September 23rd, 2011
12:49 AM ET
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.
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.
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