Rob Bell, whose book ignited controversy, leaves church he founded
Pastor Rob Bell is quitting the church he founded.
September 23rd, 2011
12:49 AM ET

Rob Bell, whose book ignited controversy, leaves church he founded

By the CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) - Michigan Pastor Rob Bell, whose recent book created a theological firestorm, is leaving his congregation, Mars Hill Bible Church announced Thursday.

"Feeling the call from God to pursue a growing number of strategic opportunities, our founding pastor ... 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," a message on the Grandville, Michigan, megachurch's website read.

"It is with deeply mixed emotions that we announce this transition to you. We have always understood, encouraged, and appreciated the variety of avenues in which Rob's voice and the message of God's tremendous love has traveled over the past 12 years."

Further details were not available late Thursday.

In March, Bell, 41, answered critics who said he was playing fast and loose with heaven and hell, salvation and damnation. The eternity of souls was on the line, they said.

The flap rose over Bell's publication, "Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived." Some went so far as to label Bell a heretic.

Critics said he was preaching universalism, a theology that suggests everyone goes to heaven and that hell is empty.

"I'm not a universalist. So that's just not true," Bell told CNN in response. He said he didn't believe God reaches down and sweeps everyone to heaven.

After a budding career as a rock star was derailed by a freak illness, Bell set his sights on the seminary. He became America's hipster pastor and one of the most influential preachers in the country.

He preached to 10,000 people at the church he founded. His first four books sold nearly a million copies combined, and his short film series, Nooma, has sold more than 2 million DVDs.

In his book, Bell challenged the traditional notions of heaven and hell.

"For many people the fundamental story was one of escape - Jesus is how you get out of here. I think for many people in the modern world, the way they heard it was fundamentally, 'This place is bad, and there is some other place, and Jesus - believe, accept, trust, confess, join, get baptized, whatever sort of language got put on it - Jesus is how you get to some other realm where things are good.'

"So essentially it's a theology of evacuation. And my understanding is the Bible is first and foremost a story of restoration. It's a story of renewal."

"The fundamental story arc of the Bible," he said "is God is passionate about rescuing this world, restoring it renewing it. So discussions about heaven and hell ... for many people are irrelevant and esoteric. ... But what happens is, what you believe about heaven and hell deeply shapes how you engage this world now."

Bell said if a believer has their eyes on heaven, they can miss the opportunities to bring people a taste of heaven here on Earth – and they can miss seeing the hell around them.

–CNN's Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church

soundoff (123 Responses)
  1. Sage

    Elvis, Pokemon, Fondu, venetian blinds and Genghis Khan.

    i just had a creative break through!!

    February 20, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
  2. Darwin

    I'm sorry. I should not have written that. All are welcome out here.

    January 28, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
  3. Darwin

    West coast wanna be. Go back to GR.

    January 28, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
  4. KB

    Mars Hill will be better with Mr. Bell departing. But...........others will be worse off as he spreads his useless, unbiblical, heretical so-called theology. His rhetoric is self-serving, and misguided at best.

    October 20, 2012 at 1:38 am |
  5. SteveS

    Well, he has a point. There is no Heaven or Hell in the Old Testament. In the OT, when someone died, they "slept with their fathers", as in they rested (dont be a perv), they didnt go to heaven OR hell. If heaven is mentioned in the Old Testament, it is referring to the literal sky (the heavens). Not a place with golden streets and pearly gates. The concepts of Heaven and Hell are purely a New Testament thing. Do some research, and you will find this to be true.

    October 21, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • KB

      And your point is?????? The New Testament is a New Covenant. I have done my research. And I repeat........your point is? Do not support the misguided sham.

      October 20, 2012 at 1:35 am |
  6. Greg

    "The fundamental story arc of the Bible," he said "is God is passionate about rescuing this world, restoring it renewing it."

    The major arc ?

    It's religious ideology, the aim of which is CONTROL.

    As history, it's about as reliable as a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

    October 19, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • Skyler Daniel

      Maybe when you have a degree in religion people will care whether you think its about "control" or not or what precisely, the bible's 'major arc' is. Your opinion is as reliable as a cartoon and appreciated as much as a soap opera.

      October 21, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • Veritas1

      ...finally...someone has taken the "left turn at Albuquerque" (-: ...sorry, just had to put that in after the BB reference.
      I guess I don't see it (teachings of Jesus) so much as "control" but rather trying to restore order out of chaos. I mean really...can you think of a better way to live than to exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, mercy, faithfulness, self-control....found in the New Testament book of Galatians chapter 5. It teaches that if we have a close relationship with Jesus, we will begin to live with these qualities...whoo hoo! 🙂

      June 26, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.