My Experience at the First Taping of the Rob Bell Show

The following reflection comes from my close friend Dale Best. He’s the Director of Communications & Production at Neighborhood Church.

On Wednesday night, I had the privilege of attending the taping of the first two episode of the Rob Bell Show. The new show, which is tentatively set to debut on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN later this fall, features the pastor and author doing what he does best: connecting with and communicating to audiences who consider themselves spiritual but are burned out on religion.

Some time ago, Bell and his friend, screenwriter/producer Carlton Cuse (Lost, Bates Motel) produced a show demo starring Bell and began to pitch it. The reel landed on the desk of Sheri Salata, the president of OWN and Harpo Studios. That led to Bell’s friendship with Winfrey. In addition to interviewing Bell on OWN’s Super Soul Sunday last year, Winfrey also tapped Bell to be a featured guest on her upcoming “The Life You Want” Tour.

According to Salata, this week’s show filming, along with others to be filmed this summer, will possibly find their way onto OWN’s programming later this year.

Several days before the taping, audience members were emailed an anonymous survey to Bell and his producers could glean audience input before the taping.

A house band was playing music as the audience was ushered into the brick-walled studio. Dimly lit incandescent light fixtures were hung throughout the space to create a very intimate environment for the 200 or so audience members. After the studio audience assembled, Salata and Cuse addressed the audience about their excitement for this next chapter of Bell’s ministry.

Based on what was presented during the Wednesday’s filming, Bell is breaking the mold a bit when it comes to a typical talk show format. Whether or not it changes remains to be seen but what was presented gives Bell the freedom to dialogue openly about his ideas and thoughts while keeping the focus squarely on those he’s directly interacting with. The episodes broke down into three parts:

1: Interactions with the audience based on answers from the anonymous survey. Bell banters back and forth with his audience about personal life stories. Over the course of the evening, we met a man who has an affinity for wax museums, a woman who gave up her 7-digit income to become a stay-at-home mom, and young pastor who was fired from his church job because (well, you can probably guess why) and a woman who refuses to eat fruit that’s been altered from its original state.

2: A TED Talk-like message where Bell shares his thoughts. This gives Bell the chance to shine where he is most effective. He proves he’s a powerful communicator who tells simple stories and simple ideas with a very specific destination in mind.

3. Questions from the studio audience about what Rob just shared. 

Author Note: I’m a notetaker when it comes to learning from teachers and speakers and I wasn’t able to take notes in the studio. Nobody was. The content I’m about to share comes from what I loosely remember. I’m good at remembering big ideas. Not so great at remembering specific quotes and thoughts.

Bell’s first episode is about CREATIVITY and the spark we’ve been given as image-bearers of the Almighty to create beautiful things in this life. After a short intro about a kid’s experience with back wall of a Lego store, Bell quoted Rabbi Abraham Heschel:

“Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.”

Bell explained how each human being, no matter how they’re wired, is creative in their own unique way. You could crunch numbers or count beans for a living but you’re still making spreadsheets which is a creative act.

Bell talked about the meaning of life narrative that was floating around in culture thousands of years ago … how people back then wondered about the big questions of life. The dominant narrative was that of violence and brutality and death. That everything in life pointed to those things.

BUT. There was a group of people who came along and said NO. Life is beautiful. Life is good. And everything in creation points to something that is full of a beautiful energy that holds it all together. That narrative was recorded in what we now know as Genesis 1.

So we have a choice in our lives to live as people who are bored, cynical, or in despair. Or we can embrace the full potential of living in the present so we don’t miss the beauty the Almighty is calling us to co-create with Him.

Bell walked out carrying a backpack. It would become a beautiful metaphor later in this episode.

As he conversed with his audience, he began to share embarrassing photos that were submitted with the pre-show anonymous online survey. Stories were told about the circumstances behind the photos, blamed on bad fashion fads from years ago.

As much as these photos were a small part of these people’s life stories, what’s hard is that every individual has stories from their past that aren’t as easy to let go of. Chapters that include failed relationships, job loss, bitterness, trauma, sickness, death and disease.

