A Question about Martin Bashir’s Question

Martin Bashir, of MSNBC, was on the Paul Edwards to be interviewed about his interview. (That’s a first for me.)  Bashir and Edwards agreed that that they thought Rob at one point was not forthcoming. There were many good points brought about by Bashir, who is an articulate evangelical, but I want to hone in on one point.

In this interview, they talked about a part of the interview where I think the problem was that Bashir actually asked a bad and inadequate question. They thought Bell was caught off guard, which might be true. But… here’s what I see.

Bashir kept using “irrelevant and immaterial” in that original interview — as in “Is Christ immaterial and irrelevant?” — and that was a softball for Rob. Rob answered his question in an honest way — as in “I think Christ is totally relevant”  But those who knew what Bashir wanted from Rob also inferred that that was not what Rob answered, so they thought Rob was being dodgy. Not true in my opinion.

What Bashir was really asking and wanted Rob to answer was this: Rob, you believe in a second chance, don’t you? Does belief in a second chance mean that a decision for Christ in the here and now doesn’t matter that much? [Irrelevant and immaterial makes Christ too inconsequential for someone who thinks hell is both now and will continue but not be eternal. Hell would matter – that’s the point I would make.]

That’s what Bashir wanted to ask, but his question was backward (why use “ir” and “im” words? who would say “Sure, Martin, Christ is irrelevant and immaterial?) and Rob’s answer was both affirming yet not quite going where Bashir wanted, so Bashir thought he was being dodgy, when it all came down to a poorly phrased question.

Bashir was on the verge of asking the really good question — Do you believe in a second chance after death and the fires of hell? — but he didn’t.

Did anyone else see it this way? And I’d like to hear from those who liked Bashir’s interview. I’m asking only if my reading of the Bashir question makes better sense. [Hey, Denny Burk, what do you think of this reading?]

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://onliving.wordpress.com tallandrew

    Sorry, I think Rob Bell knew what Martin was asking. The question asked was effectively “Does believing in Christ make any difference in this life?” and Rob ultimately failed to answer the question. Such an opportunity to share the gospel and it was unfortunately missed.

  • http://annarapa.blogspot.com/2011/01/life-with-eternal-one.html Anna R.

    I think you’re probably right, Scot. When I watched the interview, I thought it was an excellent example about how we so often talk past each other because we’re using different words to mean the same thing. I’d bet that Martin thought he was asking the question in a very clear way. Rob’s smart enough to know what Martin was actually asking, but perhaps he wanted to answer the question that was explicitly there instead.

    I wish that Rob would have further expanded on why the decision now is neither irrelevant nor immaterial. If only we were focusing on how Jesus offers us life with the eternal one–both now and in the next life…

  • http://gcjeffers.wordpress.com Greg Jeffers

    Yeah. I feel the same way. The question Bashir should have asked, and the question I want to ask, is, if a second chance happens after death, then what’s the biggie about making a decision about Christ now? I think part of the problem results from having different paradigms. Bell wants to rephrase the discussion of Heaven and Hell from being concrete places you go after you die depending on whether you have accepted to Christ to being, I think, about natural outcomes of knowing Jesus. Bashir, and I’ll add the Gospel Coalition and a lot of other people here too, find Bell extremely dangerous because he says you can just put off making your decision until later, when he is really saying, I think, that God never stops pursuing you–never gives up on you. Bell then can rightly say that Jesus matters a whole lot right now in this life–Jesus can start to transform you now–but that we shouldn’t construct our theology around a deadline or fear of being tortured forever by God who wants to burn all the wicked people. Bell wants to emphasize, I think, that God wants to rescue everyone, and he is willing to beat down Hell’s doors to do it. I compare this to Paul’s discussion in Romans 5 and 6 about whether we can keep sinning or how far is too far. Paul’s point is that a redeemed person won’t think in those terms. Can I just wait until I die, live like a son of Hell now, and make my decision later? A redeemed person wouldn’t even think like that, but for all the unredeemed there is still hope–because God is love. I don’t know. I think its a conflict of world-views.

  • http://cramercomments.blogspot.com D C Cramer

    After the initial Japan either/or dilemma question (either God could stop it by wouldn’t or couldn’t stop it), I give Bell credit for giving Bashir as much as he did. It seemed clear from the outset that Bashir was simply trying to bait/take down/embarrass Bell. And, interestingly, I’m not sure Bashir could give a better answer to his own question than “paradox.”

  • jason

    I do think Bell missed an opportunity to address what may be one of the central issues in this debate. Is the gospel about salvation in the afterlife, or is it about something more, participating in God’s transformation of the present? Assuming the former, then perhaps Bell’s theology makes faith in Christ inconsequential. Assuming the latter, however, present faith remains enormously consequential.

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    I watched the original interview and then the interview about the interview.

    Questions are asked and answered in context of the larger discussion. In the context of the interview, it seemed clear to me what Bashir had in mind about the relevancy of Christ to the questions Bell raises in his book. If Bell was answering merely in general terms about the relevancy of Christ, and not specifically in regard to the context of the interview, I do not think that would be Bashir’s fault. When an author is being interviewed about specific positions he has taken in a book, he should really try to keep up with the context of the interview.

    I do not think Bell was prepared for the interview, or the type of historically informed questions he would be asked. I was surprised by what seemed like the “deer in the headlights” reaction he displayed. No doubt, he has a lot of passion and enthusiasm and sincerity, but I do not think that is enough, not even for an interview. One must also be cogent and coherent. I think Bashir brought out a good point when he suggested that Bell wanted to have it both ways; I don’t think Bell answered that very convincingly. Perhaps better preparation would have helped him there, but his lack of preparation was not Bashir’s fault.

  • http://www.godhungry.org Jim Martin

    Scot, I agree with you and Anna R. My sense is that Bashir thought he was asking the question more clearly than he did. This was the point in the interview where I sensed that neither Bashir’s question nor the answer he received was going to provide much clarity for the issue at hand.

