Over three years ago, I wrote about Rob Bell, the head of one of the Mars Hill evangelical megachurch in Michigan that had an estimated 10,000-strong congregation. He was once touted as the next Billy Graham but then had some kind of epiphany that he expounded in a book Love Wins in which he argued that hell may not exist and that heaven may be open to everyone, not just those who accept Jesus as their personal lord and savior, the usual standard for admission among evangelicals.
In this he was following the lead of another megachurch leader Carlton Pearson who in 2005 also came to the conclusion that he could not accept the idea of hell. Pearson was declared a heretic by the Pentecostal denomination and lost his church
Needless to say, Bell’s heterodoxy also did not go down well with his fellow evangelicals and I was curious as to what became of him. Sarah Pulliam Bailey provides an update and says that he has come under the protective wing of Oprah Winfrey.
Now, the man who built a church of an estimated 10,000 people isn’t even attending an organized church. Instead, he surfs the waves near Hollywood and has teamed up with the goddess of pop theology, Oprah Winfrey.
After the initial battle over “Love Wins” died down, Bell seemed to disappear from the public eye. He left his Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids and headed out to California to work on TV projects.
“The Rob Bell Show” will premiere Dec. 21 on the Oprah Winfrey Network, a one-hour show that features Bell and is co-produced by him. He also recently toured the country with Winfrey on a “Life You Want Weekend.”
For anyone looking for any hints to his theological shift, his new book, “The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage,” is likely to disappoint. He came out in favor of same-sex marriage in 2013, and few evangelicals seemed surprised. If he could question the existence of hell, they said, why wouldn’t he shift on his views about sexuality?
Bell says he would conduct a same-sex ceremony, and he encourages churches to welcome gay members and allow them to be ordained.
“This is a justice issue,” Bell said. “We believe people should not be denied the right to have someone to journey with.”
Now resettled near Los Angeles, the couple no longer belongs to a traditional church. “We have a little tribe of friends,” Bell said. “We have a group that we are journeying with. There’s no building. We’re churching all the time. It’s more of a verb for us.”
Like Bell, Pearson too became accepting of gay people once he rejected the idea of hell. It seems like all the hateful doctrines of fundamentalist religion (hell, homophobia, anti-sex, anti-women, etc.) are tightly locked and getting rid of one sends the whole edifice crashing down.