Earlier this evening Lisa Miller of Newseek interviewed Rob Bell about his new book Love Wins. If you want to see where the rubber meets the road with the theology in Rob Bell’s book, then you’ll want to watch this.
Miller actually does a good job of pressing Bell on some key points. I think she understands the affront of the cross, and even Rob Bell’s inclusivism is offensive to her because it still relies on Jesus as the savior of the world. Unfortunately, Bell fails to state a clear gospel message. Instead, he gives short pat answers and tells lots of stories. Interestingly, Miller calls him a universalist inspite of the fact that Bell eschews the label.
You can watch the interview above, or you can check out a partial transcript of the interview below.
Miller: You have been accused in a lot of the coverage of your book of being a universalistâ€¦ Are you a universalist?
Bell: No, if by universalist we mean there’s a giant cosmic arm that swoops everybody in at some point whether you want to be there or notâ€¦ [story about a wedding] If by universalist we mean love doesn’t win and God sort of co-opts the human heart and says “you’re coming here, and you’re going to like it,” that violates the laws of love. And love is about freedom. It’s about choice. It’s about, “Do you want to be here?” Because that’s what would make it heaven. If you’re there and you don’t want to beâ€¦ Now, do I think all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds with all sorts of labels will be [there], yes. I think heaven is full of surprises. And I think Jesus brought this up again and again and againâ€¦ this was central to his teaching.
Miller: Define what gets you in.
Bell: I begin with this. I with the reality of heaven and hell right now. Greed, injustice, rape, abuse. We see hell on earth all around us all the time. So I begin with these realities here and now. And we actually see lots of people choosing hell. We see oppression. We see tyranny. We see dictators using their power to eliminate the opposition, like, literally with bullets and guns and fire. So we see hells on earth right now. There are those that we sort of create on our own, and then there are those [that are] somebody else’s, sort of, spills over onto us.
Miller: So I’m an atheist, say, and I’m an atheist who gives to the poor, who helps little old ladies across the street, and spends all of my free time in charitable works. Am I going to heaven?
Bell: The essence of grace is Jesus saying, “Left to your own,” we are all in deep trouble. We have made a mess of this place. We’re all sinners. No one has clean hands. So the essence of his gospel was, “Trust me. I’ll take care of it. Just trust me.” Now how exactly that works outâ€¦ cause he’s unbelievably exclusive. He says these things like, “I’m the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.” He says things like, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen God.” So he’s very exclusive. He’s also fantastically inclusive. He says things like, “You know, I have other sheep.” He’s says things like, “There’ll be a renewal of all things.” He says, “I’ll be lifted up and draw all people to myself.” So he’s like inexclusive. That’s a word that I just made up. And so I think what happens is, especially for followers of Jesus, is there is sort of his exclusive claims that are often at the expense of the other things that he says which are, “Be careful because I’m doing something for everybody. And how exactly that pans out, that’s God’s job.
Miller: So this sort of universalism that you are preaching that’s exclusive and inclusiveâ€¦
Bell: That I just denied? Yeah, that one. Okay.
Miller: â€¦ has offended some people who call themselves more orthodox than youâ€¦ There is something in here that offends me, and it’s not the sort of universalist part. And it is what you just said. Which is that Jesus is the mechanism through which we all will get there.
Bell: Yeah, I understand.
Miller: So I’m Jewish. And my relativesâ€”many of my relativesâ€”died in Europe for being Jewish. And they would be appalled to think that their salvation was dependent upon Jesusâ€”because they died for being Jewish. So are you sure that Jesus is the mechanism?
Bell: Well look, I would say this. In the Torah when Moses strikes the rock and water flows from the rock, that is a beautiful story of people who are thirsty and were told that through Moses God provides them water. Then laterâ€¦ Paul was like, “Yeah, that water was Christ.” But he speaks of this Christ who is the word of God who is the animating force of the universe. He broadens this way, way wide. And then he adds almost no commentary. He just says, “God has been rescuing people, redeeming people for thousands of years. We see this throughout history. And then he sort of lets that just sit there. So that means that the Bible itself creates all sorts of space there. Now, of course a Christian answers your question with, “yeah well then they’re gonna get there and then they’re gonna find out â€¦ “It was [Jesus] all along”â€¦ That is a great question. And I think it is most important for a Christian at this moment to be incredibly gracious and generous. And say he comes and he says, “I’m showing you what God’s like. I came to make the Torah speak. I came to show you compassion. I came to show you generosity. I came to show you how to love your enemies. I came to show you how to make a better world.” Does anybody have a problem with that?… And he does say things like very divisive sort ofâ€¦ But then he also says things like, “If you’re not against me, then you’re for me. He is a paradox. He is within himselfâ€¦ there’s tremendous tension. And we’ve been trying to figure that out for thousands of years.