  • http://cramercomments.blogspot.com D C Cramer

    @ Jeff: I don’t think Bell was prepared for the TONE of the interview. From the get-go Bashir seemed on the attack.

  • Dean

    That is precisely what bothers me about the “gospel” as primarily something that matters only or mainly for the hereafter. There is indeed solid good news in a life of following Jesus here and now. Rob Bell’s perspective seems to emphasize “starting” kingdom of heaven living by acknowledging Jesus as Savior and Lord and following him now to be ahead “in the game.”

    While I will not accuse the “hell forever for most of humanity” folks of denying the benefit of a life following Jesus now, their perspective just seems to assume that the most important thing of all in this life is avoiding hell. It is not. The terror of death and hell is a terrible “gospel” and it’s high time Evangelicals reasonably proclaim a true gospel rather tnan rail against those who raise reasonable questions about a farce gospel.

    Jesus conquered the final enemy “death” in his death and resurrection. Penal substitionary theology assumes that the enemy that was conquered was God’s wrath. Soctt, your book “A Community on Atonement” helps form appreciation for various theological views on atonement so I do not discard the penal substitutionary insights.

    However, there is serious theological danger in assuming that the primary purpose of Jesus death was to appease an angry God. This is not a victory of love and if the letters of John emphasize anything at all, it is that God is Perfect Love. Hell forever for most of humankind at the point of death is the grossest possible reflection on God’s character of never giving up on the lost.

  • http://king.typepad.com Mike King

    I agree with your post Scot, well stated. I feel like Bashir went into this interview hoping for a game over exposure of Rob’s “heretical ideas.” I don’t criticize Bashir for his attempt, in fact, I was quite amused by the whole interview. Rob did not miss the opportunity to declare it is vitally important how we respond to Jesus Christ here and now. He just didn’t exclude the idea that God’s work of a persons redemption and restoration is God’s work, not ours, and may therefore not be finished until God decides it’s finished.

    Rob did not miss an opportunity to proclaim Good News.

  • http://cramercomments.blogspot.com D C Cramer

    Don’t want to dominate this conversation, but after listening to Bashir’s interview about the interview, it seems quite clear Bashir has thrown any attempt at journalistic objectivity out the door (though that’s nothing new for journalists). Why he thinks Bell has to promote Arianism because he sites Origen is beyond me. Yes, Origen was officially condemned as a heretic, but anyone who reads church history knows that Origen and Arius are not on par; ror are they both dealing with the same issue. Origen is still frequently cited as an important church father, despite some of his more speculative views.

  • http://www.listeningpostministries.com Jim

    Rob could have done a better job of seizing the agenda.

  • Brian

    My thoughts on the interview: I thought it funny that Bashir blasted Bell for being evasive in his answers and Bashir himself never answered the 2nd question he was asked by Paul Edwards. He bashed Bell for “selectively quoting” and then…yup, selectively quoted Bell.

    Any interviewer who doesn’t want nuanced answers has an ax to grind. Bashir had an ax to grind…that was pretty obvious.

    Finally, what does it say about Paul Edwards’ own credibility when he labels Bell an “Emergent Universalist,” both labels Bell has publicly denied?

    This whole “controversy” has very little to do with honest questions and debate about theology and is rather an attempt by one tribe to assert theological supremacy in the Christian community by stifling those good honest questions Rob explores in his book. And yes, that phrase “theological supremacy…” should be disturbing to us as followers of Christ.

  • http://sanctusblog.blogspot.com James Gibson

    I think I see a lot of gnat straining going on here in a desperate attempt to rescue Rob Bell from a mess of his own making.

  • Jacob Musselman

    Having never watched Martin Bashir before, I assumed this was his questioning technique, which makes for winnable arguments and great tv but not necessarily good conversations.

    I think most of the time you have to reject the premise of the question (to steal a line from the show West Wing) and it’s supposed answers. If that had happened I think the first question involving Japan could have been helpful and hopeful to people and Rob may have been able to articulate his thoughts better.

    Or those are his thoughts, and he just didn’t like it.

  • Richard

    Scot, as someone that didn’t appreciate Bashir’s approach to this interview, I DO appreciate your take on this because it assumes the best of Bashir’s motives and that this can be chalked up to miscommunication. That helps me rebuke the thought in my mind that Bashir had an “ax to grind.”

  • Chris Miller

    About the interview, I wondered if we have to be careful about sometimes casting our pearls before …. I made that comment somewhere else (I don’t remember where.)
    I was probably too harsh as I now agree with Scot’s assessment that Bashir didn’t ask the question properly. (Does he know the right question?)

  • http://cramercomments.blogspot.com D C Cramer

    @ James #14: Don’t know who your comment was addressed to, but I haven’t expressed any interest in “rescuing” Bell here. I haven’t read his latest book (or any of his earlier ones for that matter). As I understand it, they are usually pastoral distillations of more scholarly work that is already available. I suspect the same is the case of Love Wins, despite the flurry of folks suggesting it is radically new stuff.

  • Randall

    I don’t want to defend Rob Bell’s course here, because if he needs my defense he’s in worse trouble than before; but the interviewer wouldn’t have answered the 1st question about Japan on camera, I don’t think. Given that, I have to discount his integrity as an ‘honest broker’ in this. People asked Jesus questions that he didn’t answer because they wanted something to hang him with rather than insight. If we can’t handle that or if that disqualifies him as a saviour then what are we discussing? This was a witch hunt that would have been more entertaining in the interviewer wore Dominican garb. Rob Bell may have many problems with theology; but, this tactic could make any believer look ridiculous.

  • Daniel

    Honestly, I thought the whole interview was ridiculous…on both sides: a waste of six good minutes.

