Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Friday, April 05, 2013

Is Universalist a dirty word

A Facebook friend pointed me to the following article by Brian McLaren after I had mentioned writing something on universalism: His blog article begins with the following question:

Q & R: Are You a Universalist? Or a Whig?

Here's the Q:
After reading "Why did Jesus, et al, cross the road," I wanted to ask your thoughts on universal salvation, since you seemed to "dance around" this idea throughout the book. Is Christianity the "have" and other religions the "have-nots?" I would love it if you were to write a book on the subject …
Now I would like to be able to say what his answer was but he really danced around the issue. Even at the end of this article he says this is his best brief answer:
“My critics love to say that I'm evading (dancing around) the issue. I wish they could come to understand that it's much worse than that. I'm rejecting the whole paradigm that defines the issue as it does.”
Now I have no problem rejecting an entire paradigm. I do it on a lot of things. But to reject does you no good unless you define what you do believe. In the case of Universalism there is not really some deep theological presuppositions involved.
Universalism: a : a theological doctrine that all human beings will eventually be saved
There is no real need to go into what saved means or original sin, hell or judgment. To say that he cannot give a one word answer means that he is afraid to actually reveal his beliefs. Now there are good reasons to not want to admit that all will be saved the critic will say, “so you believe Hitler will be saved”. People don't like that...they like the idea of most everyone saved but not everyone there is always some characters from history that they don't want God to grant salvation to.
McLaren writes:
Universalism is one of three "theo-political parties" that arose in an era that shared a dominant assumption: the Christian faith is primarily a solution to the problem of original sin, which is a condition that dooms all humans to eternal conscious torment in hell. "What is Christianity for?" All three parties agreed: to get as many souls as possible out of hell and into heaven after death. Jesus mattered because belief in him was the ticket to heaven. Based on this shared assumption, the three parties differed on the scope of Jesus' saving-from-hell work.”
From the Adventist prospective none of that really works. We don't believe in original sin. We don't believe in eternal conscious torment in hell. Of course Adventists don't believe in universalism either. But that is based more upon judgment then upon original sin or a God granted gift of torture. In fact it is not true of the Unitarians of the 1800's who actually popularized the term universalism. See the Wikipedia article

He goes on to say:
For us,
A) The Christian faith is about the good news of God proclaimed and embodied by Jesus Christ and affirmed, explored, and applied by the apostles, rooted in the Scriptures, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
B) Salvation derives its meaning in the Bible from God's liberation (salvation) of Hebrew slaves in Egypt. It is about God's ongoing work in creation to liberate from slavery, oppression, exploitation, lust, greed, pride, and all other forms of sin and evil.
C) Christianity is a movement of people joining God in the healing of the world, beginning with ourselves, following the way of Jesus.
In that sense, salvation is universal in intent - of course! In that sense, I am a universalist because I believe God loves all that has been created (Psalm 145:8-9). God "is not willing for any to perish," but desires all to discover the liberating truth. So when people like me hear exclusivists act as if God elected some to privilege and others to damnation, we can't stop asking questions.... What kind of God would create a universe planning to consign much of it to destruction and even worse - to eternal conscious torment? And if people end up in hell "by mistake" - not by God's pre-planned intention - why would God have decided that was a risk worth taking? What kind of God would find it "self-glorifying" to enjoy bliss in heaven with the redeemed while the unredeemed suffer eternally down in the basement? What kind of people would, upon sober reflection, consider that end to be blissful? Is that the best "good news" that Christianity can muster - eternal salvation of a few, eternal damnation of the rest?”
When we say things like that, Exclusivists say, "Aha! So you're universalists after all! You believe everything is going to end up fine so there is no need for Christian evangelism and mission."
My problem with his article is that he in fact dances around the subject. He seems to be a universalist but fearful of admitting it. After all if you read the Wikipedia article you see that some universalists thought that there was something akin to Purgatory before people attained the salvation. Universalism does not define how one gets there or what the duties of the Christian is here and now. So why not say “Yes I am a univeralist. I believe in a God who won't be defeated and who is not willing that any should be lost and all should be saved. So that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is God and worthy of the title God.”
Now comes the time to redefine your Christianity. If your mission is no longer bringing souls into the church, what is it? We should have some relevance aside from the old tradition that we are bringing the knowledge of how to be saved to the unsaved. If we as Christians are no longer selling salvation we have to sell compassion and ways to live happier fuller lives. And that is a whole lot harder to demonstrate then a claim of salvation in the sweet by and by.
McLaren is right and he is wrong. Pretty much like the rest of us. But I think we really need to work on being clear when we can be clear. Talking about the Whig Party is not really that clear either. Abraham Lincoln ran as a Whig before he ran as a Republican. But most of us don't know a whole lot about what the Whig's thought anyway. The Republicans took a stand to be clear to the voters. Christianity is far too divided to be compared to U.S. Political parties, Christianity has a lot of differing beliefs we can't simply assume that there is even agreement within Christianity to disagree with. So we have to move forward with what we do believe and not with what we don't believe. Even if we don't have all the answers to all the objections. That is where the conversation comes in. Why can't God save Hitler? What should the message of the church be, should each church even have the same message or function? Christianity indeed has to change.


Andrew said...

I agree. We need to be clear when we can be clear. Otherwise we just start to create a nasty gray haze of words...yuck.

Tim Jones in Spokane said...

True. People nowadays seem to just use words and statements that leave the others guessing and draw their own opinions.