Christian speaker and best-selling author Rob Bell is currently on tour promoting his newest book, Drops Like Stars: A Few Thoughts on Creativity and Suffering.
His tour stops are in auditoriums and theaters – where he feels most at home – and include no altar calls, according to The Boston Globe.
His aim is to take people on a journey through the contents of his book and create an experience that opens people up, he told the newspaper.
The newly released book, published by Zondervan, is his biggest yet with 160 pages. It's not like any of his previous books – Velvet Elvis and Sex God – and includes a lot of full-page illustrations and visual aids.
The idea for the book came up when Bell found a connection between the suffering he's come across in people's lives as a pastor and the lectures he was delivering at a creativity forum.
"This all first came about because I was giving some lectures at a creativity forum and I was doing some talks on basic art theory and I kept bumping up against this," Bell told Veritas magazine. "I thought, This is not just true about art theory, but this is true about life, too. This is true about cancer."
Pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich., Bell said he's "endlessly exploring and listening and learning from the world" around him.
As the book promotion states, "It is the difficult and the unexpected, and maybe even the tragic, that opens us up and frees us to see things in new ways. Suffering does that. It hurts, but it also creates.
"This book is an exploration of the complex relationship between suffering and creativity, driven by the belief that there is art in the agony."
But religion may be blocking creativity. Bell says the "religious voice" often does not allow people who are suffering to be human. The human response to suffering usually involves anger and hurt, but within the religious framework some are told not to grieve because that would be questioning God.
"For a lot of people, dominant questions center around, 'Why is this happening? Why me? Why now?'" Bell explained to the Globe. "Unfortunately, the religious voice often enters into the discussion at an inappropriate time – 'God just planned this.' Really? Your God planned this, not mine. Maybe there's great wisdom in holding our tongue."
Bell's previous books have drawn fire from conservative evangelicals who have called the young pastor's writings heretical and neo-liberal. The Mars Hill pastor is often tied to the controversial emergent church but he says he is not affiliated with the movement. In a 2004 interview with Christianity Today, he said he was rediscovering Christianity as an Eastern religion and a way of life and embracing mystery, particularly with regard to the Bible.
Most recently, the Wheaton College graduate told The Boston Globe during his tour this month that he doesn't use a lot of explicitly religious language because he believes there are "enough religious people who are going around trying to convert people."
His hope is that "the Jesus message" would come across through "a full humanity."
"I'm not just interested in talking to Christians. I'm interested in what does it mean to be fully human."
Bell's tour continues in U.S. and international cities until July 2010.