Rob Bell onstage (location unknown). Photo courtesy of Rob Bell

Rob Bell's 'Everything Is Spiritual' tour explores the evolution of the universe

DURHAM, N.C. (RNS) Hipster preacher Rob Bell is mashing up quantum physics, Jewish Kabbalah and Catholic mysticism to explain humanity’s future evolution.  

In his 30-city “Everything Is Spiritual” tour, the former megachurch pastor and short-lived Oprah Winfrey Network talk-show host delivers a two-hour monologue aimed to a millennial generation less interested in sin and judgment and more attuned to science and cosmic connections.

“A bunch of the old stories that we used to rely on just aren’t working anymore,” Bell told a crowd of almost 500 during a tour stop in Durham. “I want to take a stab at a new story.”


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Wearing a gray denim jacket, a white collared shirt, chinos and ankle boots, Bell used only one visual aid: a large dry-erase board in the shape of a long, skinny triangle. In the far left corner he drew a small black dot representing the Big Bang. Moving to the right, as the universe expanded over the course of his talk, he sketched milestones of evolution over 13.8 billion years.

Rob Bell photo courtesy of Rob Bell

Rob Bell photo courtesy of Rob Bell


 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Bell maps Christian faith onto modern evolutionary science, quoting New Age healing champion Deepak Chopra, Sufi mystic Rumi and Catholic theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin -- an amalgamation sure to rile some in the evangelical crowd that made him famous.

A graduate of Wheaton College and Fuller Theological Seminary, Bell became an evangelical luminary with the success of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich., which he founded at age 28. The church, which once boasted a Sunday attendance of 10,000, became Bell’s calling card as he urged young Christians to embrace their doubts, dig into their Jewish roots and treat the Bible as literary rather than literal.

Then he published “Love Wins,” in which he questioned the existence of hell. Evangelicals were swift to part company, describing Bell as a modern-day heretic.  “Farewell, Rob Bell,” retired megachurch pastor John Piper famously tweeted.

A year later, Bell left Mars Hill and moved to Los Angeles in search of a broadcast audience and a “more forgiving faith.” Earlier this year, the partnership with Oprah fizzled, but Bell says he’s working on another TV program.

He now talks about warring religions giving way to enlightened secularism giving way to nihilism.

“Let’s grow up,” he says, summarizing the anti-religious materialism of the modern West.


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“That works until you’re standing in the hospital room and your first kid is born, and you need something more,” he said. “You and I are made of dust and bones, and yet you are also made of something called spirit. You are crammed full of a divine breath of life itself. You are an exotic cocktail of dust and soul, bone and spirit.”

Bell casts what we now call “science” not as an enemy of faith but as a source of spiritual insight.

Tony Jones, a theologian, author and blogger, said Bell is at the leading edge of a cultural move toward mysticism.

“People are getting frustrated with the pure, cold rationality of science,” said Jones. “Rob holds science in high esteem, but Rob is really a lot about mystery. You can be a thinking person who appreciates reason and science, but there are things we can’t explain.”

In “Everything Is Spiritual,” Bell explores the religious mystery within science. Drawing on the evolutionary theology of the early 20th-century Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard, Bell argues that ever since the Big Bang, matter has been developing more complexity, depth and unity. Particles bonded to form atoms. Atoms bonded to form molecules. Molecules bonded to form cells. Cells bonded to form organisms. Humans developed language to form social bonds.

“You say, ‘I just want to be part of something bigger than myself.’ Congratulations. Everything in the freaking universe has been saying the same thing for 13.8 billion years,” said Bell. “The universe moves forward when people of similar essence and substance bond together. Loneliness is going the wrong direction. Racism is the failure to bond with another of similar essence and substance.

“Progress,” he said, in a nod to Teilhard, "is the soul of the universe.”

Jessica Russell, who attended the Durham event, said she liked Bell’s summary of "The Spirit Level," a book-length study by British epidemiologists Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson showing how societies with wider gaps between rich and poor have more crime, mental illness, infant mortalities, illiteracy and other social ills. Even the rich in those nations have lower life expectancy.

Bell’s talk reminded Russell of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

“That’s consistent with the way that God has been moving,” said Russell, 30. “If you read the Bible, some of the things seemed kind of archaic, but they were actually quite progressive in their time.”

YS/MG END DECONTO

Comments

  1. Let us start with Chopra:

    “I was so intrigued with this quantum mechanics that Deepak Chopra refers to over and over and over again in his books, that I decided to take a class in it.

    And what I found is-Deepak Chopra is full of sh__!”

