Rob Bell: 'I'm as Traditional as It Gets'; Says Billy Graham Shaped Him

Rob Bell hosts his new self-titled show, airing on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) Dec. 21, 2014. | (Photo: Courtesy of Harpo Studios, Inc.)

Controversial author and spiritual teacher Rob Bell insisted that he is "as traditional as it gets" despite evangelicals finding fault in his views on Hell, and said that famous evangelist Billy Graham helped shape his beliefs.

"I'm as traditional as it gets. The tradition is following the spirit where you're led. 'Radical' comes from the Latin word for 'root.' Radical is a person who went back to the source," Bell said in a recent interview with The Charlotte Observer.

"So I feel like it's been a long, slow, steady exploration. If somebody has a problem with me, they have a problem with the depth and diversity of their own tradition. I'm having more fun than ever. No regrets," he added.

Bell, who is the former pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan, stirred significant controversy with his 2011 book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, which seemed to question whether people who don't profess faith in Jesus Christ will end up in an eternal Hell.

Notable theologians, such as Dr. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., praised Bell as a "master communicator" at the time, but warned that his arguments "alienate love from justice and holiness."

"Bell wants to rescue God from any teaching that his wrath is poured out upon sin and sinners, certainly in any eternally conscious sense," Mohler argued then.

"But Bell also wants God to vindicate the victims of murder, rape, child abuse, and similar evil. He seems not to recognize that he has undercut his own story, leaving God unable or unwilling to bring true justice."

Many, such as the Rev. Franklin Graham, branded Bell a "false teacher" and a "heretic."

In an interview on the "O'Reilly Factor" in 2011, Graham said, "The Bible is very clear that there is a Hell."

Still, Bell said in his interview with The Charlotte Observer that Graham's father, Billy Graham, helped shape his beliefs.

"A number of years ago, in Newsweek, [Graham] talked about God's love for everybody — all backgrounds, all religions. I was, like, 'Yeah, Billy, yeah,'" Bell explained.

Bell has been promoting his latest book, What Is the Bible, in which he says the Bible should be read "literately, not literally."

He accused many Christians of cherry-picking verses from the Bible to fit their political or social points of view.

"You can pull a verse out to justify almost anything," he argued. "When you read the Bible fuller and in-depth, suddenly you realize that this book, especially by Christians, has been so brutally massacred and misquoted. And we need to call that out."

Bell also said in the interview that he is more interested in where religious books, such as the Bible, the Koran, and the Bhagavad-gita, connect — such as speaking to "timeless human questions — rather than where they differ.

Bell himself has faced accusations of cherry-picking or ignoring parts of the Bible.

When commenting on Love Wins back in 2011, Derek Tidball, a member of the Evangelical Alliance's Board and Council and former principal of London School of Theology, argued that the book "ducks some hard issue while firing out a lot of questions."

"God's wrath, and His holiness, is touched on only very inadequately and insubstantially," said Tidball.

Follow Stoyan Zaimov on Facebook: CPSZaimov

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