In the Nov./Dec. issue of Relevant Magazine (a Christian magazine that is geared toward Christian twenty-somethings and has articles on everything from music to movies to theology to how to decorate your apartment), there is an article entitled “The Rising Tide of Universalism” (pretty scary-sounding, right?). The article takes a look at both Unitarian Universalism and Christian Universalism.
The article begins with a short description of Bishop Carlton Pearson, a minister who eventually came to believe in what he calls “The Gospel of Inclusion.” You can read more about him here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlton_Pearson
The first section in the article is entitled “Salvation for All?” and starts out [All bold emphases within the article quotes are mine unless otherwise noted.]:
Universalism, or the belief that everyone will eventually be reconciled to God, is neither new nor novel. Early church fathers like Origen and Clement of Alexandria held to universal salvation, although it was later deemed heresy at the fifth ecumenical council in 553 AD.
What the article failed to mention (as it would probably help to defeat it’s entire argument) was that the majority of the early church believed that God would eventually restore all people to Himself (read the sections “Bible Threatenings Explained” and “ENDLESS PUNISHMENT OF HEATHEN ORIGIN (Greek mythology)” at http://www.tentmaker.org/books/BibleThreateningsExplained.html#1 for more information. Although the sentence “That heathen invented this doctrine is undeniable” is a little iffy considering the fact that it is denied by the majority of modern Christianity, the article is a good, if brief, introduction to the likely fact that most early Christians believed in Universal Restoration. For a [much] more detailed description [one that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet], check out the following book [fully available online]: http://www.tentmaker.org/books/Prevailing.html ).
The article then gives a short description of Unitarian Universalism which seems accurate enough, but considering the fact that I’m not that knowledgable about Unitarians, I’ll refrain from commenting on it.
The article then goes into a short description of Christian Universalism:
Unlike the UUA [Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations], there is also a smaller but growing movement among people who hold to universal salvation while still attempting to maintain that salvation is found only through Jesus Christ.
(That’s not condescending at all, is it? Haha. Sorry… continuing: )
As opposed to Unitarian Universalism, which is an interfaith view that doesn’t elevate Christ above other great religious figures, Christian Universalism holds that Jesus Christ is the fullest expression of the character of God who offers salvation to everyone-even if they don’t actually receive it.
This is where the articles starts to become a little bit off. Barely halfway into the article, and Christian Universalism has already been largely misrepresented (for the sake of this particlar blog entry/facebook note, assume that I’m not a Christian Universalist. I’m only defending what most of them believe). Christian Universalists do not believe that receiving God’s salvation is unnecessary. They simply believe that everyone eventually will receive it, whether in this life or not.
The article just gets more confused from there. The next section, entitled “The One and Only,” only serves to prove that the writer has not done sufficient research about the beliefs of most Christian Universalists:
Clearly, there is a mammoth difference between Christianity as Scripture describes and the Christian Universalist’s variation. And it is not simply a matter of preference; it is a matter of Scripture. “Anyone who affirms universalism has a problem with biblical authority and ultimately with Jesus, Peter and Paul,” says Daniel Akin, President of Southeastern Seminary and author of A Theology for the Church. “The Bible provides no theological support apart from special revelation, and nothing that would support the anonymous and eventual views. That is more the wistful musings of liberal theologians.”
In order to refrain from writing a thousand-word rebuttal to this paragraph, I’m going to try to limit myself to a couple Bible verses spoken by the aforementioned Biblical men where the Scripture certainly appears to agree with Christian Universalism (henceforth abbreviated by CU):
Jesus: John 12:32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. (The article actually quotes this verse later on as one used by Christian Universalists to defend their beliefs).
Peter: Acts 3:20 And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: 21 Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.
