After its release in 2011, Rob Bell's book "Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, And The Fate Of Every Person Who Ever Lived" made huge waves in the evangelical community.
Bell questioned the existence of hell and eternal damnation, claimed Jesus Christ is bigger than any one religion and pondered if the road to salvation might be wider than what contemporary Christianity preaches. So it's no surprise that as the book moves into its paperback release, it continues to generate fierce controversy, even playing a central role in conservative Christian discussions of the shooting in Aurora, Colo.
Although he was loath to write Bell's name, evangelical pundit Jerry Newcombe was clear about his disdain for Bell in a recent column for Religion Today. Published the day of the Aurora attack, Newcombe blamed the violence at the theater on his perception that Americans don't believe in eternal damnation as much as they used to. He asked, "Wow, what the heck happened to hell?"
Later that day, during an appearance on conservative Christian radio show AFA Today, Newcombe stated that Christian victims of the theater shooting were in heaven, while those who had rejected Christ were "going to a terrible place."
Bell isn't shocked at the negative reception "Love Wins" has had among some Christian communities. And in fact, some evagelicals' confident claims about who's getting into heaven or hell are exactly the reason why he wrote his book in the first place.
In an interview with The Huffington Post before a Tuesday speaking event at the Viper Room in West Hollywood, Calif., Bell said reactions like Newcombe's are "just sad."
"In a moment of horrific hell-on-earth suffering, to throw around grand judgments about people burning forever in hell is offensive," said Bell. "This is why a lot of people in our culture want nothing to do with the Christian faith and have no interest in church."
By now, Bell is used to confrontation over "Love Wins." The former megachurch pastor has been attacked in combative television interviews, accused of heresy and universalism by other prominent Christian leaders and has received not a few angry letters from readers who feel Bell is toying with a dangerous message.
In the eyes of his critics, Bell's stock fell even lower when he gave up his role at Mars Hill, his 7,000-member church in Grandville, Mich., to move to Los Angeles to share the message of God's love with a "broader audience" -- a strategy that hasn't included starting a new church.
But Bell isn't sweating the second-guessing out in Southern California. He had no comment when asked about criticisms that he had "gone Hollywood" when he sold an ABC pilot (it wasn't picked up). Instead, he offered up this hopeful description about his new home: "To live in an area where innovation and creativity are normal and expected is quite extraordinary."
Gone are the ascetic shaved brown hair and thick, black-rimmed glasses. His hair is now close-cropped on the sides, longer and sandy blonde on top. Bell's skin is tanned and his jawline appears more chiseled. His new hobbies include surfing and eating Wahoo's fish tacos. Bell is also thrilled to be able to slip into a local church unnoticed and enjoy another pastor's sermon, as well as to indulge in what he hasn't been able to experience in 13 years: a two-day weekend.
He demurred when asked to describe another soon-to-launch project with "Lost" co-creator Carlton Cuse, but hinted excitedly at what needs it could fulfill.
"You'll love it. Okay, so tell me your three favorite funny, intelligent, subversive, smart, spiritually themed shows," he said, grinning. "No wait, tell me your two favorite interesting, unexpected shows that deal with people's spiritual lives. No wait -- see, you can't do it, right?"
Bell was just as eager to talk about his upcoming book, titled, "What We Talk About When We Talk About God."
The book is intended to address the question of "specifically, how did Jesus see the world, and what does it mean for today?" Bell said. "I think there's some really powerful stuff there."
"It has taken more out of me than anything I've ever made," Bell continued. "It's just unbelievable."
On stage at the Viper Room, he addressed a crowd that was primarily young, white Christians in hip clothing and sheer summer dresses, who received him warmly and laughed at his many jokes throughout the hour-long speaking event.
"I just want to thank the Viper Room for moving the stripper pole," he deadpanned. "If you don't laugh, you're in trouble," Bell warned repeatedly.
While taking questions from the audience, one listener challenged him on the topic of the church's acceptance of gay members, given the event's location in West Hollywood. "Some people are gay, and you're our brothers and you're our sisters, and we love you. We love you," Bell said to the loudest applause of the night. He continued, "[Gay people] are passionate disciples of Jesus just like I'm trying to be, so let's all get together and try to do something about the truly big problems in our world."
John Lubke, a 23-year-old youth pastor from nearby Newbury Park, asked for advice for those stepping down from professional ministry.
