MSNBC’s Martin Bashir on The Paul Edwards Program

Here’s the audio of my interview with MSNBC’s Martin Bashir on his interview with Emergent Universalist Rob Bell of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids. Martin discloses whether or not he is a committed Christian and if the blog rumors are true that he attends Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.


UPDATE: You can download the interview:


208 Replies to “MSNBC’s Martin Bashir on The Paul Edwards Program”

  1. And Paul Edwards…what a sycophant. I don’t think I could take anymore flattering or groveling before his host. Bashir has obviously gained quite a bit of status among his fellow conservative Christians.

  2. Great interview – my only criticism (to Paul) is that I find your characterization of Rob Bell and others as junior high pillow-fighting, popcorn-eating pastors is cheap and weak. At the very least they are pastors who are working out their issues in front of a congregation, and passing it off as Biblical teaching. Thanks Martin for your desire to get to the truth, and to get straight answers from a man who seems to have difficulty committing to any specific line of thinking.

  3. As has already been said, God is in black and white, definitely not grey…You have to stand up and be counted..

  4. Martin Bashir reveals here that he brought a level of hostility and personal vendetta to his Rob Bell interview that is unusual and completely inappropriate for someone who claims to be an objective journalist. You can practically hear him frothing at the mouth in this radio interview. His example of an “historical inaccuracy” in Rob’s book is meaningless, as we aren’t given the full context of either Rob’s use of Luther or of Luther’s letter itself (and, really, why would anyone trust a TV personality’s judgment over that of someone who has spent 20 years studying Christianity full-time).

    His interview with Rob Bell was filled with false dichotomies and false options. For example, he repeatedly asks: is everyone ultimately saved or do our choices now matter? Bashir doesn’t seem to realize that these aren’t mutually exclusive options and he never allows Rob Bell to explain why. His suggestion that Rob’s work can be dismissed or downgraded because of Rob’s reacting to a supposed anti-intellectual upbringing (Rob’s father was a federal judge appointed by Ronald Reagan) is obviously fallacious reasoning, as everyone’s thought is a reaction to experiences and upbringing. It is also ironic to the tenth degree, as Bashir admits that he himself attends a church headed by Tim Keller, a member of the right-wing “gospel coalition” that has so vigorously attacked Rob Bell, even before reading his book.

    In sum, Martin Bashir unmasks himself in this radio interview as a completely biased journalist who allows his personal beliefs to drive his interviewing. He ironically emphasizes how important one’s background is to downgrade Bell’s work and then claims it has no impact whatsoever on his own work.

  5. No, Mr. Edwards, not all the people who were annoyed at Mr. Bashir’s repetition of the same question were so because they agree with Bell. Nor were we all bothered because we were seeing our Goliath being brought down.

    I am not a universalist. I was annoyed by the interview because it wasn’t a good one; Bashir wasn’t really interested in finding out what Bell believed but in pinning him down.

    For example, Bashir didn’t follow up the answers Bell did give to the repeated question with other good questions. Mary Baxter notes above that Bell answered. Someone else above said that in the book Bell said something about that. But we weren’t reading the book; we were listening to an interview. In your interview with him, Mr. Edwards, Bashir made that move, too. He shifted over to talking about what Bell said in the book. That was irrelevant in the interview since Mr. Bashir did not say then that it was in the book. He could have directed the conversation in a more fruitful direction if he had gone on to ask *how* what we do today is relevant for eternity. Mr. Bashir wanted a simple (simplistic?) yes or no. He says he wanted to find the truth. The truth is often bigger than a mere yes or no can reveal.

    It’s been noted that Bashir’s opening question indicated an elementary understanding of the problem of evil (God is either all-powerful or loving but apparently not both). Someone above said that Bashir knows that. Does he? I wouldn’t know from the interview. Now, having learned that Bashir is a Christian who attends Tim Keller’s church, I think he may have a better understanding than he showed in his interview. If so, was he just baiting Bell? If he does know better, his timing was really bad. This is not the time–given what’s happening in Japan–for Christians who know better to toss out a simplistic understanding of such a profound issue just to show another Christian’s lack of philosophical sophistication. Not knowing Bashir’s background, he sounded to me like the village atheist. He supplied more fodder for those who don’t know Hume has been satisfactorily answered.

    The problems don’t end there. In the Bell interview Mr. Bashir committed a logical blunder that he repeated in your interview with him. He seemed incredulous at the fact that Bell could think Origen wasn’t a heretic but Arius was! What’s so odd about that? If two men are sent to jail for committing crimes and one is later found innocent, shall we continue to count him a criminal because the other man is? I’m not saying Origen wasn’t a heretic (I don’t know from my own study whether he was or wasn’t. It seems that the theologian Henri de Lubac thinks Origen got a bum rap, that it was the Origenists who followed him who were the problem). I’m simply addressing the logic.There is nothing odd about exonerating one man and not another.

    In your interview with Mr Bashir, he seemed to think he really got Bell when he (Bashir) showed that Martin Luther went on to say that salvation is by faith after the sentence that Bell quoted in which Luther said something about God being able to save everyone. Does he think there is a contradiction here? Universalists (at least some) acknowledge the importance of faith. They just believe it can be exercised postmortem. Might Mr. Bashir be thinking of inclusivism, the belief that people can be saved on the basis of the cross work of Christ without actually putting their faith in Christ?

    Bell stuck in a comment that could have provided the basis of a very fruitful discussion of a particular ambivalence many universalists experience, namely, the collision of the power of the love of God demonstrated by the supreme payment being made by Christ, on the one hand, and human free will, on the other, the power to reject God’s gift. If Mr. Bashir had asked Mr. Bell to elaborate, we might have seen why (at least one reason) Bell could seem to be waffling on the issue. It’s a significant problem which is discussed in depth by more sophisticated theologians.

    To repeat, Mr. Edwards, not all of us who thought the interview was a poor one are in agreement with Bell. I haven’t even read the book! Maybe Mr. Bashir thought all his viewers had read it. We hadn’t. All I can speak to here is what was said in the interview; that is the issue at hand for me. It wasn’t well done.

  6. I saw no journalistic integrity or curiosity. I saw a Bill O’Reilly kinda non journalism from one who has no ability to think outside the pew.
    Rob Bell is the current scapegoat in evangelical world. Having read the book – he is no universalist. He is deeply Christian and willing to ask questions that have been asked for centuries. (There were civil debates on this issue in the 14th century – unfortunately few Christians believe in civil debate these days)
    I’ve often wondered why we Christians need the idea of hell so much for those with whom we disagree as well as for those who commit sins that we can see. The triumphalism exhibited by Christians is the reason we no longer have credibility among those who think and yes – among those who pray. Rob Bell is about 20 years ahead of us all. Thanks be to God there are such people asking such questions.

  7. Redeemer Pres hi-fives and atta boys will be doled out in plenty this Sunday! It’s cool how Martin is able to compartmentalize his faith away from his work so neatly. No need for separation of church and media! But it IS really good to know we’ve got someone going to bat for us in the media.

    Way to shut him down in the name of Jesus! Loved it when Bash-ir said, “That’s what you’re doing, isn’t it?” like times 3! I mean, that doesn’t work in a court of law, but that wasn’t a courtroom. Well I suppose you could say Rob was on trial. And he flat out got prosecuted!

    I loved the silly images of Rob that were showing up on the screen–did Martin get to pick those out? And every time Rob got uncomfortable, the camera zoomed in on him. I mean, you gotta appreciate the spectacle and theater of it all. Bashir honed in on his target and destroyed it from all angles!

    Super funny at the beginning when Martin laughed at Rob Bell’s response: “This is a paradox.” Because paradoxes are contradictions. Except for the Trinity, and maybe the Incarnation. But all other paradoxes are laughable. Martin let him off the hook on that one. But his next question was a different story!

    Bashir seemed to imply that it was a bizarre idea that we can come to know God’s salvation even after our death. I mean, I know Jesus triumphed over the grave and all, but I’m totally with Bashir on that one! Jesus’ resurrection has absolutely nothing to do with other people who lived and died and never heard of him. They’re just screwed and should have been born in another place and time. Or not born at all.

