Archive for the ‘Universalism’ Category

Drawing Sinners Close

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

I confess that I am often baffled when defenders of the traditional view of an everlasting hell say things like, “God will not tolerate sinners.” I know this doesn’t sound very nice to say, but it really makes me wonder if they have ever paid close attention to Jesus’s life. If one thing is abundantly clear about Jesus’s life, it is that he not only tolerated sinners, he loved them, ate with them, and accepted them into fellowship with himself, to the chagrin of the top religious leaders of his day (Luke 15:1-2). If we believe that Jesus reveals God more than anything or anyone else, as Christians have always believed, then how can we ever come to the conclusion that God cannot tolerate sinners? The Pharisees were the ones who thought that God could not tolerate sinners, not Jesus and his followers.

God loves sinners and wants to be with sinners (people like you and me). What God cannot tolerate is sin, because sin harms and destroys the good purposes that God has for people. Because God loves sinners, God hates sin. God’s goal is not to damn sinners, but to destroy sin, and the way that God destroys sin is by drawing sinners close to his heart of holy love which burns like a refiner’s fire.

— Heath Bradley, Flames of Love, p. 51

Photo: Shenandoah National Park, September 16, 2007

God Isn’t Conflicted.

Monday, August 6th, 2018

God’s essential unity is destroyed when we assign to him conflicting actions, as though his love demanded one course of action, and his justice another, as though God the Saviour were one person, and God the Judge a wholly different one. Or, again, when we blindly teach that, if his judgments now mean salvation, they at the great day mean endless damnation. God, I repeat, in his “judgments,” in his “fires,” in “death,” in “election,” God in time and in eternity is one and the same God (Heb 13:8), and has, and must have to all eternity, but one unchanging purpose — is and must be for ever God our Saviour.

— Thomas Allin, Christ Triumphant, p. 231

[Photo: Schloss Dhaun, Germany, July 2002]

Jesus and Outsiders

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

If we are going to take Jesus seriously, then we need to see how he talked about hell and we need to pay close attention. Although evangelists most often preach about hell to try to convert people to Christianity, we need to reflect on the significance of the fact that Jesus never tried to scare people into the kingdom of God by threatening them with hell. The only people to which Jesus talked about hell were his own followers and especially to the self-righteous religious leaders of his day. We often assume that heaven is for good people and that hell is for bad people. But according to Jesus’ message and ministry, it is the reverse: heaven is for bad people and hell is for “good” people. Heaven is for people who know they are in need of large doses of grace, while hell is for people who alienate themselves from God and others through the self-sufficiency and self-centeredness of their own pride (Luke 18:9-14). Jesus didn’t see those who were outside the bounds of proper religion as the ones in danger of hell. He saw the ones on the inside as being in the most spiritual danger, because when we are on the inside, it is easy to become complacent and presumptuous and turn our focus on making judgments about others. This is precisely what many of the Pharisees, the self-appointed spiritual and moral guardians of society, did in their day. They were so sure of their insider status with God that they turned their energies towards using threats of hell to those who didn’t measure up the way they did. In most contexts, then, Jesus’s teachings on hell took the Pharisees to task by turning their judgments back on themselves. The threat of hell was primarily used by Jesus, not to encourage speculation about others in the world to come, but to encourage examination of our own lives here and now concerning all the ways in which our pride, greed, lust, anger, judgmentalism, and apathy may be leading us down a wide road to self-destruction (Matt 7:13-14).

When it came to “outsiders,” Jesus tried to love them into the kingdom of God. Jesus did not try to convert sinners by threatening them or heaping guilt or shame on them, as did many of the Pharisees (Matt 23:4). He tried to transform them by eating with them, by scandalously welcoming them into an unconditional embrace of love. This shockingly inclusive compassion that Jesus showed to notorious and egregious sinners like tax collectors and prostitutes was what magnetically drew the crowds of ordinary people to him, and at the same time enraged the religious leaders to conspire against him.

I am convinced that we Christians have for too long preached about hell as the Pharisees did, not as Jesus did. We have made it only about “them,” not us. You see, when we make hell just about what happens to outsiders in the next life, we miss the fact that Jesus made his warning about hell primarily in relation to what insiders do in this life.

— Heath Bradley, The Flames of Love, p. 39-40

[Photo: Los Angeles Rose Garden, July 8, 2015]

As We Forgive

Sunday, July 15th, 2018

If we forgive not men their trespasses, our trespasses remain. For how can God in any sense forgive, remit, or send away the sin which a man insists on retaining? Unmerciful, we must be given up to the tormentors until we learn to be merciful. God is merciful: we must be merciful. There is no blessedness except in being such as God; it would be altogether unmerciful to leave us unmerciful. The reward of the merciful is, that by their mercy they are rendered capable of receiving the mercy of God — yea, God himself, who is Mercy.