    Julia Sweeney, Letting Go of God
    (Ex-Catholic, now atheist) Julia Sweeney’s monologue “Letting Go Of God”
    Buy the DVD or watch it on Showtime. Check your cable listings.
    from http://www.amazon.com

    “Letting Go of God ~ Julia Sweeney (DVD – 2008)
    Five Star Rating

  2. Matt 7: 13-14 is historically nil making all the other passages questionable as to authenticity.

  3. wow- what a ‘report’. what you offer here is a one sided praise-a-thon for bell who is as christian as a stick. it’s a shame you were unable to find any christian theologians to give a response to bell’s nonsense. but then again, i doubt you are any more interested in a christian perspective than bell is.

  4. “for bell who is as christian as a stick”

    Hey you put two sticks together and you can make a cross. 🙂

    I have no opinion on the guy one way or the other.

    Religion is one of those subjects which is a great equalizer. No matter how ignorant or how educated one is, anything said on the subject is going to be nonsense. There is no such thing as a compelling religious statement. People are either going to take it seriously or not depending on their mood or predisposition.

    I don’t find him any different from any other attention seeking religious figure one sees in every faith and sect.

  5. Bell is a fad and will eventually fade away because what he is offering is just another empty thing that cannot satisfy the human soul. Unfortunately, he will lead many astray and confuse countless others, but in the end he will not lead them to Jesus Christ, the Savior of humanity and the only one who can satisfy our soul.

  6. Mysticism – the search for spiritual depth – is indeed a cultural trend; because it is obvious God’s universe is too complex to fit in tidy little Evangelical boxes. The Bible-cultists are losing their chokehold on Western religion, because our young understand this. Thank God!

  7. … Of course, only the poorly educated would believe there is anything new about mysticism in Christianity. It has been the root of our faith since Jesus had a body. It is simply returning to the surface, because we so desperately need the mercy, compassion, love, and openness which form the core of every authentic mystical path.

  8. Ted, we don’t put God in a box. God put Himself in the box. He defines Himself for us in His Word. If He wanted to be all weird and mystical He wouldn’t have thundered out the commandments on Sinai or rained fire on Sodom or sent Jesus Christ to die on a Cross. There are certainly mysteries with God. But if something is left a mystery on God, Angels, demons, etc., it is because God knows it is not essential to our understanding of His redemptive plan. There is no grace without law. There is no heaven without hell. And there is no Christianity without God’s Word (Jesus is actually called the Word in John 1:1 and 14, showing us How seriously God takes His revealed truth). Bell is a hypocritical liar and false teacher who needs to be avoided. I speak from experience because I fell for his Love Wins nonsense before I knew the Bible well enough for his scriptural distortions to be revealed to me.

  9. I just read the passage you pointed out,Bernado: Matthew 7: 13-14.Mind providing some clarification as to what,exactly,are you talking about??

  10. “If He wanted to be all weird and mystical He wouldn’t have thundered out the commandments on Sinai or rained fire on Sodom or sent Jesus Christ to die on a Cross.”

    Hilariously this all seems pretty weird and mystical to me.

  11. The passage fails rigorous historic testing. See for example http://www.faithfutures.org/JDB/jdb163.html (single attestation Luke copied from Matthew and found no where else in the scriptures or related documents). See also Professor Gerd Ludemann’s analyses in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 153 and p. 356.

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    Or just don’t bother. It makes no difference.

  13. “Religion is one of those subjects which is a great equalizer. No matter how ignorant or how educated one is, anything said on the subject is going to be nonsense.”

    Shorter Larry: “Math is stupid.”

    “I have no opinion on the guy one way or the other.”

    Why bother to comment with no opinion? Do you imagine every comment thread to be in need of a puff of empty air from you?

  14. “A bunch of the old stories that we used to rely on just aren’t working anymore,” Bell told a crowd of almost 500 during a tour stop in Durham. “I want to take a stab at a new story.”

    Leave it to our favorite surfer-dude Pastor Rob to come up with such a narcissistic, solipsistic construction of ‘spiritual life’.

    Don’t like the old story? Invent your own!

    After all, ‘progress’ is the ‘soul’ of a universe bending towards ‘justice’!

    Horrible, horrible stuff.

  15. “Leave it to our favorite surfer-dude Pastor Rob to come up with such a narcissistic, solipsistic construction of ‘spiritual life’. ”

    Its no worse than what passes for fundamentalist faith. Belief which inspires people to act as if they are God incarnate and the sole arbiter of His Word for all people. Something so overwhelming to one’s sense of propriety and connection to humanity that it is used to justify all forms of selfish, immoral and malicious behavior.

    How often do we hear someone justifying truly horrific behavior towards others as the phony, “I am not trying to harm or attack them. I am just giving them the TRUTH!!!” Of course its just excuses to be as obnoxious as possible under the delusion that God excuses everything they do.

