Controversial pastor Rob Bell and wife, Kristen, share new view on marriage

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Controversial pastor Rob Bell and his wife, Kristen, have written a new book on marriage. - Image courtesy of Rob and Kristen Bell

Controversial pastor Rob Bell and his wife, Kristen, have written a new book on marriage. - Image courtesy of Rob and Kristen Bell

Controversial pastor Rob Bell and his wife, Kristen, have written a new book on marriage. - Image courtesy of Rob and Kristen Bell

Controversial pastor Rob Bell and his wife, Kristen, have written a new book on marriage. – Image courtesy of Rob and Kristen Bell

It’s been more than two years since the controversial preacher Rob Bell upset conservative Christians by questioning the existence of hell in his book Love WinsNow Bell is back, with a television talk show premiering this month on Oprah’s OWN Network and a new book on marriage. Rob has co-authored The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage with his wife, Kristen. Here, we talk about the book, why they wrote it, and what it says that may surprise readers.

RNS: Rob, the title of this book, “The ZimZum of Love,” sounds very “Rob Bell-ish.” Where did it come from, and what does it mean?

RB: Marriage is about creating space in your life for another to thrive–full of life and energy and love–while they’re doing the same for you. The ancient sages had a way of talking about the divine energies that brought the universe into being, about God creating space for all of what we know to be everything to exist as it does. The word they used for this contraction of the divine to create space is “zimzum.” We came across the word more than a decade ago and thought, “That sounds like what happens when you’re married…we should write a book about that.” So we did.

RNS: Kristen, this book promotes the idea that both partners should flourish. We’ve heard a lot about Rob while you’ve been more behind the scenes. How have you two worked to make sure you too are flourishing on your own? 

KB: Yes, I have always liked being behind the scenes, keeping things running. I like to say that I’m the rudder–you don’t necessarily see me, but I’m steering the ship. Rob and I have always had a sense of mission about our life and marriage. We are in this adventure together, which means we make all our decisions together about which direction to go, what to say yes and no to. For us, the zimzum happens with the daily decisions as well as the big picture. We are always having conversations about our own individual lives.

It is very important to me to give my best to my kids during this season, to pursue my own spiritual growth and to keep asking questions and then taking steps towards my calling. My calling has been intertwined with the work that Rob is doing in the world, and I have found great satisfaction and joy in that work. With the release of this book my work is changing and I’m enjoying this new season as well.

Image courtesy of HarperOne

Image courtesy of HarperOne

RNS: Rob, the marketing materials for this book say that this book will revolutionize traditional teaching on marriage, much like you did with the subject of hell in Love WinsWhich concepts in this book are most revolutionary and likely to ruffle feathers?

RB: That’s not a word we use in the book. The language we use is about giving yourself to the thriving of this person you love while they’re doing the same for you in such a way that it creates an energetic flow of love between you that goes way beyond just the two of you, connecting you together with the deepest creative energies of the universe. We want people to be inspired and empowered and transformed by this vision of what’s possible in marriage.

RNS: Kristen, you two get honest about your own struggles in this book. Tell us about the most serious storms you’ve weathered and how the zimzum concept made a difference? 

KB: One of the powerful things about zimzum is returning to your intention. When your marriage is built on the foundation of desire for the other’s wellbeing and you can remind each other of that, it creates a safe, non-defensive place for you to be honest about what isn’t working. Often we get in downward spirals of keeping score of who has done and given more and who is not doing their part or loving well.  In this defensive pattern, we can’t get anywhere. We call it throwing out the scorecard. When we move toward each other in love and a desire for their best, it opens up possibilities.

RNS: Rob, you said you support same-sex marriage not long ago. Does this book uniquely address LGBT couples?

RB: We did with whole hearted affirmation on page 16 of the book. The zimzum of love is for anyone–gay or straight–who believes the world needs more love and sacrifice and commitment and marriage. There’s a lot that’s broken and fractured in our world, and when two people love each well it creates space that isn’t broken but one, united, whole.

RNS: Kristen, this is the first public work for you. What’s next for Kristen Bell? 

KB: I’m thrilled to see this book come out. Rob and I worked everyday side by side for 18 months trying to take the ideas running around in our heads and express them in a way that would be clear and helpful. It felt like a form of giving birth. Now we get to talk about the ideas in the book and take a deep breath and feel grateful for being on the other side of this creative process. I’m confident that whatever I’m supposed to do next will be clear when the time is right. My life is full, and I’m savoring the goodness of now.

