Martin Bashir's Excellent Question

Here is the latest video doing the rounds:

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.


Mike Gantt said…
It was a particularly good question.

The primary reason that people stumble over universalism is that they have such a limited conception of heaven that they see universalism giving a Hitler the same outcome as a Mother Theresa. Of course, there will be a wide variety of outcomes in heaven - and justice will be driving those varied outcomes.

I address this in The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven:
Anonymous said…
I found Bashir's 100% antagonism completely unhelpful.
Rev Drew Tweedy said…
It was a good Q but what a shame RB seemed so poorly prepared for the interview.
Matt said…
It was an insightful question that Rob seemed to struggle to find a way to explain. In the blog "The Fire and the Rose", David Congdon is doing an excellent multi-part series critiquing Mark Galli from Christianity Today magazines review of Rob Bell's book. He even mentions your book "All Shall be Well." It is a must read series.
Denver said…
I think I was initially excited when I heard Rob Bell might be a universalist. But, the more I hear about it, I'd rather a 'celebrity' Christian wasn't the way universalism would get publicity. Rob Bell is going to become the face of universalism. I'm not sure I feel good about this. I haven't read the book (ordered, but hasn't arrived yet), but I pray his argumentation is respectable.
Anonymous said…
It didn't help that Bashir started with an obviously well-prepared trick question (false dichotomy) that had nothing to do with universalism.
James Goetz said…
"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."

Robin, I hold a different view. A universalist may teach that the destiny of each individual is in the hands of both God and the individual, while God never sends anybody to permanent hell without conditions.
Robin Parry said…

Hi. I am not sure that what you are proposing is a different view. As you know, I too think that the individual must freely choose to embrace the gospel for salvation. When I say that God determines our destiny I do not wish to imply that our response to God is not a fundamental factor in the story. I simply did not stress that side the things in my comment. So I am in agreement with your suggestion.

But I do think that my eternal destiny is assurred because God has determined my end. My decisions in this life to reject Christ do not determine my eternal destiny, simply the penultimate destiny.
MikeG said…
I actually like the provocative title of the book... for people who say Rob Bell is wrong, are they implying that actually God doesn't win in the end??

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