camp counselors after no pastor could be found. He taught a message about rest and was later approached by several people, each of them telling him that he should pursue teaching as a career.
Bell moved to Pasadena, California to pursue this calling for teaching and received a M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary . According to Bell, he never received good grades in preaching class because he always tried innovative ways to communicate his ideas. During his time at Fuller he was a youth intern at Lake Avenue Church. He did, however, occasionally attend Christian Assembly in Eagle Rock, California , which led to him and his wife asking questions in the direction of how a new style of church would appear.
Between 1995 and 1997, Bell formed a band called Big Fil which released two CDs; the first was a self-titled disc and the second was titled Via De La Shekel. When asked what style of music they played, Bell would respond with “Northern Gospel!”, which later became the name of a song on the second album. Even after Big Fil stopped performing, Bell continued with two more projects by the name of Uno Dos Tres Communications volume 1 and 2, both of which had a similar musical sound to Big Fil.
Mars Hill Bible Church[ edit ]
Bell and his wife moved from California to Grand Rapids to be close to family and on invitation to study under pastor Ed Dobson . He handled many of the preaching duties for the Saturday Night service at Calvary Church. Bell announced that he would be branching out on his own to start a new kind of community and he would call it “Mars Hill” after the Greek site where the apostle Paul told a group, “For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” 
In February 1999, Bell founded Mars Hill Bible Church , with the church originally meeting in a school gym in Wyoming, Michigan . Within a year the church was given a shopping mall in Grandville, Michigan , and purchased the surrounding land. In July 2000 the 3,500 “grey chair” facility opened its doors. As of 2005, an estimated 11,000 people attended the two “gatherings” on Sundays at 9 and 11 AM.  [ full citation needed ] As of March 2011, Sunday attendance numbered between 8,000 and 10,000.  His teachings at Mars Hill inspired the popular “Love Wins” bumper sticker, and the congregation freely distributed these stickers after services. 
In order to maintain balance in his life, Bell maintained his Fridays as a personal sabbath, where he did not allow contact by electronic means, and had all pastoral duties transferred to other Mars Hill pastors. 
In the January 2007 issue of the magazine TheChurchReport.com, Bell was named No. 10 in its list of “The 50 Most Influential Christians in America” as chosen by their readers and online visitors. 
In June 2011, Bell was named by Time Magazine as one of the “2011 Time 100 “, the magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. 
Bell stepped down from the church he founded on September 22, 2011 in order to pursue other areas to reach a broader audience.   He later said that his book Love Wins had led to a fallout with the congregation and forced him on a “search for a more forgiving faith.” 
In July 2012 Bell held his first major event since leaving Mars Hill, speaking at the famous Viper Room night club in Los Angeles.  Bell hosts conferences and workshops in Laguna Beach for “leaders, teachers, preachers, entrepreneurs, artists, pastors—anyone whose work involves creating something and then turning it loose in the world.” 
Other projects[ edit ]
Bell is the featured speaker in NOOMA – a series of short films. The title of the video series, “NOOMA”, is an English variation of the Greek word pneuma which means breath or spirit. All the videos feature the teachings of Bell accompanied by music written and sung by local independent artists with the exception of The Album Leaf ‘s music being licensed for the NOOMA DVD Lump.
In August 2005, Zondervan Publishing published Bell’s first book, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith. Velvet Elvis is, according to the official online summary, “for the millions of people who are fascinated by Jesus, but can’t do the standard Christian package. In his debut book, Bell explores a new understanding of the Christian faith.” 
Bell’s Everything is Spiritual national speaking tour launched on June 30, 2006, in Chicago , drawing sold-out crowds in cities across North America. The proceeds from ticket sales were used to support WaterAid , an international non-profit organization dedicated to helping people escape the poverty and disease caused by living without safe water and sanitation .
Bell’s second book, titled Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections between Sexuality and Spirituality, was released in March 2007. In February and March 2007 Bell hosted a “Sex God” tour on six university campuses to promote his book. The tour functioned more as a time for engaging questions and conversation. Questions ranged from Old Testament codes to homosexuality to what should Christians do with the word “evangelical”. Each night ended with the showing of NOOMA number 15 entitled “YOU”.[ citation needed ]
In June 2007 Bell toured the United Kingdom and Ireland with a series called Calling All Peacemakers. 
