Rob Bell on MSNBC: Truth or Something Else?

I will admit, I have not read Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. So, I am not going to try and guess, or accuse him of anything in regards to his book. If you have yet to read about the controversy surrounding this book, here is a great article.

Love Wins has led many in the Christian community to question whether or not the wildly popular pastor Bell, is in fact,  a universalist. I’m not going to guess.

Bell’s recent  interview on MSNBC, however, begs the question. I, personally, take great issue with his answers or lack thereof. I thought I’d throw it out to you all. What do you think of his answers? How would you have answered the questions posed? Or did you feel he answered well?

27 thoughts on “Rob Bell on MSNBC: Truth or Something Else?”

  1. Well I wasn’t going to comment on this, because I’m not quite sure where I stand. But I think that may be indicative of my views somehow! I find Rob Bell to be a very compelling and charismatic speaker, and generally I try to see the best in people at all times. So I kind of want to agree with what he’s saying, because I like him. But the problem is that I’m not quite sure what he’s saying. You’re right Nicole, he seems to be dodging questions so deftly, and being so wishy washy about what he actually means. Yes, he was faced with some difficult questions, but he didn’t really answer any of them clearly or definitively.

    I want to read his book because I’m interested in the debate that surrounds it, and want to read his side of things. But I’m a little apprehensive that, because I like to agree with people and see the best in people, I’ll end up feeling like I agree with what he’s written but not quite knowing what that means! Oh goodness that makes me sound like I totally mindless idiot… I’m not, I promise. I’m just nice and I like to get along with people.

    1. Rachel,

      I agree. I can’t comment on the book having not read it either…yet. But man, I dislike his answers in this interview.Even the first question about Japan and whether or not God is all-powerful and doesn’t care or if He cares, but isn’t all powerful.

      Those two ideas are not mutually exclusive. God is both. I’m perplexed as to why Bell could not say so. One of my favorite radio hosts always talks about the need for “clarity over agreement.” I think this is a perfect case. I understand your temptation to just want to agree, but I think even the doubt you posed in Bell’s answers shows that you don’t really want to agree for the sake of agreement.

  2. Here’s how I see it so far:
    The MSNBC Interview: He brought spoons to a knife fight. He isn’t an intellectual theologian–that’s not a slam on him, that’s just not his style. He interacts in a very post-modern, story-telling fashion. Therefore, while his answers are inadequate and off-putting, the interviewer and him are speaking different languages, of sorts.

    The book: I’ve started to read it, and I can see where it’s going. Part of it I completely disagree with, for many of the reasons that others have already mentioned. However, I really agree with the other part. When he tries to bring up the complexity of the issue, and discusses the whole mess of trying to really think it out, he does a good job.

    Overall: The topic of heaven and hell and salvation isn’t always easy. It’s a simple story, yet it also isn’t so simple. I really think he’s written his book, and maybe it helps people see God, and that’s good. But I also think he’s put his foot into some deep theological waters, and he doesn’t have the training or cultural background to keep up with it all.

    There’s a lot still going on in my head about it all, and when I’m done reading I’ll be posting a fuller response on my blog. I’ve put some initial thoughts up there already that you might find useful to read.

    In the end (though I haven’t read it all yet), do I think the book will mislead millions away from Christ? No. Do I think it could lead a lot of people to a new understanding, love, and relationship with God? Yes. Do I think it’s bad theology? Yes.

    If God can work in me, a very broken and un-wise vessel, he can work in an in-perfect book with bad theology. I pray that this will be the outcome.


    1. Thanks Josh, a really helpful and thought-out response. I love your conclusion: “If God can work in me, a very broken and un-wise vessel, he can work in an in-perfect book with bad theology. I pray that this will be the outcome.” Amen :)

    2. Josh,

      Thank you so much for this breakdown. Your thoughts really helped clarify for me some things I was thinking. I think your point about Bell’s post-modern language is a great one. His deconstructive type answers I find especially worrisome and upsetting.

      At any rate, your response here just compels me more to actually read the book, so thank you.

      Looking forward to reading your thoughts on The Minor Prophet as you continue reading.

  3. Yeah this was a tough interview for Rob. I don’t think he represented his viewpoint particularly well. Maybe he was just ill-prepared or “interviewed out”.