  • Ed Holm

    I was hoping for better questions. Bashir kept asking questions which presented a false choice (either/or) when the answer may well have been much broader. I don’t think Bahir wanted understanding but rather wanted to corner Bell. Bell was not as sharp as I would have liked but give and take with reporters may not be his strong point any more than being a theologian may not be Bashir’s. All in all I guess you will have to read the book (or not) and make up your own mind if you have not already!

  • EricW

    It’s been a few days since I watched the interview, but I think I had the same thought you did – i.e., the question was wrongly phrased. People touted the interview as Rob Bell being skewered by the interviewer and dodging the question(s), but I think those who think Rob Bell was trounced in this interview saw it differently than I did. I think Rob came through rather well because the interviewer’s questions were not properly phrased and, as others have stated, presented false choices for Rob to answer. Kind of like the black-and-white thinking that unfortunately characterizes some popular Evangelical apologetics and discussions of issues (either you believe this in this way or you’re not a Christian).

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    I think the question about Japan came up because there have been a little bit about it in the news, something about a 9.0 earthquake or a tsunami or nuclear reactor problems, or something. The nature of the question is something that is asked of Christians all the time. Of course, there is no quick and easy answer to the question of theodicy. But it was a by-the-way question.

    I don’t think Bashir came to attack Bell. But he did not come to pitch softball questions either, which is what I think Bell might have been expecting, and why he showed up apparently unprepared.

    I had not heard Bashir much before, just brief snatches here and there. But I was surprised by how articulate he was in the interview with Bell, and I thought him quite articulate again in Edwards interview with him. Bell, OTOH, not so much. It does not seem to be to be a hard thing to ask controversial questions and offer vague answers that leave many more questions ~ and there certainly seems to be a lot of confusion over exactly what Bell believes. In Edwards interview of Bashir, I came away with a clearer idea of what Bashir believes than I have of what Bell believes.

  • Christine

    Jeff Doles, #23, I agree.

  • http://pastormattsblog.wordpress.com/ Pastor Matt

    I liked Bashir’s interview on Paul Edwards show better than his interview of Bell.

    I think a lot of people read into the Bashir interview of Bell the frustration they felt after the live stream interview, in which even the normally reserved Margaret Feniberg expressed frustration at Bell’s lack of clear, direct answers to clear, direct questions.

    I don’t think Bashir was being rude or harboring a secret agenda. I think Bell should have known what he was getting in to! Bashir treats nearly everyone that way. But I agree with Scot that he could have asked clearer questions.

  • http://www.lambpower.net Steve D

    Something keeps on going through my head. This interview was meant for a general audience. It was on MSNBC not CBN,TBN, Daystar, or even Fox. Many, if not most in the audience probably didn’t get the “inside” part of the interview.

    Interviews are supposed to enlighten and inform the audience. Martin Bashir did not word his questions well. His first question was poorly worded, gave a false dichotomy, and set a combative tone. He could have trapped Bell with a little nuance and a better tone. Bashir was relying on Piper, Taylor, and DeYoung for his info. He had not read the book. It shows.

  • http://theoprudence.com/ Matt

    I agree that he meant to ask what Scot is suggesting. I also would like to have seen an answer to that question, and am expecting to see it once I read the book (Amazon just shipped my pre-order today).

    [Full disclosure: On the whole, I’m sympathetic to what seems to be Bell’s take on this issue, and – as I pointed out in my own post on this subject – I was disappointed in the way Bashir approached the interview.]

  • http://theoprudence.com/ Matt

    Another thought: Like @tallandrew (#1) I think Bell knows where Bashir is going with the question. But I’m wondering…is he avoiding the issue, or is he simply trying to get to the heart of the dispute? In other words, in his mind, he is saying, “Yes, I think there is probably a second chance, and here’s why what we do in this world still matters…”

  • Robin

    This is yet another emergent pastor who is being accused, far and wide, of being intentionally evasive with their theological positions. It looks, from the outside, like emergents want to believe one thing, but pretend to the rest of Christendom that they believe something else, or at least believe it differently than it appears.

    So, are emergents [Bell & MacLaren especially] (1) unsure about what they believe and therefore give shadowy answers (2) hiding what they believe so their answers are misleading OR is there something about communication in the emergent movement that makes clear, concise communication of concrete ideas impossible? I’ve known multiple academics that like to use technical language and expression so much that they find it extremely difficult to communicate simple ideas to undergraduates, have Bell and MacLaren gotten so used to some kind of post-modern emergent communication style that they can no longer effectively communicate with their conservative brethren?

  • Robin

    I also wonder what role emergent evasiveness plays in conservative distrust.

    From what I can tell, MacLaren basically turned out to have the theology that people like D.A. Carson claimed he had years ago, but because he was evasive and not forthcoming for years he alwas just seemed like a deceiver.

    Bell is probably not far off doctrinally from Stott (I say probably because it isn’t really clear from what people can deduce from Love Wins) but Bell is under attack and Stott is almost universally admired among the neo-reformed (of which I am one). I wonder how much of it is that Stott has been honest and upfront about his theological beliefs, so we know where he stands, understand he isn’t really a risk to come out tomorrow and advocate for unitarianism or some of crazy doctrine, so we have made our peace with him. Whereas for Bell, and possibly others, their communication of the beliefs has made them seem evasive or misleading, and so we suspect that their true beliefs are much, much worse, and don’t really trust them….

  • Scot McKnight



    I don’t think it is at all unclear what Rob Bell believes here. He isn’t a universalist (at least in the ordinary sense of the term). Read what is written by Mars Hill above. He believes in a second chance, so all the queries about universalism, esp from statements that sound universalist, when he denied them, seemed like evasion but they weren’t. He’s not a true blue universalist.

    Stott and Bell are not alike. That comparison needs to go. Stott is an annihilationist. He did believe more would be finally saved than many others would think, but overall he and Bell are not all alike.

