Rob Bell Interview – Transcript

Beginning tomorrow, Patheos is hosting a discussion of Rob Bell’s controversial new book, Love Wins. I’ve posted some opening thoughts already. The fate of non-believers is one of the most challenging issues facing evangelicals today, in part because it tends to divide evangelical on generational, cultural and social-political lines. It also unearths a whole host of related issues, such as the authority of scripture, the work of Christ, and the nature of God. We thought it would be worthwhile to host a conversation and to try to make that conversation as charitable and constructive as possible.

Last night, Bell’s publisher, HarperOne, hosted an event to celebrate the launch of the book today. Bell was interviewed by Lisa Miller, an award-winning writer on religious issues for Newsweek. I will post the entire transcript tomorrow as a part of the Book Club discussion (please bookmark it), but today I wanted to post the parts of the conversation that concern salvation and hell, since the controversy has centered on these issues. So, below is the transcript (it’s not short) of the most important parts for our purposes.

Note: I post this as a resource for the conversation. Feel free to cut and paste, but please link back here. Tomorrow I will post my own review of the book – which will be fairly critical, alas.

Bell’s Opening Comments:

I believe that God is love, and I believe that Jesus came to show us this love, to give us this love, to teach us about this love so that we could live in this love and then we could extend it to others. The first people who heard this message responded with, “Now, that’s good news.” I believe our world desperately needs good news. When you hear the word Christian, what words come to mind? When you hear the word Christian, do you immediately think, “Oh yeah, the people who never stop talking about God’s love for everybody?’ Or do a number of other images and associations come up? And I believe there are moments when we have to return to our roots and acknowledge that perhaps we’ve lost the plot along the way, and we need to return to the simplicity of God is love and that God send Jesus to show us this love so that we might know this love and extend this love to others.’

I never set out to be controversial. Dramatic pause. [Laughter] I actually don’t think it’s a noble goal. I don’t think God honors it when people set out to be shocking or dangerous or provocative. My interest is in what’s true. And where is the life? And where is the heart? And what inspires? And if that happens to stir up a few things, which I’m told it does from time to time, that’s something I accept. But what’s interesting to me is the conversation. What compels me is that for thousands of years people have been conversing about what matters most. The Bible itself records this cacophonous conversation. You have laments and poems and people arguing with each other, people shaking their fists at the heavens, people hearing, speaking, singing, writing letters, recording what happened, passing along all of these fragments and ideas and words of encouragement and hope and conviction. So when we gather here, it is an ancient, holy thing that we are doing, when we take part in this conversation that has been going on across the ages.

I have lobbed a book into this conversation, which releases tomorrow. But I throw this book into the conversation with the awareness that it is one more voice, and every voice matters when we’re talking about the things that matter most. In some ways I’m not talking about anything new. These ideas and these discussions and trying to wrestle with these questions and come up with answers and explanations that might actually give us life and guidance and hope and help us to know God better and be better followers of Jesus, this is something that has gone on for thousands of years.  So the fact that you are here tonight and you are in on the discussion, I think is a beautiful thing. So, are you with me now?

According to polls, 81% of Americans believe in heaven and according to a Newsweek poll 8 or 10 years ago, 70 percent of those believers think of heaven as a real place. By which I think they mean a geographical location. Is heaven a real place, a geographical location that is not right here and right now?

I think heaven is a real place that exists. I saw with a man last year who was a couple days from dying of cancer. He is moments from taking his last breath, but he was very clear and lucid. He kept saying, “If only people know, if only they could get it.” Get what? The peace and joy and the stillness and calm with everything being all right is available. It’s available here. It’s available now. I just wish people knew – and his body is moments from saying, I’m done.

My experience has been that we bump up against this reality all the time, and we bump up against people who are experiencing it? Do I think there’s a place with streets of gold and everybody has a Ferarri? That probably has more to do with cartoons than anything.

So, in the Middle Ages, the monks made maps with heaven somewhere on the map. It’s over here or over there. Is there a secret door?

Jesus turns the whole discussion upside-down. He comes from a first-centry Jewish world view, and he keeps insisting, actually God is interested in restoring you and restoring this world. God made a world and he calls it good, and so the fundamental story that unfolds is Jesus, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. So he thinks of it as a real place. The father is in heaven. And yet it’s always heaven and earth becoming one. So as opposed to the “How do we get there?” his interest is “How do we bring there here?” Now that’s a much different kind of discussion.

Where are the souls of the people I love who are passed away right now?

The assumption is that, because physical bodies are buried, that they are disembodied. So you have soul, you have essence, people have used different words. They are nevertheless real and conscious and alive. Others say that everyone is sort of asleep, and at some moment in the future everybody will wake up. There’s endless speculation about that.

What would you say?

I’d say there’s endless speculation about that. [Laughter] Actually, I’d say it’s very important when you’re bumping up against [mystery], to not turn your speculation into dogma. And I think we’ve seen a lot of that, which is people saying, “This person’s there, this person’s there, this is how this will unfold.” But we have no available video evidence. So I think it’s very important for people of faith to say, yes, I believe in heaven. Yes, I believe it’s real. Yes I believe it’s somehow intermingled with this reality, and yet somehow separate from this reality. How exactly all of that works out, I don’t know. But I know within each of us are very profound longings, and I think that those longings, like C. S. Lewis says, you don’t have longings for things that don’t exist. And beyond that, there is a point where we are firmly into mystery and speculation. Let’s enjoy that speculation, but when someone drives their stake into the ground and says, “No it’s this.” Well, great, that’s what you think.

Let’s get right to it. You have been accused in a lot of the coverage of your book of being a universalist. A universalist, in theological terms, means that everybody gets to go to heaven – everybody is allowed to go to heaven. That means Buddhists, Hindus – you can reinterpret my definition when I’m done – Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Atheists, all get to go to heaven. Are you a universalist?

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 not. And this is why. A couple years ago I did a wedding. The father of the bride made it really clear that he despised the groom, in a multitude of ways. And so, in the ceremony, when he walked his daughter down, and the father of the bride hands the bride off to the groom, he said “She’s yours now” [in a grouchy voice] in front of everybody. It was like, awkward! We could all just feel the love in the room. This father of the bride single-handedly cast the most oppressive dark cloud on the whole occasion, because parties are terrible when there’s somebody there who doesn’t want to be there.  So, if by universalist we mean that 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. 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 be–

Now, do I think all sorts of people with all sorts of backgrounds with all sorts of labels, will be – yes, I think heaven’s full of surprises.  And I think Jesus brought this up again and again and again.  He told all sorts of stories about how all the people who were supposed to be in might be out and the people who are out might be in. This was central to his teaching. Like, ah-ah-ah, be careful. God’s middle name is surprise. That’s not actually a verse [laughter], but I like it.