Bell launched another speaking tour on November 5, 2007, in Chicago. “The Gods Aren’t Angry” again drew sold-out crowds in cities across North America. The subject matter was a narrative defense of justification through faith and not works (sacrifice). Proceeds from this tour were used to support the Turame Microfinance program supporting the poor in Burundi, a mission supported by Bell’s church.
Bell’s 2009 project, Drops Like Stars, explores the links between creativity and suffering. Drops Like Stars was an international tour and a book, initially handwritten by Bell, with photographs. The title of the project comes from a young child’s view of raindrops on a window at night. Rather than focusing on the conundrum of why an all-powerful God would allow suffering, Bell instead looks at the creativity, empathy, new connections, and growth that can spring from suffering. When asked in an interview how he had become interested in suffering, Bell replied that as a pastor he had been given a front row seat in the most poignant moments of people’s lives. At the same time he was doing lectures on creativity and realized, “There was a connection between these two halves of my life – all these connections between suffering and art-making.” 
In September 2013 Bell was interviewed by Oprah for her Super Soul Sunday television show. Bell’s book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, was also listed as the first recommended book that month in Oprah’s “Book of the Month” club. 
Television[ edit ]
ABC television announced production of a new television drama, Stronger, co-written by Bell and Carlton Cuse , the executive producer of the television series, Lost .  The show, based loosely on Bell’s life and his unpublished novel-turned-pilot-script, would follow the life of Tom Stronger, a musician on a spiritual journey.  Ultimately, Bell and Cuse were unable to get approval to shoot a pilot for Stronger.
Bell and Cuse have moved on to another project described as a “faith-inflected talk show” presented by Bell. Two tapings of the proposed show were filmed in September 2012 in a warehouse in Los Angeles’ art district in order to put together a reel for network executives.  At the time, they were referenced as either That One Show Rob Bell and Carlton Cuse Have Been Working On, or The September Shows for short.  A trailer has since been produced using The Rob Bell Show as a title card. His first and second guest each night were Cathleen Falsani and James “Jame-o” Primbram, an eco-warrior .
Beliefs[ edit ]
In his writings, Bell says “I affirm the truth anywhere in any religious system, in any worldview. If it’s true, it belongs to God.” 
Bell says, “This is not just the same old message with new methods. We’re rediscovering Christianity as an Eastern religion, as a way of life. Legal metaphors for faith don’t deliver a way of life. We grew up in churches where people knew the nine verses why we don’t speak in tongues, but had never experienced the overwhelming presence of God.” 
Bell’s book Love Wins caused a major controversy within the evangelical community. The controversy was the subject of a Time magazine cover story and a featured article in the New York Times .    In the book, Bell states that “It’s been clearly communicated to many that this belief (in hell as eternal, conscious torment) is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.” In this book, Bell outlines a number of views of hell, including universal reconciliation . Though he does not choose any one view as his own, he states “Whatever objections a person may have of [the universalist view], and there are many, one has to admit that it is fitting, proper, and Christian to long for it.”
The book was criticized by numerous conservative evangelical figures (in particular, some reformed church leaders), such as Albert Mohler , John Piper , and David Platt , with Mohler saying that the book was “theologically disastrous” for not rejecting universalism.   Other evangelicals, such as Brian McLaren ,   Greg Boyd  and Eugene Peterson    defended Bell’s views. Bell denies that he is a universalist and says that he does not embrace any particular view but argues that Christians should leave room for uncertainty on the matter. As Jon Meacham stated, Love Wins presents [Bell’s] “case for living with mystery rather than demanding certitude.”   Some evangelicals argued that this “uncertainty” is incompatible with Scripture,  while others say that the book is simply promoting overdue conversation about some traditional interpretations of Scripture.   In the book, Bell also questions “evacuation theology” which has Christians focused on getting to heaven, instead of focusing on God’s renewal and transformation of this world. Bell argues that Jesus (and the wider Jewish tradition of which he was a part) focused on God’s ongoing restoration of this world, not getting individuals to heaven.  
