The reaction of the evangelical community to Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, continues to be quite remarkable, in some cases even disgraceful, and reveals a lot more about today’s evangelical community than it does about Rob Bell or his book. So when a host of evangelicals began pointing to Martin Bashir’s interview of Bell as if it were a tour de force and had supposedly made him squirm, I decided to watch the interview for myself. I was stunned, not by Bell’s answers, which were both intelligent and appealing, but by the absurdity of Bashir’s questions, which were more like dogmatic assertions than real questions.
Consider this. Bashir quotes a critic who claims that Love Wins is “historically inaccurate” and its use of Scripture “indefensible.” Then, without even naming the critic or, worse yet, without citing a single example of a supposed historical inaccuracy or an indefensible use of Scripture, Bashir declares, “This is true, isn’t it.” As anyone who listens to the interview will discover, moreover, Bashir’s tone suggests a challenging statement, not a genuine question. Had he cited even one example of a supposed historical inaccuracy, for instance, there would then have been something worthwhile on the table to discuss. But in the absence of a single example, how on earth is one to respond? It is as if I were to interview Bashir and cite a critic who claims that, as an interviewer, he is simply incompetent. In the absence of a single example of the alleged incompetence, the additional charge, “This is true, isn’t it,” would serve no useful purpose beyond a sophomoric attempt to smear someone.
As the interview came to an end, I found Bashir’s approach merely bewildering—until, that is, I later learned that he was a member of a conservative Calvinist church at the heart of the firestorm. I then understood why he repeatedly confused post mortem repentance with the idea that our choices in this life are “immaterial” or “irrelevant” to the whole issue of salvation. That, however, is absurd. No Christian who accepts the possibility of repentance after the age of twenty need hold that a teenager’s choices are therefore irrelevant to the teenager’s salvation; and similarly, no Christian who accepts the possibility of repentance after physical death need hold that our choices in this life are irrelevant to salvation either. The truth is that all of our choices, both the good and the bad, those made before the age of twenty and those made after the age of twenty, are what God takes into account and works with as he brings us into a proper relationship with Jesus Christ and thus saves us from our sins.
Perhaps the most astonishing thing about this unjustly celebrated interview is the way in which Bashir shoots himself in the foot at the very beginning of the interview. Citing the recent earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan, he tries to impale Bell on the horns of a familiar (but utterly false) dilemma: “Either God is all powerful,” he insisted, “but doesn’t care about the people of Japan and therefore their suffering, or he does care about the people of Japan and their suffering but is not all-powerful.” Remarkably, on three different occasions he asks in a challenging way, “Which is it,” as if there were no third possibility. Although Bell is just too sweet a person, it seems, to have done so, he could easily have turned this false dilemma back on Bashir in a way that would make many traditional Christians squirm. For most of those who died in the earthquake and tsunami were non-Christians, and these, according to Bashir’s own theology, were thus destined for eternal torment in hell anyway. And given the traditional picture of hell, the degree of suffering there is far greater than what anyone suffered in Japan. All of which raises a much more serious dilemma for Bashir. Either God is all powerful and doesn’t care about those who experience eternal torment in hell, or he does care about them and is not all powerful. So which is it, Mr. Bashir?