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Rob Bell, an easy target for apologists

March 16, 2011

Did you hear about Martin Bashir’s interview with Rob Bell about his new book, Love Wins? The apologists did, and a few dozen new blogs were added to the ‘net the next day.

Do a search on the ‘net like “Martin Bashir Rob Bell interview” and count the links to responses (or better, commentaries). Christian bloggers were alarmed (or perhaps pleased?) at the way Bell was hard to pin down. One said Bell was “gutted” by Bashir. Another said Bashir made Bell squirm. Still another said Bashir knows more about Christianity than Bell does.

As often happens, I saw things differently.

Two things stood out to me in the whole affair (besides the fluidity of Bell’s thinking). First was how shoddy the interview was. Never mind how bad Bell might have come across. What about Bashir?

How’s this for a question:

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?

What kind of question is that?! Bashir gave no examples. Wouldn’t “Is that true?” have been the better question? It sounds as if Bashir is agreeing with the reviewer he quotes. But his question at the beginning where he gave only two options (God is all-powerful but doesn’t care, or God cares but isn’t all-powerful) should have given the viewer a clue as to the depth of his own theological understanding.

Or was Bashir not really taking the sides of the reviewers at all, but was just trying to corner Bell? Does he know that the two options he gave regarding God’s love and power are not the only ones but just wanted to find out if Bell knows, too? I really don’t know.

What was clear was that Bashir had no interest whatsoever in finding out what Bell thinks. If he had, there were a few places where he could have asked Bell to expand on something he said. Bashir apparently didn’t hear Bell answer his question about the relevance of what a person does about Christ this side of eternity for what will happen on the other side because he kept asking it. Bell said it’s “terribly relevant and terribly important.” Bashir could have asked him to explain the connection between the matters of human freedom (which Bell raised himself earlier), of what we do about Christ today, and of the powerful love of God. These are the important questions in the issue of universalism. The sub-title of Bell’s book sure sounds universalistic, but he said very clearly that he isn’t a universalist. So he doesn’t believe everyone will be saved in the end? What does it mean, then, to say that God’s love will win? A good interviewer would have tried to explore these things. But Bashir was more interested in playing the prosecuting attorney than in conducting an interview. He wanted to hang Bell rather than giving him room to hang himself (should his beliefs actually be the jumbled mess Bashir seemed to think).

What really concerns me about this (and this is my second concern) is the way Christians are going after Bell on the basis of this interview without (apparently) giving it more than a few minutes’ thought. Bell’s book hasn’t even hit the shelves yet, but now, having seen Bell in this interview, we’re all experts on what he thinks! Some Christians are so pleased that Bashir nailed Bell, but seem to have missed Bashir’s own blunders. People heard a few buzz words that raised flags and then attacked like vultures at lunchtime. My prediction is that most of the negative comments that have and will come Bell’s way will be based on what some other Christian has said about him and not from reading his book and engaging his ideas.

I’m not writing this to champion the cause of Rob Bell, by the way. The little I’ve heard from him I’ve found to be a bit too sentimental and fluid. The news of the release of his book has prompted my own study of the responses of universalism and annihilationism to the traditional belief in an eternal, literal hell, and I’m pretty sure I’ll disagree with him. My radio listeners and transcript readers can let me know if I’ve done any better than those I’ve criticized here.

You can find the video of the interview in many places on the ‘net. Here’s where you can find a transcript:


From → Apologetics

One Comment
  1. Good post. No matter what Bell says, we have to be responsible in our criticisms and not simply engage in a witch hunt.

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