    As for his views, well, I totally disagree for several reasons. Many of which I won’t post here. I’ll just say that his message is dangerously easy to listen to and accept. While there is some great questions that come up in his book…. great questions… the end result does not fit will into the meta-narrative of the Bible. It frankly leads to more questions than answers.

    I will be reading his book, and will be posting my thoughts on each chapter, so that will be fun. I always enjoy good questioning and conversation. In this, I am grateful to Rob.

    1. Antwuan,

      I so agree with you, that if anything, Bell is at least raising important questions. He may not in fact be providing the answers, but the dialogue is taking place. I too am grateful for that. I believe many people will hash out their doubts as a result of the questions he raises, not necessarily because of the answers he gives.

      Great point. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  4. What a hard discussion. I’m a pretty big fan of Rob Bell and his work, but I feel like this interview shows a lack of substance and, as was stated before, clarity within his arguement. There are simple answers to the questions he was asked.

    Q: “Is God an all-powerful being that just doesn’t care, or is he limited while still caring?”
    A: “Neither. God is all powerful. God cares. I believe the world is broken, and that because of said brokenness, bad things happen. God uses both good things and bad things to bring glory to His name. [lots of stuff to explain in these statements, but there are simple, concise answers.]”

    Q: “Is it irrelevant, is it immaterial, how one responds to Christ in this life in terms of determining one’s eternal destiny?”
    A: “No. In fact I would argue that responding to Christ in this life is the MOST material decision you could make in your entire life. John 14:6. Jesus is the only way to the father.”

    Now. Obviously, since I haven’t read the book, I don’t know what his postulations are about coming into community with God pre-mortem and post-mortem, but God does respond to people in judgement all the time in the Bible. Both in this life (ex. Adam and Eve, the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc.), and in the “other life” (the specific example I’m thinking about is when Jesus said, as he was affirming himself as part of the Trinity/God-head, that he “saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven”). That’s the beauty of the impossibility of God. He is both gracious and judicious. Lion and Lamb. A Spirit hovering alone over vast waters creating the universe, and an intimate God-man who comes down and ultimately dies for our sins.

    Personally, I think it’s totally possible (and, biblically, if we believe what Jesus says, because of who Jesus is, probable) that there is heaven and hell, that God does judge, and yet at the same time, that he is perfectly loving. Whatever the content of the book may be, the title is definitely spot on. And I can’t WAIT to get my hands on a copy of this book.

  5. The passage I’m refering to when Jesus talks about Satan’s fall is from Luke 10:18. Just in case anyone wanted to read for context.

  6. I watched the interview. Mr Bell is either (1) so confused about what the Bible says that he is a useless spokeman for the genuine Christian faith, or (2) seeking to create controversy in order to sell books and make money. Listen to all the people who are saying “I can’t wait to get my hands on his book!”

    I am not opposed to buying good Christian books. I am suspicious of those who put forth even an appearance of a false gospel in order to get people interested. This circus disgusts me, frankly. If the book has good stuff for the church, let the word get out about its good qualities. But if people are buying it in order to discover whether the author is a heretic, then we have fallen prey to deception. The enemy laughs at us.

    Here’s my recommendation. For those of you who really want to know if there is any truth to be found among the muck of error Mr Bell foists upon us, get together with at least ten other curious people to buy and share just one book. But remember what curiosity did to the cat.

    1. Mr. Dad,
      Why does it either have to be 1) or 2)? Aren’t there more options? It seems you’ve limited Bell’s options/motivations to a very select few.

      1. Josh,

        If you have another alternative, I’m happy to hear it. But if you’ll allow me to use C. S. Lewis’ style of deduction, it seems to me that there are only two possibilities:

        (A1) Rob Bell is seeking to clearly communicate a message.
        (A2) Rob Bell is seeking to obfuscate a message.

        If A1 is true, then (IMHO) after listening to the MSNBC interview, I must conclude that Rob Bell is a lousy communicator. He dodges direct questions asked multiple times. He repeatedly avoids answering questions that have a very simple “yes” or “no” answer.

        But has Rob Bell become famous because he is a lousy communicator? No. Rob Bell is a very competent communicator when he so chooses.