  • Dennis

    I thought the interview was a phenomenal interview. the questions were direct and penetrating and Bell was very well spoken. however, i do think the interviewer missed the mark on this point. he should have asked more directly concerning post-death conversion. i also believe that the point is a pivotal question.
    ever since i heard of this debate i have thought about the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. the rich man requested that Abraham send Lazarus to his brethren. Abraham answered that such an endeavor would be a waste of time. the idea is that there is something of cosmic and eternal significance being played out here on earth. C. S. Lewis attempted to capture this idea at the end of his book The Great Divorce with the analogy of a cosmic chest game being played out.
    it is almost impossible (or totally impossible) for our finite minds to captures the ‘formation’ of eternity on earth. (Lewis’s chest game being the best attept i’ve seen). How can eternity be formed? isn’t it static? Yet,from GOd’s desire to create the universe and place human beings in it, to the coming of Jesus Christ, to the end of time, begs the question, “why play out this story of humankind on earth?” Why not create spirit beings like Himself?
    something transpires here on earth within the heart of each person that cannot be underestimated. the ‘after death’ question seems to miss this point.

  • Brian


    I would commend page 116 (for example)of Love Wins…Bell speaks of “potentials, possibilities” and “acknowledges with humility the limits of our powers of *speculation.*”

    To say, “Bell believes in second chances” might be too strong. Would it not be better to say, “Bell is hopeful for second chances”? Even the MH FAQ reads, “We live in hope…” “God’s love may…”

    Bell is speculating aloud…asking questions and inviting conversation. Why this is so threatening to some is difficult for me to understand. To accuse him of being unclear and lacking precision is fair…to say that he definitely believes in a second chance after death rather than is hopeful for one…well, I’m not sure he would agree with that.

    Summing up from the FAQ: “Love Wins helps us have a biblical imagination that *leaves room* for the *hope* of the redemption of all while recognizing humanities free will to continue to reject God.”

  • Dennis


    when i read “you’re more ready than you realize” by Brian MacLaren i knew nothing of the present debates on emergent faith. but i immediately saw within the book two things being spoken. one outward statement concerning the nature of conversion as gradual, and another underlying statement that there was a Spirituality that superceded conversion altogether. I found the subversiveness of the book very distasteful and tantamount to lying. i do not see it as a product of poor (or mis-)communication
    Rob Bell on the other hand, i found to write provacatively, and therefore a little cheeky perhaps, or playfull, but not in any way unclear concerning what he is trying to convey. he sometimes leaves things open-ended to provoke soulsearching and discussion but not deception.
    (this is, of course, one person’s observation and i could be way off here.)

  • http://teampyro.blogspot.com Frank Turk

    I think that seeing Rob Bell as a neophyte to media and to the questions being asked is coy at best. I read this post and some of the answers, and I wonder how many people are willing to say that Rob Bell is not as clever as Martin Bashir.

    FWIW, I think Bashir’s opening question is stellar: it’s the ultimate apologetic softball to be able to ask for an answer to the question of evil from a pastor. Is it really possible that Rob Bell has never heard that question or answered it in a way that the atheist who poses it will respond, daunted?

    Is there anyone reading this blog that couldn’t give a better answer than Mr. Bell did?

  • http://www.techchapel.com Carl

    Rob Bell is a Pastor with the opportunity to address very large groups of people, whether directly or through his writings. He was on a publicity tour seeking interviews such as this one. He was not badgered nor was he a victim of a personal attack, again he sought the publicity. The questions were pointed and directed at the heart of the matter at hand, namely does this book change the orthodox position of the church on such issues as eternal punishment in a place called hell and do we need to carefully consider our response to Jesus in this life. Rob Bell is a Pastor when faced with this series of questions he should have been able to direct the matter to a saving confrontation with Jesus but He made it about himself and his book. He refused to commit himself as to the books content, admission of heresy after all was not the publicity he sought!

  • http://www.dennyburk.com Denny Burk

    “But those who knew what Bashir wanted from Rob also inferred that that was not what Rob answered, so they thought Rob was being dodgy. Not true in my opinion. What Bashir was really asking and wanted Rob to answer was this: Rob, you believe in a second chance, don’t you? Does belief in a second chance mean that a decision for Christ in the here and now doesn’t matter that much?”

    Scot, I think that’s close but needs one more qualifier. In my view, Bashir intended immaterial/irrelevant with respect to the eternal state (how ever one may construe it). Bashir was trying to get Bell to admit that in “Love Wins” the eternal state is not finally determined by anything we believe or don’t believe in this life. Perhaps it’s not immaterial/irrelevant to the question of a temporary hell, but in Bell’s view it is irrelevant in determining one’s eternal state.

  • http://guymwilliams.net guy m williams

    I thought the interview with Bashir was tough but fair. Those questions could have be better worded perhaps. But overall, Bell’s problem wasn’t a singular question poorly worded, it was his inability to be straight-forward, clear, and in control in his answers.

    I like Bell and appreciate his contributions. But liking him and much of what he has to say doesn’t change my opinion of his performance in that particular interview, the only one I’ve seen in which there were sufficiently challenging questions to allow him to clarify his position and rationale effectively. The other ones I’ve seen were pretty unimpressive on the part of the interviewers (GMA, Morning Joe).

  • Jeff L

    I had never heard of Bashir prior to the interview link on this blog a few days ago. (I rarely watch television.) I’m very surprised to learn that Bashir is a Christian–my take after watching his interview with Bell was that this is a Mike Wallace or even a Jim Grey wannabe.

  • http://guymwilliams.net guy m williams

    Frank, #35 – agreed.

  • http://tallskinnykiwi.typepad.com/ tallandskinnyandrew [different than tall andrew]

    not very clear questions and i could see they would be difficult to answer simply as either or.

    as for the “relevant” question, I was hoping the conversation would turn to judgment fire and Christians themselves, who will all experience some flamage when their works are tested – something that I notice Reformed thinkers tend to play down in their rhetoric because the focus is on no judgment at all for our sins. But that does adds a greater level of continuity between this life and the next.

    what we do relevant for eternity??? absolutely but in more ways than one.