    Sure Rob Bell’s views can appear silly and self-absorbed. But at least isn’t advocating acting maliciously towards others. His brand of spiritualism is at least harmless.

  16. I’m afraid Rob Bell (and Tony Jones for that matter) is old news and becoming increasingly irrelevant except to those who are in his personal fan club. He has shown himself to be more than a little intellectually dishonest. Now he’s desperately searching for a trend. No idea, no epistemology, is a straw at which he will not grasp. Trendy is just that: trendy. This phase, too, shall pass.

  17. I was at this event and wasn’t offended or outraged, as some other commenters here appear to be. His message was a bit fuzzy, but he seems like a nice guy. I took copious notes and waited for the specific practical applications to daily life that he previewed, but they never came, at least not that I could tell.

    That said, I took Rob Bell at face value. He preaches a soft spirituality and mentions God every now and then. I wasn’t harmed by him, and I learned a couple of things.

  18. Shawnie5, in the above case, the hot air is mainly coming from you. You’ve taken Larry’s comments out of context, and tried to put words in his mouth that he didn’t say. That’s just cowardice on your part.

  19. Did you likewise drop in to let everyone know you have “no opinion” on Bell, Bob?

  20. Shawnie, don’t try to change the subject. Your post was dishonest and indefensible, and you deserved to be called out for it.

  21. You missed my point entirely in order to engage in petty insults and truly brain dead misrepresentation of my post.

    My point was, the criticism of Rob Bell on the basis that one’s own brand of Christian spiritual belief is somehow better, is silly. It misses the point that they are both inherently ridiculous. Just in their own way.

    My opinion here being that the common argument here of, “my religion is better than his religion” argument is nothing but a self-serving insult fest devoid of anything of value.

  22. I missed nothing.

    “Math is stupid.” Translated: I don’t understand math.

    “Debate over Christian doctrine is stupid.” Translated: I don’t understand Christian doctrine.

    Which we all knew anyway, so why bother to stop by?

  23. It depends on what is meant by “mystical.” If it means St. Theresa of Avila or St. John of the Cross, it is theologically consistent with seeking after the deeper life of Christ and in Christ.

    But if it means Rob Bell, it’s New Age pantheism, which is another matter entirely.

  24. Bell’s is just warmed-over pantheism, which is hardly a new thing, but is thousands of years old. It was big in the late 1960s and 1970s, the Age of Aquarius era, and then became less of a novelty. Now it’s trying to make a comeback, and people like Bell see an obvious opportunity to capitalize on it.

    If it became hip to wear a bag over one’s head while singing “Losing My Religion” in pig Latin, Bell would probably do it.

  25. Mysticism focuses on divine immanence. In its Christian form, it doesn’t lose sight of transcendence. But in its New Age pantheistic form, it dispenses with any idea of a transcendent God and hence those dreary old doctrines about right and wrong, truth and falsehood, reality and illusion, good and evil, heaven and hell.

    Whether anyone actually wants to live in such a world, where anyone can do anything to anyone and not be “judged” for it, is another matter…..

    And that’s why even the most ardent pantheists don’t really live it……

  26. Larry’s like the old cartoon characters that keep getting knocked down or falling off cliffs but somehow get back up and run back for more.

    He’s also like the Palestinians, who start wars with Israel, get knocked on their backsides, and then declare victory while otherwise motionless on the ground.

  27. Jack, Read the cited references and you will understand.

  28. My wife and I (and some friends) just saw the presentation last night in Indianapolis.
    Fan-friggin-tastick!!!
    He’s as much of a heretic as Jesus was.
    entertaining, educational, enlightening, challenging, amazing and a whole lot of fun!
    If you get a chance to see this tour live, DO IT!

  29. Well said Ted… although I tend to agree with Phyllis Tickle’s contention that every 500yrs Christianity goes through a great transformation… I see Bell as a voice speaking to the reality of that “shift” which, as you say, our younger generations seem to recognize and our older generations seem to resent… But, like you, I also think that “shift” isn’t so much into something “new”, but rather a re-embracing of the mystery and the mysticism that has always been a part of the Christian expression of faith… the struggle of trying to grapple with and understand the Divine, who we call God… Thank you for your post and your thoughts!

  30. Jack, thank you for reminding me that I am not addressing mature, knowledgeable, honest adults when I respond to posts of yours and Shawnie. 🙂

  31. If there is no heaven without hell, then you must surely no understand restoration of all things…what then is left out of all things restored and a new heaven and a new earth that is one?

  32. So this post wasnt good because it lacked closed mindedness and negativity? Should he have catered to your limited dogmatic views? Poor thing. ☺️

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