Bell answered by decrying the "absolutely tragic" division between "normal" people and those called to ministry.
"My answer is, you're not [stepping down]," assured Bell. "You're just going to get a paycheck from a different place. So if you are wired to take care of people, you'll probably end up doing that wherever you are -- and Starbucks will have better benefits."
Ryan Chaddick, a 28-year-old student at Claremont University, told HuffPost that he counts Bell as an inspiration and called him one of the "driving forces" behind his decision to go into ministry. After the event, Chaddick said simply, "When you remove the fear of burning for eternity, you can actually begin to experience life and love."
Browse the slideshow for the most controversial quotes in Love Wins.
<strong><big>I've written this book for all those, everywhere, who have heard some version of the Jesus story that caused their pulse rate to rise, their stomach to churn, and their heart to utter those resolute words, "I would never be a part of that." <br> <br> - Rob Bell, <em>Love Wins</em>, p. viii </big></strong>
Why Run The Risk?
<strong><big>If every new baby being born could grow up to not believe the right things and go to hell forever, then prematurely terminating a child's life anytime from conception to twelve years of age would actually be the loving thing to do, guaranteeing that the child ends up in heaven, and not hell, forever. Why run the risk? <br> <br> - Rob Bell, <em>Love Wins</em>, p. 4</big></strong>
<strong><big>It often appears that those who talk the most about going to heaven when you die talk the least about bringing heaven to earth right now, as Jesus taught us to pray: "Your will be done on earth as it is in heave." <br> At the same time, it often appears that those who talk the most about relieving suffering now talk the least about heaven when we die." <br> <br> - Rob Bell, <em>Love Wins</em>, p. 45</big></strong>
Misconceptions About Heaven
<strong><big>The dominant cultural assumptions and misunderstandings about heaven have been at work for so long, it's almost automatic for many to think of heaven as ethereal, intangible, esoteric, and immaterial. <br> Floaty, dreamy, hazy. Somewhere else. <br> <br> - Rob Bell, <em>Love Wins</em>, p. 56</big></strong>
What It's All About
<strong><big>To say it again, eternal life is less about a kind of time that starts when we die, and more about a quality and vitality of life now in connection to God. <br> Eternal life doesn't start when we die; it starts now. It's not about a life that begins at death; it's about experiencing the kind of life now that can endure and survive even death. <br> <br> - Rob Bell, <em>Love Wins</em>, p. 59</big></strong>
<strong><big>For many in the modern world, the idea of hell is a holdover from primitive, mythic religion that uses fear and punishment to control people for all sorts of devious reasons. And so the logical conclusion is that we've evolved beyond all of that outdated belief, right? <br> I get that. I understand the aversion, and I as well have a hard time believing that somewhere down below the earth's crust is a really crafty figure in red tights holding a three-pointed spear, playing Pink Floyd records backward, and enjoying the hidden messages. <br> <br> - Rob Bell, <em>Love Wins</em>, pp. 69-70 </big></strong>
The Truth About Turn Or Burn
<strong><big>Jesus did not use hell to try and compel "heathens" and "pagans" to believe in God, so they wouldn't burn when they die. He talked about hell to very religious people to warn them about the consequences of straying from their God-given calling and identity to show the world God's love. <br> <br> - Rob Bell, <em>Love Wins</em>, p. 82</big></strong>
Always A Second Chance?