This belief of yours, that good people — define what gets you in.

I begin with this. I begin 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, literally, with bullets and guns and fire. So, we see hells on earth right now. There are those [hells] we create on our own, and there are those that are somebody else’s spilled onto us.

So, if I’m an atheist who gives to the poor, helps little ladies across the street, spends all my free time in charitable works. Am I going to heaven?

Well, 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 are 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 does that work out? Because he [Jesus] is unbelievably exclusive. He says these things like, “I’m the way and the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through me.” He says things like, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen God.” He’s very exclusive. He’s also fantastically inclusive; he says things like, “I have other sheep.” He says “there will be a renewal of all things — I’ll be lifted up and draw all people to myself.” So he’s like in-ex-clusive. That’s a word I just made up. [Laughter]

So I think what happens, especially for followers of Jesus, is that they like 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.

Right. So, this sort-of universalism that you’re preaching, that’s exclusive and inclusive, has offended some people who call themselves more orthodox than you. But I’ll tell you something: my mainline Protestant friends have a big conflict with the word “orthodox,” and certain people claiming to be orthodox. But there is something in here that offends me. And it’s not the universalist part. But it’s what you just said: that Jesus is the mechanism through which we all will get there.

Yeah, I understand.

So, I’m Jewish. Many of my relatives died in Europe for being Jewish. They would be appalled to think that their salvation was dependent on Jesus, because they died for being Jewish. So are you sure that Jesus is the mechanism?

Well, I would say this. In the Torah, when Moses strikes the rock and water flows from the rock, that’s a beautiful story for people who were thirsty and were told that, through Moses, God provides them with water. Then later – you know where I’m going with this – Paul is like, “Oh 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. Then he adds almost no commentary .He just says, “God has been rescuing people, redeeming people for thousands of years. We’ve seen 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 the Christian answers your question with, “Yeah, they’re going to get there, and they’re going to find out that…It was you all along.” 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, how to love your enemies. I came to show you how to make a better world.’ Does anybody have a problem with that? No? Great.

Then, he does say things like, very divisive sort of…but then he also says things like, Well, if you’re not against me, then you’re for me. [Actually, this is wrong.] He is a paradox. He is, within himself, bears tremendous tension. And we’ve been trying to figure that out for thousands of years.

Do creeds matter, in terms of getting into heaven?

Like if you say certain things? Like, if you get these 11 things in a row…?

Yeah, if you make a certain kind of declaration once a week, or every day…

I think creeds are very, very helpful for lots of people because they take a confession of faith and put it in a succinct form. I think there’s great life there. But then you have other stories, like, in the gospels it’s all over the map, these guys lower their friend down through a whole in the roof. And Jesus says, “Because of their faith” – to the man – “your sins are forgiven.” Well, what’s that [about]? Or a man named Zacchaeus says, “If I’ve taken anything from anybody, I’ll give it back.” And Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house.” Which is a play on words, because that’s his name. But if you actually read the gospels, you see that people receive this grace, they affirm this, they experience this, in as many ways almost as there are people.

So yes, creeds are terribly powerful. Do I think that if you say certain things every Sunday, that somehow magically does something? No.

I’m getting to this question that through history has been called the faith versus works question. Do you get to heaven because God – I can even leave aside Jesus -  [do you get to heaven] because God is great and supernatural and God is God? Or do you get to heaven because you’ve helped the old lady across the street and have given to charity? Because you’ve taken care of the poor and you’ve cared for the sick?

I think that at the core of faith is trust. And I would use “childlike” very intentionally: a childlike trust that God is good. And that ultimately we’re okay. And I think that is a simple, beautiful, pure thing that can be complicated ferociously by all sorts of intellectual categories of assent and affirmation. And I think that, out of that experience, out of that awareness that life is a gift, that this next breath is a gift, that we are the recipients of this absolutely, unbelievably pure thing called life. Like Heschel said, “To remember,” that’s what we do.

And out of that, out of that gratitude and that love, you naturally want to share this with the world. So you actually do help the lady off the street, not because you think this gets you something, but because you are aware that you already have something that’s worth the universe. And out of that, who doesn’t respond with, “Yes, I will help that lady across the street?”

Your book has been, even before anyone had read it, criticized as being heretical. It seemed to me that a lot of the stuff that you write in the book is stuff that other people have written before. [Laughter] I mean that in the nicest way.

Yeah, actually in the Preface I say that there’s nothing new here.

So, tell me what’s so controversial about it?

I guess other people could answer that better. I think that grace and love always rattle people. As soon as you say that perhaps this particular little club of people, who have decided they’re the orthodox ones, as soon as you say, “I think it might be a little wider than that,” then you’re threatening whole systems. You’re threatening whole ways of thinking, and that’s, that’s threatening.

I guess what I’m asking is, aren’t you just a mainline Protestant posing as an evangelical? Aren’t you just saying what Episcopalians have been saying for fifty or sixty years?

Do I make some claims to originality? No. Do I think that I am evangelical and orthodox to the bone? Yes. And I actually think that orthodoxy is a terribly wide, diverse stream. I think that’s the real question here: the endless religious compulsion to say, “We’re in, you’re out,” [the compulsion] to constantly narrow it and all of that. And I think that vibrant, real, historic Christian faith is wide and leaves lots and lots of rooms for lots of varying perspectives.

When people say, How can you say that? Well, lots of people have said that. And they’re firmly within the Jesus tribe. It’s very diverse and wide. That’s okay. That’s actually part of its strength, its life and its vibrancy. That’s why it’s so beautiful to me. And evangelical means  “good news,” the announcement of good news. It should be a buoyant, hopeful, joyous thing. People who want nothing to do with Christians could say, “The things you’re talking about, and the way that you’re living and moving in the world, that is good news.” I think we need to reclaim that. Is anybody with me now? [applause]

[From the audience:] Let’s say, hypothetically, I’m an atheist, and I don’t want anything to do with God. Would it be loving for God to put me in heaven if I didn’t want anything to do with him?

