If there’s anything apparent in this debate/interview, it’s that Pastor Bell is intent on playing a game. Over and over again he’ll sidestep direct questions about his view, joke around, and play cat and mouse with Justin and Adrian. Don’t get me wrong, the guy is winsome, jovial, quick on his feet and likable. But he’s also slick. And it’s the slick part that really frustrated me during this discussion. He’s very good at disarming and dodging.
Several times during the interview, I wanted Justin Brierley to stop him, open his bible and read 2 Corinthians 4:2, which says,
“But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”
As for Adrian Warnock, he handled himself well enough, I suppose. I wish that he would have been a bit more forceful at times. Bell will steer the conversation- frame it- direct it- if given the chance. Adrian also seemed a bit taken back when Pastor Bell tossed some Greek at him.
Now there’s one other thing I’d like to comment on. It happened at the 12 minute mark. I’ll reproduce the exchange:
Justin: [After quoting from Bell’s book about all people/nations coming to God] “It comes out that you’re not agnostic on this, Rob. It comes out that you do believe everyone will ultimately be saved. Of course you acknowledge that it’s one in a variety of options, but it sounds like that’s the one you prefer- the one you’re most convinced by.”
Rob: “Do you long for that to happen?
Justin: “Oh, yes, uh, well, Adrian…”
Rob: “Do you long for it to happen?”
Adrian: “I’m not a Christian who believes that only a few will be saved. That’s for sure.” [Here Adrian continues, ending by saying that he believes we should stick to what the Bible says].
If I remember correctly, Pastor Bell pressed this line of reasoning twice. When backed into a corner, he turns the tables by asking if you want all people to be finally saved. Don’t you long for it? Don’t you wish to see all men and women in heaven? Don’t you hope for this?
As I listened to the exchange, something from the book “The Brothers Karamazov” came to mind. There’s a powerful section in that work where Ivan is questioning his pious Christian and younger brother Alyosha about the problem of evil. I know of no more potent presentation than the one presented by Ivan. It is horrific. Horribly horrific. And sustained. It can be found in Chapter IV, Rebellion.
Near the end, when Alyosha cannot bear his brothers maddening imagery, he cries out, “Why are you trying me? Will you say what you mean at last?”
Ivan continues on and then asks, “Tell me yourself, I challenge you—answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature—that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance— and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions! Tell me, and tell the truth.”
‘No, I wouldn’t consent,’ said Alyosha softly.”
Rob Bell’s approach is fundamentally no different. It prompts men to consider what they would do if they were God, which always proves futile. “Do you long to see all men saved?” “Yes,” comes the reply. “Ah, well, God doesn’t agree with you… see how He is?”
And where does it stop? Would you allow 911 to happen? Would you allow your aunt to get cancer? Would allow one child to die of starvation? Would you create a hell?
Maybe I should ask Pastor Bell if he longs for God to give all men (and demons) lollypops and create heaven on earth right now- forgive everyone by divine fiat (never mind justice, after all)- and dance in a big circle.
Do you long for that? Well, don’t you?
In all this we can easily forget that God alone is God, and perfectly good and perfectly wise. Likewise we must not forget Isaiah 55:9, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
At the end of the day, everything comes back to that. Everything. We either assume the right of deity or bow the knee. Isn’t that what our history is all about?
If you would like help thinking through this more deeply, I would highly recommend two messages by John Piper.
The Echo and Insufficiency of Hell (Link).
Must Listen Factor: Moderate
Length: 1 Hour
To Download: Click Picture. It’s April 23rd, 2011.