THE GRACE OF EVANGELICAL UNIVERSALISM

So I have begun to seriously consider the position of being a Christ-centered Universalist. My wife thinks I am a borderline heretic but I might suggest to her that Jesus was called a blasphemer for opening wide the gates of God’s Kingdom that all might come in. And among other things the leaders called him a glutton and drunk for hanging out and accepting into the Kingdom people like tax collectors and prostitutes.

I am beginning to understand the wild, crazy, and all inclusive love of the Father to be such that God will one day, as Paul wrote, ‘reconcile all things in heaven and on earth.’ This includes to Paul’s thinking, rulers, authorities and everyone else, all through the blood, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. (See Colossians 1:18-20)

God’s relentless pursuit of his creation, his children (in the way Paul speaks of God’s children in Acts 17), does not end in vain. God’s love has and will grace the life of everyone. It did at the creation of everyone according to John 1 where we are told that every life on earth came THROUGH Jesus Christ. So writes Paul in Colossians 1.

I am not the first to think of this kind of universalism. You can read Gregory Macdonald or Robin Parry (who is Gregory Macdonald- his nom de plume) or Thomas Talbot and many others who have made the case for universalism explicitly or implicitly. For me, I am just now trying to be open to this hope, this possibility even with all proof texting opposed to it.

I had a wonderful experience the other day. I went to my neighbor who professes to be an atheist. She is a loving mom and expecting a second child any day. I decided to talk to her and she was ‘conveniently’ sitting on her front stoop. I told her that God loved her, has forgiven any of her sins and that she is right now part of God’s family and Kingdom. She said, ‘Thank you’, and we moved on to other conversation. And I must say I felt such peace in talking with her in such a manner. I have been up to this time the type of evangelist who needed to hear some kind of change of heart or decision to accept Christ but now I am okay with simply sharing the good news of God’s love. I have always liked the passage in Luke 1:77 where John’s dad, Zechariah, announces through the Holy Spirit that John will help people understand salvation with God by announcing the forgiveness of sins. There might just be something to that order since John tells us later that Jesus is the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’ (John 1:29)

There is in this evangelical universalism something of the Arminians and Calvinists in the sense that according to the Arminian thinking God’s grace opens every heart to be able to respond to God’s grace. In the Calvinist way of thinking God’s grace is irresistible. So both come together for everyone’s salvation with God.

I do not think that anything or anyone can stop the plan that God initiated, not only at creation but also with the blessing of Abraham in which God promises that through Abraham, all people would be blessed. When God made that covenant with Abraham he sealed the deal with the promise of giving up his own life. (See Genesis 12 and 15)

Jesus subsequently fulfilled this covenant with his own blood and thus satisfied the promise of God.

Even the evil people in the world will be able to be redeemed through what Christ has done. It’s hard to wrap my mind around all of this but it might just be that I need to more fully understand the vastness of God’s love. Isn’t that why Jesus spoke as he did, making limitless the love of his Father?

So here’s a great story in line with all of that.

It is said that during the Second World War some soldiers serving in France wanted to bury a friend and fellow soldier who had been killed. Being in a foreign country they wanted to ensure their fallen comrade had a proper burial. They found a well-kept cemetery with a low fence around it, a picturesque little Catholic church and a peaceful outlook. This was just the place to bury their friend. But when they approached the priest he answered that unless their friend was a baptized Catholic he could not be buried in the cemetery. He wasn’t.

Sensing the soldiers’ disappointment the priest showed them a spot outside the fence where they could bury their friend. Reluctantly they did so.

The next day the soldiers returned to pay their final respects to their fallen friend but could not find the grave. “Surely we can’t be mistaken. It was right here!” they said. Confused, they approached the priest who took them to a spot inside the cemetery walls. “Last night I couldn’t sleep,” said the priest. “I was troubled that your friend had to be buried outside the cemetery walls, so I got up and moved the fence.”

Ah, perhaps we are as astounded to hear about universalism as the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were stunned to hear that the love of God could be so inclusive.

Now I realize that there are many scriptural passages that are read and understood in opposition to what I am sharing. But I also know there are enigmatic verses such as 1Cor. 15:22 “As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

Christ must be the center of any new mathematical equation that includes the whole creation. There is no salvation outside of Jesus Christ and his atonement for our sin. Historic and Biblical witness has always attested to this truth. This has been the church’s position since the days of the apostles. But there must be room within this confession for an even larger view of God’s inclusiveness in Christ.

I read in Philippians 2 that one day EVERY knee shall bow and EVERY tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. I want to trust God to work that out in God’s own way and time. I can’t say enough of the joy of even contemplating such a loving forgiving heavenly Father.

To conclude for now, I want to add that we Christians make too much of our response to God’s grace. The emphasis is on what God has done for us. And finally I am not worried that people will ‘slack off’ in their living for Christ right here and now. When we grasp the love of God in deeper ways we respond even more thankfully.

It is an astonishing thought, possibility and even hope that God will RESTORE this whole creation, the good, the bad and even the evil into the good that God had originally intended. And that restoration will include everything that was lost. There are many scriptures on both and all sides of this theological conversation and I want to listen to them all.

And I might add; that restoration is now underway from the Resurrection of Christ until he comes again.

5 thoughts on “THE GRACE OF EVANGELICAL UNIVERSALISM

  1. Thank you, my brother, for words of grace. I love what you wrote and find it very freeing. Sounds like something Jesus does……frees us from striving, worrying, convincing, being ‘responsible’, etc. I am interested to know how you came to this place, as you and I have had discussions over the years. What happened to my “Calvinist” friend???? And, I don’t think you’re heretical. You are seeking to listen to the heart beat of the Savior. Caren :}

    • Well, as I considered more and more the grace of God in the death of Christ I began to wonder if we as evangelical Christians are not making salvation a mechanical rather than personal process of new creation and restoration by God. I am not meaning that grace is a license to do and believe whatever one wants. Rather I am taking grace so seriously that not even human response can put it in peril since Jesus fulfilled the Abrahamic covenant. I think of the Philippians 1:6 passage which says to the effect that God who began God’s good work in us will bring it to completion on the day of Christ’s coming. God isn’t leaving his salvation to us but to the Christ who secured it for us. This is a wonderful inclusivity of grace but it is also, to those who believe, a responsibility like no other. We are called to be Christ to the world in word and deed. We are called, like the Israelites were, to be the light of the world. Jesus himself fulfilled that call that was given to God’s people and now tells us, as in Matthew 5, to be that light that he is. Let us persevere. Thank you my sister in Christ.

  2. I agree George..viscerally and logically. It is so nice to know you’ve done the reading and studies and intellectually it also seems true. (plus a lifetime of living,praying and thinking that you have under your belt) More proof, so to speak, that God’s love is indeed all inclusive and unconditional. 🙂 I miss you!!

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