Ryan J. Bell (1971/19722 - ) received his B.A. at Weimar College in 1994 and his Master of Divinity degree from Andrews University (1998-2000) and a Doctor of Ministry in Missional Leadership from
Fuller Theological Seminary (Dissertation Title:Making Space for the Spirit: Cultivating Missional Identity in the Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church) in 2011 under Alan Roxburgh.
Ryan served 19 years as a pastor:1994-98 in Pennsylvania, 2000-2005 in Philadelphia and from 2005 as the senior pastor of the Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church. In March 2013 he resigned his position due to theological and practical differences.
He has no major doctrinal differences with the denomination, but Bell told Adventist Today that “my views about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals is one significant issue.”
And, “I have expressed discomfort with the expression that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the remnant church of Bible prophecy ... feeling that statement simply goes too far” as well as “ambiguity about the church’s belief in a literal six-day creation.”
Currently he is a researcher, writer and speaker on the topic of religion and irreligion in America. In January 2014, Ryan began a yearlong journey exploring the limits of theism and the atheist landscape in the United States and blogs about that experience at Year Without God.
“For the next 12 months I will live as if there is no God. I will not pray, read the Bible for inspiration, refer to God as the cause of things or hope that God might intervene and change my own or someone else’s circumstances,” he said. After announcing this resolution, Bell was asked to leave the teaching positions he held at the
Global Studies Department at Christian Azusa Pacific University and the Doctor of Ministry program at Fuller Theological Seminary. Bell plans to immerse himself in secular teachings and to speak with as many non-believers as he possibly can. Bell made it clear that he isn’t an atheist yet and that he’s not quite sure how he’d describe himself. The religious trauma in his life, the former pastor said, shook his faith, but he admitted that he was already on shaky theological ground to begin with.
In his blog post, the former pastor discussed the many critiques he has had of the church throughout the years. For example: he disliked way gays, lesbians and women were treated and he disapproved of the approach to evangelism that he observed. Bell also had “theological concerns” over the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s beliefs about the “last days.” “In March, I stood my ground on these issues and was asked to resign. I didn’t want to resign but I finally agreed.”
He is now (2015) the Director of Community Engagement at PATH (People Assisting the Homeless) in Los Angeles, a non-profit agency dedicated to ending homelessness for individuals, families and communities. He is also a freelance researcher, writer and speaker on the topic of religion and irreligion in America, blogging at Year Without God. He is also working on a book and a feature documentary about his experience (more atwww.yearwithoutgodfilm.com).
He has written numerous articles, contributed to several books—most recently, Manifest: Our Call to Faithful Creativity—is a regular contributor at The Huffington Post and is the Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Hillhurst Review. He serves on several interfaith organizations includingThe Guibord Center: Religion Inside Out and the Abrahamic Faiths Peacemaking Initiative.
Ryan J. Bell's old blog
Ryan J. Bell's new blog
After living without God for a year, former pastor Ryan Bell no longer believes
Q: This weekend you told NPR: “I don’t think that God exists.” Can you elaborate?
A: I think the best way I can explain the conclusion I’ve come to — and conclusion is too strong a word for the provisional place I now stand and work from — is that the intellectual and emotional energy it takes to figure out how God fits into everything is far greater than dealing with reality as it presents itself to us.
February 17, 2015.
I had become very liberal inside a very conservative
frame, so I had worn out my welcome there and was asked to resign from my
pastoral position. It wasn’t until nine months later that it finally landed
on me with force that I might be an atheist.
I already had a certain
level of doubt, especially about church theology. I would freely say, “I
don’t believe in creationism, I don’t believe in the literal six-day
creation.” ... If I’d been having a really healthy relationship with my
faith, I don’t think I would have done it. ... I didn’t go from a robust
Christian faith. I was trending in the direction [of humanism], but I never
would have used the terminology at that point, because I didn’t even know
there was an organized humanist world out there.
I think the people who
are the closest to me weren’t shocked. Some of them may be a little sad or
disappointed—not so much in me, but I think I represented a kind of
progressive Christianity that they were counting on, and so to not have me
in that camp feels like a loss.
- Where I stand: a six-month report July 2 2014, by Ryan Bell
I started my journey questioning whether I would remain a Seventh-day Adventist. ... This level of belief was very easy to part with because I have been parting with it for a while now. In fact, I was asked to resign—and I agreed to resign—because I was no longer Adventist enough to be employed as a pastor. As always I had hermeneutic work-arounds for how my beliefs could be considered Adventist, but I finally came to the conclusion that church administration was right. I had, in the words of my Conference President, "outgrown Adventism."
When I left my post at my church I never really considered remaining Adventist except in culture and name. Now, even this is not acceptable to me. I feel that to remain associated with the church would be to tacitly, and perhaps even explicitly, endorse things I’d rather not and need not be associated with. ...
Because of my ecumenical and inter-religious work I am friends with Episcopal priests, Methodist, Lutheran, Menonnite, and non-denominational ministers as well as Buddhist monks, Rabbis, Imams and Unitarian Universalist ministers. The whole menu of religious choices was before me and I tried a few. ...
At the halfway point, I don’t see how there is any empirical, scientific evidence for God’s existence. I don’t see any evidence for any recognizable pattern of God’s interaction in the world. I don’t think the Bible records anything more than ancient people’s search for the divine.
So on the Dawkins Scale, I’d say I’m a 5—Weak Atheist. When I started the journey I think I was 3—Weak Theist.
The Hillhurst Review
The Hillhurst Review is a space where peoples of faith can be challenged and inspired. A multimedia, journalistic combination of reviews, interviews, opinion and creative pieces from across the globe provides a platform that breeds new insights and new friendships. Editor-in-Chief is Ryan J. Bell.
The Guibord Center: Religion Inside Out
The Guibord Center – Religion Inside Out invites you to discover religion from a new perspective, offering new insights about the many faith traditions practiced by your friends and neighbors. As our understanding of one another grows, we move beyond ‘tolerating’ one another to building relationships based on mutual respect.
Abrahamic Faiths Peacemaking Initiative
The Huffington Post
In 1995 more SDA-churches were closed than opened in North America. Division leaders believed this was the wrong direction and the idea of SEEDS church planting conferences was born. The re:church network was originally a component of the SEEDS conference at Andrews University.
Ryan Bell was asked by Russell Burrill, director of the North American Division Evangelism Institute, to organize a series of seminars to encourage young pastors to plant new local churches. It was conceieved in 2001 and called Re-Church, and resulted in a network of mainly Generation X pastors who met yearly. The Re-Church Network
became an international connection and Bell continued to be the coordinator. Re-Church
became “a network of friends conspiring to change the church and the world around us by first changing ourselves.”
Re:church Leadership Team:
Ryan Bell in
From the Margins: Engaging Missional Life in the
Seventh-day Adventist Church
In 2001, some of my colleagues and I formed a network of Adventist leaders
called re-church. We were interested in initiating and nurturing conversations
about the missional and emerging church and bringing that conversation together
with what we were experiencing in our local places. Many of us had been reading
books about missional and emerging church for a couple of years. We were
learning that God’s kingdom was present now and were asking fundamental
questions about the implications of that new discovery. We wanted to have
theological conversations, not just technical conversations about how to make
the church work. We were deeply interested in praxis. We shamelessly
modeled many of the elements of re-church on Emergent Village, and held three
national conferences from 2003–2005 that brought together 50–75 diverse people
from around the country.
In New York City (August 28-31)—Loving Babylon: How to Love the City, uncovered a biblical, urban theology that instructs& to love the city and work for its healing and prosperity.
Brian McLaren: "A New Kind of Church"
George Knight: "The Fat Lady Rides On"
Carl George: "Why Listen to the Margins"
Monte Sahlin: "Interview With Treasured People"
Brian McLaren: "More Ready Than You Realize"
Shasta Burr: "What I Would Do the Same"
Jon Paulien: "Blessed are the Bold in Heart"
John McLarty: "A Sacred Party"
Jeff Gang: "Testimonies of Struggle"
Samir Selmanovic: "Faithful in Babylon"
William Bevington: "If You Have a Dream"
Ryan Bell: "Building the Missional Church"
- Ryan Bell: "He Shines in All That's Fair"
- Samir Selmanovic: "Should I Not Love This Great City"
- Ryan Bell: "Friendship & Leadership"
In Southern Calif. (August 13-16) Dancing with God: Steps to Loving Well invited to explore the rich depth and breadth of spiritual practices God can use for transformation if man will make space for them in his lives. “Come explore this curriculum of Jesusʼ school of life by observing the ways He lived his life, examining the rich tradition of Christian spirituality, delving into ancient disciplines of Christian life, and reflecting on the teachings of great spiritual guides of the Christian church. 70+ participants.
Main presentation: Jon Dybdahl
Other presentation: Ryan Bell
In Philadelphia. Micah 6:8: Do Justly, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly was held at the Campolo School for Social Change and featured Tony Campolo as keynote speaker. The gathering challenged us to be doers and not simply hearers of the word, to be actively engaged in working for peace and justice in our world.
In 2005 nearly there was major change in the lives of the coordinators of re-church it was time to evaluate.
In Columbus, Ohio, (October 3-4,) linked to the National Conference on Innovation. Speakers: Alan Roxburgh, Ryan Bell, Monte Sahlin.
In Hollywood Adventist Church, (March 1-2) Beyond eVANDALism, Nearly 80 attendantes. Featured speaker: Peter Rollins with three sessions + responses by Trisha Famisaran, Ryan Bolger, Samir Selmanovic and Ryan Bell.
- Ryan Bell has developed a close friendship with Brian McLaren since they met at an academic conference in 2000. He also communicates regularly with Evangelical leaders Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt.
- Ryan Bell is listed among the initiators of
- 2013 Adventist Forum/Spectrum Conference on September 6-8 entitled A Third Way:Beyond the Conservative/Liberal Divide to a Christian Identity Refreshed by Interfaith Dialogue. Keynote speaker: Brian McLaren. Other speakers: William Johnsson, Samir Selmanovic, and Ryan Bell
- Ryan Bell's Church, Hollywood adventist Church, is observing Ash Wednesday and Lent.
- Ryan Bell about The 2009 Emergent Village Theological Conversation, Jürgen Moltmann:
"Jürgen Moltmann is one of the most influential theologians of Our time. ... This is a once-in-a-life-time opportunity. If you're like me and are passionate about the intersection of academic theology and the life of the Church, you should do whatever it takes to be at this event. ... I'm registered and I know of several others from the re-Church network who will be there as well, so we'll definitely have a re-Church meet up while we're there."
- Ryan Bell wrote a post on the Spectrum Blog in 2008 called The (Adventist) Church Emerging.
- In July 2008 and January 2009, Ryan Bell spent two days in silence, prayer with the monks and reflection in the Benedictine monastery St. Andrew's Abbey in Valyermo, California.
- Ryan Bell calls Jon Dybdahl his friend and mentor.
- Ryan Bell calls Samir Selmanovic his friend and room mate at 2009 International Conference on Innovation.
- Ryan Bell endorsed It's really all about GOD: Reflections of a Muslim, Atheist, Jewish Christian, by Samir Selmanovic.
- Ryan Bell was a Board member at Creative Ministry, a privately funded and managed para-Church ministry, fully recognized by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America.
Matthew Gamble was another member and Monte Sahlin was its chairman.
- Ryan Bell is in 2014 listed as a member of the Advisory Board to Adventist Peace Fellowship.
- July 28. 2015 Ryan Bell was on a Cleveland public radio show discussing
the decline in religious affiliation with Rob
Bell, Cathy Grossman and others.
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