As a leading online apologetics and discernment work, Apprising Ministries has been warning you about the teachings the Emerging Church rock star pastor Rob Bell, co-teaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church along with his good friend Shane Hipps

You may recall that I also told you in Unrest With Rob Bell Inside Mars Hill Bible Church, there are many sincere believers there; my concern is while they are trying to follow Jesus, there seems to be something seriously going wrong within the leadership of MHBC.

The more Bell’s book tour contines the more Google searchers end up here, and I’m being contacted by people within MHBC in their attempt to get more perspective concerning what Rob Bell advocates and teaches; not just in his new book, but his theology in general.

In addition, I’ve also been warning you about an infestation of ne0-Gnostic corruption called Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism (CSM), which is now pandemic within mainstream evangelicalism through its foolish embrace of the sinfully ecumenical neo-liberal cult of the Emergent Church aka the Emerging Church with its quasi-universalism in a new version of postmodern Progressive Christian theology under their spiritual circus “big tent” of empty Emergence Christianity.

What’s important for you to understand here is that, through his own long-time practice of CSM—including its crown jewel of meditation in an altered state of consciousness known as Contemplative/Centering Prayer—for years now Rob Bell has been drifting under this big tent perversion of Christianity and toward the open embrace of its Christian Universalism (CU) aka Universal Reconciliation/Redemption (UR).

I’ll also remind you again that many Christian Universalists do believe in a literal Hell as you can see in the AM article Spencer Burke: I’m A Universalist Who Believes In Hell; they just hope that one day it will be empty. Keep this in mind as you watch the interview Lisa Miller did with Rob Bell in New York on March 14, 2011. A complete transcription follows the video below.


lovewins on Broadcast Live Free

(beginning at 09:58)

Mark Tyler:  Now. Now. Better? Hi I’m, um, I’m Mark Tyler. I’m the publisher of HarperOne; which is an imprint of Harper Collins, and I wanted to welcome you all here tonight. All of you who are here live in New York, and all of you around the world; we’ve, ah, learned that we’ve broken a record for online attendance to an event for Livestream, so thank you for all of that, it should be quite an evening. Um, we’ve (audience applause) right, right, exactly.  Um, we wanna especially say thanks to, ah, the Faith Community leaders that are here, university leaders, seminary leaders, who are here and, ah, are online joining us. Um, and, a couple of things—sort of ground rules: First, um, we want to encourage you all here live tonight to ask questions, there will be a period—a good portion of the evening—for you to ask questions; and then certainly all of you online to ask lots of questions, we’ll be picking and choosing from among them that come in throughout the evening so don’t hold back. Um, and then third, ah, both, both Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins and Lisa Miller’s book Heaven, are on sale here tonight. Um, and you’ll hear more about that at the end, but you will be able to get both copies tonight, and get them signed; or not wait in the line and have them pre-signed if you don’t want to…if the lines too long, but we’ll talk more about that at the end. Um, and for everyone else around the world who isn’t here tonight, the books are on sale everywhere, um, we encourage you to run—not walk—to Harper Collins and go buy them. 

So first tonight, uh, I wanted to just introduce, um, um, our, our esteemed journalist and author—also Harper Collins author—that’s Lisa Miller of Newsweek. She’s been the award winning religion writer at Newsweek since 2000, and she regularly reports and writes on spirituality and beliefs—and the intersection of all those things with politics, sex and all the other issues of our day. Lisa helped to uh, launch one of the most innovative, an, and one of the largest online global conversations about religion called “On Faith,” which is run by The Washington Post. Uh, she wrote and published the book I just mentioned, just now out in paperback—I’m holding it up—brand new, hot off the press) Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife. Entertainment Weekly says, “A brainy, engaging book. What Miller ultimately concludes may surprise you.” It does; it surprised me! Uh, she, ah, before she was at Newsweek, she was at The Wall Street Journal, she was at the New Yorker, The Harvard Business Review, and Self magazine. Lisa lives here in New York and uh, with her husband, and they have one daughter. 

And then for our guest of honor this evening the brand new book—again, hot off the press—ah, Rob Bell, who many of you know, and I suspect is, the reason that many of you are here; there was a little video that was leaked about two weeks ago you might have seen by now—lots of others around the world have. Um, so, so Rob is uh, you know,  I’m going to read a quote first; The New York Times calls, says, “Rob Bell is a central figure for his generation and for the way evangelicals are likely to do church in the next twenty years.” He’s, as many of you know the founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He’s the author of five books; Love Wins is his fifth book, most notably before this is a book maybe many of you have read called, Velvet Elvis. He’s also appeared in a series of best-selling short films called NOOMAs. Uh, Rob and his wife live in Grand Rapids and they have three children. So, without much more delay, I want to introduce them both to you. “Come on out, guys.” “Thanks for being here, everyone!” (audience applauds) 

Lisa Miller: Were you going to stand up and give a little talk? 

Rob Bell: Oh yeah.

Miller: You were going to give a small sermon?

Bell: I just wanted to get comfortable…

Miller: Okay.

Bell: Hi everybody! (audience laughter) So great that you are here, it’s such an honor, um, a privilege to be with you uh, tonight. Just a few uh, things before we get rolling. I believe that God is love; and I believe that Jesus came to show us this love; to give us this love, to teach us about this love so that we could live in this love and then we could extend it to others. The first people who heard this message responded with, “Well now, that’s good news.” And I believe—that was a joke—uh, (audience laughter) I believe our world desperately needs good news. When you hear the word “Christian,” what words come to mind? When you hear the word “Christian” do you immediately think, “Oh yeah, the people who never stop talking about God’s love for everybody,” Or, do a number of other images and associations come up? And I believe there are moments when we have to return to our roots ah-and we have to acknowledge that perhaps in some ways we’ve lost the plot along the way and that we need to return to the simplicity of God is love and God sent Jesus to show us this love that we might know this love, that we might extend this love to others.