    Bashir for the win!

  8. It is interesting how quickly we all posture and take sides, willing to extend grace to those whom we feel deserve it. However we are called to extend grace to all.

    While I will not argue that there are definitive truths within Christianity that we must embrace and adhere to as Christ followers, there is much that is still a mystery to us and therefore “gray”. However, as Bashir himself says, we must be able to remain open to questions that people ask. The God that we serve is certainly big enough to withstand the musings and questions of his own creation.

    My concern is that while we spend time “discussing” who is right or wrong, what the right theological points are, we waste precious time that should be spent sharing and living the Gospel in a dark world, a world that desperately needs Christ.

    Is it really relevant to those outside the faith how we define Rob Bell or, for that matter, ourselves? While clear understanding of Scripture and doctrine is vital, does the lost person really care that much about our position? What does our posturing and arguing teach them about Christ? Satan must delight that we so easily distract ourselves from truly living out our faith and letting our light shine before men.

  9. It is interesting how quickly we all posture and take sides, willing to extend grace to those whom we feel deserve it. However we are called to extend grace to all.

    While I will not argue that there are definitive truths within Christianity that we must embrace and adhere to as Christ followers, there is much that is still a mystery to us and therefore “gray”. However, as Bashir himself says, we must be able to remain open to questions that people ask. The God that we serve is certainly big enough to withstand the musings and questions of his own creation.

    My concern is that while we spend time “discussing” who is right or wrong, what the right theological points are, we waste precious time that should be spent sharing and living the Gospel in a dark world, a world that desperately needs Christ.

    Is it really relevant to those outside the faith how we define Rob Bell or, for that matter, ourselves? While clear understanding of Scripture and doctrine is vital, what message does the lost person really care that much about our position? What does our posturing and arguing teach them about Christ? Satan must delight that we so easily distract ourselves from truly living out our faith and letting our light shine before men.

  10. @Gerv,
    I think that Martin Bashir meant that the _content_ of his faith conviction did not make him partial, but that he was impartially trying to find the inconsistencies in Bell’s thesis.

    (Who are we to judge, but I’d humbly say that Martin is probably way more “transformed” than 95% of the evangelicals, in his love of truth and thoroughness).

    In the media world, as in politics, with an elevated position, one would not do one good to constantly put one’s presuppositions on the forefront, as that would give people of the opposing viewpoint the chance to dodge the content and substance, and dismiss his views because by saying: “oh, he just says that because he’s a fundamentalist” or whatever.

    Just my 2 cents.

  11. The interesting point in this audio is that Martin Bashir said he read the book and did his own research too, which made Rob Bell look really bad because he was not using Scripture in its correct context.

    This interview should be a great example to pastors as a warning, not to use Scripture out of context while preaching a sermon. This happens far too much by many purpose driven pastors, just so they can make their point, which is not the point of the text they are using.

    Great interview and post-interview here.

  12. An objective journalist seeks to get to the story without becoming the story. Following up on a “victory tour” after an interview is a pretty good indication that there are motives present that are not entirely objective.

    I don’t necessarily have a problem with that. Rob Bell knows how to play the controversy card very well and he and his publisher know that it sells books. When you play that close to the border and seek to avoid solid answers, which I agree Bell does, then you risk getting called on it. That’s all well and good. Don’t call it journalism however and then sit behind it pretending that your own beliefs and motivations had nothing to do with it.

    Bashir tipped his hand toward the end of your interview when he described the interaction as an “argument.” That in fact is what it was. An interviewer who speaks over the interviewee when he is attempting the answer a question and then later claims to have been attempting to serve his audience by clarifying an answer he didn’t think was being answered. The fact is, he constructed his questions as a modernist attempting to refute a post-modernist. This was advocasy journalism and if there was any question about that, the follow-up by going to the “home team” venues to interview after the fact makes it clear enough to me that there is more going on here than just “objective journalism.”

    Bashir had some good points about the selective use of historical quotes. He should have brought them out in the “interview” instead of now going out and building a continued case. That’s not objective journalism, that’s agenda-driven advocasy.

    What would be better I think would be for Bell and Bashir to have a debate with a truly objective moderator and then see how it goes. Bashir could drop the facade of being an objective bystander and Bell could go in prepared for a sustained conversation where Bashir would be constrained to listen to his answers and stop pushing for a different one becasue he doesn’t like what he’s hearing.

    As it is, Bashir’s objectivity is clearly suspect despite his claims to the contrary, in my opinion,

  13. I also found myself grateful for Mr. Bashir’s journalistic integrity in approaching this topic on mainstream media. His academic treatment of the topic both in this interview and his former interview with Mr. Bell will doubtless be helpful to the many who are wrestling with their faith in a genuine manner.

  14. His point about his Fiath having nothing to do with is interview, he meant that he was postioning himselft as a Christian going after a “anti-christ’ pastor. But a journalist(who by his fruit, will be made known) seeking to get an truthful answer based on statements written by Bell.

  15. Mr. Bashir might be sitting on the wrong side of the table. He appears to me to want to be the part of the story himself. To me a good journalist gets out of the way of the person they are interviewing – they let them actually speak some – give them room to express coherent thoughts, etc. It is good journalism to press people on points and ask questions. But the interviewer needs to restrain their bias in the interview. So the journalist is being interviewed today? This is pretty strong evidence that he never intended to be fair to Rob Bell – he was stepping on him to go higher himself. I think Mr. Bashir’s passion is great – just write your own book. Then you could be interviewed.

  16. Great interview – although if Martin goes to Tim Keller’s church, then Tim needs to have a word with him about faith transforming all of life πŸ˜‰ It’s a shame to hear Martin say that his faith is irrelevant to the way he did the interview – although he undermined that a bit (good!) when he said that Christians must be particular seekers of truth, and he was a seeker of truth.

    The fact that Jesus is Lord permeates everything, and should significantly affect the way we go about any task or job – interviewing people included.

    Anyway, a small quibble. πŸ™‚

  17. Mary – you cannot at the same time say that our responses to the Christian message are: “extra-ordinarily important, terribly relevant and important, and they have tremendous bearing.”

    and then say after we die God eventually wins everyone over with love – “that God’s love melts all opposition”; that our personal response *does not matter*.

    The statements are mutually exclusive and if BOTH are true (itself an impossibility) then ALL morality and obedience to God and His Word are irrelevant, Christ’s work minimized and even any good thing done in the name of Christ – pointless.

    Bell may think he is bringing “comfort”, but tell a grieving mother whose child was brutally raped and killed by a man who remains unrepentant that the rapist and murderer will be in heaven *regardless* of whether he ever repents. That God’s justice does not exist, because …well… “love wins.” See if she finds any sort of comfort in that.

    Logic must be followed to it’s conclusions and John 3:18, spoken by the Christ Himself, still stands.

    Yes, we are a people of grace, and yet ,the Word warns against wolves in sheep’s clothing, it does not tell us to warmly embrace them as having “just having a differing theology.”

  18. I don’t understand how anyone can think this was a good interview. From what I understand about the book I am sure I totally disagree with Bell but I gotta say that was some lame journalism. Bashir was putting words in his mouth and then demanding Bell give a simplified one word answer to what Bell believes is a complex subject. Bell answered his questions but not with the answers Bashir was looking for.

    I agree with Mary Baxter “let’s just keep perspective. Praise Martin Bashir all you like, but extend grace to your brother in Christ – Rob Bell – even if you don’t agree with all his theology.”

  19. Rob Bell in his methodology and actions are no different than that of Joseph Smith…Imposing your own ideas on a timeless, errorless gospel is not nobel…even if you place a question mark at the end of your statements…

  20. @ Mary Baxter…

    Sure, Bell answered “YES” to all of Bashir’s questions about the importance of our choices in this life. However, if you read the book, which I have, Bell says that it is only important to “chose” Christ as a benefit in this life.

    Furthermore, Bell also says that “choosing” Christ in this life is not necessary for eternal salvation… Which is heresy according to our Lord, Jesus Christ.

    Let’s not be naive, Bell is a master at avoiding theological questions. His answers are evasive and unclear. Martin Bashir, knows this and like a good journalist would, challenges Bell’s evasive communication style.

    Bell is great at creating “gray” space in black and white truth. Just like Satan who asked Eve in the Garden of Eden, “Did God actually say?”, Bell takes plain truth and inserts questions that cause people to question what God has already originally said.

    Just like Satan, questioning God’s word in order to lead people astray is, heretical.

  21. While I think there is a danger of making Christianity too relevant to modern pop-culture (i.e. putting Jesus on a skateboard), you can’t ignore the fact that my post-fundamentalist generation has a lot of questions about what it means to follow Christ in the 21st century. Sometimes we have questions about piddly stuff (“Can a Christian have an occasional beer?”) while others are more deep (“Can a Muslim who has never heard of Jesus go to Heaven?”). But either way, how can you grow as a Christian without asking questions?

    I think it’s unfair to stereotype all young emerging Christians as automatically distrusting anyone over 30. That’s just stupid! Some of my favorite biblical scholars, like Scot McKnight and N. T. Wright, are way over 30. What turns us off is when certain preachers say, “I’ve got all the answers, so stop asking questions.” And it has nothing to do with age; I’ve had fundamentalist Christians my own age discourage me from asking questions.

  22. Well put Paul. Great interview.

    Rob Bell is so ambiguous that even Confucius is confused.

    Rob Bell resembles a politician more than a Pastor and never answers the direct questions.

    Paul Edwards asks, “Rob Bell, is the earth round?”

    Rob Bell responds, “Well, you know, people have disagreed about that over the years.”

    Paul, “Yeah, but what do YOU believe, Rob?”

    Rob, “I believe that life is exciting. And fascinating. And it’s so important that we keep this discussion going.”

    It seems to me Rob Bell is moving out of the room of being a heretic and into the realm of being a Cult Leader with his new found faith.

    I pray Rob Bell hears, understands, and surrenders to the Biblical Gospel before it is too late.

  23. Outstanding. Regarding the false dichotomies presented to Rob Bell, I rather thought they were softballs that left Rob Ball the option to present a overly christian response to a typical question from a secular society. It also drove to the heart of the issue, is God sovereign or is he not.

  24. “I’d rather live in the grey than be guilty of being a black and white Christian. Sadly life and God are not black and white, ”

    You may want to ponder on these words of Christ,

    Revelation 3:16
    “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

    being “in the grey” or “neutral” or “lukewarm” is not a position to be proud of according to Jesus.

  25. Martin Bashir is a journalist – and a very good one. It is his JOB to ask difficult questions. He’s not going to lob softballs up for the interviewer to hit home runs. I admire him finally admitting his faith, because it does put him in a difficult position to do his job without being judged for being biased because he is indeed a Christian, and he rightly is cautious that people will not claim he is biased because of his faith.

    But, he is one of the best journalists that I’ve seen in a long time.

  26. Getting weary of hearing people like Tad who claim to follow Christ embracing positions as gray where Scripture IS black and white. Are there mysteries in Scripture? Sure. Does that mean that everything is open to debate by labeling it as gray? Of course not. Does Scripture teach about hell, often coming straight from the mouth of Christ? Absolutely. Rob Bell has not written a book on gray areas…he did it on a subject that is pretty darn clear. He and others just don’t like it so they claim it’s gray and speculative (and lucrative!). If you don’t like Scripture, then have the integrity to just say so, but just because it hasn’t been read and taken seriously, don’t change it. We don’t have that right.

  27. To respond in agreement to Paul’s response to Tad, there is such thing as absolute truth, which would in fact make Christianity black and white. Of course, if you’re shady (preferring greys) and don’t particularly appreciate things clear and concise, you would favour Rob Bell’s curtailing over Bashir’s directness.

  28. What people don’t seem to get is that Bashir’s first question about Japan was on purpose….

    Martin Bashir offered Bell two choices: “Is God all powerful and doesn’t care about the people of Japan” or “Is God not all powerful and does care about the people of Japan”…Bashir knew that those weren’t the only two responses…but the point was that Bell should have too. If Bell is the theologian that he claims to be, his response should have been quick and easy. He should have picked one of the other two options that weren’t mentioned, that God is both all powerful and cares for the people of Japan. But he didn’t do that….he punted…or fumbled….

    Paul – is this going to be available for download at some point?

    Thanks for the interview!

  29. Tad, Bell’s book is out. It has been read and reviewed. He is an Emergent Universalist. Read the book.

    Bell doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable. Bell is a heretic. The only one squirming is Rob Bell – and possibly you.

  30. “Emergent universalist”? Come on Paul, with the book still not out and several theological commentators who have read advance copies saying Rob Bell is not a universalist, you are guilty of pre-judging the man.

    Just because he is pushing the way we understand theology and possibly making you feel uncomfortable because it doesn’t fit into neat black and white boxes, is not excuse to condemn someone without first having all the evidence.

    I’d rather live in the grey than be guilty of being a black and white Christian. Sadly life and God are not black and white, but a shifting back and forth in the greyness. Where we stand on something today, may not be where we stand tomorrow or in 50 years, because God is constantly moving around, being historically specific.

    I thank God for people like Rob Bell who are prepared to admit that we don’t have all the answers and that we have to keep asking difficult questions as Christians about all sorts of uncomfortable issues, etc.

    Oh that life, God and the universe was black and white. It would be so simple then. We could all turn our brains off (which is what I fear many fundamentalist Christians already do).

    As for Martin Bashir, where he stands is between him and God and is none of our business!

  31. This is a fantastic interview! Well done! It is wonderful to see a journalist do his job so well and to see a Christian bring glory to God in the excellence of his work and in the exercising of his faith.


  32. This was a really good interview. I appreciate you giving him time to talk. It was very helpful. I am concerned that he claims Christianity and yet seeks to divorce it from his professional life. That kind of dis-integration of the Christian life is just as problematic as the kind that Bell is accused of making (I have not yet read the book).

  33. I saw the interview and felt Bell was not as prepared as he might be but I thought Bashir also presented a series of false choices in his questioning which was more confrontational than inquisitve, which is fine but it is what it is. I am not sure the question of God’s position on the Japanese tragedy is really one Bell could answer except to have a complete discussion of theodicy which is not the direction that anyway really was looking to go.

  34. In the clip I watched the question put to Rob Bell was to the effect of whether God is all powerful and doesn’t care, or does care but is not all powerful. This is not an either or answer, and its certainly NOT a “yes” or “no” answer. Its a false dichotomy and so how does this question raise the standard of journalistic integrity?

    Then to the question of whether the choices we make in this life are irrelevant and immaterial, THREE times Rob Bell answered that yes, they are extra-ordinarily important, terribly relevant and important, and they have tremendous bearing. Why was the interviewer not satisfied?

    It was worth listening to this interview, but let’s just keep perspective. Praise the Martin Bashir all you like, but extend grace to your brother in Christ – Rob Bell – even if you don’t agree with all his theology.

  35. what a great recording. My applause to Mr. Bashir. was so nice to see an interview related to the christianity ask solid questions. Mr. Edwards, you summed what i was just trying to say in the last sentence up best in the 5th to last minute. so thank you Mr. Bashir (if you read these comments) for your strong persuit of truth and thank you Mr. edwards for this great break down.

  36. Let me bring some clarity to Mr. Bashir’s citing of “someone named Joel Osteen.” I’m certain he knows who Joel Osteen is. I think what he was trying to say is, the person to whom the quote was attributed was simply using the name “Joel Osteen” as a commenter on a blog and not, indeed, the real Joel Osteen.

  37. GREAT JOB. I thought his interview with Bell was spot on. Good to know there are some journalists with integrity.

  38. Without any prior knowledge or curiosity of Bashir’s religious background, I appreciated his interview with Rob as representing true journalism. It was very evident that he vehemently seeks truth and that Rob has mastered the form of dodging it. I wished their interview lasted an hour, one can only last so long seeking the comfort of shade when the ultimate truth is, and has always been ceaselessly blazing.

  39. Outstanding! Paul. I was in training today and did not have a chance to hear it on the air. I am thoroughly impressed with Martin, and hoping that he will soon find a venue that will give him a wider audience.

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