RNS: And what’s next for Rob Bell? 

RB: Right now I’m on tour with Oprah, we’re going to arenas around the country, we just released a e-course on that people can take whenever they’d like with over 30 teaching films about finding joy and meaning in everyday life. I’m doing a writing series on Tumblr called “What is the Bible?” in which I’m giving people new way to read the Bible. I have two books written that are sitting in my computer, and another 3 outlined that I’m really excited about. And on December 21 my first television show is on at 8 pm on the OWN network.

RELATED: “What ever happened to Rob Bell, the pastor who questioned the gates of hell?”

  • Andy

    Dunno Jonathan. The only thing I think of when I read this and watch Rob and wife is the character from Happy Gilmore talking about the bad energy:

    “You gotta harness in the good energy, block out the bad. Harness. Energy. Block. Bad. Feel the flow Happy. Feel it. It’s circular. It’s like a carousel. You pay the quarter, you get on the horse, it goes up and down, and AROUND. It’s circular. Circle, with the music, the flow. All good things.”

  • Perfect response Andy…. But in truth – Happy Gilmore is at least funny and this feels just sad. As someone who has weathered some deep storms and wounds in marriage, and experienced deep healing in the journey, zimzum is not enough for me.

  • Len

    Foolishness! Just foolishness!

  • Shary

    Marilyn I understand. I wonder if they talk of marriages who do not have zimzum. Do they give a way to find zimzum love? It might have been helpful if poor marriages were addressed. If ones marriage was not good why would you read a book that talks about this wonderful marriage? I am sure the book is good just make an introduction that includes the mostly imperfect marriages in our world.

  • Robin

    Like New Age teachings.

  • Lynn

    So once again, Rob Bell cares more about celebrity than truth and purports to know more than he actually does. Old news. Why give him the publicity he so desperately seeks as he forsakes the Gospel?

  • William

    Has anyone cared to look up exactly what Tzimtzum is?

    This is nothing but Kabbalah mysticism gobblygook nonsense. Wow!

    Farewell indeed Rob Bell.

  • Here’s a bit more on the idea of “tsimtsum” from Valentin Tomberg (a Catholic Christian).

    For more context, google “Meditations on the Tarot, Letter IV, The Emperor pdf”

  • Rob is such a brilliant communicator, inspiring so many of us. But I was deeply disappointed reading What We Talk About When We Talk About God, where God seemed to be reduce to little more than a creative energy, rather than a personal bring. Similar references in this interview seem to indicate that belief for Rob now. The Life Force God was dealt an adequate blow by CS Lewis decades ago. It’s sad Rob’s heading down that path again.

  • To be fair, it was first used by Jewish mystics. Adopted later by those who promoted Kabbalah, which derived in large part from Judaism.

  • The language we use is about giving yourself to the thriving of this person you love while they’re doing the same for you in such a way that it creates an energetic flow of love between you that goes way beyond just the two of you, connecting you together with the deepest creative energies of the universe.

    Maybe the whole exercise is just camp. (And over Jonathan Merritt’s head for a that).

  • Jack

    The Bells’ rhetoric reads like a comic’s parody of New Age lingo, but Jonathan Merritt doesn’t seem to notice that.

    It seems that few people under a certain age have a feel for irony anymore.

  • Tim

    They describe marriage as “giving yourself to the thriving of this person you love while they’re doing the same for you in such a way that it creates an energetic flow of love between you that goes way beyond just the two of you”. The marketing materials call this revolutionary? Funny, this is what my wife and I have been doing for better than 2 1/2 decades of marriage, and what our parents did before us, and so on.

    It’s sad that the Bells go on to say that this love is intended to extend to the “deepest creative energies of the universe”, when the Bible teaches that the purpose of true love (like anything else that is true) is to glorify God (who is never described in the Bible, not even in the most oblique sense, as the deepest creative energy of the universe). The Bells know this, but they avoid saying it for some reason.

  • Matt

    So what is the difference between conservative Christian and just a regular Christian?

  • Larry

    Level of obnoxiousness towards others is usually a good benchmark. Its more of a continuum than a classification. The deeper the obnoxiousness, the more towards the conservative scale they are.

  • Will

    Then you must be a deeply conservative Christian 🙂

  • Ty

    I really dont care for Mark Driscolls work AT ALL. However, something is telling me I probably would recommend his book over Bells.

  • Kim Wright

    He “may” be a good communicator, as anyone could be…but he surely doesn’t seem like a Godly man to me. As even you in your response don’t even seem convinced yourself. “It’s sad that Rob’s heading down this path, AGAIN.”

