NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–An MSNBC reporter’s interview with well-known pastor Rob Bell has gone viral in the evangelical Internet realm, no doubt because the interviewer — Martin Bashir — asks Bell a series of tough questions that many orthodox Christians believe have been unanswered.
“What you’ve done is you’re amending the Gospel — the Christian message — so that it’s palatable to contemporary people who find, for example, the idea of hell and heaven very difficult to stomach … That’s why you’ve done, isn’t it?” Bashir asks Bell at one point.
At another point, Bashir asks Bell if it is “irrelevant” for someone to follow Christ in this life if — as Bell argues — non-Christians will be saved anyway.
The YouTube video has been viewed more than 35,000 times in the wake of the March 15 release of Bell’s book, “Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.” In the book, Bell denies a literal hell and argues that people who have never professed Christ will unconsciously be saved through Christ.
Bell’s evasive answers to questions have frustrated Christian leaders. Even in the interview, he denies he is a universalist, and then proceeds to make universalistic arguments.
The video can be viewed at http://bit.ly/fGPBzm. Following is a partial transcript:
BASHIR: This book you’ve written has been stirring some controversy because the implication is, as you put it, “God’s love will eventually melt hearts” — that’s what you say in the book. So are you a universalist who believes that everyone can go to heaven regardless of how they respond to Christ on earth?
BELL: In regards to the question, ‘Are you a universalist?’ I would say first and foremost no. That is a perspective within the Christian stream. There has been within the Christian tradition a number of people who have said given enough time, God will win everybody over. One of the things in the book I’m very clear on and want people to see is that this tradition has all of these different opinions — everybody will be won over, some will continue to resist God’s love, and that Christians have disagreed about this speculation.
BASHIR: I get that. So is it irrelevant and is it immaterial about how one responds to Christ in this life in terms of determining one’s eternal destiny? Is that immaterial?
BELL: I think it’s extraordinarily important. I think it’s extraordinarily important.
BASHIR: In your book you said God wins regardless in the end.
BELL: “Love wins,” for me, is a way of understanding that God is love, and love demands freedom.
BASHIR: You are asking for it both ways. That doesn’t make sense. I’m asking you: Is it irrelevant, as to how you respond to Christ in your life now, to determine your eternal destiny? Is that irrelevant? Is it immaterial?
BELL: It is terribly relevant and terribly important. Now, how exactly that works out and how exactly it works out in the future, we are now when you die firmly in the realm of speculation. And my experience has been that a lot of Christians have built whole dogmas about what happens when you die and we have to be very careful that we don’t build whole doctrines and dogmas on what is speculation.
BASHIR: I’m not talking about what happens when you die. I’m asking you how you respond here and now. The question I’m asking you what you seem to be saying in the book, is that … love will melt everyone’s heart eventually — some even postmortem in death. So you’re the one making the speculation about the afterlife. What I’m asking is, is it irrelevant and immaterial about how you respond to Christ now to determine your eternal destiny? Is that relevant or irrelevant? Does it have a bearing or does it have no bearing?
BELL: I think it has tremendous bearing. It also at the same time raises all sorts of questions, and that is why the discussion is so lively and vibrant: Namely what about people who haven’t heard about Jesus? What about the woman I talked to a couple of weeks ago who was abused by her pastor? So for her, Jesus is tied up in all sorts of things and I assume that God’s grace gives people space to work those sort of issues out.
BASHIR: One critique of your book says this: “There are dozens of problems with Love Wins. The history is inaccurate, the use of Scripture indefensible.” That’s true, isn’t it?
BELL: No, it’s not true.
BASHIR: So, why do you choose, for example, to accept and promote the works of the early writer Origen and not, for example, Arius who took a view of Jesus’ deity as being not God? Why do you select one and not select the other?
BELL: Because first and foremost, I’m a pastor, and so I deal with real people in a real world asking and wrestling with these issues of faith. What I have discovered over and over again is there are people who have questions and hunches and have sort of, “I’m really struggling with this,” and when you can simply give them the gift of, “By the way, within the Christian tradition, there are scholars and theologians and there are other people who have had the same questions. They have had the same theories.”
BASHIR: But you’ve just indicated one of the problems with the book, which is in a sense you’re creating a Christian message that’s warm, kind and popular, for contemporary culture but it’s, frankly — according to this critic — unbiblical and historically unreliable. That’s true, isn’t it?
BELL: No. It’s not true.
BASHIR: What you’ve done is you’re amending the Gospel — the Christian message — so that it’s palatable to contemporary people who find, for example, the idea of hell and heaven very difficult to stomach. So here comes Rob Bell, he’s made a Christian gospel for you and it’s perfectly palatable, it’s much easy to swallow. That’s why you’ve done, isn’t it?
BELL: No, I haven’t, and there’s actually an entire chapter in the book on hell. Throughout the book — over and over again — our choices matter, the decisions we make about whether we extend love to others or not, the ways in which we resist or we open ourselves to God’s love. These are incredibly important.
BASHIR: How much is this book you working out your own childhood experience of being brought up in a fairly cramped evangelical family and really finding that difficult as you became an adult? How much of this is actually that?
BELL: I would totally own up to that in a heartbeat. I think we are all on a journey, and we all were handed things. You were handed things, I was handed things. This is the way the world works, this is what matters, this is what doesn’t. Here’s who these people are, here’s who these people are. Here’s who’s in, here’s who’s out. We’ve all been handed these things, and we spend our lives sort of pushing back and questioning and probing. I think that’s what makes it so engaging. It’s part of the joy of life.
BASHIR: Pastor Rob Bell, thank you very much for joining us.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. To read Baptist Press’ overview of “Love Wins” and to get links to reviews of it, click here.