Rob Bell, best-selling author and former pastor, spoke about the importance of joy at the Walker Theatre Friday night.

With a set that was part stand-up comedy, part spiritual reflection, Rob Bell led the audience of the Walker Theatre Friday night through a lesson on joy.

Bell, a best-selling author and former non-denominational church pastor, told the audience joy is not happiness, because the experience of joy is an understanding of the world, rather than a fleeting feeling.

"Joy can wrap its arms around the full spectrum of the human experience," Bell said.

His appearance in Chattanooga Friday night was part of his nationwide "An Introduction to Joy" tour. Bell's presentation included observations from his own life, such as lost dog posters, cat cafes and strangers in mirror suits.

The anecdotes he shared with the audience presented a way of looking at the world that underlined his larger point about the importance of creating joy in life, especially amid the mundane or average. Joy is a rebuttal to anger or cynicism, Bell said.

"Cynicism is easy and it's actually fairly lazy because cynicism doesn't go far enough," Bell said.

Several hundred people sat in the pews of the Walker Theatre to hear Bell speak. Among them was Tammy Bullock, 54, who had never heard of Bell before seeing the advertisement for the show.

"Something drew me to it, so I thought I'd follow the urge," she said, adding that Bell being featured by Oprah helped in her decision.

Bullock said she is spiritual and wanted to keep an open mind about the performance.

Bell's work is reaching out to those who may not be connected to a church but feel a sense of spirituality, said Joseph Knapp. The 36-year-old Nashville resident said Bell speaks to those in a "third space" that is not the group active in church and not the group against organized religion.

"He's someone that's starting the conversation for the people who've moved away from the church in the last 20 years," Knapp said.

Contact Wyatt Massey at or 423-757-6249. Find him on Twitter at @News4Mass.