  • http://www.rotlc.blogspot.com Ian


    I’m can’t defend what Rob wrote in his book, but I agree that Martin’s question was inadequate. If he had followed up with quotes from Rob’s book that showed Rob that he is ultimately laying the foundation for an irrelevant Jesus in the here and now, it would have worked. But he didn’t. Martin expressed in the Edwards interview that he would like to interview Rob again, this time much longer. I hope that happens.


  • Terry

    Scot, I’m glad for the post and question because, at least among my colleagues, I felt like I was alone in this. I spent more than a decade in broadcasting before becoming a pastor and thought maybe I was just listening with different ears.

    I agree with your take on the less than best question being asked. Along with Brian @ 13 and Ed @ 21, I too thought Bashir (whom I did not know was a believer) was playing gotcha for effect and to corner. On the second interview, he was very clear that’s not what he was doing, nor intending to indicate he was interviewing from/for a specific theological perspective (thus reticence to reference Redeemer), but I would have sworn for awhile there Bell was being interviewed by John Piper (or maybe Bill O’Reilly who is a king among those who demand yes and no answers for non-yes and no questions.) Most any interviewer who doesn’t want nuanced answers really does have an ax to grind.

    More than anything though, along with Richard (16) I appreciate your take on this because it gives our brother Bashir the loving benefit of the doubt, that this can indeed be written off as a foible and miscommunication.

  • http://www.soulation.org Dale Fincher

    Scot, I saw it exactly that way. I’m not a Bell follower, but if he’s going to get pounded to the wall, noone should base it on this poor interview. I blame Bashir for not asking the right questions of Bell… and I also blame Bashir for bring up a famous argument against God’s existence and frailty, a la Epicurus, to start off the interview. That was belligerent. I would never expect an evangelical, like Bashir, to deliberately ask questions to make Christianity look inadequate in light of the Japan disaster. Who does that?

  • michael Henry

    “What Bashir was really asking…”

    Seriously? This is just second guessing, back seat question asking and answering. These two guys are not amateurs. They have no ignorance or unpreparedness defense in any shape or form. With a teaching and writing background like Bell’s he can’t lean on “I wasn’t prepared”, and doesn’t need a closet apologist for him do it for him, which your trying to do.

  • http://jasonsmith.wordpress.com Jason Smith


    One of the things I’d like to see you address when you do your review, is:

    Who gets to decide what or who Rob Bell is?

    Also, should the SBTS/Gospel Coalition people be more clear about their position? What I mean by that, is how they feel about where those who do not agree with them are positioned? In/Out of evangelicalism? In/Out of Christianity? It does not feel like they are interested in a Kingdom oriented movement of the Gospel when we spend a month doing this? Just sayin.

  • http://www.godandculture.com Paul Edwards

    Bell’s thesis (actually, a question) in Love Wins is: “Does God get what God wants?” Bell defines what God wants as the salvation of every person who has ever lived – regardless of whether they trusted Jesus in this life. That’s not how the Bible defines what God wants. According to the Bible, God wants a people for His own possession (Deuteronomy 7:6; 1 Peter 2:9). As a matter of fact, God already HAS these people. Jesus calls them “my sheep” (John 10:27). The Trinity is working (and has been working from eternity) in concert to redeem God’s people from out of every tribe and language and people and nation (Revelation 5). God will not fail in accomplishing this task. Bell may indeed simply be arguing for the “second chance” position, but he is still a Universalist in the sense that he believes God is not willing to overcome the will of those who choose against Him in this life.

    The attacks on Martin Bashir by Bell supporters both here and on other blogs expose the very lack of objectivity Bell supporters accuse Bashir of displaying in his interview with Bell. In his interview with me, Bashir apologized TWICE to anyone who was offended by the nature of his interview with Bell. Not one of his detractors has bothered to cite this fact.

    As one who has conducted interviews for more than eight years, I am quite familiar with the accusation that – when the interview goes bad for the interviewee (as it Bashir’s interview of Bell clearly did for Bell) – the TONE of the interview was hostile. One can only reach this conclusion regarding Bashir’s interview of Bell if you only wish to stuff your fingers in your ears, ignore Bell’s incoherent answers, and defend him regardless. Bashir’s first question to Bell – the theodicy question – was not some sort of trap being laid. It was an opportunity for a Christian pastor to offer the THIRD (and correct) alternative: God is all-powerful AND all-loving and therefore all that He does is ultimately good. Bell punted.

    Bell’s supporters now accuse me of “brown nosing” Bashir. They still can’t defend their Emergent champion, so the character attacks on those who have exposed Bell continue relentlessly. Several will follow this comment.

  • scotmcknight

    Paul, thanks for weighing in. I’ve been on your show before and felt you were fair-minded. I believe Martin’s question about “immaterial” was not as sharp as he intended it to be, and that’s all I really wanted to say. You had a good interview with him, and it helped me understand a number of items from the original interview. His desire to distance his own theology from that interview was a bit odd for me, since I think his theology did influence his interview … but I think his theology ought to have influenced his questions.

    I’m ready to come back on your show brother.

  • James

    I think you should repost the question that Bashir meant to ask to have the community here answer it. People are only responding to how people thought of Bashir’s tone.

    “Do you believe in a second chance after death and the fires of hell?”

    I think it depends on whether they’ve had a good opportunity to follow and receive Christ. Will Judas who rejected Christ have a 2nd chance? Jesus never spoke on it, so I assume for them, they don’t get a 2nd chance… As for those who have never heard, or don’t have the mental capabilities, I think God’s grace will cover them.

    and I do believe in an eternal hell, where all of God’s grace will be gone and those who sent to hell will be given what they wanted which is to not worship Christ and and only focus inward.