    I don’t think Rob Bell was ever a Godly man.

  • Larry’s mind is ever filled with unknown unknowns.

  • There is no effective difference. The ‘non-conservative’ ‘Christian’ is one who (in the words of Fr. Paul Shaughnessy, SJ) maintains a ‘project of replacing ecclesial authority with personal experience as the norm determinative of authentic faith.’ (Which usually means replacing Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium with a mixture of the biases of the mental health trade mixed with sentimental blancmange; the lay version tends toward an insistence on being ‘nice’ to the mascot groups du jour, but not anyone else).

  • What do you make of the miniskirt on his wife?

  • Larry

    Nah, I have read more than one book. 🙂

  • Larry

    She’s got the legs for it.

  • Neon Genesis

    As someone who was sympathetic to Rob Bell during the whole universalism kerfuffle, this book sounds ridiculous even as someone who tries to keep an open mind about other religious ways of life. Rob and his wife are promoting this as some brand new way of understanding marriage but everything I’ve seen about it seems like it’s just your standard dime a dozen self-help marriage book with New Age myticism mumbo jumbo. As someone who cares about critical thinking and real science, I find New Age mysticism to be just as dangerous as Christian fundamentalism and I always get weary when I hear people rambling about energy fields or whatever.

  • TStoneIM

    I knew him during his college and early post-college years and he was a Godly man. Raised by tremendous parents. Sad to see the path he has chosen to take since then.

  • Brandi

    There is only one type of Christian. Christian means to be Christ like and scripture is the basis for that Christlikeness. Any so called “christian” that’s foundation is on anything other than this safe guide is a counterfeit. They have no anchor or guide, they go where ever their ideas take them and worship a God of their own design. That is what Rob Bell is doing and teaching others to do with confidence. There is no standard. As if there is anything new under the sun and any original thoughts. Pontificating high minded, goofy foolishness and people buy it hook, line, and sinker because it makes them feel better about themselves. The problem is that it’s just not true.

  • Jeff Damec

    When a “pastor” uses the Kabbalah as the source for his doctrine, he can no longer be referred to as “Christian” and “Evangelical”. Call me crazy, but I’m just saying.

  • I haven’t read any of Rob Bell’s books, but was fairly attuned to the debate surrounding “Love Wins” and did enjoy some of his talks on YouTube. I’m a bit taken aback by the reaction to this book/article, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I would suggest that those of you who are so irritated by Bell and his so-called “new age” teaching take a look at the beam in your own eye. At least Rob Bell has done that and is attempting to respond to legitimate criticisms of fundamentalist/evangelical world view. Are you willing to do the same? If so, read and comment on this article.

  • Brandi

    Irritation would not be an unreasonable response if you believe the teachings of Jesus and adhere to the Bible as inerrant. Because his perversion of the Bible leads people to the Hell they don’t believe exists. It’s not about being right for rights sake, it’s about people and what this error leads to.

  • But Jesus no where suggests that to follow him you must believe that the Bible is inerrant. That is merely a particular “tradition” to which most fundamentalists are attached–a tradition which, together with the idea of the eternal conscious torment of individual souls in hell, forces those Christians who believe in this way to defend other untenable positions and, after painting themselves into various practical and theoretical corners by reason of these beliefs, they are unable to effectively communicate with people outside (or on the margins) of their communities. Not only does all this tend to isolate them and keep them tied to a very narrow view of both the grace of God and their own creative potential, under God, it also makes them fair game for demagogues of various kinds. It high time we think these doctrines through and repudiate them–time to truly follow Christ (time to worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth).

  • Brandi

    Christianity will NEVER be without criticism as long as this world is in its fallen condition. Ever. Jesus said if they hate me, they’ll hate you. You will ALWAYS have people who will reject the Bible and its merit. The job of the believer is to be a student of the Word and give an answer as to what they believe and why. God will never violate the free moral agency that He gave you to choose. You can choose to rob a bank if you want to, but it doesn’t mean your choice is without consequences. God made it clear, Jesus is the only way of salvation and all other roads lead to Hell. Choose.

  • [The job of the believer is to be a student of the Word and give an answer as to what they believe and why. ]

    So which of the following do you or don’t you subscribe to? Why?