Paul: I don’t even know where to begin with Paul, there are so many clear-cut examples where he boldly states (or at least implies) the Restitution of All Things that it’s mind-blowing that I ever missed it before, but here’s a good one:
1 Timothy 4:10 For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.
I’m not sure what Mr. Akin means by the “anonymous and eventual views,” but if he’s trying to imply that the majority of Christian Universalists are “liberal theologians,” he couldn’t be more wrong. The founder of the tentmaker.org site (a site dedicated to Christian Universalism) is a conservative Christian, as are a great deal of the people who post to the site’s message board. In fact, the only major difference between most Christian Universalists and the modern Evangelical Christian is the belief that God will eventually save all people (remember, I’m talking about most Christian Universalists, not necessarily myself). Most would agree with just about all the other doctrines of modern Evangelical Christianity, such as the virgin birth, trinity, authority of Scripture, etc. To say that there is a “mammoth difference” between the Christian Universalist’s “variation” and Scripture’s Christianity is to not look at the entire picture (especially considering the aforementioned verses). Alright, more on Scripture later. Moving on…
Darrel Bock, New Testament scholar and author of Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ, agrees with Akin that Universalism fails to understand the core message of the scriptures. “If a person says they embrace Jesus and the revelation from God about Him in the Bible, which is our only real access to what He taught, then to believe everyone is saved denies fundamental parts of Jesus’ message and warning,” he says.
This mostly has to do with the mistranslation of the Greek words αἰών and αἰώνιος, normally translated “eternal,” “everlasting,” “forever,” “forever and ever” etc. The more accurate translation according to Christian Universalists and many Greek scholars would be words such as “age,” “age-during,” and “to the age of the ages,” etc. Go to this site: http://www.tentmaker.org/books/Aion_lim.html for a book about this particular translation issue (another article I haven’t gotten around to reading yet) . Whether this is true or not makes no difference when one considers that this issue is not even mentioned in the article! Certainly the author must have known that translation issues factored into this debate! Why did he completely ignore it? But I’m getting ahead of myself. Again, moving on…
Furthermore, Universalism is irreconcilable with many critical scriptural lynchpins. For example, if God will eventually save all, the New Testament’s emphasis on evangelism is confusing at best. More importantly, if Jesus’ life was simply a wonderful example of how we must live, the cross becomes unnecessary. “To believe everyone is saved denies fundamental parts of Jesus’ message and warning,” Bock says. “In many ways, it risks making the cross very irrelevant, as well as the message Jesus taught and and commissioned the apostles to preach and write about to the world.”
Evangelism is confusing if God is allowing the fate of all humanity to rest on the shoulders of those he deems worthy of spreading his message to others. Christian Universalists believe that some people are ordained to be part of the “first-fruits,” others will be brought into the fold later.
1 Corinthians 15: 23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. 24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
At the end, the entire kingdom will be delivered to God, which includes every human being. Does this make evangelism irrelevant? Absolutely not. God is completely in control of everything, including who is saved (which is everyone according to CU). He allows Christians to be a part of his “restitution of all things” by giving them a purpose, that is, preaching the gospel to others. This would be devastating for a lot of Christians to accept because they feel that their entire purpose in life is to work for God to prove their worth to Him instead of with Him and other Christians to bring His love into the world.
As for the cross being unnecessary if all were saved, I’ll post something I wrote in a previous note:
“As for the death of Christ on the cross, I say this: Imagine purchasing a 100-acre field full of a crop of corn. You’ve worked for many months in order to save up the money to buy this field, and finally you shake hands, sign contracts, etc. and are given the rights to the field. However, the next morning you wake up to a phone call. The voice on the other end says, “We’re sorry to tell you this, but there was a fire in the field you purchased last night. We’ve only been able to salvage 10 acres of it.” Would you be satisfied with that? Would you be able to say, “Well, I purchased it, but it’s too bad that most of the field had to be lost.” No! You would ask for your money back! You didn’t get all that you paid for!
If God sent His only begotten Son Jesus to die on the Cross, and it was unsuccessful in saving a vast majority of the human race, then God has not gotten all that He paid for. What a tragedy that Jesus died! He has failed to complete the work which he set out to do! This belief in no way trivializes Jesus’ death. It was absolutely necessary. If it succeeds in accomplishing it’s task, how does that make it unnecessary?”
Jesus being unable to save a majority of mankind through His sacrifice on the cross trivializes his death many times more than if He is successful in saving everyone.
[I]n reality, the chasm between Universalism and Christianity on judgment and grace is not one of degree but of definition. “What is amazing about grace is that it completely removes the huge debt of sin we rack up before God and transforms us into a new way of life where we can be what God created us to be, not simply go on as we were,” Bock says. “A savior who confronts me about the realities about myself and my utter need for God does me a favor. And I can love Him with all my heart because He has literally given me a new lease on life.
Um… uh… okay. I see nothing in that paragraph that most Christian Universalists would disagree with.
Indeed, one must make several scriptural leapfrogs in order to arrive at Universal salvation. First, there is Jesus’ assertion that “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me” (John 14:6, TNIV, emphasis added). Then, there was Paul’s statement that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) And 1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ.” The list rolls on and on in support of one central truth: Salvation is attained only through faith in Jesus Christ.
*sigh* Christian Universalists do not disagree with those Scriptures. In fact, most of them agree with them wholeheartedly. The issue is not that Jesus is or isn’t the way, the truth, and the life (both “normal” Christians and Christian Universalists believe He is), but whether or not all people will eventually come to saving faith in Him. CU simply allows for the possibility that God will work on a person until they are ready to accept Him, whether in this life or in the ages to come.
The next section is entitled “Tough to Swallow.” The third paragraph begins:
The Christian message […] can be a tough message to swallow in a world where inclusivity is king. We live in a culture where Little League baseball associations mandate that every child gets equal playing time and every opinion is considered equally valid. “Sometimes it seems like the only remaining taboo is intolerance-you can do and believe anything as long as you don’t tell someone else they are wrong and dare to believe you have found a universal truth,” [Ed] Stetzer [Director of Lifeway Research] says. And his work at LifeWay Research supports that claim.
The difference between the two items in the Little League baseball analogy is that the children who are given less playing time or don’t make the team aren’t tortured forever. It’s not a simple matter of inclusivity or exclusivity. It’s a matter of whether or not God will allow people to suffer for eternity for not making the right choice out of a billion possible ones.
Followers of Christ must come to realize that our message can unite in supernatural ways, but it can also be terribly divisive.
(No way, I never noticed that there were hundreds of denominations within Christianity. What a shocker. [I apologize for the sarcasm.])
If this doesn’t sound right, check out Jesus’ words in Luke 12:49-57 when He says He didn’t come to bring peace and warns that Christianity would cause division even within families. “Jesus told us that Christian truth would be divisive,” says David Wells, author of Above All Earthly Powers: Christ in a Postmodern World. “He said it will divide families, and that is what has always happened. When people hold up as the norm that something cannot be true if it divides, it tells us how far they are drifting from a biblical understanding.”
Pardon me. [*goes outside and screams at the top of his lungs in frustration*] Okay, I’m good now.
Are you kidding me? You don’t think Christian Universalists realize that truth can be divisive? Seriously? When I first let my Evangelical Christian parents know about my changing beliefs (which don’t necessarily always line up with CU, by the way), do you think that it helped to unite us more in our beliefs? NO! Of course truth (or one’s perception of it) is divisive! That’s not the issue! The issue is whether or not God will torture people forever for not choosing Him the right way! (Oddly enough [*ahem*], eternal torture is not explicitly mentioned once in the article).
Okay, only a couple more paragraphs, I’ll try to get through this:
By its very definition, “salvation” assumes that one is being saved from something. Though it can be unpopular in our culture, the message that salvation is found exclusively through faith in Christ is the only one that Scripture supports. But this message is not one of judgment and doom. It is one of humble hope.
Again, most Christian Universalists would have no problem agreeing with the previous paragraph.
Alright, last paragraph:
“We should be as committed as Christians to making such efforts in our presentation of Jesus’ message-the difficult bits as well as the nice parts-because that is offering genuine help to those in dire need, a need every human shares,” Bock says [sic]. “If we were more humble about our dire need for God, we just might cling to Him more tightly.” Now that’s a salvation worth having.
