GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The former head “pastor” of Michigan’s Mars Hill Bible Church and author of “Love Wins,” a book questioning the orthodox Christian view of Hell, is set to debut his own self-help television talk show this month on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), a move that may raise additional concerns about the already controversial speaker.
“The Rob Bell Show” featuring the former spiritual leader comes on the heels of Bell’s appearance at Winfrey’s “Life You Want” tour, which also featured speakers like New Age guru Deepak Chopra.
“Considered to be one of America’s most influential and progressive spiritual leaders, New York Times best-selling author Rob Bell shines a bright light on the topics we most want to talk about but often don’t know how to even approach,” a description of the broadcast reads. “Through riveting conversations with a live audience, and by incorporating creative on-camera storytelling, Rob—as only he can—explores themes such as owning your story and wonder and awe.”
In March 2013, in making a return visit to the Michigan church he founded over a decade ago, Bell announced the making of the new program.
“We want to talk about the things that matter most,” Bell told the congregation of Mars Hill Bible Church. “We want to talk about our brokenness and our struggle. We want to be inspired. We want to hear stories.”
“I want to take elements of this, what you’re experiencing here,” he said. “I want to put it all in a blender, and throw in a little ‘Lost,’ maybe some TED Talk and maybe some Letterman and do something that’s never been done before.”
Some state that the program will focus less on theology and Bible teaching and more on self-help topics. Bell had appeared on Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday in September of last year to discuss his book “What We Talk About When We Talk About God,” a broadcast in which Bell “explor[ed] themes and issues including happiness, personal fulfillment, wellness, spirituality and conscious living.”
Winfrey praised Bell in a post on her website, entitled “What Oprah Knows for Sure About Spirituality.”
“When Rob Bell—pastor, best-selling author, provocative thinker—recently joined me on the show, we talked for two and a half hours, and I could have kept going,” she wrote. “The ideas Rob sets forth in his books Love Wins and What We Talk About When We Talk About God opened my heart and my mind. People like him are the reason I set out to build OWN in the first place: to be able to gather a global community of like-minded seekers.”
Bell had left Mars Hill in 2011 shortly after releasing his book “Love Wins,” which was criticized by many for its universalistic teachings that claimed the majority of Christian doctrine on Hell is “misguided and toxic.” However, he asserts that his departure had nothing to do with controversy over the book. Bell relocated to Los Angeles and recently told reporters that he no longer attends a Sunday assembly, but rather meets with others in his own way.
“We have a little tribe of friends,” he said. “We have a group that we are journeying with. There’s no building. We’re churching all the time. It’s more of a verb for us.”
However, he said that he is not against church fellowships.
“Churches can be places that help people grow and help people connect with others and help people connect with the great issues of our day,” Bell said. “They can also be toxic, black holes of despair. My thinking is, it depends on where you are in your life. One of the most extraordinary things I’ve done since I left Mars Hill is be with people and engage with people who would never step foot in a church.”
In addition to raising controversy over his teachings about Hell, Bell drew criticism last year when he came out in support of same-sex “marriage.”
“I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it’s a man and woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man,” he said. “I think the ship has sailed and I think the church needs—I think this is the world we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are.”
Bell likewise opined that many evangelicals can no longer be classified as conservatives because their beliefs have changed with the times.
“I think we are witnessing the death of a particular subculture that doesn’t work. … You sort of die or you adapt,” he asserted. “And we have supported policies and ways of viewing the world that are actually destructive. And we’ve done it in the name of God and we need to repent.”
In light of his controversial views, some have said that Bell is leading many down a dark and destructive path.
“Plain and simple, Rob Bell’s teachings are not true to the words of Scripture,” Eric Ludy, pastor of Church at Ellerslie and president of Ellerslie Mission Society in Windsor, Colorado told Christian News Network. “They are a sly attempt at blending the philosophies of our post-modern age with the vernacular of pop-Christianity. The end product is highly dangerous to the human soul because it is the forging of a golden calf god—a God of our culture’s making—and certainly not the God of the Bible.”
“The Rob Bell Show” is set to air on Dec. 21 at 8 p.m. on OWN.