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Bell is well-known for using various forms of media to circulate his view of Christianity. He makes his teachings easily accessible through new mediums, including film, while concurrently never shrinking from complicated discussions. In the 2007 film, Everything is Spiritual, he describes the evolutionary story of creation, mixing a dense but clear explication of the scientific origins of the universe, all framed within a wider worldview that humans, by nature, are spiritual—there is nothing humans do that is not spiritual.
A friend of mine who stands outside of Christianity but has deep interests in religion and spirituality viewed Bell's film, admiring his intelligence and artfulness, but exclaimed in frustration, "Why is Bell is so determined to retrieve Christianity? He's obviously a very smart guy and he gets the science of creation and its spiritual corollary, but why force it into the Christian narrative?"
In fact, what makes Bell's voice so unique is that he is willing to use every medium and discipline to convey that the Christian story is by its nature fundamental to every aspect of life, regardless of what others might think, or how interpreters, whether religious or not, might react.
Bell's recognition and celebrity hit a new high with the publication of Love Wins—a 2011 New York Times bestseller. The book and the controversy skyrocketed Bell into the national media. In Love Wins, Bell invoked the well-known interpretation of the kingdom of God, which holds that heaven and hell may not be somewhere else—but that, rather, they are right here among us. For Bell, the "new creation" in Christ is already working within creation to transform it through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This is hardly a new idea, but Bell's placement and his reminder within the evangelical community, created a firestorm even as it drew the interest not only of many young evangelicals, but also of readers across the religious and ideological spectrum.
Nonetheless, the voices of young Calvinist evangelical leaders condemned Love Wins with a comprehensive and ferocious attack. Pastor and author Kevin DeYoung called Bell's Christology "classic liberalism," his use of scripture "mistaken" and a form of "biblicism," his history "misleading," and his eschatology "muddled," finally concluding that Bell is a "universalist" who worships "a different god . . . [a] small god so bound by notions of radical free will that I wonder how Bell can be so confident God's love will melt the hardest heart."
The fierce nature of these attacks is balanced by the passionate tone of positive responses to Bell. For many he is a celebrity and a rock star. In one short YouTube video, a random Mars Hill attendee says she wants to meet Rob Bell, and her friend responds, "Let's go now." The college student and friend go, meeting Bell on the stage at Mars Hill where the three of them talk. Afterward Bell gives each of them an awkward but gentle hug around the shoulders, his face maintaining a calm and pastoral look. When the video shifts to their return from meeting Bell, the girl exclaims, "Why am I acting like this is a celebrity?" But she isn't alone in viewing Bell as a celebrity. A friend of Bell's told me that he was recently walking with Bell in New York City when a group of young women ran up to Bell to ask for autographs.
I had an even more personal experience with this phenomenon during the course of my research. My fifteen-year-old daughter got to know Rob Bell through the Nooma films. Soon after I started this project, the complete set of Nooma DVDs came in the mail, and my daughter suggested we do a father/daughter night and start watching them together. She bubbled, "I like him better in brown hair" (referring to his blond stage in the earliest films). In the later films, when Bell is pictured with a crew cut, she exclaimed, "I like him better with long hair!" After we watched the fourth film, she murmured, "I love Rob Bell," then moving past the hair comments, she added, "I feel like he understands where I'm coming from; I want to be like him."