Archive for the ‘Universalism’ Category

Universal Grace

Sunday, December 29th, 2019

Grace universally given is still grace. A gift made to everyone is no less a gift, and a gift that is intrinsically precious need not be rare to be an act of the highest generosity. Conversely, that gift becomes no more precious — indeed, it becomes much less so — if it is certified in its value by being distributed only parsimoniously. Our very existence is an unmerited gift, after all (unless, of course, there really is an eternal hell, in which case it is also, and perhaps preponderantly, an unmerited brutality). More to the point, if Paul is right, then — whereas natural justice is wholly concerned with matters of law and proportional consequences — the supernatural justice revealed in Christ consists in God’s victory over all the powers that separate his creation from him, and to that degree is as “unjust” as any other act of wholly unmerited mercy is.

— David Bentley Hart, That All Shall Be Saved, p. 52.

Photo: North Cape, Prince Edward Island, September 26, 2019

Until They Are Found

Friday, December 27th, 2019

It was only recently I noticed that the parable of the prodigal son is the third in a series of parables, all revealing the same crucial point: Something of great value has been lost — a sheep, a coin, and a boy — and that which is lost is helpless to rescue itself from its circumstances and must be sought after diligently, until it is found and restored to where it belongs. The owner or father is not satisfied as long as even one — one sheep, one coin, or one son — remains lost.

Twice in this series, Jesus conveys the heart of heaven: “In the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (vs. 7, 10). Doesn’t that imply it is necessary that we repent? Of course, but did the son have to repent before he was received into welcome arms? Did he have a choice about whether his father watched for him, found him, and never gave up on him? Did the straying sheep ultimately have the choice not to rejoin the flock? Did the misplaced coin have a choice not to be swept up and put safely into the purse? Do sinners and unbelievers have a choice when it comes to ultimately being reconciled to their heavenly Father? Might the point be, in any case, that the move to “come home” will eventually and always be agreed upon as desirable for the one lost?

In the parable of the lost sheep, it is the shepherd who goes searching for his missing sheep. He does not wait for the animal to find its way home; he searches it out, puts it on his shoulders, and carries it back to the flock. Similarly the woman from the parable of the lost coin searches by lamplight for her missing coin. She does not wait to happen upon it, or consider it hopelessly lost unless fate brings it to her.

— Julie Ferwerda, Raising Hell, p. 14

Photo: Prince Edward Island, September 25, 2019

Universal Reconciliation

Friday, November 8th, 2019

Universal Reconciliation is the belief that all people for all time will eventually be reconciled to God — that this lifetime is not the “only chance” to be saved — but that there is only one way to God, through Jesus Christ.

Through a very intentional plan that reaches into future ages, I believe the true Gospel is that all people for all time will be willingly and joyfully drawn by the unconditional, irresistible, compelling love of a Father into a relationship with Him through His Son. In the end, every knee will have bowed, and every tongue will have confessed Jesus as Lord, giving praise to God (see Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10).

— Julie Ferwerda, Raising Hell, p. 6

Finding the Coin

Thursday, July 4th, 2019

The coin was not found because the coin followed a law or a commandment. It was not found because it realized its own state of ‘lost-ness’ and began looking for its owner. It was not found because of some ‘good works’ it had managed to achieve. The coin was found only because the woman looked for it. What could a coin contribute to its being found? The answer, of course, is nothing. Absolutely nothing.

And is this not the point of using a coin as the imagery? There is absolutely no possibility of being misinterpreted. A coin cannot contribute to being found in any way. A sheep could possibly have made a sound or even walked toward the shepherd. Even though Jesus does not say any of this happened, it is possible to misinterpret Him and think the sheep did something. The point I am attempting to make is that the religious people in Jesus’ audience, who were so convinced that they contributed to their salvation, could find a way to distort the obvious meaning of the story and conclude that the sheep did do something. And so the lost sheep story is followed by the story of a lost coin, and now there is no way to be misinterpreted. A coin cannot do anything to contribute to its being found. The coin was found because the woman went looking for it — no other reason can possibly be asserted. And what’s more, the woman went looking until she found her coin. Again, Jesus chooses to use this word until. ‘Until it is found’ carries no possibility of failure. It can mean only one thing: that all who are lost shall be found.

— Peter Gray, Until They Are Found, p. 27-28

Photo: Rhine River, Germany, August 2000

Found Because He Searched

Tuesday, May 7th, 2019

What may we say was the reason for the lost sheep becoming found? Was the sheep saved by the doing of good works? Was the sheep saved by the following of law or commandment? Was the sheep saved because it recognized its own state of ‘lost-ness’, and went searching for its shepherd? Heaven forbid! The lost sheep was found for one reason and one reason alone. The lost sheep was found because the Good Shepherd came looking. The shepherd commenced a search and rescue operation that would never finish, until his sheep was found.

His is a personal search, a persevering search, a successful search. He will search until they are found. The lost sheep contributed nothing to its being found.

— Peter Gray, Until They Are Found, p. 26

Photo: Bull Run Regional Park, Virginia, April 8, 2019

Until It Is Found

Saturday, March 30th, 2019

Here in Luke, we are presented with a vision of the Good Shepherd who searches without ceasing. Normal search and rescue operations only last a certain time; eventually they are called off, even if not everyone has been found. But there is nothing normal about the rescue mission of the Good Shepherd, for he does not know how to give up. He knows nothing of cutting his losses, for if He did, He would surely never have searched in the first instance. After all, ninety nine out of one hundred is a pretty good standard, don’t you think? Ninety nine percent might be good in our books, but it is not good enough for God. Nothing short of one hundred percent will satisfy the Good Shepherd.

Look at what Jesus says in verse 4, “Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” Notice that word ‘until.’ It is there deliberately. It is not by accident that Jesus does not say, “in an attempt to find it.” Jesus says that the shepherd will search until it is found, hence the title of this book. This story says nothing about not finding the lost sheep; no hint of failure is given. That there may be a sheep belonging to Him that He will never find, is a conclusion that this story precludes us from believing. Praise God!

It is Jesus who is the Good Shepherd, and the success of the search and rescue operation depends upon His skill. He sees so clearly, and intervenes so effectually, that He will most assuredly bring them in. Jesus Christ will not lose one of His sheep. True, some sheep may wander in the wilderness for a time, but to be forever lost? Never! A thought that He cannot bear. Could the Christ fail to save even one of those for whom He came and for whom He died? Impossible! Such a thought He could not endure. A defeated Christ is a Christ whom I cannot conceive of.

— Peter Gray, Until They Are Found, p. 23-24

Photo: Leithöfe, Germany, April 17, 1997

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