If you were an atheist, would it be loving for God…? Well, I begin with God is love and love demands freedom. And God gives us what we want. And for somebody who is like, “I want nothing to do with peace, joy, reconciliation, forgiveness, joy, generosity, really really good food and wine,” I sort of just begin at a very simple level. I believe God gives us what we want.

If someone’s like, “No way, I don’t want that.” Then God says, “Okay, okay.”

[Lisa Miller] Sorry, can I interrupt? Isn’t that completely self-interested? Isn’t that like, “I want wine, you want beer, I want Chinese food, you want Indian food. What does that have to do with God? What does God care about Indian food or Chinese food or beer? I mean, isn’t heaven about being with God?

Yes, but once again I would bring it back to everyday sort of things. As a pastor, I see people make unbelievably destructive choices. And when sort of it is laid out, you realize that you’re miserable. You realize that this choice is, you yourself have said, I’m in agony. The people around you are dying, watching you do this. And the person says, yep, and I’m going to keep doing it. You know what I mean? You get the whole intervention thing, whether it’s drugs or whatever…”We all love you so much. We’re begging you to [change your ways]…” “Nah.”

I’ve seen that. We all have, where you see the hardness of the human heart. It makes no sense. People claim to a path that is destructive, they are “hell bent,” sometimes we say, and it’s a fundamental mystery of the human heart, why we would see – and you could even say, you know if you choose this way it will be joyful and it will be satisfying and…yeah, I know. But I’m going to do this.

So we see that around us all the time. I assume that sort of choice, ability, option, continues on into the future. Now your whole question about Chinese food in heaven, I’ll have to think about.

[Audience:] I have a question specifically about Matthew 7. What would you do with the passage that talks about specifically, “Wide is the road that leads to destruction and narrow is the path that leads to life.” What would you do with that passage?

I think it’s a great passage because the things in life that matter take incredible intention. I think it’s a passage, ultimately, about intention, and about the power of devoting yourself to something and to somebody.

So let’s take marriage. Marriage doesn’t take much work at all. You just get along with this person fantastically, year after year after year. [Laughter] No, I mean, let’s be honest. There are a thousand ways every day for marriage to…broad is the path. Do you know what I mean? All the different ways in which it can unravel, to where somebody is on the couch. So, for it to work takes extraordinary intention. It is a narrow way. It is saying, we are going to devote ourselves to this. And we are going to not give up, and we are going to work and persevere.

So, first off, at a basic level, athletes who train. There are lots and lots of distractions. Kierkegaard says that a saint is the person who wills the one thing. So, so, narrow is the way. Jesus I think is speaking of all the different ways we lose the plot of what it means to be human. So there was a very real political climate that he lived in, and a number of people said that the thing we are to do as the people of God is we are to pick up swords, and we are to fight the Romans.

He’s like, okay, the sword thing? We’ve tried that. Let’s reclaim what it means to be alight to the world. He takes them all the way back into their history, which was a narrow way. So I think it works. And the beautiful thing for me  about Jesus’ teaching is that they work at all these different levels. They are fundamental truths about how the world works, they were very clear warnings and teachings and guidance, for people he was interacting with. Real people in a real place who had real struggles. And actually, when I recently preached that at our church, and I told the story that there’s this freeway near where our church is. When you get on that freeway, the traffic is flying, and you have this really narrow way to merge. If you don’t merge and get over to the left really quickly, and you take your life into your hands every time, you end up going to Muskegon. And you don’t want to go to Muskegon.

So I did this whole thing on  broad is the way to Muskegon. Which I’mr ealizing now is an inside joke. [Laughter] Sorry.

[Miller:] Here’s a question from Ben from Ohio. Is there a hell? And if not, does that take anything away from the cross?

I actually think there is hell, because we see hell everyday. We can resist, and we can reject what it means to be fully human and good and decent and compassionate. So yes, I think there is. We have that choice now, and I assume we have that choice on into the future. Yes, thank you Ben.

[Dr. Ron Walborne, dean of the Alliance Theological Seminary at Nyack:] My seminary and my stream that I come from is very focused on the great commission – and hopefully with the Great Commandment spirit as we go. But if we lose the concept of hell, and I’m not sure I understood – do you believe that hell is a real place? Or is it just hell on earth? And if we do de-emphasize the doctrine of hell, what does that do to the motivation of Christian mission?

That’s a great question. First let’s talk about hell. It’s absolutely crucial that we come face to face with the power of our choices. We can choose the way of compassion, the way of forgiveness, the way of generosity. Or we can choose other paths, and those have very real consequences in the world. So I always begin with: this is absolutely crucial.

And in terms of the Great Commission, I love that Jesus said “Go and make disciples, baptizing or immersing them in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” And there’s one way of seeing that [baptism] as immersing them in a Trinitarian community. So go out and announce this good news to people, proclaim God’s love, proclaim God’s rescue effort that God is pursuing people, and then invite them into your community where they can experience the love of God as it is shared and passed around and extended to each other.

So at our church, we often say, “The good news is better than that.” There’s actually a chapter in the book on that. There is a story, it is being told in human history, and Jesus invites us into the story and then to share the story with others. I think that’s absolutely at the center. And the real challenge for Christians, when it comes to witnessing and evangelism is, “Do you actually think this is a great story?”

We actually have classes at our church where people just sit around and talk about their story. Let’s talk about what you’ve been through. The hell you’ve been through – and what happened when you encountered grace. There is a couple from our church who, I think they had four or five miscarriages. It was absolutely excruciating to watch them go through it. This wasn’t the plan. So they started a group for couples who are trying to get pregnant and cannot. Had no curriculum. Just, let’s get in a living room and tell our stories. And the stories that have come out of just that group, of God’s grace meeting people in extraordinary sort of despair and suffering. And we say that’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. Let’s tell that Jesus story over and over again. It’s beautiful. Excellent question.

[Audience:] It seems to me that universalists and annihilationists are trying to reconcile God’s love with God’s wrath. Can God be both loving and just?

Yes. And actually that’s something I explore in the book, is there has been this human longing and desire for God to fix the world, essentially. To say, no more greed, we can’t have that here. No more exploitation of the weak and vulnerable. We can’t have that here. So there has been this Prophet Amos, “Let justice roll like a river.” This human ache to see those who have corrupted their power, who are using coercive violence to force others into all sorts of destructive things. So there is this longing for justice, so at the heart of the Jewish and the Christian understanding has been this longing for a day – you find it called The Day of the Lord, you find it called The Judgment Day – you have this, God saying “No longer here. If you want to do that, you can’t do it here. Out.” Or something along those lines.

