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. Vroomfondel

    And with that, "Big Bob" Bell has left the building.

    October 19, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  2. W.G.

    Rod Bell is an apostate , one of many anti-Christs to come . I refer to "2nd. Timothy 4:3 for the time will come when Men
    will not put up with sound doctrine . Instead , to suit their own desires they will gather around them a great number of teachers
    to say what their itching ears want to hear .

    October 11, 2011 at 4:51 am |
    • Vroomfondel


      October 19, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  3. CelticMoon

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

    Okay, so if he/she/it is god, why doesn't it just go ahead and DO it??? What's it waiting for, the Second Coming? Oh, gee, yeah, maybe it is. Sounds like as good an excuse as any for why, if there is a god who is passionate about rescuing, restoring & renewing the world,this hasn't happened yet & shows no signs of doing so. Doesn't say much for this god of yours.

    October 10, 2011 at 2:44 am |
  4. Kelsey Gifford

    On my podcast radio show, I spoke about Rob Bell and his teachings on Hell. Rob Bell is a heretic to the core, and he needs to repent. He is leading others to Hell by telling others that Jesus is not the only way to Heaven. It's clear in the Bible that Jesus Christ is the only way (John 14:6, Acts 4 etc). To listen to my show on the topic, go to http://www.kelzusradioshow.com

    Again, its http://www.kelzusradioshow.com

    October 6, 2011 at 2:09 am |
    • Jsfraptor26

      Amen brother

      October 9, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Matt C

      Actually, you are going to Hell because you don't believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, who is the one true God.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
    • CelticMoon

      "Flying Spaghetti Monster"....isn't that what they worship at the Church of The Sub-Genius? I'll go ask Reverend Stang & Princess Wee about that.....

      October 10, 2011 at 2:48 am |
  5. Christine


    How can you blame these atrocities on believers of Christ? Are you really suggesting that Christianity is responsible for the slave trade, WWI and WWII? That's pretty idiotic. Most of us can point directly to money- or power-hungry individuals who did horrible things out of pure selfishness and greed.

    And regarding the colonization of North America- you described it as "Christians vs Pagans". I doubt we can find any native americans who would identify themselves with the ancient pagan religions of Europe.

    It's just plain silly and short-sighted to lump all believers together and blame them all for the evil in the world.

    October 4, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • Heather


      Yes, really.

      Ask someone of the Jewish faith who lived through the years before and during the Holocaust, and they will tell you that it was "Christians" who beat them up when they were walking home from school, who defaced their homes, and that there were Crosses welded into the gates above the concentration camps. And If you will study the history of slavery, you will find that branches of organized Christian denominations actively promoting slavery, and it took certain branches of the faithful, often those who were persecuted by other denominations themselves (such as the Quakers, often burned as witches in New England witch trials) who had to fight the accepted practice. Oh, and last I knew "pagan" didn't refer only specifically to religions of pre- Christian Europe but also broadly to religions which hold poly-theistic belief systems. You are correct that it's unwise to make broad generalizations, but you should do a little more historical research yourself as well.

      October 5, 2011 at 1:44 am |
  6. Lisa

    Rob Bell is discovering what Sir Isaac Newton and other serious Bible Students have found out down through the centuries. The world has no real tolerance for Christian Truth. Thankfully though, whether they be counterfeit Christians, atheists, agnostics, Islamic, or whatever name they have dreamed up for themselves, God does love them and have a plan for the restiution and blessing of the whole planet and everyone on it! This is the REAL GOOD NEWS of the Scriptures which Rob Bell is trying to give you a glimpse of. (No one dislikes his message anymore than the tares who are nominal Christians, and have a vested interest in keeping the whole truth from being known!)

    October 2, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  7. Lisa

    Rob Bell isn't the first to understand that there is no eternal torment! I think he must have met a Bible Student somewhere along the line, (am I right Rob?) but failed to give credit in his book. He is correct, but still clings to the erroneous Trinity Doctrine. I read an anonymous quotation somewhere that "There is nothing wrong with Christianity, it's just that it hasn't been tried yet." It has, but by so few obscure persons as to have remained almost undetected by the world in general. "The truth" has been hiding in plain sight for all these millenia.Just because people claim to be Christians doesn't mean Christ approves their words or actions.

    October 2, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  8. Joe

    So apparently, one of the things Rob is doing is writing a pilot for ABC with one of the Lost producers. As a huge fan of Lost and an even greater fan of Rob, I'm really looking forward to this. In all honesty, there is a lot of hatred towards Rob because he threatens the traditionally held beliefs of the orthadox faith. In reality though I think Rob is just building for God's Kingdom in a 21st century way that doesn't shrink was our past, but rather builds on it. If you read his material or listen to his podcast, you'll see that what he has to say is profoundly biblical but also holds a good amount of common sense. Frankly, he is one of the most important voices in Christ's church today. Give him a try.

