Rob Bell Biography

Author and Pastor Rob Bell Attracts Both Fans and Critics

Rob and Kristen Bell
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People familiar with Rob Bell have one thing in common: They have strong feelings about his teachings.

Bell is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grandville, Michigan but has received international attention from his books and his NOOMA video series.

His books include Velvet Elvis, Sex God, and Jesus Wants to Save Christians, coauthored with Don Golden. However, it's his 2011 book, Love Wins, that has generated the most controversy.

Love Wins: Fans and Flak

The complete title is Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. While Bell's supporters love the book, a strong backlash has broken out from critics.

Bell lists Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, as one of the book's fans, along with Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California, the world's largest Protestant seminary.

Peterson wrote, "In the current religious climate in America, it isn't easy to develop an imagination, a thoroughly biblical imagination, that takes in the comprehensive and eternal work of Christ in all people and all circumstances in love and for salvation. Rob Bell goes a long way in helping us acquire just such an imagination. Love Wins accomplishes this without a trace of soft sentimentality and without compromising an inch of evangelical conviction in its proclamation of the good news that is most truly for all."

Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, doesn't see the book that way. Like many other critics, Mohler accuses Rob Bell of veiled universalism:

"He (Bell) also argues for a form of universal salvation. Once again, his statements are more suggestive than declarative, but he clearly intends his reader to be persuaded that it is possible--even probable--that those who resist, reject, or never hear of Christ may be saved through Christ nonetheless.

That means no conscious faith in Christ is necessary for salvation."

Also in the book, Bell questions whether hell exists as a place of eternal torment. He says God always gets what God wants, so he will eventually reconcile everyone to himself, even after death. Bell's critics say that view ignores man's free will.

Bell clearly did not expect such an explosion of negative response. He now includes a downloadable list of Frequently Asked Questions on the Mars Hill site to help readers of Love Wins "interact" with the book. In one answer he flatly denies he is suggesting universalism.

Rob Bell and the Emerging Church Movement

Rob Bell is often mentioned as a leader in the emerging church movement, an unofficial camp that re-evaluates traditional Christian doctrine and tries to view the Bible in a new perspective. The emerging church tosses out traditional church buildings, seating, music, dress codes, and conventional worship services.

Most emerging churches stress inclusivism and emphasize story and relationships over creeds. They frequently use technology such as videos, PowerPoint programs, Facebook pages and Twitter.

It's true that Mars Hill Church is located in a nontraditional setting: a former anchor store in a shopping mall.

Bell had been an assistant pastor at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids before he and his wife Kristen started Mars Hill in 1999. He is a graduate of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois and Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California. The name Mars Hill comes from a site in Greece where Paul preached, the Areopagus, which means Mars Hill in English.

Bell is the son of a Michigan federal judge and played in a band before being hospitalized for viral meningitis--which contributed to the breakup of the band. It was shortly after that life-changing experience that Bell's life did indeed change. He met Kristen in college, and oddly enough, preached his first sermon at a summer camp in Wisconsin, where he was teaching barefoot waterskiing, among other things. After college he enrolled in seminary.

Today he and his wife have three children.

Rob Bell says the questions he raises about salvation, heaven and hell have all been asked before, and in fact liberal theology does go back many hundreds of years. Among Bell's most loyal supporters are young people who question conservative tradition and the so-called rigidity of Evangelical Christianity. Many on both sides have called for cool heads so the ideas Bell has raised can be discussed without name-calling.

"I have long wondered if there is a massive shift coming in what it means to be a Christian," Rob Bell says. "Something new is in the air."

(Sources: Marshill.org, The New York Times, Belief Blog, carm.org, Christianity Today, Time Magazine, gotquestions.org, and mlive.com.)