  • BOB

    Reality Check Everybody – “Hell on Earth” is a cliché

    Jesus compares the fate of those who rebel against God to being tossed in the local garbage dump but he didn’t say that anyone on Earth was existing in that state now as Rob is saying.

    Scott, I don’t agree with your assessment that the question wasn’t clear enough.

    This is the question Bashir asked:

    “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?”

    He clearly asked about how responding to Christ in this life determines your eternal destiny.

    Has Rob Bell answered that question anywhere? Can anyone provide that answer?

    Is he saying you get a second chance to pick God? If he is then clearly how you respond to Christ in this life is irrelevant and immaterial.

    Scott, how would you respond to this question?

  • http://www.godandculture.com Paul Edwards

    And I am ready to have you back, Dr. McKnight. You have an open invitation to my program any time and on any issue you wish to speak about. Would love to have you back to discuss this post and thread specifically. I appreciate you.

  • James

    @ BOB 49, I believe the post just before this one gives a link to Mar Hill’s FAQ about Love wins, where they describe give this notion of a purgatory fire and another chance after death.

  • Rick

    Paul and Scot-

    I hope that interview is being scheduled, and that you will let us know when it will take place.

  • Jeremy

    Agree with 11, 20, 26 and others. Regardless of whether you personally want someone to pin down Bell or not, Bashir did a horrible interview. Almost all of his questions were some variation on “isn’t it true…” or “this is what you did, isn’t it?” That’s not an interview, that’s an interrogation. Besides, he kept repeating the same questions over and over. There are ways to get at your point besides just repeating something hoping that the subject will eventually give the answer you want.

  • Richard

    @ 47 Paul

    Glad to have you on here to share you perspective of the interview, especially since you’ve followed up with Bashir afterward. As for your contention regarding Bell’s thesis about what God wants, Bell didn’t just think up “God wants all to experience salvation” on his own, it was the Apostle Paul that first penned those words to his protege, Timothy: “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

    As for the “correct” response you think Bell should have said regarding theodicy, your response sounds an awful lot like the “paradox” word Bell did use in this interview. Thousands of years of debate and philosophy would suggest that “theodicy” issues don’t fit the description of “softball” and “warm-up” questions.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Finally got around to reading and listening to it all. My new job is taking away from my Jesus Creed time….:(

    Bashir was asking Bell for a yes or no answer to a question that does not have a yes or no answer, in my opinion. Rob could have sat there and told him that he is not looking at the issue the appropriate way, but that would be as condescending toward Brashir as Brashir came across to Bell. So Rob answered honestly and gently, in my opinion.

    Paul Edwards also fails to see the argument that Bell is making and therefore is stymied by response. It is a classic modern world view vs. post modern view. Edwards and Bashir both see the world, and more importantly god and the true nature of existence, as black and white – either / or – questions. Too bad. A more talented interviewer could probe Rob’s perspective to help us all understand his nuance instead of playing a game of gotcha with him.

    I find Edwards and Bashir to be quite arrogant in their approach toward Bell with them both making judgments ahead of time then asking questions to try and pin Bell down to an answer that he is not alleging. Too bad.

  • http://phule77.blogspot.com Todd Erickson

    One will note that quite often, when either Hipps or Bell is preaching at Mars Hill, that they will make a statement of question much like the theodicy question that Bashir started the interview with…and then they will back up, and they will ask what the question behind the question is.

    Certainly, Mr. Edwards is welcome to view the starting theodicy question as a softball question from his particular Evanglical mileu, but I believe that it sets up a false paradigm for what Bell is trying to communicate, and if Mr. Edwards and Mr. Bashir are only able to approach what Bell has to say from that paradigm, then they are not in a place where hearing what Mr. Bell has to say is going to be useful to them…it will be an offense, a stumbling block, and they have reacted to it in precisely that way.

    Bell has stated quite openly that, acting in relationship with God, those who follow God act out the Kingdom here, that it is precisely important that we choose God now because we take part in God’s restorative actions here and now and that God acts through and with us.

    For those whom this is a dodge, those people are precisely why many of us have come to see church as mostly only being able what happens after we die, and thus pretty useless here and now.

  • Jon G

    I agree with DRT in #56. Bashir was asking “does 2+2 equal 3 or 5?” How do you answer that? By denying the question as valid to begin with…

  • Gun

    When someone comes with messages that sounds “new”,”odd”,
    “crazy” etc. why can´t we just listen to our brother or sister instead of wanting them “to give the answer we want”. I agree with Jeremy and others, that Bashir had
    no goal to let Bell tell about his book. What was he
    afraid of? Are we afraid of someone coming in order
    to crash the foundation of our own religion? If Jesus, (who we perhaps wrongly think as the founder of our many
    Christian churches) would come and talk to us I think he
    would say: “I don´t find much left of the messages
    I once brought to you. I told you we are all one with our
    Father and with our fellow beings. But you are divided
    in uncountable groups fighting about who are right. The
    key to all what is right is LOVE. How often do you use
    this key? You have put God outside of yourselves instead
    of finding him within you. I told you to go to your
    chamber and sitting there in the stillness ALONE without
    stressing thoughts you might find that we ALL are ONE
    and also in ONENESS with our CREATOR. My Father`s other
    messengers got the same insight, Buddah sitting under a bodhitree and Mohammed through the Angel Gabriel.
    They also found, that they are not their thoughts, but
    the underlying consciousness beyond the thoughts. You
    are conscious beings who can choose which thoughts you
    want to manifest in your lives. Until now you have not
    chosen to be the observer of your thoughts and to choose
    LOVE thoughts only. Your doctrines says that you CANNOT.
    But I said: Be you rigtheous as your heavenly Father is.
    It is time to wake up from old belief systems that has
    resulted in separation and not in UNITY. Will you let
    LOVE WIN?”

