As one of Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World" Rob Bell is a name that is now known well beyond the confines of his megachurch in Grandville, Michigan or within evangelical circles. Bell has been at the forefront of contemporary Christian movements in America and is situated in a unique liminal space where he refuses to be defined. In a new book, Rob Bell and A New American Christianity (Abingdon Press, 2012), James Wellman, Jr., Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Washington, probes Bell's life and examines how he can serve as a lens for understanding the shifting boundaries of the American religious landscape.
For Wellman, the enthusiasm and success of congregations like Bell's Mars Hill Church is indicative of the failure of fundamentalism in American Christianity. The refusal to be labeled by a particular interpretive framework reflects the growing American population's self-identity as "nones." This might be why many from the "Spiritual but not Religious" persuasion are attracted to Bell. In fact, after the publication of Bell's most recent book, Love Wins (2011), he has been charged with being a universalist who is amending the gospel. So what does Rob Bell reveal about American religious culture? How is it changing? And where is it headed? In my conversation with Wellman, we discuss the role of performance, charisma, media, the artistry of the sermon, the relationship between the secular and sacred, gender inclusion, experience over belief, discipleship for here and now, and the importance of media competency.