Oprah brings controversial pastor Rob Bell to Philips

Best-selling author and pastor Rob Bell didn’t necessarily mean to court controversy, but he received a heck of a backlash when he released his 2011 book “Love Wins,” in which he questioned whether heaven could be open to all and whether hell even exists.

Critics accused him of espousing universalism and even being a heretic.

After his next book, “What We Talk About When We Talk About God,” Bell drew the attention of Oprah Winfrey, who taped a “Super Soul Sunday” special with him last year. She was so impressed, she is working to give him his own show on her cable network OWN and gave him a featured speaker role on her “The Life You Want” weekend, which opens its eight-city tour at Philips Arena this Friday and Saturday.

Bell, 44, will be on stage Saturday. “He embraces the big questions about faith and religion,” Winfrey notes in that special.

“Oprah and I are very like-minded,” Bell said in an interview last week. He clicked with her the moment they met.

“What Oprah is doing is far more significant than just interviewing actors and celebrities,” he said. “I had a sense as a pastor she is helping guide people in the unseen realities: love, hope, spirit, God and the ways we actually live our lives.

“To meet her and see her up close has been really inspiring,” he said.

He also was impressed with how much work Winfrey did preparing for her interview with him. And he was amazed how present she is. “When there’s a break, people will pick up their iPhones. She actually lives what she talks about when you’re with her. She is there 100 percent. She is the real deal.”

Bell, who is married with three children, stepped down as a full-time pastor in 2012 after “Love Wins” came out to focus on speaking engagements, videos and books. This enables him to spread his word in a bigger, broader way while providing him more quality time with his family.

He continues to mine the topics he said he picked up from his constituents as a pastor. “People have horrible ideas about God,” he said. “Some people see God as a very mean old man who is just waiting to crush you. That has psychological implications that can take the joy out of everything.”

Bell sees God in a more positive, forgiving light. “I’ve always understood faith to be about learning, growing, evolving, adapting. It’s an organic, dynamic reality. The questions people ask are half the fun. Questions mean you’re engaged, you care. That’s always been the center of what I do.”

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