Bell then switched gears and showed pictures of crosses. Today, our culture sees the cross as a fashion statement … something we wear on necklaces and earrings. People for centuries have seen the cross, something originally used as an instrument of death, as something much different. Bell introduced the idea of reconciliation through sharing Colossians 1:20:

and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Every human has junk. Weight. Baggage we carry around that keeps us from living whole and peace-filled lives. He shared how the Cross is meant to be something that reconciles ALL things.

When it comes to our junk, Bell got real practical. He challenges people look at their junk through the lens of the Cross … and to:
1. Name it.
2. Own it. Understand that it happened and that it’s okay.
3. Share it. Be willing to say Me, too to someone else.

When harsh circumstances and experiences are shared with others, something beautiful happens. Someone else can look at your story and find themselves in it. Pain becomes something that isn’t carried alone (backpack metaphor) but shared and brought into the light so healing, reconciliation and restoration can happen.

In the first two episode of his new show on OWN, Bell is challenging the audience to see the divine spark that God wired within each human being and to consider the Cross of Jesus. Think about that for a second.

On Oprah Winfrey’s network.

Rob Bell.

Challenging a global audience

To meet the God of Wonder.

And to consider the Cross of Jesus.

And its power to heal and restore your life.

That’s just in the first two episodes.

My friend, Patrick, shared something with me when I told him I was going to the taping … something I’m sure that’s on the heart of a lot of young evangelicals. Patrick said:

Everything I know about Rob makes me think he’s a great gift.

I know a lot of people are critical of Rob. You may not agree with him on every little tiny nuance of the Kingdom. But I believe he’s an important voice in re-shaping the way those outside the Church are viewing Jesus and his Kingdom. And he’s been given this amazing platform to share the Cross, the Resurrection and the Love of Jesus. As someone who appreciates good storytelling and excellent communication, I’m excited to see how he’ll communicate the Kingdom in this new format.


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  • Greg Flagg

    I like Rob and I was honestly a little apprehensive of him going on OWN thinking that he might get shoved into a standard, mass market, watered down talk show format. I am encouraged by this report and echo your hope that they continue to give Rob the freedom to share the Kingdom as he does.

  • Travis

    You can say “Consider the cross of Jesus” and still neglect the true Gospel that redeems people.

    • Kurt Willems

      Travis, Not sure you know Rob Bell outside of the hype. He certainly believes that Jesus died for the sins of humans, rose physically from the dead, announced and embodied the kingdom of God, reigns from the throne of heaven, and will come again to judge the living and the dead. If that is not the true gospel, I question if *you* know the meaning of the word “gospel” as it pertains to the New Testament in the context of the Roman world. What is the true gospel that he “neglect[s]?”

      • max

        Travis just got served!

        • Frollickinthesun

          No he didn’t

        • rwagg

          You are 12. No, he didn’t. Travis is right.

      • JB

        I don’t know Rob, but I have read everything he’s written in book form, read numerous articles he’s posted, listened to many sermons, and viewed many interviews online. I feel like I know him as much as I could know him without actually knowing him! I love the way Rob communicates and I love a majority of what he communicates. The problem isn’t in the WAY he communicates, but in WHAT he communicates.
        Most of the criticism about Rob centers around 1 thing – embracing a type of Christian universalism that says people don’t need to repent or fear hell, but that all will end up in Heaven eventually… because love wins. The Gospel/Good News obviously hinges on there being “Bad News” as well… or else why have the good news? The Bad News is that we have all sinned and fall short of God’s glory. The Good News is by faith in the death/burial/resurrection we receive eternal life.
        The problem with Rob is that he doesn’t talk about repentance, which is essential to faith. He doesn’t talk about turning from our old life. Everybody likes to quote John 3:16, but there’s an amazing thing called John 3:18 just 2 verses later – “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” Jesus’ first words on the scene are to repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand. The “true gospel” always calls people to change… to drop our way and start going God’s way.
        Unfortunately, from everything I’ve ever read/heard/seen Rob say, we don’t need to repent… we don’t need to drop our way and start going God’s way… because love wins and we’ll all eventually choose Jesus is some sort of purgatory state. That’s unfortunately not the “true Gospel” and is actually very dangerous.

