Rob Bell, whose 2011 book Love Wins (HarperOne) sparked epic controversy, signed copies of his new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God (HarperOne), for a friendly hometown crowd in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Sunday afternoon (March 10).
Schuler Books & Music, an independent bookstore in Grand Rapids, hosted Bell for the inaugural signing of his latest, releasing this week. Emily Stavrou, promotions coordinator for the bookstore, estimated slightly more than 200 people had books signed, with about 250 copies of the book sold.
Bell’s fans—from youngsters to 20- and 30-somethings to the older generation—came from all over West Michigan and most had good things to say. Many attend Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich., where Bell, its former pastor, preached Sunday morning at two services.
Michael Kennedy, 35, has been attending Mars Hill since just after the church opened its doors in 1998. “Rob gave a lot away—his time talking to people, etc. He really mimicked Christ. He lives the things he teaches, and that never falls on deaf ears,” said Kennedy, a high school English teacher.
Steve Eckert, 61, director of Bethany Christian Services, a counseling and adoption agency in Holland, Mich., and his wife Susan, 63, a retired educator, also attend Mars Hill, which Bell left in early 2012 to pursue new endeavors in California. “We find him totally inspirational; it’s so relevant how he looks at life,” said Susan Eckert. “There were controversial things in Love Wins, which got people turned inside out. But we’re thankful for the wonder Love Wins caused. It brought new levels of conversation; it got people started talking and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Bell, unfailingly kind to the many people who shared their stories as he signed books, moved away from the table and into the orderly crowd, receiving hugs and allowing pictures to be taken. He talked to the media as well, addressing his new book as well as the criticism from conservative Christian evangelicals of the theological universalism in Love Wins, which addressed the issues of heaven and hell and what the future holds for all humans. Several books were published responding to Bell’s theology. “What is there, 800 million people without access to clean drinking water? For a serious person of faith, is it the best use of energy to shred another person of faith?” Bell said of the controversy.
Of What We Talk About When We Talk About God he said, “Welcome to a wider faith! This is for those who feel reverence, but don’t have a way to articulate that reverence. It’s to show that God is with us, for us, and ahead of us.”
Bell is currently working on developing a television show, as well as writing a book on marriage with his wife Kristen, which will be released by HarperOne perhaps next year.