You also have this side-by-side, God’s endless affirmation, God wants everybody to be saved. Psalm 22, “All people will be at the great banquet.” So you have the possibility of every single person being rescued, you have this sort of longing, and then you have this longing for justice. They sit side by side. If you get rid of that tension, the western mind, the modern mind, loves “is it this or is it this? Which are you? Are you left or right, conservative or liberal?” The Hebrew mind in the scriptures is okay with these things being true. And one of the things I explore in the book is that at the end of the Bible, at the end of the Book of Revelation, is this picture of a city, this renewed, restored city, heaven on earth come together now and God is dwelling with people. And then there are people who aren’t in it. And those are the people who choose to lie and murder and all those sorts of things. And then there’s this beautiful thing. It’s almost like the writer does another one of those wink-wink, nudge-nudge, “There’s this gate in the city, and it never shuts.”

Huh? Can you go….? It’s this picture and it doesn’t get resolved. It just sits there. And I think it’s important that we just let it sit there, side by side.

[Audience:] So, you haven’t proposed to any of us that you are answering all the questions. And we know that this is not the first time that this issue has been dragged up to be discussed with intensity in church history. But you have dragged it up. You feel motivated, your community feels motivated, and there are many people who probably feel motivated to look at ways we’ve thought about heaven and hell and etcetera, or the ways we’ve communicated about it. My question to you is: What is your concern if we ignore talking about it? If we aren’t to discuss current situations, views, ways it’s being looked at around the world…If we ignore that, if we just let it be the status quo, what are your greatest concerns?

That’s a great question. There are so many people who have had the same sort of question in front of me. First off, millions and millions and millions of people, the fundamental way they were told about Jesus was, God loves you, God has a wonderful plan for your life, God loves you so much that God sent Jesus because God wants a relationship with you, and all you have to do is accept, trust, believe. If tonight, you reject what I’ms aying to you right now, and  you are hit on the car being home – which is, as KAnye West would say, an awkward way to start a conversation – but God would then have no choice but to punish you eternally with torment and fire in hell. So God would, in that split second, become a totally different being. If there was an earthly father who was like that, this one moment, this the next, we would call the authorities. Correct?

And my experience as a pastor, answering real questions from real people, is that lots of people have really really really toxic dangerous, psychologically devastating images of God in their head. Images of a God who’s not good. So my experience has been, lots of people go to church, they sing the songs, they hand out the pamphlets, they really want…but to be honest, deep down they have profound ambivalence about God. So we can talk about the Bible, we can talk about Heaven and Hell, we can discuss all this, but at its core – the question behind the question behind the question, the mystery behind the mystery behind the mystery – they have a view of a God who is terrible, that they can’t even imagine being loving, or wanting anything to do with.

And over and over and over again, I’ve interacted with people who, sort of, “Okay, I realize you brought me this question, but what do you really think is behind this? Who is the God behind?” You end up with them saying, Actually, I think the universe might be a really awful place. It might be terribly unsafe. God might be like my abusive father.” So I think it’s really important that we talk about this because what happens is, sometimes people are talking about good news, they’re talking about Jesus, and yet you’re smelling the God behind it, going “Whatever your’e talking about, the God behind that, I can’t trust, is not good.” So in some senses, God being good is such a fresh, radical, new idea.

There is a woman who comes up to me every Sunday at our church. She hands me a piece of paper. It’s half of an 8-by-11 sheet, and it’s folded in half. She walks away, we smile, I give her a hug, we talk for a moment, and she walks away. And on the sheet of paper is a number, and it is the number of days since she last cut herself. She told me about a year ago that every man she’d ever been with hit her. So when she hears about love, her experience of life has not been love. And just a couple weeks ago, she crossed the 365 day mark. So we brought her up on stage and I introduced her and said this is her name and she’s celebrating one year without cutting herself. And it was a beautiful, beautiful moment, to say the least.

But for her, it’s like a whole new rewiring of her heart and mind is going on. And that’s what all of this means to me. I love the discussion, I love the speculation, I love all the different theories, but ultimately for me its like, I don’t want her to cut anymore. It’s like, that simple. I want to see her experience good news. I want her to experience love. I don’t want her to live with these sorts of images and messages she’s been sent about who God is and what life is ultimately like and whether the universe is even a place that she can call home. I want her to give me another sheet of paper, and I want us to get to two years.

So I realize in these questions, I stumble a bunch. I realize I wander all over the place. I realize that. I’m not a theologian. I’m not a scholar. I’m not very smart. But I do know that there is good news. And I’ve seen it in action. And that’s something that’s worth talking about.

About Timothy Dalrymple

Timothy Dalrymple was raised in non-denominational evangelical congregations in California. The son and grandson of ministers, as a young boy he spent far too many hours each night staring at the ceiling and pondering the afterlife.
 
In all his work he seeks a better understanding of why people do, and do not, come to faith, and researches and teaches in religion and science, faith and reason, theology and philosophy, the origins of atheism, Christology, and the religious transformations of suffering

  • Ken

    This interview reminds me of a line from the Talking Heads: “you talk a lot, but your not saying anything”. That’s okay for politicians and lay people, but not for pastors.

    • wendy

      depends what you think a pastor is supposed to do. jesus answered more questions with questions and parables . . . isn’t he supposed to be our model?

      • Nathan

        The thing is that Jesus did actually answer the questions. He even answered the deeper issues behind the motivation of the question. Rob Bell does not fall into this category of answering anything.

        • Jacob

          I must say I agree with Nathan. I don’t see him answering any of the questions so much as vaguely bending his talking points to them. Disappointing; I was expecting a theologian.

          • http://reformingstudent.blogspot.com/ scott mckenzie

            Rom Bell reminds me of an fish. You see him and you want a straight answer so you put your hands on him to ask for one and he squirms and slips right out. You end up upset with no substance and rather greasy stinky hands.

          • Sammy

            You suggest Rob Bell doesn’t answer any questions. He does. He has answered a lot of questions for me which others have not been able to do. But you will only see answers when you want to. If you come in expecting not to see anything, you won’t. That’s what religion and God is like. You will see things when you want to see, you will get answers when you are willing to accept.

        • Tina

          Rob Bell is not Jesus. How would you expect him to answer like Jesus. That would be rather pompous.

    • Melissa

      I feel the same way Ken. He doesn’t actually answer any of the questions posed to him directly or even indirectly. He just says it’s a good question and then starts talking about something totally different never addressing the real issue. Truth is not always easy but it can be clearly stated without talking in circles.

    • Joe

      Friends! I’ve prepared some Scripture for us to read and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us unto all truth. Love you all!

      I. What is Humanity’s Condition? Does God have wrath for violating His Justice?
      *****************************************************************************

      John 3:16-20 – 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
      18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

      Romans 3:9-20 – 9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.
      10 As it is written:

      “ There is none righteous, no, not one;
      11 There is none who understands;
      There is none who seeks after God.
      12 They have all turned aside;
      They have together become unprofitable;
      There is none who does good, no, not one.”[b]
      13 “ Their throat is an open tomb;
      With their tongues they have practiced deceit”;[c]

      “ The poison of asps is under their lips”;[d]
      14 “ Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”[e]
      15 “ Their feet are swift to shed blood;
      16 Destruction and misery are in their ways;
      17 And the way of peace they have not known.”[f]
      18 “ There is no fear of God before their eyes.”[g]

      19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

      Romans 1:18-31 – 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.
      24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
      26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
      28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality,[c] wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving,[d] unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

      II. Will God demonstrate His justice with eternal punishment in a lake of fire, upon death? And what is it like? Who goes there?
      *****************************************************************************

      Matthew 25
      31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy[c] angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
      37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
      41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
      44 “Then they also will answer Him,[d] saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

      Revelations 21:8
      8 But the cowardly, unbelieving,[e] abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

      Mark 9:42-27
      42 “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— 44 where

      ‘ Their worm does not die
      And the fire is not quenched.’[d]
      45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— 46 where

      ‘ Their worm does not die
      And the fire is not quenched.’[e]

      47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire— 48 where

      ‘ Their worm does not die
      And the fire is not quenched.’[f]

      III. What is the Gospel? How did God show mercy? What is repentance? How are we to be saved?
      *****************************************************************************

      Acts 17:30-32
      30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
      32 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter.” 33 So Paul departed from among them. 34 However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

      Luke 13:1-5
      1 There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? 3 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

      Acts 2:21
      21 And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.’

      John 14:6
      6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

      1 Corinthians 15:1-19
      1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
      3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
      9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 11 Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
      The Risen Christ, Our Hope

      12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.

      John 1:12-13 – 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

      Romans 6

      1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? 3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
      5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. 7 For he who has died has been freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
      12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. 13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

      15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! 16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? 17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19 I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.
      20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

      IV. What is the Great Commandment? What is the Great Commission?
      *****************************************************************************
      Matthew 22:36-40 – 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

      37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

      Mark 16:15-16 – 15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

      Matthew 28:18-20 – 18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore[c] and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.[d

      Romans 10:14-16 - 14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:

      “ How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,[h]
      Who bring glad tidings of good things!”[i]
      16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “LORD, who has believed our report?”[j] 17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

      V. Resurrection and New Heaven?
      *****************************************************************************
      John 14:1-3
      1 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many mansions;[a] if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.[b] 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.

      1 Corinthians 15:50-56 – 50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”[g]
      55 “ O Death, where is your sting?[h]
      O Hades, where is your victory?”[i]
      56 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
      58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

      Revelation 21
      1 Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2 Then I, John,[a] saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
      5 Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me,[b] “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
      6 And He said to me, “It is done![c] I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. 7 He who overcomes shall inherit all things,[d] and I will be his God and he shall be My son. 8 But the cowardly, unbelieving,[e] abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

      9 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me[f] and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.”[g] 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy[h] Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. 12 Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: 13 three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west.
      14 Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names[i] of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. 15 And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. 16 The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal. 17 Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel. 18 The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19 The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. 21 The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

      22 But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it,[j] for the glory[k] of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. 24 And the nations of those who are saved[l] shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it.[m] 25 Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). 26 And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it.[n] 27 But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes[o] an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

      • Timothy Dalrymple

        Whoa.

        -Tim

        • Richard

          Tim,

          Thanks for trying to create space for some actual dialogue. The cynic in me doesn’t hold out hope that this will elevate past rhetoric and talking points but I appreciate the attempt and will do my part to try and further the conversation you’re allowing for.

          Richard

      • K10

        Thank you! You’re right, scripture will lead us into ALL TRUTH – and we can trust that the Lord’s word is clear about such things.

      • Kate

        Thank you, Joe – I love having scripture answer the questions!

    • http://yahoo dean

      There is a reason rob bell church is called mars church. His believes are way out there.I am not sure what he meant when he said heaven is full of surprises. There will be no surprises on how to get there.John 3:16. He said all sorts of people when asked who will go to heaven. It almost sounds like he thinks buddhists and hindus are going to heaven.Read Luke 16:19-26.He makes God sound unstable when he said if you reject God tonight and hit by a car you will go to hell.Hello you need jesus to get into heaven.Read john 14:6and 11:25.I don’t know what matt 7:13-14 has to do with marriage? I have one verse i would like to leave for Rob Bell ISAIAH 55:8 My ways are not you ways My thoughts are not your thoughts declares the Lord

    • Martha Brady

      Well said, Ken! I thought while reading the article that he sounded just like a politician. Someone who sounds nice, but never answers the question. Every answer is left up in the air and his explanations are contradictory and literally empty, yet sounding important in admitting how there really are no definite answers. He seems to criticize the Christian who is orthodox or evangelical, yet claims to be both. And the saddest part to me, is the interviewer is a Jewish woman, who is seemingly not just asking questions about his book but genuinely seeking answers to profound questions, even if they are based on his critics reviews. What a missed and wasted opportunity. He is all over the place with the Bible making it seem impossible to understand. Thanks be to the Lord, who reveals the truth in His Word to those who humbly seek Him, with all their hearts.

  • Elise

    I agree Ken. At the end of the transcript I sat back and thought… huh?

  • Steve

    I love Rob Bell, he is so much more “Christ-Like” then alot of these greater then thou Pastors

    • Nathan

      You maybe have not read Isaiah 66. Or maybe have not understood that its Jesus speaking exclusively about Himself and what he will do soon. Are you ready for the Jesus of Isaiah 66?

  • Jon

    Yes alot of these other Pastors like Rob Bell and that are quick to attack others just for having different theological beleifs, thats not very Christian.

    If you have seen Bullhorn from the Nooma video series then you will have a better understanding about what to expect with this book.

    • Nathan

      Uh . . . The Pharisees had “different theological beliefs” Jesus condemned them for it. So how is it not Christian?

      We are required to judge oneanother’s Theology as Christians. Its 100% biblical. Have a look a Paul’s entire ministry. He spent most of the time squelching false theology that kept creeping into the Church.

      • Dale

        Actually it was the pharisees that had the mainstream view and Jesus that had different beliefs. Christ many times said “You have heard it said …, but I say…

        Christ judged the longstanding system that had been corrupted to assert control over the masses and freed people to be loved by God. One might argue that in the last 2000 years the Church has also become a system of control. The law was given to free people from the oppressive nature of polytheism. Christ came to free people from the oppression of the Pharisees. The modern church in america is actively trying to push a political agenda of legislating morality. Christ’s message is to Love God, love others and grieve the effects of sin. You can’t fix hell on earth by trying to force people to be good. You fix hell on earth by bringing heaven into your life and letting is spill out on those around you.

        • Lucy

          “Christ came to free people from the oppression of the Pharisees.” Really? His Father allowed him to suffer on the cross for THAT?” How about to be the sacrifice in our place that allows us to be reconciled to God? To take on sin, yours and mine, so that it could be defeated? ‘YOu fix hell on earth by bringing heaven into your life and letting it spill out on those around you.” ~ touchy-feely, ear-tickling New Age gobbledy gook.

          • Rob

            Lucy,
            I couldn’t agree with you more!
            Touchy-feely, ear-tickling is a perfect description.

          • tonym

            That is a very sad critique. “They shall know us by our love”

  • Garrett

    You start a conversation; you can’t even finish it
    You’re talking a lot, but you’re not saying anything
    When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed
    Say something once, why say it again?

    Psycho killer, qu’est que c’est?
    Far better
    Run away

  • Dave

    I think that’s really, really disappointing. I’ve seen some of the comments around and was hoping that there would be a positive resolution.

    What comes across is 2 things? 1) it’s totally contradictory and gives the appearance of being dishonest. The ‘I didn’t set out to be controversial’ just doesn’t hold water with the ‘promotional’ video that went out before the book. I fully understand that he wants lots of people to read the book…and so needed to create some controversy to do this, but be honest about that. 2) as Ken states he appears to talk slot but say nothing. Maybe this is fine for a pastor in certain contexts..sometimes a member of your congregation needs questions phrased in a certain way to make them think… I don’t see the value in writing a book…and is dangerous that it will confuse many people. It appears he doesn’t know what he believes, just what he wants to believe….

    Very disappointing…

  • Gary from Kansas

    This is an old old story in American Church history. Boring really. It’s more a commentary on the Evangelical Churches theological deterioration given it’s over-emphasis on marketing techniques and pandering to current pop culture trends. This has resulted in leadership that set itself adrift which Bell is a great example. These kinds of flames usually quickly burn themselves out. Then again, the theological depth of the “Evangelical” Church has been pretty shallow for a long time and it would be tragic if this gained traction.
    This is not to say that I don’t have great empathy for what Bell is saying but my Reformed theology leads me in other directions than Universalism. To me, hell is not the bigger question. The eternal destiny of believers is the big question. The answer is, that Christs elect live with Him forever. There are those who don’t. What happens to those who don’t is an interesting question but not the most important. Literalism is a mistake I think, but going to far so as to dismiss it could also be a big mistake. Our Christology is at play here. If Jesus is the God/Man of incarnated Deity, then how can we ignore what He says?
    For me, how you interpret what He says is the best way to deal with the idea of Hell.
    Having said all that, for purposes of honesty and full disclosure, I long ago abandoned the idea of a literal burning hell. If your one of God’s elect, His sheep, His Church, you spend eternity with Him. If not, your “somewhere else”. What that is, I have no idea. Or if there is “somewhere else” per se. I favor oblivion.

  • Jane

    Yeah this is ridiculous. As a Pastor, you should have a definite answer to every question. What happens when you die, or is Heaven a physical place….there should be an answer, saying ‘there are many opinions’ does not fly. I agree, he sounds way too much like a politician and is not definitively answering questions. Jesus spoke in parables, not circles!

    • Jeff

      “As a Pastor, you should have a definite answer to every question.”

      Wow. I hope that is sarcasm because I am a big fail as a pastor otherwise.

      • Jared

        Giving the benefit of the doubt, I’m sure she was talking about the MAJOR theological issues, such as heaven, hell, etc. And for those every pastor MUST have the answer. (and it’s found in the Bible.)

        • Tina

          Really, Jane and Jared? There are people on this earth who have DEFINITE answers about what exactly happens to you the moment you die? There are or should be expert pastors who can describe the physicality of heaven? Are you kidding me? This is an impossibility and of little importance to the true meaning of the Gospel and the love letter the Lord wrote us through Scripture. I’m fairly new to the Rob Bell scene and have always considered myself a stickler for Scripture, but the ONLY ONE with the definitive answers you are looking for sits at the right hand of God. And until He comes again, I think it’s perfectly fine to discuss the possibilities within the perimeter of what Jesus did share with us.

  • Mike

    I think I get what he is saying. God is loving, and a loving God needs to be awed not figured out. Our western thinking tries to figure out things about God we will never know, so that we can explain it to others. Rather than just live in it we want to understand it, make sense of it, and preach it. Regrettably the church has assumed much and what we have caused is a lot of people suffering without hope because the church has alienated them from hope. Instead of inviting them into God’s love we have scared them with God’s wrath. Hell is real, because sin is real and one day sin will be contained in a place where it can no longer affect all that God loves.

    • Nathan

      “God needs to be awed not figured out.”
      That statement undermines the beauty of the relationship. If my wife is just always in awe of me and never tries to figure me out, there is no relationship. God LONGS to be figured out. That’s what Theology is the study of God, but most people only practice theology on an intellectual level. What a tragedy. God wants to teach us the deep deep mysteries about Himself in an experiential way. As we LONG for him He LONGS for us. Go have a good study of Song of Solomon.

      • Dale

        Can you point to the passages where Christ instructs us to figure God out? I see lots of times when Christ tells us to do the will of God. It is through the participation in his redemptive work that we come to understand his heart for the hurting and the broken. I am in awe of my wife, so I join her in life’s activity and through it I come to know her.

        • Bonnie

          Seems to me Christ is always showing us exactly who God is; what His character is; encouraging us to know God better. A few examples just from looking in John (NIV):

          14:6 -7 Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you know him and have seen him.”
          14:8-10 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Phillip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work….”

          15:9-10 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remained in his love.

          15:21-23 “They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father as well.

          Again, these are but a few examples in one book of the New Testament. Christ always shows the love of the Father, yes, and wants us to grasp the awesome mercy and grace He gives. But in clear words and action, Jesus also shows the Holiness of God and His righteous judgment which should be taken no less seriously. It is God’s holiness and rightness that gives credence to His grace and mercy, not dilutes them.

      • Mike

        There is a big difference between getting to know someone and figuring them out. The reason I love my wife is because I am continuing to pursue her love for me. If I acted like I had her all figured out, either my passion for her would begin to die or I would take for granted. God initiated his love for us so that we would respond to it and pursue getting to know him more and more everyday. Theology is a man made system of understanding God and explaining him, which I believe is absolutely necessary, but not to the level of one day arriving at a conclusion or achieving know-it-all status. Theology is a pursuit of knowing God as He has reveled himself through his word and through his activity amongst and through us.

        The great irony of this whole thing Nate is that it is because of people like you who think the have God all figured out and feel the need to go around sparring with people who are trying to get to know Him, has created a culture withing the church that those who are lost and broken by sin aren’t interested anymore.

        • Jill

          I don’t believe we will ever figure God out completely (at least here on earth) but you can understand and figure out certain foundational truths that God makes pretty clear in the Bible. Just because we can’t understand EVERYTHING about God doesn’t mean we should throw out EVERTYTHING that is truth for some wishy washy everything goes theology. It takes a balance of being strong in the solid sometimes harsh truths that Jesus taught (like salvation through the cross alone, hell is a real place) and the letting go of the issues that we never will understand. (why is it fair for people in the jungle who have never heard the gospel to go to hell?) I don’t know all the answers but i stand firm on the truths that God has revealed and I trust Him to be Just and Loving at the same time.

  • H.F.

    I was converted about 6 years ago at the age of 37, having grown up in church (Methodist) my entire life. Early in my new Christinan walk, I watched alot of Rob Bell’s Nooma videos. I must admit that I enjoyed and was helped by them.

    However, the more I read and studied the bible, and the more I watched Rob Bell’s videos, interviews, etc., the more I became alittle uneasy with some of the things that he was saying.

    I totally agree with Rob’s passion about finding new ways to reach people in our day and time with The Gospel. However, I think that Rob goes beyond this. To me, it sounds like Rob is trying to “water down” The Gospel to make it more palatable to unbelievers and skeptics.

    Do I think that Rob Bell is a heretic? I think that might be being alittle too harsh. Although, I would say that he is close. Scripture tells us that The Gospel is offensive and foolish to some. Not all are going to receive it. It is not our job to make The Gospel more palatable. Our job is to be absolutely faithful to the scriptures, and let The Holy Spirit do the rest. The Gospel is enough.

    Personally, I would still call Rob a brother, but I think that he is starting to walk on thin ice. Who are his influences? Where is he getting this stuff from? It seems like on some things, he totally takes the bible out of context. I think he is a very smart, talented guy, but I am afraid that he may be doing some people more harm than good.

    • Chuck

      H.F. I agree with you. There are some good stuff in some of his videos, but the more I have read and heard from him the further I stay away from his videos. I’m a youth pastor who has never shown any of his videos to my groups. I have referenced one that I thought was very good without promoting the videos. I agree with some others too that he talks in circles without ever truly answering the questions asked of him. He claims that he is a pastor, but is not a theologian or scholar. Well, as a minister he is given the task of rightly dividing the Word. While he claims he is neither a theologian or scholar, he keeps writing books and making videos about such matters from the Bible. If he doesn’t know the answers then stop asking the questions and talking as if you have the answers to them.

    • Daniel

      Unfortunately, too many have taken that “not-so-palatable characteristic” of the Gospel and made the very non-palatability a pre-requisite for truth. As such, something cannot be true unless it feels like it hurts. There are a lot of interesting thoughts here that beg to be teased out.
      Whether I agree with Rob Bell or no, whether he is duty-bound to provide answers or not, and whether I am headed for the place that many Bible thumpers claim sole knowledge of is beside the point.
      Rob Bell was not advocating any easy Gospel. I can think of nothing more difficult than overcoming my own nail-biting habit, let alone cutting or the angst of repeated miscarriages. The Gospel that he preaches speaks to the human in his moment in space, time, and history without seeking to explain away any other implications of Christ’s message.
      Let someone’s words be someone’s words and nothing more.

    • Margie

      H.F. – for someone who is so young in the Lord, you have a lot of maturity and wisdom. Obviously you have spent a lot of time in the Word. I agree with everything you said. I too, enjoyed his videos, but began to feel uncomfortable with his viewpoints. I think he continues to go further into error and is confusing many believers.

  • Ian

    Let’s all continue to wrestle with God just like all of those who came before us shall we.
    Please keep in mind that the Bible is most often referred to as the foundation that we always go back to.
    I don’t know about you, but I live in a home that is built ‘on the foundation’. I do not live in the foundation. God continues to live in and through us if we allow Him to so, and in ‘this way’ continues to reveal Himself to each of us in ways that we can not neatly frame and label. That is beautiful friends. Keep the conversation going and continue to wrestle.
    I beg you not to give into to your fears and pride that says “look here everybody, I have figured it all out, now come agree with me or you must die.”
    Peace my bradas and sistas.

    • Mike

      we share the same foundation

  • James

    There’s a lot of stuff that Rob said that was good. But I think he completely skipped over the “essential” salvation issue. Several of the audience posed direct questions relating to ‘how does one get to heaven’. I believe that God is overflowing with unimaginable grace and when we get to heaven, we will be surprised as to who is and isn’t there. The Professor I believe made his question clear to Rob: ‘Real hell as a place vs hell on earth’ yet Rob circled effectively around the question. He also failed to answer, in my opinion, whether or not people who do good things get to heaven even though they do not profess Christ as their Lord. A bit disappointing and rather worried about his teaching

  • http://www.shanepadgett.com Shane

    Acts 4.12 That is all. We can stop there.

    • Richard

      Agreed. And I would add Romans 11:32 if we’re quoting isolated Scriptures.

  • Six

    Frankly, a lot of the comments here illustrate why I will never be a Christian. You are full of judgment and anger, instead of being filled with peace, love, and acceptance. I cannot bring myself to honor the angry, jealous, insane god that your attitudes indicate that you worship.

    • Richard

      Six,

      Sorry to hear that’s been your experience of Christians so far and I can resonate with what you’re saying. All I can respond with is that not every Christian sees God this way and I’d encourage you to look to the life of Jesus to see how he dealt with people and don’t lose the high standards you have for how Christians (or you, yourself) should be filled with peace, love, acceptance, etc.

    • Rich

      Nah, Six, that’s not Christians – that’s just the internet – it does that to people…
      Seems to me that if you’ve got peace, love, acceptance you’ve got the message ROb’s giving – and there’s lots of Christians (and non-Christians out there like that – find ‘em.
      Good that you read the piece – ignore the forums, get some Nooma videos.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      It seems to me that most of the conversation here has been friendly and charitable. You do get some angry folks of any stripe — go look at the responses to David French’s columns at the Evangelical Portal ( http://evangelical.patheos.com ) to see how lovely some of the atheists can be — and I think that’s unfortunately inevitable, as people are working through their own issues. Christianity does not really claim that Christians are any better than other folks morally; it is rather that they have, ideally, come to see their own sinfulness and are at least beginning to turn for God in the hope of redemption and transformation. Over the course of time, I think that transformation is evident. But a lot of the young people who converse online can be a little too zealous.

      In any case, I don’t know whether you were just looking to get a swipe in, or if you are open to honest conversation, but if the latter, then I hope you’ll stick around and talk about it. The best way to observe Christians, I think, is to go to churches, go to ministries where they are acting out their faith, and of course observe them in everyday life. Observing them in online debate is probably not the best, for the same reasons that so many online discussions deteriorate into flame wars. I can only say that, in Christian fellowship, I have found the most extraordinary experiences of love and grace and honesty and support and mutual service.

      -Tim

      • tonym

        Followers of Christ should be the same wherever they are having discussions. Yes, Christians aren’t perfect, but the world will know us by how we love. Especially by how we love on another. We have been told by someone that he doesn’t see love in our conversation. Instead of being defensive, we should take this to heart, look at our lives, and make the change we need to show Christ’s love. please forgive us for the way we do not show love.

  • Andrew

    I believe that Rob Bell and, before him, Steve Chalke pose an important question regarding the idea of penal substitutionary atonement.

    Having lived and worked in India and Nepal for 10 years, where animal and other forms of sacrifice are an everyday occurrence, PSA is an easily understood and real concept.

    In a 21st Century Western nation where we are so divorced from the way in which our food reaches us, let alone the nature of killing an animal for our food, does it really still make sense. Aren’t we simply piling complexity on an already complex idea – that someone would willing suffer on our behalf in the way that PSA suggests.

    I’m not suggesting that I know a better way to explain this phenomenon; just that, working with young people as I do, they simply don’t understand the idea.

    The Gospel was birthed within the parameters of a culture and religious context that we do not fully understand; it is our responsibility to work out ways to explain the Gospel to our culture and religious context. Relying on understanding relevant to previous cultures is as dangerous to people’s salvation as ‘liberal’ understandings that require a reliance on modern thought for their benchmarks.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      It’s definitely an important question regarding PSA. I don’t even mind if one wants to look for other metaphors or conceptual systems we might use to describe it. But one should not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Bell tends too much to reduce Christ to an exemplar, someone who communicated to us that God is love, and showed us that we ought to love one another. While these things are certainly true, Christ is also the redeemer in a much deeper and richer sense, one whose act upon the cross saved us from our bondage to sin and death. In Bell’s way of thinking, Christ becomes almost entirely a Teacher and very little of a Redeemer. If we can find other ways to communicate that, then great, but let’s not lose the centrality of the cross.

      -Tim

  • heretic?

    Jesus was a heretic in his day…and he taught God was Love.

    If you all believe God is truly LOVE, what is the real problem with following Bell’s somewhat convoluted line of thinking? A lack of adherence to a much translated and pieced together book we call the Bible? The Bible worked well for people 2000 years ago because it spoke to their REAL WORLD SITUATION.

    We don’t live 2000 years ago. We live today. Heaven is in our hearts, our deeds, and our lives and Hell is beleiveing nothing matters in this life.

    God is LOVE.

    • Andrew

      heretic?, the Bible, as we know it today, didn’t exist 2000 years ago!! What they had was the Pentateuch and the Torah (what we treat as the Old Testament).

  • Leanne

    Did anyone catch the misquote of scripture? Jesus said, “if you’re not against me you’re for me?” are we sure that’s what he said? Matt 12:30 he who is not with me is against me. Think about these two versions. They are drastically different. This is the most concerning thing in the interview to me.
    Also, regarding this business about taking individual verses and applying them, like this is a bad thing… Didn’t Jesus do this while being tempted by satan? The Word says it is living and effective and able to cut between joints and marrow. I don’t know about a lot of you but I have gotten through things in my life with a verse or two in hand. Not entire books that require me to recite them to be somehow effective. This idea keeps coming up with people who are fans of rob bell. I think it’s because he has done a good job of asking enough questions to instill doubt in the word of God. This is where I see the whole debate stems from. It’s veiled under the main message of God loves us so much that there may be more to the afterlife issues than we have been taught in the past. God does love us! This is not a new message thank God! the new old message under all of this is are you sure God said that? are you sure you can know what god really means in that Bible of yours because a lot of the stuff is possibly translated wrong. Follow the fruit of all of this. The danger as I see it is not right now, it’s where these teachings will lead people in 5 years. 10 years.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Leanne, I believe there are a few variations on the “for me / against me” theme. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      -Tim

  • James

    Rob Bell is being as slippery as ever here. He seems reluctant to give a straight answer to straight questions. Just because Jesus did it often, doesn’t mean we should: He’s the Christ who could discern people’s hearts, we are not. Rob’s general approach to the Scriptures is to read is a teaching spiritual principles, rather than historical realities – ie. The wide and narrow roads are a metaphor for how we work at things in life, rather than a fact about where our lives will end up. This fits with his emphasis on living in love today, rather than the action of God in history to save people.


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