Most Christian Universalists would not disagree that Jesus’ message contained “difficult bits,” but an eternity of suffering and pain should probably conjure up a more explicit word than “difficult,” no? Once again (I promise I’ll stop saying this soon), the major difference between CU and Evangelical Christianity is that of the duration of punishment (or “correction,” as CU likes to use), whether it is eternal or temporary.
One of the biggest problems I see in this article is that the issue of mistranslation and tampering with texts and religious bias and [etc., etc., etc.] is not even brought up in the article. That is the biggest point of contention between Evangelical Christians and Christian Universalists! Not whether or not Jesus is the only way to salvation! It is utterly baffling to me how the writer of this article did not see the need to bring up this problem somewhere in the article. Most Christian Universalists don’t have a problem with Scripture, they have a problem with the way that men have handled it throughout the years, and all that they’ve done to (in the Christian Universalist’s eyes) pervert its message. To claim that Christian Universalists have a problem with the claim that Jesus is the only way to salvation is to show yourself to be completely ignorant of what they actually believe. Maybe Unitarian Universalists have a problem with it (again, I don’t know that much about them), but Christian Universalists (on the whole) definitely do not.
Somewhat ironically, 24 pages later in the same issue of this magazine is an article called “The Pain Behind the Perfection: One Woman’s Struggle to Overcome Abuse.” Before I start describing it to you and quoting parts of it, I want to make clear that I am not saying that all Evangelical Christians are like this woman’s father and the Christians she knew. I’m merely using it as an example to make a point (or two) which I will get to later. It begins:
“When I was just a little girl, I learned quickly how to be afraid of God.”
I grew up in a seemingly Christian home. My father was a evangelical fundamentalist and devout Bible reader. He covered the walls in his bedroom with handwritten Bible text and commentaries, he taught kindergarten Sunday school at the church and he ensured that I behaved as a proper Christian girl should. I wore dresses, not pants (I didn’t own a set of jeans or shorts), and wasn’t allowed to pierce my ears. Makeup was a mortal sin, and cutting my hair was a sign of rebellion. Movies were simply not acceptable, and Christian rock (but not too hard) was my only acceptable vice. I was at church every time the doors were open, and was so consistently there that I won the perfect Sunday school attendance award eight years in a row.
My father used God as a weapon: psychologically, emotionally and physically. He would rape me while reciting the Lord’s Prayer. He would hurt me while singing Christian hymns. His words were knives that sliced through me, words straight from the verses of the Bible: words of wickedness, sinfulness, rebellion, punishment and the promise of hell.
This version of Christianity is certainly divisive, isn’t it? Does this make it any more true or right? I can’t understand why Mr. Wells thinks divisiveness is such a positive quality. It should rather be seen as a somewhat necessary evil. Christians should seek for unity with all people, not just those that agree with them. Jesus did not say, “Go out and be intentionally divisive” (and, yes, I do realize that He said that He Himself came to bring division, but the Bible says that God’s responsible for all the division/evil/struggle in the world anyway, so it’s not like He’s encouraging His followers to cause strife in the world). A message like Jesus’ is going to be divisive simply based on human nature and human desires.
The father in this case was the dedicated “Christian” during this woman’s childhood. His family was divided because he was a sick man who perverted his Christian beliefs to the point where he felt justified in sexually abusing his daughter. It’s one thing if Christianity is divisive because people simply want to live selfish lives and care only about themselves. It’s quite another thing if it’s divisive because of misrepresentations by Christ’s followers. There are innumerable reasons why people don’t want to become Christians. It’s not simply because they are “evil” or are living according to the “natural sinful man” (or whatever your favorite Christian terminology is).