  • http://cramercomments.blogspot.com D C Cramer

    Paul Edwards:

    I believe I was the first one here who questioned Bashir’s tone and objectivity (comments #4, 8, and 11). And as I said above, I have never even read Bell (comment #18). So to say that everyone that has problems with Bashir’s interview is simply some kind of emergent disciple is a smoke-screen (not to mention that Bell himself is not a part of the emergent movement as emergent leader Tony Jones has pointed out).

    I’m willing to cite Bashir’s apology in your interview, though it seems to me that his apology only proves the point that there might have been something wrong with Bashir’s tone in the original interview. I’m also willing to concede that perhaps the problem was simply with the set-up of the interview. On your show, you talked with Bashir for some 30-45 minutes–more than enough time to allow Bashir to explain himself, answer criticisms, etc. On Bashir’s show, Bell was pressed for sound-bite answers on questions that require much more time to unpack. Bell tried to give a little more explanation to Bashir’s first question (i.e., to try to explain a “third way”), but Bashir immediately returned by pressing him for an either/or. Just compare your tone with Bashir with Bashir’s tone with Bell and try to say that Bashir was entirely objective.

    I agree with Scot. It was strange how Bashir explained himself on your show. On the one hand, he spent many minutes expressing how problematic Bell’s views are theologically, even once slipping and calling his interview with Bell an “argument.” He went so far as to try to psychoanalyze Bell’s reasons for writing the book (troubled childhood, etc.), which is incredibly patronizing. But then, after expressing how vexed he was over Bell’s theology, he tried to say that his theological views had no effect on the way he conducted his interview with Bell. As Scot said, Bashir’s theology clearly affected the way he conducted his interview, as well it should. Why try to deny it?

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    ….D C Cramer#59 addressed the wholly inappropriate psychoanalysis of Bell’s childhood well. We are all a product of our past as Bell said. That was incredibly condescending.

  • http://Bensonian.org Christopher Benson

    Scott: On my blog I featured the MSNBC interview with Rob Bell and my friend offered the comment below. I’d like to hear your response to its content analysis:

    Thank you for empirically demonstrating that television is woefully inadequate as a medium for carrying on serious theological discussion.

    First off, Martin Bashir needs a refresher course in logical fallacies. His opening question is a classic case of a false dilemma: “Either God is all-powerful and doesn’t care, or cares and isn’t all-powerful, which is it?” Bashir is rehearsing the text-book philosophical problem of evil which is overturned by a more careful consideration of the definition of caring. Turns out that God’s love and caring just might included suffering and evil as part of the penultimate story–a story wherein love does indeed win in the end. Excluded premise? God is sovereign and cares. These aren’t exclusive propositions. But, then, consideration of this alternative would require patience and thoughtfulness, both of which are inimical to television’s constraints.

    Bell answers with a profession of trust in God’s sympathy. Bashir then restates the either/or question curiously changing the first horn of the supposed dilemma: “which is it, God cares and is sovereign, or God cares and isn’t” Stop the tape…I mean digital transmission! What just happened? Bashir escaped his false dilemma in reply to Bell’s articulation of God’s sympathy (hidden premise, God is both sovereign and cares) yet gets to come across as though he is still in the driver’s seat? As though he were the thoughtful and critical one? Once again, television and it’s soundbyte-favoring dynamic doesn’t afford us the time and patience to thoughtfully and critically engage the conversation, so Bashir slips by unscathed.

    Next, Bashir repeats the same question about 5 times “is a person’s response to the gospel irrelevant in this life.” A question which Bell wisely answers “yes, terribly” and then tries to explain the nuance of his view. Bell may be wrong. He may be flirting with universalism. But, he does mention there is an entire chapter on hell and at least appears to suggest there are eternal consequences for not believing (eventually) in Christ. This is a subtle view and it may not be untrue. Bashir seemed totally incapable or unwilling to enter the nuance, to ask the relevant question and so came a across as brow-beating with this black-and-white, simplistic, false dilemma-foisting mindset, hopscotching to other reviewer’s critical reviews as soon as his own lack of nuance becomes painfully obvious. He sadly gets to ride the wave of television’s penchant for impression rather than substance. A transcript of this discussion would reveal a different picture than the one displayed by the boob tube.

    To be fair, Bashir asks some relevant and important questions: “Why Origin and not Arius”? But, to rightly answer this would require time and space–the enemies of the format once again. Turns out Arius on the nature of Christ and Origin on the eventual destiny of all people are not comparable. Serious discussion would ask for a more critical appraisal of the quite different nature of the questions at hand for Origin and Arius. To put this plainly, Arius has no place within the pale of orthodoxy because he questions the divinity of the person of Christ. Origin has a contested place, one that is flirting with the margins, but may articulate an important minority report from the fringes regarding the nature and scope of the work of Christ (who Origin never doubts is divine). Bashir needs logic again: this time to consider what a category mistake is.

    Again, thanks for posting. This is a fabulous case study in the way television is hostile to serious thought. Bell’s palpable frustration throughout the interview was appropriate. Bell may be wrong. A thoughtful critique, however, would require a more nuanced platform. I can’t say it’s clear from this interview whether he has articulated a helpful discussion of these matters or if he is guilty of heresy. I suppose only a careful reading of the book will tell.

  • Thomas Newell

    Deferring to your expertise Scot, but you really believe that Bell is not a universalist?

    He does not seem to arrive there in the Unitarian manner, but does seem to just be popularizing classic Karl Barth teachings and ideas.

    I have read the book and Bell is advocating that we will be able to endlessly choose Heaven or Hell, and that given enough time, all will eventually choose love; hence Love Wins.

    Maybe I am missing something here but both a Unitarian and Barth believed the same ultimate fate awaited everyone, they just disagree on the time frame and means.

  • Scot McKnight


    First, Rob Bell has said he’s not a universalist. You are saying, I surmise, that he’s either lying or doesn’t understand the terms. I suggest we as Christians are to trust he knows what he’s saying and is not lying.