 Now I, uh, I never set out to be controversial. (audience laughter) Dramatic pause (more laughter); I actually don’t think it’s a noble goal. I don’t, I don’t think—I don’t think that God honors it when people set out to be shocking or dangerous or provocative, ah. My interest is in what’s true; and where is the life, and where is the heart and what inspires; and if that happens to “stir up a few things,”which I’m told it does from time-to-time; that’s something I accept, but what’s interesting to me is the conversation. What compels me is that for thousands of years people have been conversing about what matters most. The Bible itself records this cacophonous conversation. You have laments, and you have poems, and you have people arguing with each other, you have people shaking their fists at the heavens, you have people hearing, you have people speaking, you have people singing, you have people writing letters, you have people recording what happened, and you have people passing along all of these fragments and all of these ideas and all of these words of encouragement, and hope, and conviction.

And so like when we gather here, it is an ancient, holy thing that we are doing when we take part in this conversation that has been going on across the ages. Uh-uh, I have “lobbed” a book into this conversation, which uh, releases tomorrow, but I throw this book into the conversation with this awareness that it is—it is one more voice, and that every voice matters when we are talking about the things that matter most. And so in some ways I’m not saying anything new. These ideas, and these discussions, and trying to wrestle with these questions, and come up with answers, and explanations that might actually give us life and help guide us and give us hope, and help us know God better, and be more sort of authentic followers of Jesus, this is something that’s been going on for thousands of years; and I celebrate it and the fact that you are here tonight and you are in on the discussion, I think is a beautiful thing. Are you with me now? (audience applause) So, thank you, how’s that?

Miller: Okay. Hi Rob.

Bell: Hello.

Miller: Um, according to polls, 81% of Americans believe in heaven and according to a poll that Newsweek did 10, 8 or 10 years ago, 70% of those believers think of heaven as a real place, by which I think they mean a location, a geographical location. So, I’m gonna pose it to you, “Is heaven a real place, a geographical location that is not right here where we are right now?”

Bell: I think heaven is a real place, I think it exists. I sat with a man last year who was a couple of days from dying of cancer—he’d been fighting serious cancer for years—and, so, he’s moments from taking his last breath; and he kept saying—he was very, very clear, lucid—he kept saying, “If only people know, if only people knew, if only they could get it.” “Well what?” “That peace, and joy, and the stillness and calm with everything being all right is available. It’s available here. It’s available now. I just wish people”—and his body is like moments away from saying, “I’m done.”   So my experience has been we bump up against this reality all the time. And, and, we bump up against people who are experiencing it. Do I think that there’s a, place where there are streets of gold and everybody has a Ferrari? Um, that probably has more to do with cartoons than it does with anything.

Miller:  Uh, yeah. So a—like in the Middle Ages the monks made maps with heaven, somewhere.

Bell: Right.

Miller: Like somewhere on the map—

Bell: Like over there—

Miller: Yeah.

Bell: Or down there.

Miller: Yeah. Could you, can you—is there a secret door? Is there a way to—

Bell: Well what’s, what I find really fascinating is Jesus turns the whole discussion upside down because He comes from a very first century Jewish world view and He keeps insisting actually God is interested in restoring and renewing this world. God made a world and God calls it good; and so the fundamental story that sort of unfolds is, Jesus may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. So He speaks of it as a sort of real place, your Father in heaven and those who are in heaven, and yet it’s always heaven and earth becoming one.

Miller: Right.

Bell: So as opposed to the “how do we get there,” His interest is endlessly how do we bring there, here, which brings up—now that’s a much different sort of discussion.

Miller: Yeah. Let’s stick on the “there” part for a minute.

Bell: (laughs)

Miller: So, if heaven is something that happens at the end of time and it is some other dimension that touches us on earth—as your, as your person who was dying described.

Bell: Yeah.

Miller: Intersects with us—

Bell: Yeah.

Miller: From time-to-time—

Bell: Yup.

Miller: Where are the souls of the people I love who are passed away, right now?

Bell: The assumption is because physical bodies are buried that they are in some ways disembodied; so you have soul, you have essence—people have used all sorts of words for that, but they are nevertheless real, conscious, alive. Others say, “No, everybody who’s ever gone is asleep and at some moment in the future there will be this great sort of ‘Hey everybody…wake up! I’m putting the earth back together,’” there’s endless sort of speculation about that.

Miller: But what do you say?

Bell: I say there’s endless speculation about that.

Miller: (laughs as audience laughs)

Bell: Actually, actually I think it’s very important, it’s very important when you’re bumping up against, to not turn your speculation into dogma. And I think we’ve seen a lot of that, which is people going, “Okay, this person’s there, this person’s there, this is how this unfolds”—and it’s like we have no video evidence. So I think it’s very important for people of faith to—yes, I believe in heaven. Yes, I believe it’s real. Yes, I believe it is somehow intermingled with this reality and yet, separate—in some sense—from this reality, and how exactly all of that works out I-I don’t know, but I know within each of us are very, very profound longings and I think those are longings for something like C.S. Lewis—you don’t long very long for something that doesn’t actually exist. And then beyond that, there’s a point at which we are now firmly into mystery and speculation, and let’s enjoy that sort of speculation, but when someone like drives their stake in and says, “No, it’s this!” I go, weh, “Right, that’s what you think.” (laughs)

Miller: Um; let’s get right to it, shall we? Um—

Bell: Did we not do that earlier?

Miller: (laughs as audience laughs)

Bell: What have we been doing?

Miller: Um, you have been accused in a lot of the coverage of your book of being a Universalist, and a Universalist in theological terms means, “everybody gets to go to heaven.” Um, everybody’s “allowed” to go to heaven; um, that means Buddhists—and you can reinterpret my definition of Universalist when you want—when I’m done asking the question. Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, um, Atheists…um, all get to go to heaven. Um, are you a Universalist?

Bell: No! If, by Universalist we mean there’s a giant, cosmic arm that swoops everybody in at some point whether you want to be there or not; and this is why: A couple of years ago I did a wedding and the father of the bride made it really clear that he despised the groom; in, in a number—in a multitude of ways. And so, in the ceremony when he walked his daughter down and it was that moment when the father of the bride hands the, um, bride off to the groom, he said, “She’s yours now”—

Miller: (laughs)

Bell: In front of everybody, which was total like, “Awkward!” Um, (audience laughs) now we all just kind of “feel the love” in the room. This father of the bride single handedly cast the most oppressive, dark cloud on the whole occasion, because parties are terrible when there’s somebody there who doesn’t want to be there. So, if by Universalist we mean love doesn’t win and God sort of co-ops the human heart and says, “Well, you’re coming here and you’re gonna like it!” that violates the laws of love and love is about freedom, it’s about choice, it’s about, “Do you want to be here?” because that’s what would make it heaven—if you’re there and you don’t want to be. Now do I think all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds with all sorts of labels will be—yes, I think heaven’s full of surprise; and I think Jesus brought this up again, and again, and again. He told all sorts of stories about how all the people who were supposed to be in might be out and the people who are out might be in and this was central to his teaching like, “Unh, unh, unh, be careful…God’s giving (?) a surprise.” That’s not actually a verse, but I like it! (audience laughs)

Miller: Right.

Bell: (laughs)

Miller: Right. Well, this belief of yours that we’re all gonna—you know, good people—define what gets you in?

Bell: Here’s wha—I begin with this—I begin with the reality of heaven and hell right now. Greed, injustice, rape, abuse; we see hell on earth all around us, all the time. So, I begin with these realities here and now, and we actually see lots of people choosing hell. We see oppression, we see tyranny, we see dictators using their power to eliminate the opposition—like literally with bullets and guns and fire. So we see hells on earth right now. There are those of us who have created our own and then there are those that are somebody else’s that sort of spills over onto us.

Miller: Right. So, I’m an atheist, say, and I’m an atheist, who gives to the poor, helps a little old lady across the street, and spends all of my free time in charitable works; will I go to heaven?

Bell: Well, the essence of grace is Jesus saying, “Left to your own, we are all in deep trouble.” We have made a mess of this place. We’re all sinners; no one has clean hands. So the essence of his gospel was, “Trust me, I’ll take care of it, just trust me.” Now how exactly that works out because He’s unbelievably exclusive; He says these things like, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, but through me.” He says things like, “If you’ve seen me you’ve seen God.” So, He’s very exclusive. He’s also fantastically inclusive. He says things like, “You know, I have other sheep.” He says things like, “There will be a renewal of all things.” He says, “I will be lifted up and draw all people to myself.” So He’s like uh, He’s like inexclusive; that’s a word that I just made up.

Miller: (laughs as audience laughs)

Bell: And so I think what happens is—especially for followers of Jesus—is there is sort of His exclusive claims, that often at the expense of the other things that He says, which are “Be careful because I’m doing something for everybody.” And how exactly that pans out—that’s God’s job.

Miller: Right. So this sort of Universalism that you’re preaching that’s exclusive, and inclusive—

Bell: (laughs) That I just denied?

Miller: (laughs)

Bell: Yeah? That one; ok!

Miller: Um, has offended some people who, um, call themselves more orthodox than you. But I’ll tell you something—

Bell:  That’d be a great name for a movement, by the way, “More Orthodox than You!”

Miller:  What; I’m more orthodox than you. Yeah. (audience laughs) And actually, my mainline Protestant friends—and we can get into that in a minute— have a big conflict with the word “orthodox”—

Bell: Yeah.

Miller: And certain people claiming to be more orthodox.

Bell: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Miller: Um, but, there is something in here that offends me and it’s not the univ—The sort of Universalist part and it is what you just said which is that, “Jesus is the mechanism”—

Bell: Yeah!

Miller: “Through which we all will get there.”

Bell: Yeah, I understand.

Miller: So, I’m Jewish.

Bell: Yeah.

Miller: And my relatives—many of my relatives died in Europe.

Bell: Mm hmm.

Miller: For being Jewish.

Bell: Mm hmm.

Miller: And they would be appalled, to think that their salvation was dependent on Jewish—on Jesus because they died for being Jewish.

Bell: Yeah.

Miller: So are you sure that Jesus is the mechanism?

Bell: Well, ah, I would say this; in uh, the Torah, when Moses strikes the rock, and water flows from the rock; that was a beautiful story of people who are thirsty, and we’re told that through Moses God provides them water. Then later—you know where I’m going with this—

Miller: I do.

Bell: Pau-Paul writes, “Oh yeah, that, that water was Christ,” but he speaks of this Christ, Who is the Word of God, who is the animating force of the universe; he broadens this way, way wide; and then, he adds almost no commentary. He just says, “God has been rescuing people, redeeming people for thousands of years. We see this throughout history’, and then he sort of lets that just sit there.

Miller: Mm hmm.

Bell: So, that means that the Bible itself creates all sorts of space, there. Now of course a Christian answers your question with, “Yeah, but then they’re going to get there and they’re going to find out that it was like, “oh”—

Miller: Yeah, right. That’s the magical little Jesus—

Bell: Yeah!

Miller: Mechanism that happens then?

Bell: Right, right. And you find he’s then like, “It was You all along. Really? I didn’t”—

Miller: (laughs as audience laughs)

Bell: Um (pause) that is a great question. And I think it is most important for a Christian at this moment to be incredibly gracious, and generous, and say, “He comes and He says, ‘I’m showing you what God’s like. I came to sho—make the Torah speak, I came to show you compassion, I came to show you generosity, I came to show  how to love your enemies, I came to show you how to make a better world.’ Does anybody have a problem with that? Uh, no, no? Great.” Um, and He does say things like very divisive sort of your—but then He also says things like, “Well if you’re not against Me, then you’re for Me.” He is a paradox. He is within Himself bears tremendous tension and we’ve been trying to figure it out for thousands of years.

Miller: Okay.

Bell: How are we doing with that?

Miller:  That was okay.

Bell: Was that okay? (audience laughs) I’ll keep trying. (laughs)

Miller: Um (pause) do Creeds matter, in terms of getting to heaven?

Bell: Do Cree—like if you say certain things—

Miller: If you say certain things.

Bell: Like if you like get these eleven things in a row or if you get these nine things in a row—

Miller: Yeah, if you make a certain kind of declaration once a week or every day, or if you, yeah.

Bell: I think Creeds are very, very helpful for lots of people because they sort of take a confession of faith and they put it in a succinct form and I think there is great life there, but then you have other stories—like in the Gospels—it’s all over the map. These guys lower their friend down through a hole in the roof and Jesus says, “Well, because of their faith”—to the man—“Then your sins are forgiven.” What’s that? Or a man named Zacheus says, “If I’ve taken anything from anybody, I’ll, I’ll give it back.” And Jesus says, “Today, salvation has come”; which is a play on words cuz that’s His name; but if you actually read the Gospels, people receive this grace, they affirm this, they experience this in as many ways, almost, as there are people. So yes, Creeds are terribly powerful. Do I think that if you say certain things every Sunday that somehow magically does something? No.

Miller: I’m ah, getting to this question that through history has been called the “faith versus works”—

Bell: Yeah.

Miller: Or the—

Bell: Yeah.

Miller: “Grace versus works” question, right. Do you get to heaven because God—and you can even leave aside Jesus—because God is mysterious, and great and supernatural and can do, God is God? Or, do you get to heaven because you’ve helped the old lady across the street, and because you’ve given to charity, and because you’ve taken care of the poor, and because you care about this stuff?

Bell: I think that at the core of faith, is trust. It’s child—and I would use childlike very intentionally—childlike trust, that God is good; and that ultimately, we’re okay. And I think that it is a simple, beautiful, pure thing, that can be complicated, ferociously, by all sorts of intellectual categories of ascent and affirmation, and I think out of that experience—out of that awareness that life is a gift; that this next breath, is a gift, that we are the recipients of this absolutely, unbelievably pure thing called life. Like [Rabbi Abraham Joshua] Heschel said, “To remember, like that’s what we do.” And out of that—out of that gratitude, and out of that love, you naturally want to share this with the world. So, you actually do help the lady off the street, not because you think this gets you something, but because you are aware that you already have something that’s worth the universe; and out of that who doesn’t respond with, “Yes, I will help that lady across the street.” How’s that?

Miller: That was good.

Bell: You like that one? What do y— (audience laughs)

Miller: Yeah. (laughs) Um (pause) your book has been—even before anybody read it, your book was criticized as being heretical. Um, it seemed to me that a lot of the stuff that you write in your book is stuff that other people have written before.

Bell: (laughs)

Miller: I mean—I mean that in the nicest way. (audience laughs)

Bell: (laughs) Yeah, actually in the preface I say this isn’t—there’s nothing new here.

Miller: Um, (audience laughs), so tell me what’s so controversial about it?

Bell: Um (pause) I guess other people could answer that better. Um, I think that grace, and love, always rattle people. As soon as you say that perhaps this particular little club of people—who have decided they’re the orthodox ones—as soon as you say, “I think it might be a little wider than that,” you’re threatening whole systems, y-you’re threatening whole ways of thinking and that’s, that’s threatening.

Miller: I guess what I’m asking is, “Aren’t you just a mainline Protestant posing as an evangelical?

Bell: (laughs)

Miller: Like—aren’t you just—I mean now that we’re talking about labels—

Bell: To be totally honest with you—

Miller: Aren’t you just saying the same things (?) Episcopalians have been saying for 50 or 60 years?

Bell: Great. Do I make some claims to originality? No. Do I think that I’m evangelical and orthodox to the bone? Yes. And I actually think that orthodoxy is a terribly wide, diverse, stream and I think that’s the real question here—

Miller: Okay.

Bell: Is the endless, religious, sort of compulsion to say, “You’re in, we’re in; you’re out, you’re”—and to constantly sort of narrow it and all of that and I think that vibrant, real, historic Christian faith is wide and leaves lots and lots of room for lots of varying perspectives; and when people say, “How can you say that?” Well, lots of people have said that and they’re firmly within this sort of Jesus tribe; it’s very diverse and wide, and that’s okay, that’s actually part of its strength—that’s actually part of its life and vibrancy—that’s why it’s so beautiful to me. A-and, evangelical means uh, like “good news”—it’s an announcement of good news—it should be a buoyant, joyous, hopeful thing. People who want nothing to do with Christians could say, “The things you’re talking about and the way that you’re living and moving in the world, that is, that’s good news.” I think we need to reclaim that. Is anybody with me now? C’mon. (audience applauds while Bell laughs) I-I’ll get an “amen” out of you yet—

Miller: (laughs) You think?

Bell: At some point—

Miller: (laughs) Um, Augustine, St. Augustine in The City of God, wrote this wonderful description near the end of The City of God about what happens to our bod—what our bodies are like in heaven, and he was very um, tormented by this question—

Bell: Mm hmm.

Miller: Because the resurrection was so problematic for the earlier Christians, um, because so few people believed it. And so he went into this whole thing about, you know, we’re gonna be thirty, we’ll have—we’ll be more beautiful than we were in life, but won’t elicit any lust, but, you know, if we have scars the scars will have gone away, and if we’re fat, we’ll become thin and if we’re too thin we’ll become fatter and he’s extremely great and detailed. And I guess I’m wondering, what do you think our bodies look like in heaven?

Bell: Well, see, I’m so deeply shaped with heaven on earth—

Miller: Uh huh.

Bell: I am so deeply shaped by Jesus—your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, so, so, so my sort of consciousness around heaven is still shaped by a restored, renewed, uh, earth/heaven. And I love the fact that in the resurrection accounts Jesus’ friend Mary sees Him and thinks He’s the gardener, which I think is a very Jewish sort of wink, wink, nudge, nudge, Garden, Genesis, you know.

Miller: I get it.

Bell: You know what I mean? I think there’s sort of a bob and weave in that. So, how old people are—and also what’s so interesting in the resurrection accounts, which have all of these sort of awkward differences in them, one of the things that comes through is people who apparently spent years with Jesus, don’t recognize Him. Mary thinks He’s a gardener and there’s this road to Emmaus story where He sort of does this like, “Hey, by the way, is that guy”; and they find, “Our hearts burned within us.” So the people who are closest to Him don’t recognize Him until He speaks or He breaks His bread; so there’s some sort of “essence” that sort of transcends your physicality. There’s some sort of essence to each of us, and then how that manifests itself in terms of physicality, who knows? How will it—do we get to pick? “Okay, welcome to heaven—pick,” and you have to pick like “17—no, wait.

Miller: (laughs)

Bell: No, 18. 52!”

Miller: Uh, it seems to me that resurrection is really central to this whole thing because there are those who would say that if you don’t believe in resurrection, and by resurrection they mean, not some (pause) permanent, essence existent in eternity, but you—

Bell: Yeah.

Miller: Your physical body. That’s what happens at the end of the world, your physical body joins your soul—

Bell: Yeah.

Miller: In the renewed heaven and earth. That’s, that’s the way—

Bell: Yeah.

Miller: It’s taught.

Bell: Yeah.

Miller: So it seems to me—it is for me—resurrection is the hardest part of the whole thing—

Bell: Yeah, yeah.

Miller: For me. Cuz, I don’t really get how that works, and it sounds to me like you don’t really get how it works, either.

Bell: I think Christians (laughs) this, this—this is why the discussion is so, sort of great—

Miller: Great. Yeah.  

Bell: Great, and interesting in knowing. What I do think, is really important about resurrection, is resurrection says that this world matters; and I think that what’s so unbelievably crucial about resurrection, is it says that this world matters and that God has great value on this world and has great desire to alleviate the suffering in this world. And so this sort of resurrection as a floaty, sort of “this is how we evacuate and go somewhere else”—to me resurrection is affirmation of the goodness of this world. It’s about dirt, and sweat, and sex, and vineyards, and it’s, it is an earthy affirmation of this world is good, it was created for you to enjoy it and—an effort and a rescue thing is going on through Jesus to reclaim all of this, and, and this has everything to do with how we actually live and move in the world. And it’s not about evacuation, it’s about—one in six people in the world don’t have access to clean drinking water, it’s almost like a billion people. And I think resurrection is a belief and a hope and should be this beautiful sort of “let’s get them drinking water,” that’s part of the goodness of this creation is it serving what we need to survive within it; and that’s where I think it is unbelievably important. Now exactly how tall, short, wide, thin—whose—you know do you mow lawns or do they naturally trim themselves; fascinating, but they’re not the center of the discussion.

Miller: Okay. Maybe not, but, but I’m harping on it because it is so central to—

Bell: Yup.

Miller: Faith; and, and the theologian N.T. Wright said to me, you know, “in the Bible they talk about resurrection and if they meant some wifty, going-of souls somewhere else, they would have said wifty, going-of souls somewhere else.

Bell: Yes; wifty being a very effective word.

Miller: (laughs) Well, what they said was—

Bell: Yeah.

Miller: Resurrection—body—you know, coming back to life from the dead.

Bell: Yes.

Miller: That’s the idea.

Bell: Yeah. And there was this whole group of people who were like—it’s almost like the gospel of Ricky Bobby [from movie Talladega Nights], “That, just happened!” you know what I mean? (audience laughs) Like there was this dramatic sort of—and if you—I mean so look at it sociologically, large groups of people don’t generally have massive changes in belief (strikes edge of one hand into palm of the other) like that, that just doesn’t—so something—

Miller: Did happen.

Bell: Something happened. I also think, in our modern, scientific sort of—in some ways closed world—like the things that happen have to be able to be measured with the five senses we have access to or they didn’t really happen. Ah, I—what the resurrection does is confront this with wonder, and mystery, and miracle. It confronts us with, “Maybe the universe is way stranger and weirder than we thought.” And I like that; I like that. I like leaving all of this space to say, “Absolutely, over-the-top, unbelievably hard–to-explain mysterious, miraculous things happen, deal with it!” An I—an I, the resurrection forces you to do that, and I like that.

Miller: Um.

Bell: Does anybody else? (audience applauds and says, “Yeah.”) Oh? Good. (laughs)

Miller: (laughs) Um, I think I’m going to start taking questions from (to audience) you all, um, so I think there are people with mics? Is that right? Or, um, so why don’t we start; and then I can ask more questions, and then you guys can ask questions, and we’re also gonna have some questions being fed to us—

Bell: (interrrupting) The girl right there.

Miller: From (pause) the Internet.

Audience member 1: Hi.

Bell: Hi.

Woman: Let’s say hypothetically I’m an atheist and I don’t want anything to do with God. Um, would it be loving for God to put me into heaven if I didn’t want to be with Him?

Bell: If you’re an atheist would it be loving for G—well I begin with God is love and love demands freedom; and God gives us what we want. And for somebody who is like, “I want nothing to do with peace, joy, reconciliation, forgiveness, generosity, really, really good food and wine (audience laughs) I-I sort of just begin in a very sort of simple level. I-I believe God gives us what we want. And someone’s like, “No way, I don’t want that,” then God’s like, “Okay, okay.” And He—

Miller: But isn’t that—sorry, can I just interrupt for a second—isn’t that completely self-interested? Isn’t that like, you know, “I want wine, you want beer. I want Chinese food; you want Indian food, like, what does that have to do with God? Why does God care about Indian food or Chinese food or wine or beer? I mean, isn’t heaven about being with God?

Bell: Yes, but I—once again I would bring it back to everyday sort of things. As a pastor, I see people, make unbelievably destructive choices; and, when sort of it is laid out, you realize that you’re miserable. You-You realize that this choice is—you, yourself have said, “I’m in agony,” the people around you are like dying watching you do this. and the person says, “Yup! Y-and I’m going to keep, doing it.” They’re, they’re, wha-wha-wha—you know what I mean? An—and, and I mean I’m sure many of us have been part and get the whole intervention thing, whether it’s drugs or something, “You know what? We all love you so much we’re begging you to consider a diff”—“Nah.” I’ve, I’ve seen that. Over—I think we all have where you see the hardness of the human heart and it makes, no, sense. People cling to a path that is destructive, they’re hell bent—sometimes we say—and it is a fundamental mystery of the human heart why we would see—and you could even say, “You know that if you choose this way it will be joyful, and it will be satisfying, and it will be”—“Yeah, I know, but I’m gonna to do this.” Um, and so we see that around us all of the time so I just begin with, I see this around us all the time and I assume that’s sort of, choice, ability, option continues on into the future. Now you’re whole question about Chinese food in heaven, I’ll have to think about.

Miller: Okay. This is from, um, the University of Pennsylvania, who are joining us, um, online. Chaplain Charles Howard asks, “This is an important conversation for Christians to have, but in an interfaith environment, like at a university, how can you envision this conversation being introduced? God’s love, eternity, heaven, hell are challenging enough topics to broach internal with Christians, but what about all the others?”

Bell: Well, there is a common good that we all long for so that discussion continues to go on, where we all agree, like with peacemaking. A friend of mine keeps saying, “How come universities don’t have a peacemaking major?” Like, how do you make peace? How do you make peace among different ethnicities? How do you make peace across sort of geo-political bounds? That is a project we could all work on together. Um, ultimately at the heart of the Christian faith is this Jesus who keeps talking about being a servant. So, the ultimate impulse that Jesus keeps bringing up is not, “Okay, here’s how you get everybody to think like you, do what you want them to do; it’s how do you serve others?” So, what does the world need? And what do people of other religions need? How can you serve them? How can you bless them? So, His call was endlessly—He even like washes His disciples’ feet—this is very sort of humbling, “Your task in the world is to serve.” And then that brings about a very, very different discussion because we’ve seen lots of Christians who are like, “We’re right and our job is to show you how we’re right so you can be right with us.” I think Jesus was far more interested in, “No, you humble yourself and you serve.” And that opens up all sorts of interesting discussion. That’s a really good question.

Miller: Yeah. (long pause)

Bell: Hi.

Audience member 2: I have a question uh, specifically about Matthew 7,  and what would you do with a passage that talks about specifically “wide is the road that leads to destruction, and narrow is the path that leads to life.” What would you do with that passage?

Bell: I think it’s a great, uh, passage because the things in life that matter take incredible intention. And I think it’s a passage ultimately about intention and about the power of devoting yourself to something and to somebody. So let’s take marriage. Marriage doesn’t take much work at all, it’s just like you get along with this person fantastically year after year. (audience laughs) No, I mean let’s be honest, there’s like a thousand ways—sometimes it feels like a thousand ways every day for marriage to—broad is the path, do you know what I mean, all of the different ways that it can really unravel to where somebody’s on the couch. And so for it to work takes extraordinary intention, it, it is a narrow way. It is saying, “We are going to devote ourselves to this and we are going to not give up, and we are going to work at this, o-and we are going to persevere.” So, it—first off on a basic level, athletes who train, there’s lots and lots of distractions. Um, [Existentialist philosopher Soren] Kierkegaard said that, “A saint is the person who wills the one thing,” so, so narrow is the way.

Jesus—I think—is speaking of all of the different ways that we lose the plot of what it means to be human. So there was a very real, political climate that He lived in and a number of people said, “The w-thing we are to do as faithful people of God, we are to pick up swords and we are to fight the Romans.” And He’s like, “O-okay, the sword thing? We’ve tried that. Let’s reclaim what it means to be a light to the world.” And He takes them all the way back into their history, which was a narrow way, so I think it works. And the beautiful thing to me of Jesus’ teachings is they work at all of these different levels. They’re fundamental truths about how the world works, they were very clear warnings and teachings and guidance for people He was interacting with, very real people, in a real place, who had real struggles. Um, and actually when, I recently preached that at our church and I told the story there’s this freeway at our church, near, near where our church is, and when you get on the freeway, um—the traffic is like flying—and you have this really narrow way to ah, merge and if you don’t merge and get over to the left really quickly and you take your life in your hands every time or you end up going to Muskegon, and you don’t want to go to Mu—so we did this whole thing on broad, broad is the way to Muskegon. (audience laughs)

Miller: (laughs)

Bell: Trying to recreate, which I’m realizing now is an inside joke and, uh— (audience laughs)

Miller: (laughs)

Bell: Sorry. (laughs)

Miller: Um, here’s a question from Ben from Ohio—

Bell: Hi, Ben from Ohio.

Miller: “Is there a hell? And if not, does that take anything away from the Cross?”

Bell: I, I actually, actually think there is hell, because we see hell every day. Yeah, we can resist and we can re-reject what it means to be fully human and good, and decent, and compassionate. So yes, I think there is—and we have that choice now, and I assume we have that choice on into the future. Yes. Thank you, Ben. Right there!

Audience member 3: Hi, is this working? Hi. I’m really uh, you know, touched by kind of the understanding that God is love and I think I can really kind of understand and grasp God, I feel like I can reach out to Him and interact with Him in that way. Um, one of the things that um—a question for me, uh, to, that kind of is hard to get over is that this God is love kind of like the interaction of acting out, and doing these love acts, and finding God in that way—like, does God become the “act of love” just an action or is God an actual being? Um, does the understanding of God is love kind of take—kind of remove Him from being a real being?

Bell:  That ah, is, a great question. Now, at the heart of the, the Jewish understanding of the world, which out of which the Chr-Christian understanding emerged, is that God is both a divine being sort of separate from creation, but also moving and present within history. So like the Exodus, King David, um, the Scriptures endlessly speak of actual history real people, in real places, in real times encountering the Divine. So sometimes what happens with God is, is God becomes a sort of esoteric um, Man—for some reason—with a, a long beard and a white robe and a cane, sort of “detached” from human history; and then to talk about divine things is basically sort of to leave everyday world—you know what I mean—and think about some realm. But, but the Scriptural consciousness is, “God at work in history.” An-and actually the Christian story is, “God at work in history and coming among us.” There’s a great um, book by Abraham Joshua Heschel, ah, one of the great theologians, God in Search of Man—and I would add, and woman, um, but this beautiful idea of the God who pursues people in history.

Um…and so that speaks to each of our—

…the experiences you’ve had when you had the sense that you weren’t alone; the experiences you’ve had—the moment’s when you had a total coincidence, but later you were like, “I don’t know that felt like more than a coincidence.” That you heard—you heard a song, and the song struck a chord within you like, “the, the world’s okay.” Or somebody said something to you, and it was just an off-handed comment, and it was a kind, nice comment, but later you realized that that one, little word like, it lifted you up and it carried you for a day. How many of you know what I’m talking about? (audience applauds) There’s this—this sense—this sense you have almost like this radar that keeps pinging. Um, that’s, that’s God; God in search of people. And it is an experience that people have witnessed to for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. That was a good question.

Miller: There’s a question from the audience, Dr. Ron Walborn, Dean of the Alliance Theological Seminary in Nyack, is here.

Bell: Awesome. Ron is here and brought friends. Oh, hi!

Miller: Okay.

Bell: Hi, Ron.

Walborn: My seminary and my stream that I come from is very focused on The Great Commission—

Bell: Yes.

Walborn: And uh, and hopefully with the Great Commandment in spirit as we go—

Bell: Yes.

Walborn: Um, but if we lose the concept of hell, and I’m not sure I understood; do you believe that hell—first of all—is a real place? Or is it just hell on earth? And if we do de-emphasize the doctrine of hell, what does that do to the motivation for Christian mission?

Bell:  That’s a great question. First off, I think it’s very important to talk about hell because I think it’s absolutely crucial that we come face-to-face with the power of our choices. Like, we, we, we can choose the way of compassion, the way of forgiveness, the way of generosity; or we can choose other paths and those have very real consequences, in the world. So I always begin with, “this is absolutely crucial,” and then in terms of Great Commission, central, um—I love the—Jesus saying, “Go and make disciples, um, baptizing, or immersing, them in the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit”; and there’s one way of seeing that as the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit is um, immersing them in a Trinitarian community. So, go out and announce this good news to people. Uh, proclaim God’s love. Proclaim God’s rescue effort in the midst of creation—the God who is pursuing people—and then invite them into your community where they can experience the love of God as it is shared, and passed around, and extended to each other.

Yeah, so, so at uh—like at our church we often talk about “the good news is better than that.” Whatever, whatever you have—there’s actually a chapter in the book on that—little book, thing, right there. Um, that, that there is a story; it is being told in human history, and Jesus invites us into this story and then to share this story with others; um, and I think that’s absolutely, that’s at the center of it. And actually—I think—the real challenge for Christians, when it comes to witnessing, evangelism is, “Do you actually think this is a great story?” And, so, uh, we actually at, at our church have classes, where people just sit around and talk about their story. Like, “Let’s talk about what you’ve been through. Let’s talk about the hell you’ve been through, and what happened when you encountered grace.” Um, like there’s a couple in our church who— I think they had four or five miscarriages like, like at 24…25…27—and it was absolutely excruciating um…to watch them go through—this wasn’t the plan. And so they started a group for couples who are trying to get pregnant and can’t; and had no sort of curriculum, had no sort of thing,  just, “Let’s get in a living room, let’s tell our stories,” and the stories that have come out of just that group of God’s grace meeting people in extraordinary, sort of despair and suffering and we say, “That’s a beautiful, beautiful th—let’s tell that Jesus story over and over again, it’s beautiful!” So yeah, excellent question.

Miller: Um, I actually have a question that I am just thinking about right now, from your answer to this question so bear with me—

Bell: Okay.

Miller: As I try to frame it. And it goes like this: You say hell is based on bad choices, based on choices, we choose not to help the poor, we choose not to help the sick, we choose to lie, we choose to oppress other people, we choose to gossip; but it seems to me that there’s another hell too, which is the hell not of your own making.

Bell: Right, right, right, someone else’s choices.

Miller: Or bad stuff that happens.

Bell: Yeah, yeah.

Miller: The Book of Job. I mean—

Bell: Yeah.

Miller: He was trying to be a faithful person—

Bell: Yeah.

Miller: And bad stuff kept happening to him—

Bell: Yeah.

Miller: Over and over and over again. And it seems to me that, historically at least, heaven has been, “a way out” for people who are in a hell—

Bell: Yeah.

Miller: Not of their own making.

Bell: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Miller: It’s a radical reversal of justice. I am in this terrible situation now—

Bell: Yeah.

Miller: But in the next world I will not have cancer—

Bell: Yeah.

Miller: I will not be poor. I will not be a slave. I will not be oppressed in this way.

Bell: Mm hmm. Mm hmm.

Miller: Can you talk to me about hell or heaven without this idea of choice—just the bad stuff that happens to people?

Bell: Yeah. Um, the first thing that comes to mind is how much great art has come from that longing. Like think of the songs that were sung by slaves like “Swing Low” or, or ah, we sang a song a couple of weeks ago um, “Over my head I hear laughter, there must be a God, somewhere.” So, this longing for a better world or for some other place that , wh-where there are no tsunamis, is a human ache that has been with us since the beginning, and a lot of our thinking of heaven comes out of, “God, please tell me this isn’t the last word. Please, please, tell me that this doesn’t endlessly go on this way. Ple—please tell me there’s some rebirth, there’s some rescue, there’s—there’s something that breaks this thing that we’re in.” Yeah, and—and you see this across traditions, and we see it like with the tsunami—we see it again when it’s a natural disaster that can’t be blamed really on anybody. Um, and you—you have a tradition of the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul speaks of the sense of nature is out-of-whack—my phrase, but we live in the midst of a creation that’s groaning. Um, I think that’s a beautiful, sort of poetic way to explain it; something is profoundly wrong and we are desperate for justice, for restoration, for somebody, somewhere to do something about this. Yeah. (pause, cell phone rings in the background) That is a loud cell phone. (audience laughs) Oh, my word, yes? Hands up all over the place. Yes, do I pick, or were you picking?

Miller: You were picking. Go ahead.

Bell: You pick the next one.

Miller: All right.

Bell: No, you! (laughs)

Audience member 4: So it seems to me that Universalists and Annihilationists are trying to reconcile God’s love with God’s wrath, but can God be both loving and just?

Bell: Yes, um, and actually that’s something I explore, something I explore in the book is there is then this—there has been this hum—human longing and desire for, for God ah, to fix the world. Essentially, to, to like say, “No more greed; we can’t have that here. No more exploitation of the weak and vulnerable; we can’t have that here.” So, there has been this—like the Prophet Amos, “Let justice roll like a river,” this, this human ache to see those who would use their—who have corrupted their power—who are using coercive iolence to force others into all sorts of destructive things. There has been this longing for justice —and a separate—so at the heart of the Jewish and on then the Christian understanding has been this longing for a day, um, and you find it called, “The Day of the Lord,” you find it called the “Judgment Day,” you, you have this God saying, “No longer here. If you want to do that, you can’t do it here; out,” or there or wh—something along those lines.

You also have this side-by-side God’s endless affirmation God wants everybody to be saved. Psalm 22 again, “All people will be at the great banquet.” And so you have this—the possibility of every, single person being rescued, you have this sort of longing and then you this longing for justice; and they sit side-by-side. And if you get rid of that tension um—the Western mind loves, the modern mind loves—is it either this or is it this? Which is it? Which are you? Are you left, right, Conservative, Liberal? Um, the Hebrew mind in the Scriptures, is okay with these things being true. Um, and one of the things I explore in the book is that at the end of the Bible, at the end of the Book of Revelation is this picture of a city—this renewed, restored city—heaven and earth come together, now the dwelling of God is with people and then there are people who aren’t in it, and those are the people who choose to lie and murder and all those sorts of things. Um, and there’s this beautiful thing—it’s almost like the writer, like almost sort of gives a wink, wink, nudge, nudge as he throws in this, “Oh and there’s a gate in the city and it never shuts.” (pause) Huh? Like, can you go there? You know what I mean? So it’s sort of this picture, and then it just sort of doesn’t get resolved, it just sits there; and I think it’s important that we let it sit there, um, side-by-side.

Miller: I think we have room for one more question, maybe?

Bell: You pick.

Miller: I’m gonna’ pick; all right. Um, how about somebody way in back; I have terrible—

Bell: This person is being volunteered by the people around them.

Miller: Yeah, I—

Bell: That could be really good. That looks like it could be a good time waiting to happen.

Miller: Yeah.

Bell: And he’s wearing a hat so, let’s go! Hi!

Audience member 5:  Thank you so much for coming and um, I just; so you haven’t proposed to any of us that you’re answering all the questions and you—we know this is not the first time that this issue has been “dragged up” to be discussed in intensity in the church history, um, but you have dragged it up; you feel motivated, your community feels motivated to and there are many people who feel motivated to reconsider ways that we’ve looked at heaven, hell, etc. or how we have communicated about it. My question to you is, “What is your concern if we ignore talking about it, if we aren’t to discuss current situations, views, ways it’s portrayed, ways it’s communicated around the world—if we ignore that, if we stop discussing this and leave it status quo, what are your greatest concerns?”

Miller:  That’s an excellent question.

Bell:  That’s a great question. Uh, man, there’s so—so many people who have had that same sort of question in front of me. First off, millions and millions and millions of people, the fundamental way they were told about Jesus was, “God loves you. God has a wonderful plan for your life. Um, God loves you so much that God sent Jesus because God wants a relationship with you, and all you have to do is accept, trust, believe. If tonight, you reject what I’m saying to you right now and you are hit by a car on the way home,” which is always an awkward way of—as Kanye West would say, “Awkward way to start a conversation.” (audience laughs) But uh, “God would then have no choice, but to punish you eternally with torment and fire in hell.” So God would in that split second become a totally different being. Um, if there was an earthly father who was like that—this one moment—this the next, we would call the authorities. Correct? And my experience as a pastor answering real questions of real people is lots of people have really, really toxic, dangerous, psychologically devastating images of God in their head; images of a God Who’s not good.

And so my experience has been lots of people, they go to church, they sing the songs, they tell the story, they hand out pamphlets, they really want—but when—but to be honest, deep down they have profound ambivalence about God. So we can talk about the Bible, we can talk about heaven, we can talk about hell, we can sort of discuss all of this, but at its core—the question behind the question behind the question, the mystery behind the mystery behind the mystery, they have a view of a God Who’s terrible that they can’t even imagine being loving or wanting anything to do with. And over and over and over again, I’ve interacted with people who when you just sort of, “Okay I realize you brought me this question, but what do you really think is behind this? Like, Who is the God behind—what are you real” you end up with them saying, “Actually, I think the universe might be a terribly, awful place; it might be deeply unsafe. God might be like my abusive father.” So, I think it’s really important that we talk about this because what happens is sometimes people are talking about good news and they’re talking about Jesus, and yet you’re smelling the God behind it going, “Whatever you’re talking about the God behind that, I can’t trust,” is not good. And, so in some sense God being good is such a fresh, radical, new idea.

Um, there is a woman who comes up to me every Sunday at our church and she hands me a piece of paper, it’s half of an 8×11 sheet, and it’s folded in half and, she walks away and we smile and I give her a hug and we talk for a moment then she walks away, and on the sheet of paper is a number; and it is the number of days since she last cut herself. And she told me about a year ago that every man she’d ever been with hit her; and so when she hears about love, her experience of life has not been love. And uh, just a couple of weeks ago she crossed the 365 day mark and so we brought her up on stage and just said to everybody “This is (audience applauds) and I just introduced her and said, “This is—gave her name—and just said she’s celebrating one year without cutting herself.” And it was a beautiful, beautiful moment,  to say the least, but, but for her it’s like a whole new rewiring of her heart and mind is going on—like and that’s what all of this means to me.

I love the discussion, I love this sort of speculation, I love all the different theories, but ultimately for me it’s like, “I don’t want her to cut anymore.” It’s like that simple. I want to see her experience good news. I want her to experience love. I don’t want her to live with these sort of images and messages she’s been sent about Who God is and what life is ultimately like and whether the universe is even a place that she can call home. I-I want her to give me another sheet of paper and I want us to get to two years. So, so I realize in these questions I stumble a bunch. I realize I wander all over the place. I realize I give answers—I realize that. I’m not a theologian, I’m not a scholar, um, not very smart; but I do know there is good news and I’ve seen it in action and that’s, that’s something thst’d worth talking about. Thanks. (audience applauds) My goodness. What in the world!

Miller: I guess we’re gonna to sign books, right? Is that what the—is that what the hand signals are about?

Tyler: Yup. Thanks everyone for participating. We’ve had like many, many, many thousands of people online, thank you for—and growing—for being online. Um,what’s extremely important for all of you online and even here tonight is that this last hour is going to rerun in an endless loop forever and ever and ever and ever (audience laughs) um, starting right now when we end. And you can buy the book right now, online, but the other thing is—right over here if you’ll line up against that far wall, you will pay for your books over here, a table is gonna to be brought onstage and then Rob and Lisa are going to sign for you. If you don’t want to wait because it may be a long line, there are a certain amount of pre-signed books. So let them know over there. Thanks everyone for coming. (audience applauds)

See also: