My Interview with #RobBell

Here’s my interview yesterday with Rob Bell on Doug Pagitt Radio.  I’ll post the rest of the show throughout this week, with my thoughts.  But for now, here’s this.  And, if you’re in the Twin Cities, maybe I’ll see you at Rob’s appearance tonight at Wayzata Community Church.

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  • Great interview, even if you didn’t ask Rob my question about Bashir.

  • Good interview. Embracing the paradox is not something many midwesterners can grab ahold of, which makes voices like Rob’s and yours, Tony… so needed.

  • that’s actually really helpful for me to understand that we shouldn’t be trying to solve the paradox. It’s good to dive deeper, but we’re not going to discover which “side” it is. I like that Rob is keeping the inherent tension, though I’m beginning to despise the Christian buzzphrase “live in the tension.”

  • …of course, I liked what he said about getting back to the roots or “something really really old.”

    I see the early church as having to live in the midst of the paradox out of necessity. They simply did not have the professional set of tools that we have today to carve out definitive answers.

    But then again, apparently they didn’t need them either!

    Great interview…

  • Kate Snyder

    This interview is so sad. Talk about departing from the faith, yikes! “Love Wins” was a lightweight read, not exactly for those who think. It was both nauseating and shocking. Rob Bell obviously has a huge problem with God’s nature as revealed in scripture. He’s thrown out half of it to get where he’s at now. Hell is an enormous stumbling block for him. In his preface he talks about a staggering number of people who’ve been taught about an eternal place of torment, overlooking the fact that it’s Jesus of Nazareth doing the teaching – it’s Jesus Christ who told us that He will tell many they are cursed as He casts them into everlasting fire where the flames will never be quenched. That’s way too much for Bell. His blatant disdain for Jesus’ message is appalling. He calls Him “misguided and toxic.” He’s clearly choked on the milk of the Word, and it’s tragic and frightening because he desperately wants to take others down with him. Spreading serious error like this isn’t love, folks. Yes, God’s love always wins because none of Jesus’ sheep will be lost. They hear His voice and follow Him, and they receive and tremble at what He said about hell. On the flip side, Bell’s kind of love loses. In the end, he could be responsible leading others astray. If so, Jesus said it’s better for him that a millstone was hanged about his neck and he was cast into the sea. Should we fit him with a pair of cement shoes and throw him off the Brooklyn Bridge? No. He needs prayer with fasting while we continue to warn others to stay away from him. Someone has said that if he were stranded on a desert island with a choice of only two books, he’d choose the Bible and William Gurnall’s “The Christian in Complete Armour.” On the belt of truth, Gurnall writes, “Since Satan comes as a serpent in the persons of false teachers, and by them labors to put a cheat on us and cozen us with error for truth; to defend us against this design, it is necessary that we be girt with truth in our understanding – that we have an established judgment in the truths of Christ.” Of the Bereans, he writes, “They did not believe hand over head, but their faith was the result of judgment, upon diligent search, convinced by scripture evidence (Acts 17:11). It is said there that they ‘searched the Scriptures daily whether these things were so.’ They carried the preachers doctrine to the written Word, and compared it with that; and mark, verse 12, ‘therefore many of them believed.’ ” Do you really think many will believe the gospel after reading Bell on hell? This is the sad part because he’s not preaching the gospel. The good news is far better than he’s vainly imagined, far better than any of us can imagine! “How great are your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep! The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this: that though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever….declare that the Lord is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him” (Psalm 92:5-7, 15). The Lord is upright; I’m declaring it. God is not unrighteousness by dooming all evildoers to eternal destruction. To declare otherwise is a serious offense against Him. True and righteous are His judgments!

  • Kenton

    Just finished listening to the whole show. Great job, Tony!

  • Kate, in order to enter the fray with cogent arguments, one must know WHO and WHAT one really is. I get the impression that you really don’t know the forces of history and culture that have made you what you are. Only someone with a very particular view of reality could speak the way you do. You are a child of western thought– of rationalistic, enlightenment “modern” thought. That’s not bad, its just limited. The truth is a lot bigger than you think.

