I don’t know what else to say. This interview is devastating. It exposes the inconsistency of Bell’s argument. Bell wants to be a universalist without taking the name, and Bashir won’t let him off by a facile appeal to “paradox.” Watch above or read the transcript below.
Bashir: one megachurch pastor has ignited a theological firestorm by suggesting that our response to the Christian message in this life will not necessarily determine our eternal destiny. in his book “love wins, heaven, hell and the fate of every person whoever lived” ultimately all will be saved. He argues people will be persuaded by god’s love postmortem in the life to come. good afternoon. Before we talk about the book, just help us with this tragedy in Japan. which of these is true? either god, is all powerful but doesn’t care about the people of Japan and they’re suffering or he does care about the people of Japan and but he’s not all powerful? Which is it?
Bell: I begin with the belief that god, when we shed a tear, god sheds a tear. I begin with a divine being who is profoundly empathetic, compassionate and stands in solidarity with us. secondly the dominance story of the scriptures is about restoration, it’s about renewal, it’s about rebirth, it’s about a god who insists in the midst of this chaos the last word hasn’t been spoken so people of faith clung to the hope god will fix this place. it’s a beautiful hope. we ought to keep it front and center now.
Bashir: Which is true, he’s all but powerful and cares?
Bell: I think it’s a paradox at the heart of the divine, some paradoxes are best left as they are.
Bashir: Okay. this book you’ve written has been stirring controversy because the implication is, as you put it god’s love will eventually melt hearts, that’s what you say in the book. are you a universalist who believes that everyone can go to heaven regardless of how they respond to christ on earth.
Bell: I would say are you a universalist I would say no. that’s a perspective within the christian stream. there’s been within the christian tradition a number of people who have said given enough time, god will win everybody over. but one of the things in the book I’m 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, as 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, that is irrelevant? is it immaterial?
Bell: It is terribly relevant and terribly important. how exactly it works out and how it works out in the future, when you die we are in the realm of speculation. and my experience has been a lot of christians built whole dogmas about what happens when you die and we have to be very careful 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, god will love, will melt everyone’s heart eventually, some even post port em in death. you’re the one making speculation about the afterlife. what I’m asking is, is it irrelevant and immaterial how you respond to christ now to determine your eternal destiny, relevant or irrelevant? does it have a bearing or does it have no bearing?
Bell: I think it has tremendous bearing. also at 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: why do you choose, for example, to accept and promote the works of the early writer origin and not, for example, Arius who took a view of jesus’ deity as being not god? what do you select one?
Bell: I’m a pastor so ideal with real people and a real world asking and wrestling with these issues of faith. what I have discovered and over again people who have questions and hunches and have sort of I’m 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 other people who have had the same questions. they have had the same theories.
Bashir: you’ve indicated one of the problems with the book, you’re creating a christian message that’s warm, kind, and popular, for contemporary culture but it’s, frankly, according to this critic, un-biblical and historically unreliable. that’s true, isn’t it?
Bell: no, it’s not true.
Bashir: you’re amending the gospel 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 easy to swallow.
Bell: no, I haven’t. there’s a chapter on hell, throughout the book over and over choices matter, decisions we make 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 finding it difficult as you became an adult?
Bell: I would own up to that in a heartbeat. I think we’re all on a journey. we all were handed things. this is what what matters, here’s who is in, here’s who is out. we spend our lives pushing back and questioning and probing. I think that’s what makes it so engaging. it part of the joy of life.
Bashir: pastor rob bell, thank you very much for joining us. your book “love wins, the book about heaven, hell and the fate of every person who ever lived.”