        • Steve

          You may be encouraged to find out I learned repentance from Rob Bell. I even teach it largely based in how Rob taught it in the early 2000′s. If you’re talking about scaring people into better behavior though, you’re right, he doesn’t teach that. He’s too smart to believe the validity and efficacy of such efforts.

          • JB

            The early 2000′s is the time that Rob was in his stride. I loved pretty much everything Rob was teaching at that time and found his cultural theology very gripping, along with Ray Vanderlaan. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard him talk about repentance in the past 5-6 years and that’s what concerns me. It feels there’s been an ever-increasing momentum in Bell’s teaching that found its culmination in God Wants to Save Christians and then Love Wins where Bell took a very earthy, liberal, heaven now, God-just-wants-to-make-you-better sort of approach.
            I’m not writing to argue. It’s just when the phrase “true gospel” gets thrown around… we just need to face it… no network in 2014 is going to allow the true gospel to be presented… it wouldn’t get ratings… it would offend too many people. We live in an age where people are all about tolerance, and Christianity is not about tolerance. We have a God who is extremely intolerant of many things. Jesus wasn’t crucified because He fed people or healed people – He was crucified because He said He was God and called people to repent. That’s why I was writing. We’ll hear lots of “Ahhhh” provoking statements from Bell. But, on a network whose founder values spirituality over Christianity, we just need to face it that we’re not going to hear the “full gospel” presented on OWN.

          • Gracie

            “We have a God who is extremely intolerant of many things.”

            How is that good news? What about the last being first? If anything, the God I know is intolerant of the very intolerance that often becomes a side-effect of people who are too hung-up on telling other people to repent. Repentance is a lifestyle where one constantly turns their heart away from self-aggrandizing and that becomes wildly complicated when said person begins believing that they know the “true gospel” or exactly how Jesus would teach today. We don’t know and we need to start encouraging one another as members of the body of Christ instead of tearing each other down.

            People who wouldn’t normally be challenged in this fashion are talking about the mystery of God and Jesus and the Cross. This is good news and us “Christians” will miss out on it and continue to look like a bunch of hypocrites if we’re too busy turning on one another.

            We’re all in the same boat, even if we don’t want to be, so let’s stop trying to sink the thing.

          • JB

            “…when said person begins believing that they know the “true gospel” or exactly how Jesus would teach today.”

            I’m sorry, but if we don’t know the true gospel then we are all lost. I should hope that every believer in Christ would strive to open up the pages of the Bible, see the groaning of Israel in the OT for a messiah – see John the Baptist proclaiming the coming of one greater than he – see Jesus come through the virgin birth, come on the scene calling people to “repent and believe”, confirming that message through signs and wonders, going to the least of these, going to seek and save those who are lost, loving people radically and selflessly, and paying the ultimate price of death & shame for our sins and rising again. I can say with a relative degree of certainty that I know how Jesus would teach today… not because I’m so smart but because He showed us in the Bible through His life. He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever. We see the apostles in the book of Acts carrying on that same ministry & then Paul carrying it further. And then they pass off that ministry to each generation of the church. It’s good news through and through. God is incredibly intolerant of sin & that’s why Jesus came – that’s the good news. That’s what we proclaim. Reading 1 John gives us a glimpse of how greatly He loves us and calls us out of our sin. That’s the message.

            We are in the same boat. I love that. We are the church. None of us are trying to sink the boat. We’re trying to make sure that as many people get on this thing as possible. But I don’t want to assure people “they’re on the boat” when they’re still drowning out in the water. That should be a constant reality to all of us as Jesus reminds us that the road of salvation is narrow and few find it.

          • Gracie

            Agreed, the “true gospel” is the news of Jesus Christ. That we can agree on and I believe where our communication is breaking down is on our understanding and experience of the Atonement.

            And as I don’t fancy deep theological debates via the interweb -because I believe theology is lived far more than it can ever be debated- I will digress. I believe the Kingdom of God is offered strictly through Jesus; there we certainly agree and for that I am happy to be on your boat. Although, I must add that only God knows who is on the boat or drowning in the waters so I guess I’ll just state that I’m happy to be another imperfect believer following Christ alongside you, Rob Bell, and whoever else God calls to join us.