At his Viper Room appearance in July 2012, Bell took a question from an audience member concerned about the church’s acceptance of gay members. Said Bell, “Some people are gay, and you’re our brothers and you’re our sisters, and we love you. We love you… [Gay people] are passionate disciples of Jesus just like I’m trying to be, so let’s all get together and try to do something about the truly big problems in our world.”  On March 17, 2013, in an interview at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Bell said, “I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it’s a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man…And I think the ship has sailed. This is the world we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are.” 
Bell has expressed frustration with the current state of conservative evangelicalism, calling it “a very narrow, politically intertwined, culturally ghettoized Evangelical subculture.” He says that Evangelicals have “turned away lots of people” from the church by talking about God in ways that “don’t actually shape people into more loving, compassionate people,” adding that Evangelicals “have supported policies and ways of viewing the world that are actually destructive, and we’ve done it in the name of God and we need to repent.” 
Publications[ edit ]
- Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith (Zondervan, 2005)
- Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections between Sexuality and Spirituality (Zondervan, 2007) ISBN 0-310-26346-8
- Everything is Spiritual (DVD) (Zondervan, 2007) ISBN 0-310-28556-9
- The Gods Aren’t Angry (DVD) (Flannel, 2008) ISBN 0-310-29074-0
- Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile (Zondervan, 2008) ISBN 0-310-27502-4
- Drops Like Stars: A Few Thoughts on Creativity and Suffering (Zondervan, 2009) ISBN 0-310-32704-0
- Love Wins (Harper One, 2011) ISBN 978-0-06-204964-3
- What We Talk About When We Talk About God (HarperOne 2013) ISBN 978-0062049667
- The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage co-written with Kristen Bell (HarperOne 2014) ISBN 978-0062194244
- How to be Here (Harper Collins 2016) ISBN 978-0007591329
- NOOMA Videos
- “What Is the Bible?” (HarperOne 2017) ISBN 978-0062194268
References[ edit ]
- ^ “Rob Bell returns in ‘The Heretic’: New film follows former pastor’s ‘revolution‘” . Retrieved October 3, 2018.
- ^ The judicial branch of federal government: people, process, and politics By Charles L. Zelden ABC-CLIO (July 12, 2007) ISBN 978-1-85109-702-9
- ^ “Profile: U.S. District Court Judge Robert Holmes Bell” . Mlive.com. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
- ^ CNN Belief Blog My Faith: Suffering my way to a new tomorrow
- ^ Jimmy Eat World’s Blog Interview with Rob Bell
- ^ New International Version Acts 17:23
- ^ The Charleston Post and Courier Michigan pastor takes message to new places
- ^ Courtesy photo. “Rob Bell, Christian rock star, meets Sammy Hagar, real rock star, on Good Morning America set” . Mlive.com. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
- ^ a b “The Emergent Mystique” . Christianity Today. November 1, 2004. Retrieved May 30, 2009.
- ^ Grand Rapids Press Profile: Mars Hill Bible Church pastor Rob Bell
- ^ 7 Cultural Mountains, The 50 Most Influential Christians in America
- ^ “The 2011 Time 100” . Time. April 21, 2011.
- ^ Mars Hill Bible Church Archived September 24, 2011, at the Wayback Machine .
- ^ Bob Smietana (September 22, 2011). “Rob Bell, author of controversial ‘Love Wins,’ resigns church” . The Tennessean. Retrieved September 24, 2011.
- ^ Weber, Katherine (December 3, 2012). “Rob Bell Tells How ‘Love Wins’ Led to Mars Hill Departure” . Christian Post . Retrieved April 5, 2013.
- ^ “Rob Bell’s ‘Love Wins’ Out In Paperback, As Pastor Celebrates At The Viper Room (VIDEO)” . Huffingtonpost.com. July 26, 2012. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
- ^ “2DAYS WITH ROB BELL OCTOBER EVENTS” . Archived from the original on October 2, 2012. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
- ^ “Review: Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith by Rob” . barnabasministry.com. Retrieved July 10, 2015.
- ^ “Archived copy” . Archived from the original on December 7, 2008. Retrieved November 16, 2008.
- ^ Rob Bell on faith, suffering, and Christians by Michael Paulson September 26, 2009 
- ^ “Rob Bell Speaks With Oprah Winfrey on ‘Super Soul Sunday‘” . Christianpost.com. September 17, 2013. Retrieved September 27, 2013.
- ^ Andreeva, Nellie. “ABC Buys Spiritual Drama From ‘Lost’ Exec Producer Carlton Cuse And Pastor Rob Bell” . Deadline.com. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
- ^ “Rob Bell, TV star? Pastor writing ABC drama based on his life, reports say” . MLive.com. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
- ^ Sanneh, Kelefa (November 26, 2012). “The Hell-Raiser: A megachurch pastor’s search for a more forgiving faith”. The New Yorker: 65.
- ^  ,  , 
- ^ Beliefnet ‘Velvet Elvis’ Author Encourages Exploration of Doubts
- ^ Meacham, Jon (April 14, 2011). “Cover: No Hell? Pastor Rob Bell Angers Evangelicals” . TIME. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
- ^ Eckholm, Eric (March 4, 2011). “Pastor Stirs Wrath With His Views on Old Questions” . New York Times.
- ^ “Heaven, Hell, and Rob Bell: Putting the Pastor in Context” . Christianity Today. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
- ^ Meacham, Jon (April 14, 2011). “Pastor Rob Bell: What if Hell Doesn’t Exist?” . Time. Retrieved May 5, 2011.
- ^ “Baptist Press -NEWS BRIEFS: David Platt weighs in on Rob Bell controversy; Colo. civil unions advance – News with a Christian Perspective” . Bpnews.net. March 24, 2011. Archived from the original on May 8, 2011. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
- ^ McLaren, Brian. “Rob Bell – Giving Us All A Wonderful Opportunity” . Brian McLaren. Archived from the original on February 2, 2017. Retrieved January 24, 2017.
- ^ McLaren, Brian (March 16, 2011). “Will “Love Wins” Win? We’re early in the first inning…” Brian McLaren. Archived from the original on March 26, 2011. Retrieved January 24, 2017.
- ^ Boyd, Greg (4 March 2011). “Rob Bell is NOT a Universalist (and I actually read “Love Wins”)” . ReKnew. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
- ^ Randle, Daniel (March 18, 2011). “Why Eugene Peterson is Wrong on Rob Bell and Love Wins (Among Other Things)” . Christ and Culture. Retrieved January 23, 2017.
- ^ Dalrymple, Timothy (March 21, 2011). “Eugene Peterson: Would Jesus Condemn Rob Bell?” . ChurchLeaders.com. Retrieved January 23, 2017.
- ^ Stevens, Mark (March 17, 2011). “Eugene Peterson defends Rob Bell and endorses his book…” . Near Emmaus. Retrieved January 23, 2017.
- ^ https://www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2011/03/24/general-us-rel-hell-no_8372485.html [ dead link ]
- ^ Meacham, Jon (April 14, 2011). “Pastor Rob Bell: What if Hell Doesn’t Exist?” . Time.
- ^ Grand Rapids Press File Photo. “Release date of Rob Bell’s new book moved up after online buzz erupts” . MLive.com. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
- ^ Wilson, John (March 18, 2011). “What Happened to Heaven and Is Gandhi There?” . The Wall Street Journal.
- ^ Beam, Alex (March 18, 2011). “A heck of a theological debate” . The Boston Globe.
- ^ “Rob Bell punches back against claims of heresy – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs” . Religion.blogs.cnn.com. March 19, 2011. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
- ^ “Heaven and Hell: Pastor Rob Bell Extended Interview” . YouTube. September 7, 2011. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
- ^ Almendrala, Anna (July 26, 2012). “Rob Bell’s ‘Love Wins’ Out In Paperback, As Pastor Celebrates At The Viper Room” . The Huffington Post. Retrieved October 19, 2012.
- ^ a b “Hear Rob Bell support same-sex marriage, say Evangelicals need to ‘repent‘” . MLive.com. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
External links[ edit ]
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