Bashir vs. Bell

I'm near the end of reading Harnack and needed a break. Duke is up by 12. Hopefully this will end well. I was told to watch Rob Bell's interview with Martin Bashir on MSNBC. Googling it, I ended up at our favorite (sarcasm) blogger's site, Justin Taylor's Gospel Coalition, where he graciously linked the YouTube video. Please, before going on, watch the interview below.


A few things must be made clear in order to move from point A to point B:

  1. Shame on MSNBC for having Martin Bashir interview Bell.
  2. Shame on them for airing it.
  3. Shame on Bashir for his interview tactics.

And I'm serious.  I had to watch the clip three times.

Taylor refers to Bashir in this way, "Martin Bashir is a reporter impatient with evasive answers." I argue: Martin Bashir is a reporter who has his own agenda and wants to zing his interviewee. Moreso than ought to be acceptable in journalism. (I'm a fan of hard hitting journalism, but Bashir is worse at it than most and leads the interviewee into questions that are often unanswerable because he begins with presuppositions that aren't true to the interviewee...not sarcasm)

First of all, like all great journalists (sarcasm), Bashir begins with a line that is framed around bloggers and writers' opinions of the book and not necessarily off of the book itself. He says, "Bell says that ultimately all people will be saved, even those who've rejected the claims of Christianity..." Congrats Bashir, good way to hook the audience (sarcasm).

Then, because it is appropriate to focus a religious leader on Japan (not sarcasm), Bashir asks Bell about Japan--posing the question, "Which one of these is true: Either God is all powerful but [God] doesn't care about the people of Japan or [God] does care about the people of Japan and isn't all powerful.  Which is it?" Bell answers saying that God is Divine and that the message of the Scriptures is that God will fix this place and renew it again. Most likely frustrated that Bell didn't answer his unanswerable question (even Jesus spoke in metaphors), Bashir asks his question again. Bell responds that this is a paradox at the heart of the Divine.  "Some are best left exactly as they are" Bell says. Knowing that this paradox is a reality, Bashir backs off the question.

Then he asks if Bell is a "Universalist." Bell says no and points out that Christians have disagreed about this speculation (whether or not ALL will be saved) for ages.

Then it gets good.

Bashir asks the question that he will harp on for the rest of the interview: "Is it irrelevant, or immaterial, about how one responds to Christ in this life in terms of determining one's eternal destiny." Bells says, "It is extraordinarily important."  Bashir responds immediately (interrupting) that in Bell's book he says that "God wins regardless in the end."

I think it is at this point that Bell realizes that Bashir and he are operating on two different mindsets, two different paradigms of thinking.

Bel says, "Love wins, for me, is a way of understanding that God is Love and love demands freedom." Bashir says, "You are asking for it both ways, that doesn't make sense." While I might argue that yeah, Bashir, it doesn't "make sense," because the idea behind a God who puts its children on earth and those people fall away from God and God still chooses to save them doesn't "make sense" is not my point. Bell isn't asking for it both ways.  Bell is asking for a new way of thinking.

Bashir repeats the question. Bell says it is terribly relevant. "Now, how exactly that works out in the future, we are now...when you speculation." Going on explaining himself Bel basically says that entire Dogmas have been written and designed around this, which seems to be logical speculation. (I actually think this is a weak answer from Bell and perhaps without the TV cameras and the elusive British accent, he may have responded in a way that makes more "sense")

OOOH. Then Bashir says, "I'm not asking what happens when you die, I'm asking about the here and now." Oh Bashir, how messed up you are. YES YOU ARE. You ARE asking about what happens when you die because the question you are asking revolves around the idea of what happens when you die! You're asking that if your response to Christ's love matters in the here and now.  AND you're functioning off of the assumption that that response secures you in either Heaven or hell.  So, yes, Bashir. You ARE asking about what happens when you die.  And it is to that point that Bell is responding.

Bashir continues to ask, "Does it have a bearing or not have a bearing, how you respond to Christ now, to determine your eternal destiny."

I think Bell is making the point that you have to "know" what's going to happen when you die...and you can't. However, for Bell, that doesn't make how you react to God's love irrelevant. (I might argue that it is indeed necessary...simply because Jesus commanded it.)

"It has tremendous bearing" Bell messed this up (Cameras, lights, and British again). I'm not totally sure that Bell actually thinks it has a huge bearing.  I think he DOES think it is relevant. (Again, I think this can be explained inside of Jesus' calling and command on our lives.)

Bell also says, "I assume God's grace give people space to work those things out." Some may think, including Bashir, that this is a cop out answer.  To which I respond: Saying this is a cop out answer assumes that you don't allow God's grace to move and work in the world.  Because this entire faith is built off of a grace, one that surpasses understanding, I might argue that you have nearly disqualified yourself as a "Christian." It's not a cop's an explanation (or at least an attempt) at wrestling with the many questions of life that are unclear.

Bashir quotes a critique of Love Wins: "'There are dozens of problems with Love Wins.  The history is inaccurate, the use of Scripture is indefensible.' That's true isn't it?"  To which Bell obviously responds, "No." Does Bashir really expect Bell to admit that his factual information is wrong? I'm not sure.

The kicker: "Why do you choose to accept the works of the writer Origen and not Arius..."

While I haven't read the book (Divinity School is time consuming), haven't compared the historical notes (and typically Bell's books and messages are well backed up and researched...even perhaps moreso than others...), the assumption of understanding Origen over Arius is assumed because while both were controversial at times, Arius is understood to have believed that not only is the Son subordinate, but also did not believe in Trinitarian theology and thought the divinity of the Father was over the Son. This is typically considered somewhat heretical and point...BASHIR OUGHT NOT LEAD THE QUESTION AND ASSUME THAT IT IS "TRUE" WITHOUT ASSUMING THAT BELL OPERATES UNDER TYPICAL PROTESTANT CHRISTIAN DOCTRINES LIKE THE BELIEF IN THE TRINITY. Bashir should not assume anything as a journalist, but if he does...he has to be fair about what he assumes.

I thought Bell was going to handle this. But...he went a different way. I think this was a mistake on Bell's part.  He started, "Well, first and foremost because I am a pastor." However, he went on to talk about a personalized side of the pastoral role rather than emphasizing the doctrinal thoughts and principles. Unfortunate.

I wondered why Bashir went back to the, "That's true isn't it?" line. Here's my hypothesis: Bashir thinks Bell is a hipster pastor who is changing the Gospel to serve a purpose and in that process the Gospel is watered down and destroyed (he actually uses this as an argument later). Bell doesn't think so. But, it doesn't matter because Bashir has his own agenda. He later says that Bell has tried to make the Gospel more "palatable" for contemporary people who find the idea of Heaven and hell hard to stomach. Then the line, "That's what you've done haven't you?" And Bell says, "No. I spend an entire chapter in the book talking about hell."

I imagine that if Matt Lauer were interviewing Bell, he would've asked "Have you done that?" Instead of "That's what you've done, haven't you?"

There is a huge difference.

The long and short is that Bashir has an agenda, something every good journalist should have (sarcasm), and wants to appear as "hard-hitting" and so he asks leading questions (poorly disguised I might add), that do no give justice to the discussion and rather try to catch a writer in his tracks.  This is poor journalism and does nothing but provide viewers to your television show. This, perhaps, is one thing that is wrong with the world at hand.

Shame on Bashir.  Shame on MSNBC.  Give the man an opportunity to defend himself in a way that is fair and just.