          • Ginny Bain Allen

            For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day. ~2 Timothy 1:12

          • Ginny Bain Allen

            “Few there be that find it” are sobering words from our Saviour, eh?

        • Lilly Munster

          Correct, as far as YOUR opinion. Rob Bell does NOT sell fear, guilt, illogical judgments, or any of the Crap which makes Religion so Deadly, Poisonous, or Inhumane. You may keep your Bleeding Jesus, hatreds, biases and Hell, if you wish. It doesn’t sell, is not logical, and is patently NOT what Jesus taught. Or are you stillunder the impression that Jesus started the Crusades, invented Purgatory, Hell, The Heidleburg Catechism, or any of those man made myths?

      • Lilly Munster

        Actually, Rob Bell considers the Bleeding Jesus as your Savior Story just one of MANY allegories concerning Spirituality. He himself started from the perspective of White, Protestant, Evangelical Christianity, then realized that there are OTHER valid, “true” and important realities…’s all relative, and largely what you were BORN into, yet not “The Answer.” He has said so. That’s why the Fundamentalists fired him and sent him packing. He has wisely evolved from the Judgmental Doctrine that he was raised in, toward Spiritual Sanity. Did you not read his books?

    • rwagg

      Exactly. This is all nonsense. His message is about God, not Jesus. God is much less offensive than saying repent and believe in Jesus. I guarantee he will not do that. Heck, he doesn’t even believe Jesus is the only way.

  • Jack Washington

    I am intrigued by this article, particularly since it is on OWN. Many may think that Oprah speaks a ‘different’ Gospel. Maybe her personal philosophy is ‘evolving’. I will stay tuned.

  • Paul

    Rob is a friend of mine, so I’m not objective in a good way. What I mean is I know his Love for God, trust in Jesus and the Spirit that moves so powerfully through him that leaves so many people healed and intimate with God. If that isn’t good news than I don’t know what is.

  • rwagg

    Bell is an apostate heretic who is going to burn in hell for spreading a false gospel. Can’t believe you wrote this tripe.

    • SusanRogersStLaurent

      Glad you have it all figured it, son.

    • Jasen

      TROLL ALERT!!!

    • guest 123

      Jesus described the people he was sending to hell. Maybe people should consider his words versus the one that have come from the church versus actual scripture. Read Mathew 25 & Mark 16 Jesus describes the people that will depart from him & sure enough its not hell deniers. Odd that Christians love to spot about heretics yet completely ignore the words of the actual Christ. They take the Evangelical often false teaching church more serious than him. …oh & if you are a Calvinist, no more comment other than would expect nothing less of church doctrine boot licking adherent.

  • Paul Frantizek

    An Oprah Winfrey produced, TED-cast format of everyone’s favorite hipster pseudo-Christian Rob Bell?

    Sounds like ‘Can’t miss’ TV, that’s for certain.

  • Joel Kessler

    I love the Spirit of Love and Wonder and Reconciliation that Rob Bell promotes in the World. He is very Christ-like leader, and truly a gift to our world.

  • rwagg

    I’m a Calvinist. So…?

    • caming

      The fact individuals such as yourself so ardently criticize Bell for heresy, yet practice a form of Christianity developed by a man who had people burned alive (uh, you know, just walkin’ the path of Christ) would be painfully ironic … if it wasn’t so sad.

  • JohnnyLaird

    I like your thinking.

    “… Fairy Tales can be unwoven quite quickly. But the Jesus story cannot.”|


  • Rob Bear

    One of the perils of populist presentation is that you can begin to think like the people. I know this from my own writing. It is something to keep in mind, but not necessarily to limit or bind one’s thinking. It’s a matter of balance.
    From what I can see (and my vision is limited), Rob appears to be re-thinking his faith. (That is not necessarily a bad thing; consider, for example, Luther and Calvin.) It is, I believe, a sorting of the values that last from the things that really matter no more.
    It will be interesting to see where Rob takes his show and his ideas.
    The other thought that comes to mind is that Thomas Aquinas was condemned for heresy several times before he was officially classified as a “saint.” Reminding us of the danger of assessing and speaking too soon.