    October 2, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
  9. Angel of Light

    All men will hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this life or afterward.
    They will then be given the opportunity to accept it or reject it as they will.
    And in the end, they will be judged according to their works and the contents of their heart.
    And God will decide their fate, not man.

    September 28, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  10. rick

    This guys escatogy is incorrect. To bad he didn't make it as a rock star. Now he is subversively leading all of you away from the True Christian God. Bell is obviously selling books at the sake of misrepresenting the true word of Jesus. Like Jesus said, you should not fear man when he can only take your life, but fear he who has the power to send you to eternal torment. Jesus talks about hell in so many places in the four Gospels. And many of the other books in the Bible back him up.

    Man is fallen and depraved. He is controlled by his sin or pious nature if not the immorality. Man's sin damns him to Hellfire intended for fallen angels.

    Ask Jesus to forgive you. Turn from your sin. Replace your addictions and materialism for new found interest in the Bible.

    September 27, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Wings

      After 53 years, I've decided that living with the threat of eternal damnation, I've left religion. No more asking questions that don't have rational answers. When there's no hell or heaven, the immediacy of living the one life I have becomes focused on the fact that we have one shot at it – make it the best it can be. That's my heaven. I leave the arguing about one true God, heaven and hell, and the rest of it to others to squabble about.

      September 29, 2011 at 2:53 am |
    • extra medium

      Gee whiz, if I listened to everyone who threatened me with hell-fire for believing in the wrong god, (Or worshiping the right god the wrong way) I'd be running around in circles. Instead, I follow the undeniable feelings of peace and security that come from praying to the loving God that I know. Not just the words of some preacher or 3000 year-old book. Don't be afraid of the truth, no matter what it may be. Just earnestly seek it out, and stop worrying that you're offending God by doing so. That's how we arrive at new revelations like; "Hey, maybe burning witches at the stake is murder?" Or, "Is it really God's will that we keep black Africans as slaves, even though pastor Smitty says it is?"

      EVERYONE on the other side is just as convinced of their faith as we are of ours. Get it? Use that brain God gave you and think for yourself. Parroting what you heard in church is just spiritual laziness.

      September 30, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  11. KM

    My only wish is to one day awake to a world without religion.... i know it isn't possible in our lifetimes. Just because there are facts out there doesn't mean the public will believe fact over fiction. Religion has proven this for centuries.

    September 27, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • rick

      As a Christian I believe you will have your wish come true sooner than you can imagine. If so, good luck, your going to need it.

      September 27, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
  12. eyesopened

    You know when you think about life and all the changes that happen there in,in everyday life we find that we are equal and see this truth equally and thats that we change... and we change our minds. We all have this free will per say to do this day in and day out if we did not,there would be no disagreements no divorces no wasted food or ball game tickets, the list goes on and this includes ones point of veiw on the word of God or religion, nothing to get up in arms about all though it does prove the difference between us and The Almighty, and thats that we and are word changes from day to day and that we do not.

    September 27, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • eyesopened

      Im sorry I ment to say that we and our word changes from day to day and God does not

      September 27, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  13. RightTurnClyde

    G o b b l e d e g o o k.

    September 25, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
  14. NostalgicTreasures

    The supreme, irrefutable quality of both the Bible and Christianity has been self-evident. Villains who tried to destroy them vanished as smoke every time throughout the history anywhere in the world. The West conquered the world because they had the most excellent textbook called the Bible. Now 70% of the world's Christian population is in the non-West, we are coming to rescue these secular perv Westerners.

    September 25, 2011 at 4:23 am |
    • Reality

      The Twenty (or so) Worst Things People Have Done to Each Other:

      from: M. White, http://necrometrics.com/warstatz.htm#u (required reading)

      The Muslim Conquest of India

      "The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. "

      Rank …..Death Toll ..Cause …..Centuries……..Religions/Groups involved*

      1. 63 million Second World War 20C (Christians et al and Communists/atheists vs. Christians et al, Nazi-Pagan and "Shintoists")

      2. 40 million Mao Zedong (mostly famine) 20C (Communism)

      3. 40 million Genghis Khan 13C (Shamanism or Tengriism)

      4. 27 million British India (mostly famine) 19C (Anglican)

      5. 25 million Fall of the Ming Dynasty 17C (Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Chinese folk religion)

      6. 20 million Taiping Rebellion 19C ( Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion vs. a form of Christianity)

      7. 20 million Joseph Stalin 20C (Communism)

      8. 19 million Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C (Islam)

      9. 17 million Timur Lenk 14C-15C

      10. 16 million Atlantic Slave Trade 15C-19C (Christianity)

      11. 15 million First World War 20C (Christians vs. Christians)

      12. 15 million Conquest of the Americas 15C-19C (Christians vs. Pagans)

      13. 13 million Muslim Conquest of India 11C-18C

      14. 10 million An Lushan Revolt 8C

      15. 10 million Xin Dynasty 1C

      16. 9 million Russian Civil War 20C (Christians vs Communists)

      17. 8 million Fall of Rome 5C (Pagans vs. Pagans)

      18. 8 million Congo Free State 19C-20C (Christians)

      19. 7½ million Thirty Years War 17C (Christians vs Christians)

      20. 7½ million Fall of the Yuan Dynasty 14C

      September 25, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • Freethinksman

      "The supreme, irrefutable quality of both the Bible and Christianity has been self-evident"

      There is a big difference between self evidence and circular reasoning. Just because the bible claims to be true does not make it true. This is so simple, so crucial, and so beyond the grasp of the deluded. So sad.