        Therefore, A1 is false. A2 must be true. Which leads us to the next point of deduction:

        (B1) Rob Bell knows that his obfuscation creates controversy and abnormal interest in his book.
        (B2) Rob Bell does not know that his obfuscation creates controversy and abnormal interest in his book.

        Rob Bell is not an idiot. The firestorm that has been unleashed, with major figures in modern Christendom condemning his apparent heresy, could easily be extinguished if this is merely based upon misunderstanding. Mr Bell could use any of a number of media outlets to explain publicly and forthrightly that the view he is accused of advocating is not his view, and that he remains true to the gospel message regarding Christ, heaven, and hell.

        But Mr Bell continues to use the media to promote the controversy instead of resolve it, even if the controversy provides a public scandal depicting the church of Jesus Christ in division and turmoil. Therefore, we must conclude that B1 is true.

        This brings us to another sad choice:

        (C1) Rob Bell, content to create controversy and public scandal regarding the church, is more concerned for abnormal interest in his book than for the reputation of the church and its Lord.
        (C2) Rob Bell, content to create controversy and public scandal regarding the church, is less concerned for abnormal interest in his book than for the reputation of the church and its Lord.

        If C2 is true, then Mr Bell is blind and deaf and totally insensitive to what his actions are producing both inside and outside the church. Furthermore, he must also be surrounded by people who are similarly blind and deaf and insensitive to the situation, or else he is unwilling to listen to sane voices around him, which also disqualifies him for Christian leadership. I find it highly unlikely that the man who has built such a following specifically because he has a sense of the pulse of our society has suddenly gone comatose and without advisors. Therefore, I conclude that C1 must be true.


        (D1) Rob Bell is more concerned about his book because he believes its message to be of superior value than the reputation of the church and its Lord.
        (D2) Rob Bell is more concerned about his book because of less than honorable motives.

        If D1 is true, then Mr Bell’s value system is hopelessly screwed up. He must be horribly confused. Either:

        (E1) Rob Bell seeks to make people feel good by telling them not to be concerned about having to make a decision about Jesus Christ in this lifetime, a view that is not only heretical, it is damnable. This is a clear example of what Paul wrote in Galatians 1:8-9.
        (E2) This is not Rob Bell’s real view. But he is content to let people think this is his view, even though he knows the view is heretical and damnable, or he has lost his mind.

        Between these two miserable choices, I must agree with E1 — IF D1 is also true. But if D1 is false, then D2 must be true, and Mr Bell has less than honorable motives for creating this controversy, namely greed and or notoriety, both worthy of condemnation in this situation.

        And that, Josh, really is the reason that I have determined that the only logical conclusions we face are madness/heresy or greed.

        And if my logic is faulty, I truly apologize both to you and to Mr Bell.

        1. Interesting. What did you think of the book? In some parts, I found it confusing, other parts I found inspiring and really really nice. Which parts did you find specifically misleading? There was stuff in the chapter when he spoke about “story” that I found to be in poor taste, and I’m not sure I agree with his readings of all the OT lines he used, but I could be wrong there. Anyway, what did you find most upsetting about the book?

          1. Josh,

            sorry for the slow response. I am currently in an area where internet access is spotty, at best. Previous attempts to post this reply failed.

            I have stated (at least twice) that my comments have been in regard only to the interview on MSNBC and to the public controversy that has existed for some time now. These I have witnessed. I have not read the book, but I am quite sure that at some point soon someone will lend me their copy as they ask me about specific sections. I shall not purchase the book.

            What I keep hearing and reading repeatedly from those who have read the book is that there is clear error they Reject alongside “some interesting questions that are raised.”

            (1) If my brothers and sisters are uniformly discovering false teaching in this book, then why should we support it? Shall we start buying literature produced by cults because they have some interesting stuff combined with their heretical teaching?

            (2) If Mr Bell has not been careful enough to supply the body of Christ and the people in the world with truth, properly researched and examined by others before publication, why should we give him another penny of God’s resources?

            (3) Why endorse with our assets a man who purports to be a leader of the church who willingly creates division and controversy and prints things that are simply not true? If his teaching is not full of integrity, then why is he considered worthy of leadership or of being listened to?