    Second, a universalist believes all will be saved. As I read his book he believes so much in a libertarian sense of free will that saying all will be saved is a form of coercion, which he rejects as inconsistent with love. (This is what Love Wins means. God gives us choice.)

    Third, a Unitarian denies the Trinity; Bell doesn’t do that.

    I will begin blogging about this book April 1 and I will lay down where I think Rob fits in the spectrum of thinking from exclusivism to universalism.

  • Scot McKnight


    Your friend is a little harsh in tone but he’s seeing some things I saw too.

    I, too was a bit baffled by the use of Arius (for which he had an odd pronunciation — aREEus) in connection with Origen. Why Origen and not Arius? Not sure what he was getting at.

  • Thomas Newell

    I think I am saying a third option Scot.

    Bell concludes his book by believing that eventually all who reject God will be won over by his love. That given an eternity they will eventually, choose God’s love.

    I don’t believe Bell is lying or unfamiliar with the term universalist. I think that since he believe he does not believe in the same process of Hell being non-existent or empty as a traditional universalist, then he therefore does not think he falls in this category.

    As I said before, and I am sure you might explore in your review, I could not help but see incredible similarities between Bell’s book and Barth’s writing and teaching on the same subject.

  • scotmcknight


    But the word “universalist” applies to those who know for sure and believe completely that all will be saved. Bell has too much human choice. Believing everyone will in the mode of his expressions makes one a “hopeful [and almost a] universalist.” More later.

  • henrybish

    Dr Mcknight,

    Although I would class as one of the ‘neo-calvinists’ I wanted to say that I consider you a brother in the Lord and very much appreciate your generosity of spirit towards the ‘other side’ in this discussion. God Bless you,


  • Randall

    So Scot, I wanted to ask if you ever read much George Macdonald and if so would you say he is an universalist or not? I read your post #67 and looked at your including ‘know for sure’ and agree that I always have included that in my undertstanding of the term ‘universalist’; but, it doesn’t seem like most other people do require a dogmatic certainty before they deem someone a universalist. Macdonald, in the reading of him I’ve done, seems to be agnostic about whether we can know. Am I wrong about him there?

  • Alan K

    Thomas #66,

    I’m curious as to what you understand Barth saying on the matter. Barth was not really concerned about universalism, but rather election. The differences between the two were aptly spelled out in an article by Tom Torrance titled “Universalism or Election?” in the Scottish Journal of Theology about 60 years ago. John A.T. Robinson had written a little book called “In the End, God…” which was a robust argument for universalism. And now that I think about it, this whole kerfuffle over Rob Bell’s book could have been greatly abated if people were aware of this previous conversation.

  • Richard

    @ 65 Bashir got the “Why Origen and not Arius” comment from one of the Gospel Coalition reviews, I believe Deyoung’s. He pretty much lifted it straight from the blog post though it wasn’t clear that he was citing a critic at the point since he tended to say things like, “that’s what you’re doing, isn’t it” as opposed to “is that what you’re doing?”

  • Edwin

    I think the point of “why Origen and not Arius” is that Bell is appealing to early Christian universalists as evidence that the stream of Christian orthodoxy is broad and that he is well within it. Bashir and DeYoung are saying that since Origen was condemned for his universalism by an Ecumenical Council, he isn’t within the stream of historic Christian orthodoxy any more than Arius. If I were asked that question, I’d respond:

    1. Origen isn’t alone–Gregory of Nyssa has a similar view, and both of them actually go well beyond Bell’s position. Maximus the Confessor, John Scotus Eriugena, and a lot of modern Eastern Orthodox folks are closer to Bell.

    2. Origen is clearly not a heretic in the same way and to the same degree as Arius, and most Christians recognize this.

    3. Are you saying that you accept the Fifth Ecumenical Council as a statement of historic Christian orthodoxy? What about the Sixth? What about the Seventh? To “why Origen and not Arius” I’d retort “why Calvin and not Origen”? Calvin is at least as much at odds with the “Great Tradition” as Origen is.

    Randall, I blogged about MacDonald’s relevance to the Bell controversy before the book came out: http://stewedrabbit.blogspot.com/2011/03/george-macdonald-rob-bell-and-standards.html.

  • smcknight

    Edwin, yes, that’s what went through my head … it was a kind of ad absurdum argument, no? If you’re with Origen, why not also with Arius?

  • Randall

    Thanks for the link, Edwin. I see that Lewis and Macdonald affected you in a similar way they did me when I was a teenager. The link you have on Madonald was a benefit, thanks.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    I actually think the comparison between Arius and Origen had a different goal than a sort-of guilt-by-association tactic. I think the point was more to force Bell to admit that he too has “us” and “them” categories. Bell has again and again critiqued any kind of “us” vs. “them” mentality and Bashir was getting him to admit that there’s no way around it. If Origen is part of “us,” then why is Arius a “them”? What makes the difference? The point is not to compare Origen and Arius so much as to test how far Bell is willing to go to keep from drawing theological lines in the sand. The question many of us are wondering about Bell is How theologically inclusive is he willing to be? So far, the only standard I can see Bell using for his theological method is Jesus which is great if you get Jesus right and horrible if you get him wrong. And this is why Bashir’s use of Arius was, in my opinion, spot-on.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    Odd pronunciation of “Arius” aside. C’mon, give the guy a break. It’s the British accent 😉

  • scotmcknight

    Peter G., is that the English pronunciation? I’ve never heard it pronounced that way.

  • Christine

    Peter #76 and Scot #77, I thot it was the accent as well.

  • James
  • James

    People love rally around their personality cult leaders, with each side clamoring for the moral high ground.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    Oh, I don’t know, Scot (hence the wink). But my American love for the British accent makes me demur to pretty much any British pronunciation as the correct one. Kidding of course. Although I do love me a good British accent.