  • Kate Snyder

    Dan, I am a child of the King. My mind has been renewed by His Spirit and washed by the water of His Word. I get the impression that you don’t understand the forces of darkness in the form of seducing spirits at work in Bell’s book, or the doctrines of demons at play in so-called enlightened, rationalistic, modern thought of which you speak. Jesus spent a large part of His ministry casting out demons and unclean spirits. Does He know WHO and WHAT He is? He had a particular view of reality which I embrace but Bell flat-out denies and not at all cogently. I don’t think you know much about the Truth because the world cannot receive Him; it sees Him not nor knows Him.

  • Kate, please, tell us all what it’s like to live in Left Field.

  • Kate Snyder

    It’s joyous to walk with Jesus. And peaceful – the supernatural kind, not what the world gives (John 14:27). The religious leaders of Jesus’ day accused Him of being crazy and demon possessed, and it’s an absolute pleasure and honor to be thought of in the same way. God is good, His Word is true, and Jesus is faithful.

  • Dan

    Rob makes the point that nobody prior to him ever tried to uphold the notion that God is both just and merciful at the same time.

    Nobody prior to Rob and Tony could handle paradox. Like God/Man, like three persons in one essence. No Calvinist or Arminian ever considered that God is both merciful and just. Wow.

    Glad you all cleared that up for me. I’ll be leaving my church where definitive answers are all about power right away.

  • I take Tony’s troll warning to heart, but in case anyone who believes like Kate is reading with a bit of an open mind, consider this: Jesus spoke about sheol, which is the grave, and gehenna, which was a burning trash dump. Our word “hell” is a late invention of translators, who collapsed these two terms to imply conscious eternal torment. Jesus did speak about “endless” punishment for the wicked, especially the rich who oppressed the poor. However, this is as likely annhilation, not conscious eternal torment. In Matthew 25, Jesus refers to “nations” that don’t feed the poor being destroyed. Is this about individuals or systems? Jesus is harsh towards oppression, but gentle to individuals, especially the poor. Context matters.

  • Carl

    Charley, you may be interested in this (particularly point 5):

  • Buck Eschaton

    Apparently there is no basis for the Gehenna as garbage dump theory. See
    here and here

    The real meaning of Gehenna is the place where human sacrifice is conducted. So when we are warned about Gehenna it is not about us being tortured in a burning garbage dump, but it is a warning that if we keep engaging in sin our path will lead back to a literal place where we will commit human/child sacrifice. So Hell is literally the place we go to commit human sacrifice. So all sins are just one step closer to arriving at Gehenna, the place where we murder the innocent.

  • Dan Hauge

    Wow–thanks for the links to the whole Gehenna issue. I’ve used it frequently because my undergrad professor used it–never though to seriously question it (which says something about my supposed commitment to rigorous scholarship). I still think that using it as a metaphor for divine judgment does not necessarily point to an unending metaphysical place of torment after death, but it does change the game a bit. Just goes to show that “scholarly consensus” does not constitute a monolithic body of ‘truth’ any more than any other finite cultural perspective.

  • Dan


    New civility.

  • Phil

    I was able to attend the session at the Wayzata Community Church last night, and it turned out to be better than I had expected. I read Love Wins, and I really liked it quite a bit. The thing that came through to me was that Bell really doesn’t have any desire to argue with people simply for the sake of arguing. When he did have a chance to do in the response to some of the questions, he simply asked for the person to talk to him afterward. There was part of me, of course, that would have liked to hear him “hit it out of the park”, but I simply think Bell has too much of a pastor’s heart to do that. And that was what struck me most. I believe has primarily arrived where he is at theologically simply because of his pastoral experience more than anything else. That’s not to say he can’t back up what he’s saying theologically. I just don’t think he really cares if his theology is airtight or not. Those looking for an expression of systematic theology should look elsewhere.

  • Kate Snyder

    Don’t worry, Tony, I’m not swallowing the bait, but exposing it for the sake of the sheep out there. The entire emergent “conversation” is trolling for anyone who will listen – unsuspecting newbie believers and those who should be more mature by now and disenchanted denominational churchgoers and new age mystics and even sodomites. Your unrepentant tent is big. Emergent leaders taunt and provoke people to literally leave the principles of the doctrine of Christ and the foundation of repentance from dead works and of eternal judgment, and not in the sense Paul was encouraging in Hebrews 6. Yet they cry, ‘We’re only talking!’ Yeah right. Under the flimsy, false veneer of asking questions, the assertions made by emergents – about the reality of hell, the nature of Christ’s atonement, what it means to be saved and so on – are nothing new. It’s old stuff. Centuries old. And if you walked into the Unitarian church my mother dragged us to fifty years ago, you’d hear the same crap, except they were proud to admit they weren’t following the Jesus of the Bible. They were truly offended by Him and distanced themselves as far as they could, considering themselves enlightened intellectual academics who had no need of the His teachings, except maybe the sermon on the mount. ‘Sin and repentance? What are they? Salvation from what? Hell is sooo yesterday. We’re way above these narrow-minded concepts that stifle human creativity and progress.’

    Jesus used the term Gehenna eleven times, each time warning us. He said worms and flames don’t die there. If annihilation were true then who cares about the extreme heat, parching thirst and disgusting worms? Why bother mentioning them if one won’t feel a thing? Gehenna was where apostate Israelites sacrificed their children to pagan deities by throwing them into the fire, and Jesus will do the same thing to human beings who refuse to repent and believe, both rich and poor. Do you think the Galileans were worse sinners, or those on whom the tower fell? “No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).

  • Todd

    Kate, Keep fighting the good fight. Your words are true because they are backed by scripture. While Tony and Rob engage themselves in endless controversies, you simply state the true word of God.

  • Tony… here’s one of your closing comments: “…it’s moving into a more holistic version of Christianity and I think you (Bell) are right on the crest of the wave of where a lot of people are going.”

    Listening to this largely as an outsider now, I can see why these types of statements can be so troubling to those with a more orthodox bent. Guys like you and Bell are just raising the questions and riding the wave. Waves are powerful forces and I, for one, hope the questions and contemplation of these issues cause people to move away from Christianity as they perhaps knew it.

    I can understand the fears of those who oppose Bell (and you for that matter). The unknown future can be frightening for those that think they know.

  • Good point, Steve– Here’s a slight variation on Phyllis Tickle’s (and others) historical assessment:

    Every 500 years the Gospel gets Bigger, God gets Better, and the People of God go through a huge “Church Split”.

    One small comfort for me when I read the vituperative venom (sorry, just had to use that word! 🙂 coming from many “religious” people toward those who are discovering that God is SO much better than we ever dared to believe is that we CAN have some understanding for their angst. Their whole world is dissolving under their orthodox feet. The more it erodes, the more frantic and shrill they become.

    I haven’t read all of Rob’s book, yet, but when I do, I won’t agree with every bit of it. But I will LOVE the way Rob is struggling to make sense of the texts in light of what we now know about the goodness of God.

    It is not Truth that is eroding, it is religiosity. Yahoo.

    • Chris

      Not takin’ sides here but…It’ s funny in an interesting kind of way that a lot of the “vituperative venom” you talk about come out of the mouth of Jesus, (Mr. peace, love and happiness) as much as Kate’s (If that’s whom you’re referring to). Makes Jesus seem kinda angsty.

  • Kate Snyder

    Amen the Truth isn’t eroding. Heaven and earth will pass away but not one word Jesus spoke. His words are surer than the ground we walk on. Religiosity is anything that causes us to establish our own righteousness and truth outside of Him, and that’s what makes the gobbledygook in Rob Bell’s book so dead – it’s not based on what Jesus spoke. “The words that I speak to you, they are spirit and they are life. But there are some of you that believe not” (John 6:63, 64). You know who you are. Jesus didn’t come to judge you but to save you. Either be saved by His words now or you will be judged by them later. “And if any man hear my words and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejects me and receives not my words has one that judges him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 6:47-49).

  • Jeff Straka

    Great interview, Tony! I enjoyed the entire two-hour show, as well. It seems that at one point (I think it was when you were taking to Michael Horton), something about the “lack of footnotes” in Rob’s book was brought up. A book that perhaps greatly influenced Rob’s book will provide just such detail. It’s called “A Gentler God: Breaking Free of the Almighty in the Company of the Human Jesus.” and it’s by Doug Frank. (See Note that the reviews include Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Debbie Blue and Mark Yaconelli. I am 2/3 through this book and it is incredible! I highly recommend it for those who enjoyed Rob’s book but hunger for a deeper understanding (Frank does a great job of exploring what the cross might mean in the absence of hell and the “Almighty God” of penal substitution).