    == begin quotes/paraphrasing of linked article ==

    “… an all powerful, all knowing, all loving God…

    * …who chooses to create a world which he knows will fall into sin…

    * …and who knows that the result of that sin will be:

    — …untold generations of natural suffering in a fallen creation

    — …untold generations of human suffering throughout history

    — …and the eternal, conscious torment of untold numbers of human souls in hell.

    ” At the same time, this suffering is due to the sin or our original parents…

    * …two, historical human beings living approximately 6000 years ago in a literal garden of Eden…

    * …whose sin resulted in our being born into sin so that…

    — …because of their choice, we had no choice…

    — …and, as a result, we are condemned already.

    “Against this backdrop:

    * God in his mercy sent Jesus in the middle of human history…

    — Our perfect/penal substitute…

    — Who died a substitutionary death…

    — Thus paying our sin debt…

    — So that, because he died, we don’t have to…

    “Whoever hears and receives this good news will go to heaven when they die (instead of hell).

    “However, those who live(d) and die(d) without accepting the Judeo-Christian revelation cannot be saved…

    * …whether or not they have been exposed to the gospel…

    * …or may have heard and rejected a misrepresentation of it…

    == end quotes/paraphrasing of linked article ==

    Think all that through carefully, and you may understand a bit better where Rob Bell is coming from.

  • Brandi

    Here are just two scriptures among many.

    2 Timothy 3:16-17: every scripture is God-breathed (given by His inspiration) and profitable for instruction, for reproof and conviction of sin, for correction of error and discipline in obedience, [and] for training in righteousness (in holy living, in conformity to God’s will in thought, purpose, and action. So that the man of God may be complete and proficient, well fitted and thoroughly equipped for every good work.

    Matthew 10:28: and do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; but rather be afraid of Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

  • Brandi

    Holy moly! I don’t have time to answer all. None of which I haven’t heard before and yet I still believe. You’re coming from the premise that punishment is a lack of love and I reject that premise entirely. If we failed to punish the lawbreakers among us we would fail to preserve the society and protect those who do abide by the law. Are we unjust for sending the lawbreaker to jail? Is not correction, discipline, and punishment an expression of love? If not for the offender but for the offended. Maybe just maybe God’s desire for a people to call His own, that are made in His image would outweigh the loss of the ones that rejected Him by way of their will. The Bible says that creation itself testifies to the glory of God and that the fool says in His heart that there is no God. If no one ever heard the gospel, creation speaks and causes the seeker to seek and God promises that when sought He’s found. No man has a credible excuse because God left no stone unturned and He even put Himself in the position you resent He put us in. If Jesus would have failed, He would have been forever lost. But thank God He didn’t and hope is alive as a result. There will come a time when God will restore what was lost and the people who inhabit the world will be the ones that have already made their choice and God will have what He’s always wanted free from rebels.

  • Jenny

    Acts 20:30
    and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.

  • [“God will have what He’s always wanted”]

    “What He’s always wanted” ??? Are you suggesting that God wants? Lacks? Needs? You make It sound like our all powerful, all knowing, all benevolent God (when push comes to shove) falls short of the fullness that fills all things — like he is rather needy, in fact (like he is dependent on the existence of rebels to get “what he’s always wanted”). Indeed, it sounds like the glory of the new creation is purchased not simply by the cross of Christ, but through the eternal conscious torment of unbelievers which is somehow necessary to the process–is that right? Perhaps the old saying is true, even for God: “you have to break a few eggs if you want to make an omelet.” It seems to me that anyone who believes this must be living in mortal fear–must be more concerned with saving their skin than with arriving at a saving knowledge of the truth. Kudos to Rob Bell for acknowledging the absurdity of this doctrine.

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  • DSpencer

    Can you explain what you mean by the reference to CS Lewis? I want to understand more what you are talking about. This is really interesting to me.

  • Larry

    “Inerrant” as in follows the interpretations you are most comfortable with. Your criticism has nothing to do with error or fault. It has to do with someone who does not take your subjective view of scripture in the same manner. Irritation that someone has the same baseline of knowledge, familiarity and faith and goes in a different direction than yourself.

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  • Lukas

    Some people will never learn… Why to criticize the book before actually reading it? The interview (Bells answers) is not really strong (maybe on purpose), but I have to say that I liked the actual book more than I expected.

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  • Karen

    This interview makes it seem like Kristen doesn’t have any dreams of her own.

