Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Misanthropic Universalist

Re: Rob Bell's Love Wins
by tomtalbott » Wed Apr 20, 2011 7:41 am

The reaction of the evangelical community to Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, continues to be quite remarkable, in some cases even disgraceful, and reveals a lot more about today’s evangelical community than it does about Rob Bell or his book. So when a host of evangelicals began pointing to Martin Bashir’s interview of Bell as if it were a tour de force and had supposedly made him squirm, I decided to watch the interview for myself. I was stunned, not by Bell’s answers, which were both intelligent and appealing, but by the absurdity of Bashir’s questions, which were more like dogmatic assertions than real questions.
As the interview came to an end, I found Bashir’s approach merely bewildering—until, that is, I later learned that he was a member of a conservative Calvinist church at the heart of the firestorm.

i) Before getting around to my main point, I’ll make a parenthetical observation: critics of Bashir act as if this is the first TV interview they ever saw. But to anyone who’s not been living under a rock, there’s nothing unusual about Bashir’s style. As a rule, there are two kinds of TV interviews:

a) You have the softball interview, in which a gushy, sympathetic interviewer poses leading questions to help the guest make his case.

b) You have the adversarial interview, in which a pushy interviewer tries to put his guest on the defensive.

What Bashir did is nothing out of the ordinary.

ii) Now to my main point: Observe the palpable hostility of universalists like Talbott towards Calvinists and other exclusivists. For folks who believe in universal love and universal reconciliation, why do they treat exclusivists as their mortal enemies? Given their seething animosity towards Calvinists and other exclusivists, they convey the impression that universalists only love universalists.

No one is more exclusivist than your average inclusive universalist. But isn’t the acid test of universalism to love those who don’t believe in universalism?

Indeed, from the way they carry on about exclusivism, you have to wonder if universalists believe exclusivists are damned. Do they think exclusivists are going to hell, to purge them of their wicked exclusivist theology? Must the exclusivist practice postmortem contrition, to repent of his evil exclusivist theology, before he’s allowed to join the saintly universalists in heaven?

Does the eschatology of universalism entail heaven for universalists, and purgatorial hell for exclusivists? Will exclusivists be subjected to coercive torment until they recant their exclusivism and beg Thomas Talbott to forgive them?

Just spend a little time browsing the Misanthropic Universalist...uh...I mean, the Evangelical Universalist forum, and sample the antagonism, the resentment, the vindictive barbs directed at Calvinists and other exclusivists. Notice the whole in-group/out-group mindtrip. It's all about drawing lines. Us v. them. Bunker universalism. 


  1. This does not have too much t do with the post, but what do you think about the verse where Jesus talked about salt? This passage often tripped me up especially when I have backslidden and felt useless for God – I thought I had become useless and in effect, had. I felt hopeless because He says the salt cannot become salty again. How can this be understood?

  2. Steve,

    I'm sorry your experience has been bad with us.

    It's unusual to say thanks for a harsh criticism but I'll say it, thanks! I certainly don't think any of us are beyond being corrected and we've discussed how often Universalists can become so polarized that they don't seem to care for anyone.

    I hope our community can become more gracious and less antagonistic.

    We've banned Universalists for being rude and we've discussed how often Universalists can seem to polarize so far that they actually begin showing hatred for those who disagree; unbelievable.

    Again, I hope we can take your criticism and do something positive with it rather than become angry.

    As for Talbott, I have to let him answer for himself. I'm not sure what he meant by "in the heart of the firestorm". My best guess is he means Bashir attends a church which has taken a leading role in opposing Rob Bell's ministry. I'm not really sure what he means but I don't read his comment as saying "we're in and they're out" - I understand him to say it was an unfair review.



  3. "We've banned Universalists for being rude"

    God wouldn't ban people from heaven for being rude.

  4. hi -- your comments are good and may my reply address one way of understanding the passage.

    Jonathan Edwards of the Great Awakening frame would ask you to consider even in the midst of the back sliding; how much do you love and desire to want to follow God even when you find yourself doing the thing's you do not want to do? Romans 7 for further reading in an application sense and not strictly interpretative.

    Jesus would say behold I stand at the door and knock -- if anyone hears my voice then our fellowship shall be renewed. Rev. 3:20-21. Never intended as an evangelistic appeal.

    You or anyone else can answer the question have I become useless by asking yourself how much do I still love and desire to follow after Christ?

    That to me helps us to avoid being tripped up by that passage.

  5. yeah I find it pretty outrageous that Rob Bell's fans thought Bashir was a jerk. I doubt they would say that about him if he was interviewing someone else or if he was not a calvinist.

    In the UK we have Jeremy Paxman who is regarded as the toughest interviewer around, people very much respect him for his no-nonsense interviewing.

    Everyone loves a tough interviewer until he's interviewing someone upholding your idols, then he becomes a jerk.