Archive for the ‘Universalism’ Category

Forgiving Love

Saturday, January 19th, 2019

Christian universalism, unlike the traditional view of hell, refuses to dilute Jesus’s radical message that God’s holiness and perfection is defined by a refusal to embrace retaliatory justice and limited forgiveness (Matt 5:38-42; 18:21-22). God’s holy perfection is not a retributive drive to punish sinners. God’s holy perfection is a restorative impulse to forgive sinners and, through a non-retaliatory love that absorbs sin, make reconciliation possible. Forgiving love is at the heart of who God is. Forgiveness isn’t just something that God does. Forgiveness, the willingness to take on the pain caused by others and to not strike back, is at the core of God’s being. The cross of Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God’s self-sacrificial and nonviolent love. In Christ, we see a God who refuses to fight evil with evil, but instead overcomes evil with good and calls us to walk the path that he pioneered for us (Rom 12:14-21).

The Christian universalist, then, will see living with forgiveness as essential to holy living. Because God is deeply forgiving and non-retaliatory, our journey of seeking to imitate God must then make forgiveness front and center for our way of life. There is no doubting the fact that the way of forgiveness is absolutely central to the Christian way of life (e.g., Matt 6:7-15; Col 3:13)….

On the traditional view, God essentially asks of humanity what God is not willing to do. God asks us to not seek merely retributive punishment and to forgive indefinitely, yet God is not willing to do this himself. On the traditional view, it is easier to write people off and condemn them because it is believed deep down that this is what God in fact does with the majority of people. On the universalist view, restorative justice and reconciliation are the ultimate reality. Because the universalist believes that the world is heading towards the reconciliation of all things, we are motivated and inspired here and now to begin to make that a reality.

— Heath Bradley, Flames of Love, p. 147-148

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, January 13, 2019

Saving the World

Saturday, January 5th, 2019

For God to resort to violence in order to save the world is not saving the world; it’s condemning the world. But John tells us, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God saves the world not through the impatience of violence but through the infinite patience of divine love. I understand the incredulity of unbelievers toward the idea that the world can be saved by love and without violence; it is this very incredulity that lies at the foundation of their unbelief. But it is the very inconceivability of God-saving love in Christ that Christians are to believe in most of all. If John 3:16 is to mean anything, it must mean that God gets what God wants through love, or not at all. If I believe that love never fails, it’s because I believe that God is love. To believe in the sufficiency of God’s love to save the world is not naïve optimism; it’s Christianity.

— Brian Zahnd, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, p. 206-207.

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, March 21, 2018

Compassion, Not Separation

Tuesday, January 1st, 2019

According to the traditionalists, God’s holiness lies in God’s right to retributively punish sin forever out of being offended by human sin. However, Jesus defined God’s holy perfection much differently. He didn’t describe God’s holiness as God’s need to restore his offended majesty, but rather he explicitly and clearly defined God’s holiness as God’s unbounded love for God’s enemies (Matt 5:43-48). Remember, it was the Pharisees who defined God’s holiness in terms of separation from sinners. The Pharisees (whose name means “separate ones”) excluded sinners from their fellowship because they believed they were imitating the way God relates to sinners. Jesus, on the other hand, welcomed sinners into fellowship with himself because he believed he was imitating the way God relates to sinners. Jesus subversively redefined God’s holiness as compassion, not separation. When thinking about the holiness of God, it is crucially important that we let Jesus define divine holiness for us, since he is the pinnacle of God’s revelation to us. “No one has ever seen God,” the apostle John writes, but Jesus “who is close to the Father’s heart has made him known” (John 1:18). God is holy, to be sure, but traditional defenders of hell rely far too much on the vision of divine holiness put forth by the Pharisees, and not enough on the way Jesus revealed the holiness of God as compassionate love.

— Heath Bradley, Flames of Love, p. 146-147

Photo: Ely Cathedral, England, April 24, 2005

Life Here and Now

Wednesday, December 19th, 2018

In the New Testament, however, salvation is about much more than just getting our soul into heaven when we die, and evangelism is about much more than getting our name on the right side of the divine ledger. Salvation is about getting heaven, the realm of God’s saving presence, into all the different aspects of our life here and now. The early Christians did not understand their mission in life to be to simply get people to assent to certain religious beliefs so that they would have a good afterlife waiting for them. They believed that Jesus is the world’s true ruler, and so their mission was to live in that truth and announce it to the world. The first Christians believed that through his resurrection and ascension, Jesus was exalted as King over all, and so the way we enable God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven is by following Jesus here and now.

— Heath Bradley, Flames of Love, p. 137-138

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, December 17, 2018

The Way

Monday, December 3rd, 2018

Jesus once told a story about three people who encountered a beaten and battered man on the side of the road (Luke 10:29-37). The first two had all the right religious beliefs, and indeed were official representatives of their biblical religion. The third man was a heretic, from the perspective of the first two men. The first two men passed by without helping. The third man went out of his way to help the stranger, and this is the man Jesus held up as the model for what God asks of us. It’s a haunting and powerful story that challenges the way in which we want to make being right with God about something as easy as believing the right creed or engaging in the right religious ritual, rather than accepting the challenge of letting divine compassion fill our hearts until they overflow with action. Jesus defined real heresy as hard-hearted living, not simply wrong-minded thinking.

Inclusivism strikes me as the theological option that is most open to making room for this central insight of Jesus. On this view, what matters most is actually walking the Way of Jesus; the Way of unlimited forgiveness, unbounded compassion, restorative justice, and nonjudgmental truth-telling. People from a variety of religious perspectives, or no particular religious perspective at all, can walk on this Way of life that Jesus incarnated. We can be assured that when we walk this Way, it will lead us directly into the heart of God (whether that is our goal or not). Perhaps, with this in mind, John 14:6 isn’t a harsh threat at all. What if Jesus meant it as an assuring promise? When we follow “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” that he fully embodied, we can be assured that we are walking the path to God.

