Watching Rob Bell Squirm
My Calvinist friend Brandon Dyer sent me a link to this interview with Rob Bell by MSNBC's Martin Bashir. The YouTube video is titled "MSNBC Host Makes Rob Bell Squirm" - and indeed Rob Bell does squirm throughout the interview, which many evangelical bloggers are intepreting as meaning the interviewer "trapped" Bell or caught him in a contradiction. But the reason Rob Bell is squirming (other than the politely hostile tone of the questions Bashir is asking) is because he keeps being asked the same questions over and over again, even after he has given an answer. The problem is that that Martin Bashir doesn't understand the answers and thinks Rob Bell is being evasive or nonsensical. As one commenter on the YouTube site puts it, "Bashir was only trying to get the truth of what Bell believes, and Bell seems to side-step the question giving strange meaningless answers... this is after Bashir asks him the SAME question 3 different times!"
If it seems at times like Rob Bell and Martin Bashir are talking two completely different languages, that's because they are. Bell is a post-modernist, comfortable with ambiguity and paradox, willing to ask questions and admit he doesn't know the answers, celebrating the diversity of views found in the historical Christian "stream." Bashir is clearly a modernist, who believes faith is a matter of propositional truth. Bashir believes only one of the propositions he raises about God and the disaster in Japan can be true and one cannot. The answers Rob Bell gives ARE meaningless to Bashir, who is unable to rise above his modernist "either/or" worldview and see that Bell is giving perfectly acceptable "both/and" answers. I imagine if Bashir were to interview Brian McLaren or Peter Rollins (or any of my Emergent friends), it would go the same way. Bell is squirming because he realizes he is not being understood. To quote Cool Hand Luke, "what we've got here is a failure to communicate."
I haven't read Rob Bell's new book yet (I agree with the title: Love Wins), but from my deep-skimming of it on my Nook Color, it really doesn't look like he's saying anything new. He is raising the same questions Madeleine L'Engle, Marcus Borg, Dom Crossan, and others raised back in the 1980's and 1990's - and which Origen raised in the AD 200's. Raising these questions is what got Madeleine L'Engle branded a universalist and banned from most Christian bookstores in the 1980's. I'm sure there will be many Christian bookstores that will not carry Rob Bell's new book. (There are already many that no longer sell Brian McLaren's books.)
True communication between worldviews IS possible. I'm grateful for conservative friends like Brandon, as well as my friend Doug LeBlanc (who was an associate editor at Christianity Today when I first met him in 2001) and some of my Baptist friends - friends with whom I can respectfully disagree and have true dialogue. Such dialogue not likely to happen, though, in a 7-minute interview on a cable news network.
Rob Bell's book Love Wins is available at Amazon: