In 2006, I was a freshman at Lee University, an evangelical Christian school in Cleveland (TN). At the time, I was your typical conservative, evangelical Christian. The brand of Christianity I followed was the brand with which I’d been raised: Pentecostal, fundamentalist, literalist, charismatic, evangelical. Walking around campus, however, I would occasionally see “Love Wins” bumper stickers on the cars. What did that mean? Was it some sort of universalist hippie message, like “Coexist”?
I looked up the phrase online, and immediately discovered Rob Bell. His book Love Wins (which stirred up controversy within conservative evangelical circles due to its discussions of Christian universalism) hadn’t yet been written, but those bumper stickers were passed out freely after services at the rapidly-growing church he’d founded in Grandville, Mich.: Mars Hill Bible Church. I read Bell’s book Velvet Elvis and understood fully, for the first time, what it was about Christians that made other religious groups dislike us so much. I watched his speech Everything is Spiritual and found myself in awe of the seamless blending of science and religion, in which one actually supported the other.
Ironically, it was during my time at a conservative Christian school, in a conservative Christian family, in a conservative Christian town — that I finally began to truly question what it was I stood for. It was the beginning of my unraveling away from creationism, away from fundamentalism, away from any idea of God that presented him as a cruel dictator rather than a loving deity. So when Rob Bell burst into popularity, I couldn’t have been more excited.
In 2014 and 2015, when I was in the throes of one of the hardest times of my life, after moving to Richmond with my husband and two children and finding myself at odds with an increasingly hateful church, What We Talk About When We Talk About God kept me grounded and helped keep my faith alive. It was that book, too, that got Bell an interview with Oprah Winfrey.
More recently, Bell has been staying busy with his popular podcast, The RobCast. Last year, he went on tour for “Everything is Spiritual: Part Two” and released the film version on YouTube on Monday. He’s also recently written a book called How To Be Here, for which he will be holding events throughout 2016. Though Bell officially resigned as a pastor in 2012, he finds himself “preaching” more than ever — whether it’s online, in writing, or in person.
We sat down to discuss his latest projects, and what they mean for his growing audience and our ever-changing culture: