Robert Holmes Bell Jr.
|Born||August 23, 1970|
|Alma mater||Wheaton College|
|Known for||Founding Mars Hill Bible Church|
|Honours||Time 100 (2011)|
Robert Holmes Bell Jr. (born August 23, 1970) is an American author, speaker and former pastor. Bell founded Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, and pastored it until 2012. Under his leadership, Mars Hill was one of the fastest-growing churches in America. Bell 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 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.
Early life and education
After graduating from high school, Bell attended Wheaton College in Illinois. While at Wheaton, he formed an alternative rock band and taught water skiing at a Christian camp. At camp, he was asked to fill in as a replacement preacher. Bell received his bachelor's degree from Wheaton and earned a degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.
Mars Hill Bible Church
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 would name it "Mars Hill" after the Greek site where the apostle Paul said: "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.
On September 22, 2011, Bell announced his resignation from Mars Hill Church to start "a spiritual talk show in Los Angeles. Bell's 2011 book, Love Wins, had caused controversy within evangelical circles because of its teachings about hell; that controversy caused thousands to leave Mars Hill and also led to Bell's departure.
In July 2012, Bell held his first major event since leaving Mars Hill, speaking at the Viper Room night club in Los Angeles. Bell has hosted 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."
Pre-Mars Hill departure
Bell was the featured speaker in NOOMA, a series of short films. The title of the video series, "NOOMA", is an English representation 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, which was licensed for the NOOMA DVD Lump).
In August 2005, Zondervan Publishing published Bell's first book, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith, which 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. 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 2007. In June 2007, Bell toured the United Kingdom and Ireland with a series called Calling All Peacemakers.[better source needed] Bell launched another speaking tour in 2007, —"The Gods Aren't Angry", which provided a narrative defense of justification through faith and not works. The tour drew sold-out crowds in cities across North America. 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."
Post-Mars Hill departure
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.
Beginning in 2011, 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.
Bell hosts a podcast called The Robcast. He is the only host, but is regularly joined by guests. Bell believes that "churches and denominations are waning" and that the medium of podcasting provides freedom to learn and grow spiritually without the hindrances of institutions. It was called the best religion and spirituality podcast of 2015 on iTunes. Juliana Chan Erikson of the World Magazine, questioned the direction that podcasts like the Robcast steers their audiences.
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's 2011 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." – Love Wins, p. 111
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."
In March 2013, Bell expressed frustration with the 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."
In 2018, a documentary about Bell called The Heretic was released.
Awards and recognition
- Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith (Zondervan, 2005) ISBN 0-310-26345-X
- 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
- Everything is Spiritual: Finding Your Way in a Broken World (St. Martin's Essentials, 2020) ISBN 1250620562, 978-1250620569
- 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. February 13, 2011. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
- "The Hell-Raiser". The New Yorker. November 18, 2012.
- Funk, Tim (July 14, 2017). "Christians too often 'massacre, misquote' Bible to make political points, says Rob Bell". The Charlotte Observer. Retrieved January 2, 2022.
- "What ever happened to Rob Bell, the pastor who questioned the gates of hell? - The Washington Post". The Washington Post.
- New International Version Acts 17:23
- The Charleston Post and Courier Michigan pastor takes message to new places[permanent dead link]
- Courtesy photo (March 15, 2011). "Rob Bell, Christian rock star, meets Sammy Hagar, real rock star, on Good Morning America set". Mlive.com. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
- "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 Archived July 11, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
- Gr, Charley Honey | The; Press, Rapids (March 8, 2013). "Rob Bell talks about why he really left Mars Hill". mlive.
- "Rob Bell reveals: 'Love Wins' caused congregation to leave, led to resignation". christiantoday.com.au.
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- Kumar, Anugrah (July 31, 2011). "Rob Bell's 'NOOMA' Videos Now an App". The Christian Post. Retrieved January 2, 2022.
- "Review: Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith by Rob". barnabasministry.com. Archived from the original on November 29, 2015. Retrieved July 10, 2015.
- "Rob Bell on Sex, God, and Sex Gods | Wittenburg Door". www.wittenburgdoor.com. Retrieved January 2, 2022.
- Bell, Rob. "Sex God Publisher: Zondervan". Retrieved January 2, 2022 – via Amazon.
- "Calling All Peacemakers Tour". Archived from the original on December 7, 2008. Retrieved November 16, 2008.
- Paulson, Michael (September 26, 2009). "Rob Bell on faith, suffering, and Christians". Archived from the original on October 1, 2009. Retrieved November 25, 2020.
- "Rob Bell Speaks With Oprah Winfrey on 'Super Soul Sunday'". Christianpost.com. September 17, 2013. Retrieved September 27, 2013.
- Andreeva, Nellie (September 30, 2011). "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. September 30, 2011. 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. p. 65.
- Bell, Rob (September 11, 2012). "friends in LA - we are doing another show tonight. we'll have a standby line starting at 7 at 826 E. 3rd St".
- Bell, Rob (September 10, 2012). "show tonight in LA. we will have some spaces reserved for walk ups starting at 7 at 826 E. 3rd St".
- "That Show Rob Bell and Carlton Cuse Have Been Working on". Eventbrite.
- Dibdin, Emma (June 21, 2019). "8 Podcasts for the Spiritual Searcher (Published 2019)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 2, 2021.
While he’s generally piloting the podcast solo, Bell is occasionally joined by a celebrity guest (Pete Holmes of HBO’s “Crashing” is a regular)
- "Are podcasts replacing church for some believers?". Baptist News Global. August 12, 2019. Retrieved February 2, 2021.
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- Erikson, Juliana Chan. "Listen and consider - WORLD". world.wng.org. Archived from the original on April 16, 2021. Retrieved February 2, 2021.
- Beliefnet 'Velvet Elvis' Author Encourages Exploration of Doubts
- Meacham, Jon (April 14, 2011). "Cover: No Hell? Pastor Rob Bell Angers Evangelicals". TIME. Archived from the original on July 15, 2011. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
- Eckholm, Eric (March 4, 2011). "Pastor Stirs Wrath With His Views on Old Questions". The 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. Archived from the original on April 16, 2011. 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 (March 4, 2011). "Rob Bell is NOT a Universalist (and I actually read "Love Wins")". ReKnew. Retrieved January 24, 2017.
- Randle, Daniel (March 18, 2011). "Why Eugene Peterson is Wrong on Rob Bell and Love Wins (Among Other Things)". Christ and Culture. Archived from the original on February 2, 2017. 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.
- "Forbes.com". Forbes.
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- Grand Rapids Press File Photo (March 4, 2011). "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. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. 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.
- "Hear Rob Bell support same-sex marriage, say Evangelicals need to 'repent'". MLive.com. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
- "Rob Bell returns in 'The Heretic': New film follows former pastor's 'revolution'". Retrieved October 3, 2018.
- "The 2011 Time 100". Time. April 21, 2011. Archived from the original on April 25, 2011.