<strong><big>No matter how painful, brutal, oppressive, no matter how far people find themselves from home because of their sin, indifference, and rejection, there's always the assurance that it won't be this way forever. <br> In Lamentations 3, the poet declares: "People are not cast off by the Lord forever, though he brings fried, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love." <br> <br> - Rob Bell, Love Wins, p. 86</big></strong>
<strong><big>Is history tragic? Have billions of people been created only to spend eternity in conscious punishment and torment, suffering infinitely for the finite sins they committed in the few years they spent on earth? Is our future uncertain, or will God take care of us? Are we safe? Are we secure? Or are we on our own? <br> <br> - Rob Bell, <em>Love Wins</em>, p. 102</big></strong>
<strong><big>Telling a story in which billions of people spend forever somewhere in the universe trapped in a black hole of endless torment and misery with no way out isn't a very good story. Telling a story about a God who inflicts unrelenting punishment on people because they didn't do or say or believe the correct things in a brief window of time called life isn't a very good story. <br> <br> - Rob Bell, <em>Love Wins</em>, p. 110</strong>
<strong><big>Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices? <br> Those are questions, or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don't need to resolve them or answer them because we can't, and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom that love requires. <br> <br> - Rob Bell, <em>Love Wins</em>, p. 115</big></strong>
More Than One Religion
<strong><big>As obvious as it is, then, Jesus is bigger than any one religion. <br> He didn't come to start a new religion, and he continually disrupted whatever conventions or systems or establishments that existed in his day. He will always transcend whatever cages and labels are created to contain and name him, especially the one called "Christianity." <br> <br> - Rob Bell, <em>Love Wins</em>, p. 150</big></strong>
<strong><big>Jesus is supracultural. He is present within all cultures, and yet outside of all cultures. <br> He is for all people, and yet he refuses to be co-opted or owned by any one culture. <br> That includes any Christian culture. Any denomination. Any church. Any theological system. We can point to him, name him, follow him, discuss him, honor him, and believe in him -- but we cannot claim him to be ours any more than he's anyone else's. <br> <br> - Rob Bell, <em>Love Wins</em>, pp. 151-2</big></strong>
<strong><big>As soon as the door is opened to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Baptists from Cleveland, many Christians become very uneasy, saying that then Jesus doesn't matter anymore, the cross is irrelevant, it doesn't matter what you believe, and so forth. <br> Not true. Absolutely, unequivocally, unalterably not true. <br> What Jesus does is declare that he, and he alone, is saving everybody. <br> <br> - Rob Bell, <em>Love Wins</em>, p. 155</big></strong>
<strong><big>Are they referring to a token of tribal membership, a tamed, domesticated Jesus who waves the flag and promotes whatever values they have decided their nation needs to return to? <br> Are they referring to the supposed source of the imperial impulse of their group, which wants to conquer other groups "in the name of Jesus"? <br> Are they referring to the logo or slogan of their political, economic, or military system through which they sanctify their greed and lust for power? <br> <br> - Rob Bell, <em>Love Wins</em>, p. 156</big></strong>
<strong><big>Millions have been taught that if they don't believe, if they don't accept in the right way, that is, the way the person telling them the gospel does, and they were hit by a car and died later that same day, God would have no choice but to punish them forever in conscious torment in hell. <br> ... <br> A loving heavenly father who will go to extraordinary lengths to have a relationship with them would, in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter who would ensure that they had no escape from an endless future of agony. <br> If there was an earthly father who was like that, we would call the authorities. If there was an actual human dad who was that volatile, we would contact child protection services immediately. <br> <br> - Rob Bell, <em>Love Wins</em>, pp. 173-4</big></strong>
<strong><big>Does God become somebody totally different the moment you die? <br> That kind of God is simply devastating. Psychologically crushing. We can't bear it. No one can. <br> And that is the deep secret in the heart of many people, especially Christians: they don't love God. They can't, because the God they've been presented with and taught about can't be loved. That God is terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable. <br> <br> - Rob Bell, <em>Love Wins</em>, pp. 174-5</big></strong>
<strong><big>Because if something is wrong with your God, if your God is loving one second and cruel the next, if your God will punish people for all of eternity for sins committed in a few short years, no amount of clever marketing or compelling language or good music or great coffee will be able to disguise that one, true, glaring, untenable, unacceptable, awful reality. <br> <br> - Rob Bell, <em>Love Wins</em>, p. 175</strong>
Bouncer At A Club
<strong><big>So when the gospel is diminished to a question of whether or not a person will "get into heaven," that reduces the good news to a ticket, a way to get past the bouncer and into the club. <br> The good news is better than that. <br> This is why Christians who talk the most about going to heaven while everybody else goes to hell don't throw very good parties. <br> <br> - Rob Bell, <em>Love Wins</em>, pp. 178-9</strong>
Does Jesus Rescue Us From God?
<strong><big>Many have heard the gospel framed in terms of rescue. God has to punish sinners, because God is holy, but Jesus has paid the price for our sin, and so we can have eternal life. However true or untrue that is technically or theologically, what it can do is subtly teach people that Jesus rescues us from God. <br> Let's be very clear, then: we do not need to be rescued from God. God is the one who rescues us from death, sin and destruction. God is the rescuer. <br> <br> -Rob Bell, <em>Love Wins</em>, p. 182</strong>