            You said it yourself, Josh. This generation has “a culture of non-scholarship” that would now receive this book. But even the common Christian on the street reads the book and declares that there is error.

            Many authors put forth ideas that are controversial, or which require more study, but at least are initially judged by people as “interesting, I will have to think about that.” Let those issues be considered thoughtfully and carefully, regardless of the presence of controversy. Jesus was a controversial teacher, to be sure.

            But that is different than a unanimous declaration of “there is clear error here!” Satan always brings a load of truth to adorn his false teachings. He quotes Scripture and sounds very convincing. But he wants to get people asking questions, like “Has God said…?” (Genesis 3:1) which lead to death.

            I have not read the book. But I uniformly hear that there is clear error alongside “interesting questions.” Not interesting insights or observations or conclusions, but questions raised. If Mr Bell was bringing a gift to the body of Christ and to the world that might seek the Lord, then his questions should also be accompanied by sound Biblical answers which draw people closer to God instead of questioning Him and the worthiness of their faith in Him. “Interesting questions” about the faith are exactly what Paul was referring to in 2 Corinthians 10:5 when he spoke of “speculations” and “lofty things” which need to be destroyed.

            So, again, I am only commenting on what I myself have observed. I have not made a single statement about the contents of the book itself, but only what I am hearing reported by every single person who has read the book and commented in my hearing.

    2. “This circus disgusts me, frankly.” All of life is a circus. We all are a bunch of imperfect people bumbling around with our giant elephant sins in tow. And you and I are both a part of it. I’m sad that you feel disgusted by our comments. I, personally, don’t see anything wrong with being interested in controversial conversation, or reading a controversial text. If I did, I would have put down the Bible long ago. I am definitely not saying that “Love Wins” is the Bible. But what I am saying is that participating in the world, being “in the world but not of it,” (John 17) is a good thing. Further, I would say that the best way to respond to all of this, like it talks about in John 17, is to enter in to battle by praying for clarity and discernment in the hearts of the people reading this book, and in humanity in general. After all, assuming that this book could in fact be against God, this is definitely not the only tool that could be used to separate us from Christ.
      I really appreciate your desire to direct people back towards God. It’s helpful to remember that we need to be focused on Him and His heart in all of this.

      1. Josh,

        I’m sure “rejectdad” will respond to you as well, but let me also say that I know, without a doubt, that he was not calling the comments here disgusting.

        He was referring to the circus, fiasco, debacle, surrounding the entire Rob Bell “Love Wins” event.

        It has been a circus. I agree with that. Between John Piper tweeting “farewell” to Bell to the poor Englishman who happens to be named Rob Bell, who was slammed by hoards of Evangelicals.

        If it weren’t dealing with the Gospel, it would be comical.

        I have stated in another comment, however, that regardless of the content of the book, I am thankful that important questions are being raised.

        1. Yes, i do agree with the circus statement. It’s been terrible to see how some people have slammed Bell, acting in a very un-Christ-like manner.

          One issue that falls beneath it all, to my mind (and this idea will ruffle a lot of feathers) is the lack of authority. With Protestant Christianity able to split into whatever shards it wants, who is above Bell (or anyone else) to check/double-check that the writing is an accurate reflection of true Church teaching? When we’re free to do whatever we want, then we’ll get people doing whatever they want.

          There are inherent problems with authority–and it is misused and abused, but there are also inherent problems with not having authority. I think when churches leave a main connection to the Church Universal, then they are open to greater chances of being misled, and therefore misleading people. (again, not to say that mainline churches don’t do this either, just saying that the chance is greater in churches that don’t have that authority structure in place).

          I think part of the problem is that this lack of authority has bread a culture of non-scholarship that this book perhaps is the result of. But I’m only on chapter 2, so I can’t judge fully yet. :)

          1. Nicole,

            thank you for properly expressing my thoughts about the circus. You know me well.


            I am sure we both agree that we do have a great source of authority always at hand: the Word of God. We are blessed to have an absolute measure of truth and error available whenever a new wind of doctrine blows our way. It is the Bible that will separate godly teachers from false teachers.

            I agree with you completely that we now live in a society that is ignorant of the truths contained in the Bible. You and I need to help the weak universal church learn how to become strong in the light of His truth.