— George MacDonald, The Hope of the Gospel, p. 140-141

[Photo: Meadowlark Gardens, Virginia, April 3, 2012]

Elected to Bless

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

But the truer and deeper views of God’s plan of mercy through Jesus Christ — now in the ascendant I trust — teach us to affirm distinctly the doctrine of the divine election of “the few”: and just because we so affirm it, to connect with it purposes of universal mercy. For what is the true end and meaning of God’s election? The elect, we reply, are chosen, not for themselves only, but for the sake of others. They are “elect,” not merely to be blessed, but to be a source of blessing. It is not merely with the paltry object of saving a few, while the vast majority perish, that God elects; it is with a purpose of mercy to all; it is by “the few” to save “the many”; by the elect to save the world.

— Thomas Allin, Christ Triumphant, p. 228

Eschatology and Theology

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

There is no more important question in Christian theology today than coming to terms with the doctrine of hell. While that may seem like a bit of an overstatement, regardless of what is said and preached about God being merciful and loving, if the doctrine of hell is not brought into the affirmation in a truly integrated way, then it will leave people wondering if God really is merciful and loving. If we cannot preach and teach about hell in a way that is coherent with the biblical affirmation that God is love, then the lingering image of a vengeful and angry God will get in the way of our proclamation. Here is what I have discovered: Our vision of how things will end is actually what determines what we really think about who God is and what God is like. To put it in words that would make my seminary professors proud, our eschatology determines our theology. This means our exploration of hell is actually nothing less than an exploration into the very heart and character of God.

— Heath Bradley, Flames of Love, p. 29

[Photo: Hug Point, Oregon, November 10, 2015]

As Though…

Friday, June 8th, 2018

In all this subject of death, there is an extraordinary narrowness in the views held generally, as though the fact of dying could change God’s unchanging purpose; as though his never-failing love were extinguished because we pass into a new state of existence; as though the power of Christ’s cross were exhausted in the brief span of our earthly life.

— Thomas Allin, Christ Triumphant, p. 213-214

God Does Not Give Up

Saturday, May 26th, 2018

It is impossible for me to believe that the God revealed in Jesus will at some point simply throw up his hands in defeat or harden his heart in retaliation.

To anticipate an issue we will discuss later on, why is death often seen as the deadline for receiving salvation? If God loves all people and desires for all to be saved, as scripture seems to clearly assert (I Peter 3:9) and as most Christians (besides Calvinists) would agree, then why would God’s attitude towards people change upon physical death? Why would God go from actively desiring and working for a person’s salvation in this life, and yet be content to give that person over to the rebellion forever in the life to come? Why wouldn’t God keep doing all that he could do to try to get through to that person?

— Heath Bradley, Flames of Love, p. 27-28

[Photo: Leithöfe, Germany, May 2, 1997]

The Larger Hope from Scripture

Thursday, May 10th, 2018

A crowd of witnesses, from almost every quarter to which the gospel had reached, assure us of their belief that Christ liberated from Hades every soul, without exception. And we have heard teachings that openly assert, or, by fair inference, involve the larger hope, from both East and West, from Gaul as well as from Alexandria; from Rome; from Milan; from Arabia; from Palestine; from Antioch; from Cappadocia; from Cilicia; from Constantinople; from the distant Euphrates. And this teaching, be it noted, is strongest where the language of the New Testament was a living tongue, i.e., in the great Greek Fathers: it is strongest in the church’s greatest era, and declines as knowledge and purity decline. On the other hand, endless penalty is most strongly taught precisely in those quarters where the New Testament was less read in the original, and also in the most corrupt ages of the church.

Note carefully — the point is significant — that this universalism was essentially and first of all based on Scripture; on those promises of a “restitution of all things,” taught by “all God’s holy prophets,” repeated so often by the psalmists; and echoed clearly and distinctly in the New Testament.

— Thomas Allin, Christ Triumphant, p. 165-166

[Photo: Skerries beach, Ireland, July 2001]

Higher Mercy

Monday, April 30th, 2018

When Isaiah throws out the higher-ways-of-God argument [in Isaiah 55:6-9], it isn’t to defend the vengeful punishment of God, it is to defend the abundant mercy of God! To take this text and use it to defend a conception of divine justice and goodness that certainly seems much worse than any human understanding of justice and goodness is to use this text for the opposite purpose than it was originally intended. If we take the context seriously, and we should, the higher-ways-of-God argument can be more appropriately used to defend the universalist position than the traditionalist one. God’s ability and desire to pardon is beyond our understanding!

— Heath Bradley, Flames of Love, p. 22

[Photo: Riverbend Park, Virginia, April 20, 2018]