(Photo: Rob Bell/Facebook)
In a recent interview, former church leader Rob Bell sought to clarify the reason why, in late 2011, he left Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich., arguing that he was not driven out by his congregation over his controversial book Love Wins. Rather, he and his wife felt they had a new spiritual calling awaiting them in California.
A November 2012 piece in The New Yorker implied that Bell and his wife, Kristen, had an immense fallout with the Mars Hill Bible congregation after the release of his book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, which questioned the existence of a literal and eternal hell and the evangelical teaching that only those who believe in Jesus Christ go to heaven.
The New Yorker article claims that Bell lost members of his congregation numbering in the thousands as a result of his controversial book.
The book received criticism from conservative theologians who argued Bell was embracing heresy, and The New Yorker piece implies that this criticism within his church led to his and his wife's departure and re-settlement in Los Angeles, Calif., to pursue a "faith-inflected talk show."
Bell told Michigan Live in a recent interview, however, that this assumption couldn't be further from the truth, and that he and his wife received an unconditional amount of support from their congregation when they made the decision, independent of the book's controversy, to move to California to pursue a new chapter in their lives.
"The people at Mars Hill were unbelievably supportive and encouraging," Bell told Michigan Live.
"Even when we said we were leaving they were incredibly gracious and kind and loving and cheered us on: 'Go do it,'" the former church pastor said.
"Some idea that we were forced out is absolutely untrue."
"Kristen and I had a profound sense of calling that there was the next chapter of our lives ahead of us," Bell added. "And that the next stage was, how can we talk about the Jesus message to a world of people who aren't currently listening."
Bell allocates the misinterpretation of his Mars Hill Bible departure to a quote from his wife, Kristen, taken out of context in The New Yorker article.
While the quote by Kristen Bell suggests that the couple paid a cost for publishing the Love Wins book, Bell argues that this cost was simply realizing they wanted to move to a different part of the country and fulfill a different Christian mission, and they still received support from their congregation.
Bell now holds retreats with fellow pastors in his Southern California home and continues to work on a spiritual-oriented talk show with Carlton Cruse.
The best-selling author is about to embark on the first leg of his national book tour to promote his most recent piece of work, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, which, according to HarperOne publishers, seeks to explain to Christians why "both culture and the church resist talking about God, and shows how we can reconnect with the God who is pulling us forward into a better future."
He will also return to his Mars Hill Bible megachurch, which he founded in 1999, on March 10, to preach that one Sunday.
This will be the first time Bell has spoken at the church since his departure in late 2011.
Bell, who is also the author of Velvet Elvis, a New York Times Best Seller, will be holding a live streaming event in Brooklyn, N.Y., on March 12 to usher in the official nationwide release of his newest book.