  • Joy

    I’m Always amazed at the number of people who make comments on the commentaries without reading the material. A couple years ago I read love wins I read velvet ElvisI have seen Rob Bell and heard him speak..we are just search the Scriptures like the Bereans, to constantly question to gain new understanding.daily I read the Scriptures I have not read this latest book I am not ready to pass judgment especially when I have gained so much insight after reading Rob Bell’s many people take scriptures out of context .no wonder Rob Bill take such a beatingI will read the books before I make another statement.I highly recommend others do the same and not just read some article about the book.

  • Ernesto Honez

    “…people buy it hook, line, and sinker because it makes them feel better about themselves…”

    Just as your beliefs do for you.

  • Ernesto Honez

    “Holy Moly, I don’t have time to answer all…”

    Take your time.

    We’ll wait.

  • Ernesto Honez

    “Holy Moly, I don’t have time to answer all…”

    Take your time.

    We’ll wait.

    (Posted by mistake to Wayne Ferguson post)

  • Well he’s certainly NOT a Bible Believer, that we know for sure…

  • dude

    Jesus is not mentioned once in this interview on marriage. Very, very sad.

  • Lisa Patrick

    Jeff ….. whoa….. they are not in opposition. Remember, Jesus was a Jew and religiously followed those sacred teachings. Are you implying that He was not Christian? Just saying …..

  • This is really intended for Jeff Damec, but I can find his comment. In any event, leaving aside the question of whether or not it is really that important that we maintain our personal identities as “Christians” or “evangelicals” (which may, at times, separate us from the Truth), here is an example of another Christian– a Roman Catholic –who makes good use of the Kabbalistic notion of “tsimtsum”– I am quoting Valentin Tomberg –follow the link below for an extended quotation:

    “The first act of En-Soph, the Infinite Being, is therefore not a step outside but a step inside, a movement of recoil, of falling back upon oneself, of withdrawing into oneself. Instead of emanation we have the opposite, contraction. . .The first act of all is not an act of revelation but one of limitation. Only in the second act does God send out a ray of His light and begin His revelation, or rather His unfolding as God the Creator, in the primordial space of His own creation. More than that, every new act of emanation and manifestation is preceded by one of concentration and retraction. (Gershom G Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, London, 1955, p. 261)

    “In other words, in order to create the world ex nihilo, God had first to bring the void itself into existence. He had to withdraw within in order to create a mystical space, a space without his presence — the void. And it is in thinking this thought that we assist at the birth of freedom. For, as Berdyaev has formulated it: Freedom is not determined by God; it is part of the nothing out of which God created the world. (Nicolas Berdyaev, The Destiny of Man, London, 1937, p. 33)

    “The void —the mystical space from which God withdrew himself through his act of tsimtsum — is the place of origin of freedom, i.e. the place of the origin of an “ex-istence” which is absolute potentiality, not in any way determined. And all of the beings of the ten created hierarchies are the children of God and freedom — born of divine plenitude and the void. They carry within themselves a “drop” of the void and a “spark” of God. Their existence, their freedom, is the void within them. Their essence, their spark of love, is the divine “blood” within them. They are immortal, because the void is indestructible, and the monad proceeding from God is also indestructible. Further, these two indestructible elements —the meonic element (‘me on’— void) and the pleromic element (rUr|ptoua —plenitude) — are indissolubly bound to one another.”

    ~ Valentin Tomberg — see extended quotation here:

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  • ed

    ive thought about those issues many times.for me it boils down to this-do i believe in an omnipotent God,or do i believe in some other god and in my own abilities.its a matter of seem to be trying to satisfy your intellectual appetite while missing the entire issues believing in something greater than yourself.i choose to believe in omnipotence

  • jdtarheel

    “Marriage is about creating space in your life for another to thrive” Um no. Marriage is about creating a family and a stable environment to raise children in.

  • Peter

    Hey J. Wayne Ferguson thanks for sharing. The presupposition of Tomberg and those he quotes seems to be that God cannot create something outside of Himself without first withdrawing into Himself. While I agree that God had to create a void to have somewhere to put the time/space continuum that we now call the cosmos, I am not convinced that God had to withdraw. I believe that He can create a dimension(s) that previously did not exist. It is one thing to God to know a thing … It is another thing for Him to bring it into existence. Just because He knows something doesn’t mean it exists!

    No I do understand that your response was to Jeff Damac’s comment, and to this preceding discussion.

    Have a good one…

  • Samantha Jones

    I absolutely agree that zimzum is a new word for the original concept of a marriage. It’s always been known that happy and successful marriages are those where both people give themselves to the thriving of each other. When that happens yes it does bring them closer to each other and create a sacred place. In other words “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.’ So he’s teaching the bible without actually calling labeling it.

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