            It is not denominations that create the universal church. It is not hierarchy that maintains order. Just look at the tragic deterioration of mainline denominations in recent years as liberals have decreed Bible doctrines to be out of date, behind the times, and irrelevant. Denominational structure does not maintain either truth or unity.

            The true universal church will always be comprised not of denominations and sects and buildings with the right sign outside, but of the true followers of Jesus Christ–those who have loved His appearing, those who remain steadfast in their devotion to Him and to the hope of the genuine gospel of Jesus Christ.

            We who follow Christ stand on the ultimate authority of the Bible alone, and our voices can be heard on Modern Reject. And in the love of Christ, we can stand together to invite Mr Bell to repent and to receive forgiveness from God and His church. Bless you.

    3. I really hope that #2 isn’t the case. I pray Bell is not distorting his answers regarding the Gospel in an attempt to sell more books.

      I agree though that, at least as far as this interview is concerned, he is a terrible spokesman for the Gospel.

      I also happen to think he is just pandering and using his post-modern, story-telling style (as Josh pointed out in an earlier comment) to try and be “relate-able.”

      Either way, he is misrepresenting Christ, in my opinion.

      At any rate, I loved your comment on the issue! Thank you for sharing it.

  7. I have a lot of thoughts about this, Nicole. And frankly, they won’t stand a candle to what anyone has written here or anywhere else.

    I’ve begun writing an article for my own (very small and non-influencial!) blog called, “Why Rob Bell Matters to Me, a Stay At Home Mom.” I feel compelled but also want to rely on the Holy Spirit. It’s very interesting in light of the fact that a couple weeks ago, before the Rob Bell debate, I was planning to do an online and summer home study called, “Contend.” I just think the Lord is leading me in this direction, but I’m still waiting and praying…with shaky knees. ;)

    I applaud your willingness to discuss these issues…

    1. Melissa,
      I would really love to read your thoughts on Rob Bell. I’ll be looking forward to that post.

      Isn’t it noce that the Lord often, slowly inches us along. He gives us an idea here, a word there. Next thing we know we are entering into something new, but doing so knowing He is right beside us.

      P.S. don’t say small and non-influential! I read this post today from Jon Acuff on his new blog and it was encouraging. I thought you might be encouraged too. Blessings friend!

  8. Nicole,
    Not to hijack things, but I put a part 1 of my response to the book up on my blog if you want to check it out. Sorry to use your blog for announcing it, but I figured in this one case it was relevant. Click my name here in blue and it will take you to my blog.

    And Nicole, if posting this is out of line, just delete the comment. I won’t be offended. :)

    Josh (the other Josh in the Modern Reject comment section)

  9. Well, this one is old, and you’ve probably read the book and made some conclusions by now but I thought I’d throw in my two pence.

    In the first question I think he did not communicate his point as clearly as he could have. To me, he was saying God deeply cares, but the earth has not been restored and therefore crap happens. It’s not that he doesn’t care, and it’s not that he’s not all powerful, it’s that the earth is still a broken place. The divine paradox language that he uses reminds me of GK Chesterton’s writing (who influenced folks like Bell and CS Lewis).

    I’ve read Love Wins, and I really enjoyed the book. I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, but I do think he makes some interesting points.

    I enjoyed reading someone who was bringing up difficult topics from the Bible that most Christians try to avoid: Ezekiel mentioned that Sodom will be restored — I thought they were a wicked city, why are they getting restored? But then we see Jesus talking about how if the miracles he performed had been done in some of the ancient cities that those people would have repented.

    So, what does that mean? Does that mean God doesn’t do everything he can to get people saved? He just lets people burn? Or does it mean that those people are going to have another chance, such as what Ezekiel 16 mentions.

    Part of what he believes is those who go to hell will eventually be given an opportunity to accept Jesus as their Lord. And that in the end, everyone will be saved because God’s love will eventually overcome their hard hearts.

    What about people who just needed 100 proddings of the Spirit in their lives, and they only received 99? Does God say, “Sucks for you that you died right before you would have said the sinners prayer”?

    I’m not the optimist Bell is regarding everyone eventually receiving eternal life, but I would agree with Rob Bell, CS Lewis, and many others that God will do whatever it takes to reach us.

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