For other people of the same name, see Robert Bell (disambiguation).
Robert Holmes "Rob" Bell Jr. (born August 23, 1970 in Ingham County, Michigan) is an American author and pastor. He is the founder of Mars Hill Bible Church located in Grandville, Michigan and is also the featured speaker in a series of spiritual short films called NOOMA.
Education and ministry
Bell is the son of Judge Robert Holmes Bell, who was nominated by Ronald Reagan to the federal judiciary and publicly confirmed by the United States Senate. Bell grew up in a traditional Christian environment. In 2011, Bell was recognized as a member of the 2011 Time 100 list.
Bell attended Wheaton College. 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. This is when _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 Wheaton College's Honey Rock Camp, making about thirty dollars a week. During this time, Bell offered to teach a Christian message to the camp counselors after no pastor could be found. He taught a message about "rest". He said that God led him to teaching at this moment. Bell 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 disk 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.
In the January 2007 issue of the magazine TheChurchReport.com, Bell was named No. 10 in their 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 magazines annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
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 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 attend the two "gatherings" on Sundays at 9 and 11 AM. As of March 2011, Sunday attendance numbers between 8,000 and 10,000. His teachings at Mars Hill inspired the popular "Love Wins" bumper sticker, and the congregation freely distributes these stickers after services.
In order to maintain balance in his life, Bell maintains his Fridays as a personal sabbath, where he does not allow contact by electronic means, and has all pastoral duties transferred to other Mars Hill pastors.
On September 22, 2011 it was announced that Rob Bell is stepping down from the church he founded to pursue other areas to reach a broader audience. "Feeling the call from God to pursue a growing number of strategic opportunities, our founding pastor Rob Bell, has decided to leave Mars Hill in order to devote his full energy to sharing the message of God’s love with a broader audience." 
Bell is the featured speaker in NOOMA – a series of short films created by a West Michigan-based non-profit film company called Flannel. 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 for people who are, in Bell's words, "fascinated with Jesus, but can't do the standard Christian package".
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".
In June 2007 Bell toured the United Kingdom and Ireland, 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 of this presentation 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 moment's 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."
ABC television has announced production of a new television drama, Stronger, co-written by Bell and Carlton Cuse, the Executive Producer of the television show, Lost. The show, based loosely on Bell's own life, will follow the life of Tom Stronger, a musician on a spiritual journey.
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." However, he acknowledges Scripture as the authoritative source of truth by which to compare all other truths in the Mars Hill Bible Church statement of narrative theology.
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."
In his most recent book, Love Wins, Bell states that "It's been clearly communicated to many that this belief (in hell as conscious, eternal 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 (UR), and though he does not choose any one view as his own, he states of the UR view, "Whatever objections a person may have of [the UR view], and there are many, one has to admit that it is fitting, proper, and Christian to long for it." At the time of the book's publication, some prominent reformed church figures like Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. said Bell's book was "theologically disastrous" for not rejecting the UR view. Bell denies that he is a universalist. He does not embrace any particular view but argues that he wants to leave room for uncertainty. Love Wins presents his "case for living with mystery rather than demanding certitude." Some evangelicals see this "uncertainty" as incompatible with scripture, while others say that the book is simply promoting overdue conversation about some traditional interpretations of scripture.
- ^ The judicial branch of federal government: people, process, and politics By Charles L. Zelden ABC-CLIO (July 12, 2007) ISBN 978-1851097029
- ^ Profile: U.S. District Court Judge Robert Holmes Bell
- ^ CNN Belief Blog My Faith: Suffering my way to a new tomorrow
- ^ Jimmy Eat World's Blog Interview with Rob Bell
- ^ The Insider, Jan 07: The 50 Most Influential Christians in America
- ^ "The 2011 Time 100". Time. April 21, 2011. http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2066367_2066369_2066460,00.html.
- ^ New International Version Acts 17:23
- ^ The Charleston Post and Courier Michigan pastor takes message to new places
- ^ Rob Bell, Christian rock star, meets Sammy Hagar, real rock star, on Good Morning America set
- ^ a b "The Emergent Mystique". Christianity Today. 2004-11-01. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/011/12.36.html. Retrieved 2009-05-30.
- ^ Grand Rapids Press Profile: Mars Hill Bible Church pastor Rob Bell
- ^ Mars Hill Bible Church 
- ^ Bob Smietana (22 September 2011). "Rob Bell, author of controversial 'Love Wins,' resigns church". The Tennessean. http://www.tennessean.com/article/20110922/NEWS08/110922021/Rob-Bell-author-controversial-Love-Wins-resigns-church. Retrieved 24 September 2011.
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- ^ Rob Bell on faith, suffering, and Christians by Michael Paulson September 26, 2009 
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- ^ Beliefnet 'Velvet Elvis' Author Encourages Exploration of Doubts
- ^ church statement of narrative theology church statement of narrative theology retrieved: 04/04/2010
- ^ Meacham, Jon (April 14, 2011). "Pastor Rob Bell: What if Hell Doesn't Exist?". Time. http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2065080,00.html. Retrieved 2011-05-05.
- ^ . http://www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2011/03/24/general-us-rel-hell-no_8372485.html.
- ^ Meacham, Jon (April 14, 2011). "Pastor Rob Bell: What if Hell Doesn't Exist?". Time. http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2065080,00.html.
- ^ http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2011/03/release_date_of_rob_bells_new.html
- ^ Wilson, John (March 18, 2011). "What Happened to Heaven and Is Gandhi There?". The Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703818204576206470219029478.html?mod=googlenews_wsj.
- ^ "A heck of a theological debate". The Boston Globe. http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/articles/2011/03/18/alex_beam_provides_an_update_on_a_heck_of_a_theological_debate/.