The author of the article goes on to say that while in high school, she attended a Bible study run by an ex-marine youth pastor, who made the teens stick to a strict regimen every day. She says:
The few times I did something wrong-the times I didn’t run the mile in the time allotted or didn’t know my Bible verse-the pastor brought out an old heavy wooden board. He would pull down my pants in front of the entire youth group and swat me several times with it while quoting verses about temptation, Jesus’ blood sacrifice, the redeeming of wickedness and the fires of hell. The stinging ache of the physical injury was less painful than the crumpling of my heart. I would fill up with tears that I couldn’t cry (it wasn’t “Christian”), and my inner soul would feel even more unloved, more unsatisfactory and helpless.
I was sent to a Christian college, and things did not improve. Run by the same senior pastor and his staff who ran the church, the attitudes and beliefs were the same, even in this institute of higher learning and older students.
…I became even more utterly desperate and uncontrollable. I started talking about suicide with anyone and everyone who would listen, not just with people I trusted… I started to wonder if if perhaps it hadn’t been my fault from the very beginning-that God had known who I was and insisted on the abuse as punishment.
This is the part where some loving, Bible-believing Christian from the college comes along and shows her the true love of God, right? Not even close. These “Christians” were likely too busy avoiding “living in sin” and condemning those who did to notice the serious emotional problems this woman was going through instead of loving her for who she was and showing her how to get help.
Eventually the school staff noticed her behavior, and their solution was to hold a meeting with her to decide what she and the staff needed to do:
The counselor went on with words I will never forget. “I am asking that none of you listen to her thoughts of suicide. If she begins to talk like this, inform me immediately. I am insisting that you never talk alone with her in your office, in your classroom, even in the hallway. Do not be alone with her… ever.”
“Also,” I heard the counselor say to me as I came back to the moment, “you have to go to therapy in order to stay in school. We will kick you out if we discover you are not going.
This counselor cared nothing for this woman’s personal problems, only for the outward appearance (sound familiar?) of her school and its students. Instead of this enforced therapy helping her, it simply drove her futher into despair.
I became a shell. Hopeless that my future would ever change, filling my father’s sexual needs, I didn’t care about anything anymore. The self-injury I had been doing since I was younger increased. The idea of God was nothing more than a horrible man with a giant penis in the sky, a man who loved to punish girls for their disobedience. I felt I would never be loved, and I stopped even hoping for it.
Eventually, the author wound up “living next to a wonderful lesbian couple,” through whose influence she “learned about the compassionate God, the God who treated all people equally, the God who didn’t punish” (imagine that, learning about the love of God from homosexuals. I thought their only motives were to corrupt our children and ruin our country…). Later, she joined a Christian group called Youth Specialties and has been able to get back on her feet after all her struggles. She closes the article with the following paragraphs:
I still struggle daily with doubt and indecision, with fear and despair, with suicidal thoughts and with deep memories. Some days I am so depressed I can’t get out of bed or speak to anyone. This is still a part of who I am. Of where I have come from. Of what I have survived.
It’s true really-I’m stumbling toward faith. It’s not an easy path, and it isn’t a well-traveled one. But I have learned to pray one sentence throughout my days, my struggles, my rage, my sadness, my disbelief and my confusion.
“I believe. Help Thou, oh God, my unbelief.”
Now, imagine that this woman’s struggles, rage, sadness, disbelief, and confusion had led her to decide that Christianity was a crock and that God really was just “a horrible man with a giant penis in the sky… who loved to punish girls for their disobedience” or that He didn’t exist at all. What person with one ounce of compassion in their veins would blame her for rejecting such a God (or any God, for that matter)?
Would Jesus allow her to be sent to Hell to be tortured forever (or “separated for eternity,” whichever method of eternal consequences your particular denomination prefers)? Would Jesus be loving in granting her what she’s always truly desired- separation from Him for eternity (which I’ve heard implied by a pastor before)? Does this woman seem at all desirous of eternal separation from God in this article? Is anyone? Christians like to say that once you see Jesus as He really is, you cannot reject Him, He is too perfect and holy and loving. He is everything that someone could want in a friend, or a parent, or any other number of relational analogies. Therefore, can anyone truly wish to be separated from God eternally? If we really believe that God is as great as we say He is, then how can we think that anyone who sees Him for Who He really is would ever reject Him? It is my belief that people cannot reject God. They can only reject their illusions (or delusions) of Him. People reject what they see God represented by: they think He will take their fun away, He hates people who disobey Him, He only loves a select few, etc. If anyone currently seems to be rejecting God, it is because God has not yet revealed to them Who He really is. It is my opinion that the vast majority of Christianity has God wrong (due largely to our desire as human beings to see people get their “just desserts” or to feel special or better or more “chosen” than others). Christianity is so absolutely full of “God loves you, but…”s that I’m somewhat amazed at how I used to be able to rationalize such a God as all-loving.
Or, perhaps this woman was supposed to utilize her “free will” to choose God despite all of the terrible things that had been done to her. Was it her free will that led her to God? Was her will even free at all? Was she supposed to wake up one morning and say to herself, “Well, despite the fact that I’ve been told my entire life that God is like this, this, and this, I realize that all the authority figures that have shoved this message down my throat since birth are wrong and God is actually a very loving Creator who doesn’t take pleasure in punishing His children.” How can one who is raised with such perverted, distorted views of God possibly have the free will to discover for herself Who God really is? How is it even her choice? The only reason, I believe (and I’m sure she would agree with me were she to ever read this), that she discovered how loving God really was was because He, through various circumstances in her life, brought her to the place where she was able to accept such a belief about Him. It wasn’t because of her own wisdom or her ability to see through “the lies of the wicked one.” Only God has the ability to bring healing to someone who has gone through intense personal suffering in whatever way and at whatever time He sees fit.
The exclusivity mentioned in the first article would certainly have ensured that this woman would not have “made it into the club” had she not “received Jesus as her Savior.” Try telling someone who has gone through the immense suffering that this woman has gone through at the hands of Christians that she will go to Hell if she does not accept Jesus as her Savior and see how successful your ministry attempts are. See if it causes her to respect and love Jesus more, or if it drives her into incurable despair. You say, “No, we would show her Christ’s love,” and I have no doubt that you would. But what do you do when she questions whether God will forgive her if she chooses the wrong religion? What if she decides that Christianity has caused too much pain to too many people throughout the centuries? How could you possibly respond to a person like that without the answer sounding trite or canned or completely illogical to her?
God reveals Himself to people in many different ways. To say that the only way to experience God is to believe exactly what every other Christian believes (as if all Christians believe the same thing) and pray a formulaic prayer (“repeat these words after me”) is to put God in the most confining of boxes. One of my favorite Christian writers, Charles Slagle, wrote an article about how God revealed Himself to him in the form of a dog. ( You can read it here: http://sigler.org/slagle/newpage3.htm [I love this quote: “I hate you, God! You’re full of empty promises and even more full of cruel threats! I hate life! I wish I had never been born! When You condemn me to eternal fire, don’t You DARE say ‘I never knew you.’ Don’t You dare. Because I will tell You, with all Heaven and hell as witness, that You could have known me. I will remind You of all the nights like this one when I cried out to You!” Kind of hits hard, doesn’t it?] ) God is a personal God. He meets people where they are. God comes to them. He does not give people a 70-year time limit and then say, “Ah, well, good try, but you didn’t find me in time. Into the eternal flames of Hell you go.” He is much more understanding than that, and if Christians believed in a God that is all-loving and never fails, they would be much more successful in convincing others to come to Him.
If you’ve read this entire thing, then you are a fantastic, amazing person who deserves a prize, but will not get one. Forgive me if I seemed overly bitterly sarcastic at points, it’s not my purpose to offend, just to get my point across (I still need to work on that). I swear that I don’t think that I have God, life, and love completely figured out. I’m simply trying to find Truth just like everyone else. Even if you believe everything that I reacted against, I still love you :) I just hope that someone who reads this will be able to get something out of it, even if they don’t completely agree with me.