— Heath Bradley, Flames of Love, p. 130

Photo: Schloss Dhaun, Germany, July 2002

Restoration Mightier Than the Fall

Sunday, November 25th, 2018

I plead for the acceptance of the larger hope, as taught by so many in primitive days (a fact fully proved); a hope, that it has ever been the purpose of “our Father” to save all his human children. To believe or to hope for less than this would be, not alone to contradict Scripture, as I have tried to show, but to mistake its whole scope and purpose. For the Bible is the story of a restoration, wide; deep; mightier than the fall, and therefore bringing to every child of Adam salvation. It is not, as the popular creed teaches, the self-contradictory story of one almighty to save, and yet not, in fact, saving those for whom he died. It is the story of infinite love seeking “till it find”; a love that never fails, never, though heaven and earth pass away: a love that is, from its very nature, inextinguishable — being the love of a divine Father. It is the story of the unchanging purpose of the unchanging Lord God Omnipotent.

— Thomas Allin, Christ Triumphant, p. 334

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, September 21, 2014

Called to Be a Blessing

Thursday, November 15th, 2018

From the beginning of the biblical story of redemption, God reveals himself to be a God who is not concerned with only a small set of people in the world, but rather with all the people of the world. In fact, God’s particular election of the people of Abraham is for the universal purpose of drawing all people into the blessing of God (Gen 12:1-3). The Christian tradition has mostly missed this point in a huge way, and has instead talked about “election” as pertaining to the salvation of some instead of others. But in the biblical story, election is about a calling for the sake of others. Election is not a matter of God favoring some people over others. Election is a matter of God choosing some people to be instruments of blessings to the rest of the people. It is never about God choosing some individuals for redemptive privilege, but rather it is about God choosing a group of people for missional service. Throughout Israel’s history as it is told in the Old Testament, this point is consistently overlooked, as God’s people had a tendency to think of themselves as special or immune from judgment because of their “chosen” status. The prophets were a group of people that had to continually remind the people of Israel that they were called to be instruments of divine blessing, not recipients only, and that “their” God is really the God of all people.

— Heath Bradley, Flames of Love, p. 123-124

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, January 24, 2016

Inexorable Love

Thursday, November 8th, 2018

A few words of earnest caution must be added here. I trust it has been made plain in these pages that in teaching universal salvation I have not for a moment made light of sin, or advocated the salvation of sinners while they continue such. I earnestly assert the certain punishment of sin (awful it may well be, in its duration and its nature for the hardened offender), but in all cases directed by love and justice to the final extirpation of evil. Nay, I have opposed the popular creed on this very ground, that it in fact teaches men to make light of sin, and that in two ways: first, because it sets forth a scheme of retribution so unjust as to make men secretly believe its penalties will never be inflicted; and second, because it in fact asserts that God either will not, or cannot, overcome and destroy evil and sin, but will bear with them for ever and ever.

I repeat that not one word has been written in these pages tending to represent God as a merely good-natured Being, who regards as a light matter the violation of his holy law. Such shallow theology, God forbid that I should teach. Infinite love is one thing; Infinite Good-nature a totally unlike thing. Love is never feeble, it is (while most tender) most inexorable. In the light of Calvary it is that we are bound to see the guilt of sin. But let us beware, lest, as we stand in thought by the cross, we virtually dishonour the atonement by limiting its power to save — by teaching men that Christ is after all vanquished; lest, while in words professing to honour Christ, we, in fact, make him a liar, for he has never said, “if I be lifted up, I will draw some men,” or even “most men,” but “I will draw all men to me.”

— Thomas Allin, Christ Triumphant, p. 268

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, November 7, 2018

Until He Finds Them

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018

We have already examined, in the previous chapter, the possibility of postmortem conversion, which is usually featured, at least as a hope, in most versions of inclusivism. Although there are a handful of passages that can be interpreted as pointing in the direction of this possibility, the strongest argument in favor of this proposal rests on the character of God’s steadfast love who looks for lost sinners until he finds them (Luke 15). There is simply no compelling reason to assume that God’s posture towards someone changes at their death. There are also no explicit scriptural declarations that a person’s fate is definitively sealed at death. Often those who deny the possibility of postmortem conversion point to passages that affirm that human beings face judgment when they die (Heb 9:6; 1 Cor 5:10), but these passages do not spell out what judgment consists of and what is made possible by the judgment. These passages do not say that judgment leads to an eternally-dualistic outcome, but this assumption is often read into these texts. Supporters of the possibility of postmortem conversion will certainly agree with these scriptural affirmations that all people face divine judgment when they die, but they will also affirm that God’s judgment is designed to illicit repentance and foster reconciliation. Appeals to postmortem judgment, again, do not suffice to close the door on the possibility of postmortem salvation.

— Heath Bradley, Flames of Love, p. 123

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, October 30, 2018

All or Some?

Saturday, October 20th, 2018

Is God in earnest in telling us that he reconciles the world? Does he mean what he says, or does he only mean that he will try to reconcile it, but will be baffled? This question often rises unbidden, as we read these statements of the Bible, and compare them with the popular creed, which turns “all” into “some,” when salvation is promised to “all,” and turns the “world,” when that is said to be saved, into a larger or smaller fraction of men.

— Thomas Allin, Christ Triumphant, p. 260

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, October 15, 2015