Martin Bashir interviews Rob Bell:
Martin Bashir asks the brilliant question,
"Are you a universalist who believes that everyone can go to heaven regardless of how they respond to Christ on earth? . . . Is it irrelevant and is it immaterial about how one responds to Christ in this life in terms of determining one's eternal destiny?"
That is perhaps the most interesting and cleverly phrased question I have seen raised so far in this discussion. Genius! Rob Bell struggled to answer it and I suspect most people would struggle to answer a question like that in the midst of a live interview.
Let me suggest some reflections on it (and I am not reflecting on how Bell should answer but on how I would).
Bell seemed to be pulled in two directions ("it is important" and "it is not important") but could not clarify how he could have his cake and eat it. I think that Bell's instincts were right and the genius of the question lies in the way it is hard to answer in a way that the audience would understand.
The universalist believes that the eternal destiny of everyone is determined by God's action in Christ. So how a person responds in this life does not determine that destiny. God determines that destiny in Christ. So the most straightforward reply to Bashir (for a universalist) is "Yes. Your decisions may delay your participation in salvation but, in the end, they will not thwart it. So everyone will be saved even if they do not respond to Christ in this life"
But, of course, to say "Yes" in answer to the question will give the misleading impression that the universalist thinks that
(a) whether one responds to Christ is unimportant
(b) whether one responds to Christ in this life is unimportant.
And neither (a) nor (b) are true (for reasons I have explained elsewhere). (Which is why Bell tried to say that responding to Christ was very important).
So the universalist would have to make clear that
1. Sure, your eternal destiny is not in your hands, it is in God's (thank the Lord!)
2. How you respond to Christ is still essential and
3. Responding to the gospel in this life is still important.
That is not an easy message to get across fast in a live interview, especially when you have to take into account that most of the audience will be hearing you through a grid of traditional preconceptions.
So top marks to Martin Bashir on a genius question.