      September 25, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • .........

      spam alert hit report abuse to all reality spam postings

      September 25, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • W.G.

      to nostalgic treasures and reality , You Atheists keep blaming God (Someone ) you don´t believe in for atrocities
      done by man , Reality , all of these atrocities were done by atheists hitler , stalin , the catholic church , but not by reborn
      evangical Bible believing Christians , please keep your LIES straight .

      October 11, 2011 at 4:45 am |
    • Greg

      "15 million First World War 20C (Christians vs. Christians)"

      I believe the Ottoman Empire was also a major player in that one.

      October 19, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  15. Reality

    “I believe the Bible is inspired.” “Why?” “Because it says so.”

    Would you or anyone let that logic pass if it came from the followers of any other book
    or person? “I believe x is inspired because x says so.” Fill in the blanks:

    x=Pat Robertson
    x=the ayatolloah Sistani
    x=David Koresh
    x=the Koran”
    x= Rev. Bell

    more “logic”?
    “I believe there is One God Jehovah because He is revealed in the infallible
    Bible. I believe the Bible is infallible because it is the Word of the One God Jehovah.”

    September 24, 2011 at 8:12 am |
    • dd

      In your list of worst things done to humans by humans you forget 40+million abortions in the last 30 years. Done by ???all???

      October 8, 2011 at 3:29 am |
  16. God knows our human nature

    When you trust your own common sense or prefer your own humanistic inclinations rather than what the plainly revealed Word of God tells you, you always get trapped into some kind of errors, one way or another. And such peoples' teachings are no longer worth following. But it causes sensations for sure and we win if it drives us into more authentic study of God's Word.

    September 24, 2011 at 4:40 am |
  17. This Is Reality

    Under the threat of hell-fire, mankind never repents or stops killing the voiceless fellow humans or the destructive perv immorality which God said clearly no to. Non-believers' mind is a hell itself. They desire godless autonomy for themselves, so they will get it permanently. Honest humans accept the reality of sin and the Good News of the Savior Jesus.

    September 24, 2011 at 4:38 am |
    • AGuest9

      "Honest"??? Don't you mean deluded?

      September 24, 2011 at 8:52 am |
  18. Letter to Mr. Bell

    I think he is not seeing the reality of human sin as it is. I used to struggle a bit, too, but not after seeing the modern Westerners' blasphemies and other forms of human depravity and cruelty. It also made me understood why the ancient Israel was punished the way it was seeing the present America. Hell must be real; otherwise, there is no justice in this world. From reading the Bible, especially Old Testament, I see God's determination on fairness and mercy so I ceased to worry about hell. The liberal people deny to look into the reality. Sin, judgment and hell are real as the traditional Christianity has taught.

    September 24, 2011 at 4:36 am |
    • Freethinksman

      "Hell must be real; otherwise, there is no justice in this world."

      So many people use this as their basis for belief. Just because you don't like something doesn't make it's opposite true. If I claim that I wouldn't want to live in a world where I can't have a million dollar sailboat, it doesn't mean I get one. Why are so many people unable to accept this fact? The rest of the world laughs at us because of this kind of lunacy.

      September 25, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  19. Hell Is Real Justice

    "11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from His presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire." (quoted from Revelation chapter 20)

    September 24, 2011 at 4:35 am |
  20. SilverTrail

    @Hippy-, make your garbage short. I usually ignore lengthy comments. Try to find me in newer news.

    September 24, 2011 at 4:33 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      That's only because you're too dumb to follow a train of thought, Addled.

      September 24, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
    • The Original

      Tom, no. I need to preserve my eyesight. I'm old. (I'm not pure Chinese as I'm mixed heavily in many ways. I want to be American. USA is my fatherland. Dreams go on in the universe of one's own heart.) Your comments contain bad words but I read them as I find them because yours are short. Tom, please start loving life. God has been good to you in spite of you. Let's write poems, Tom. What kind of lady was your mother?

      September 25, 2011 at 4:17 am |
    • The Original

      I mean, I usually read your comments because I care for you. Tell me more about your mother. I have very good parents, too.

      September 25, 2011 at 4:26 am |
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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.