If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person, by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland. I first encountered the writing of Philip Gulley and James Mulholland when writing an article on universalism in an earlier blog post. The other day I re-read that post, and decided to go looking for the book. I’m tremendously grateful that I did.
In a way, this book picks up where Rob Bell’s Love Wins leaves off. Where Bell asks probing questions about the idea that God will eternally punish people in hell, Gulley and Mulholland passionately chronicle their journey to the conclusion that He will not.
The book is written in an unusual dual first-person. The two Quaker pastors combine their experiences into one whole, while continuing to use “I” to communicate the experiences, leaving the reader to guess to which of the authors any particular experience may belong. The book begins with a faith-changing experience one of the pastors had in preparing the funeral sermon of a troubled woman who died while on the very threshold of returning to her faith. In a flash of insight derived from the parable of the prodigal son, the pastor realized that God wasn’t waiting for her to cross that threshold, but had run out to meet her.
Along the way, Gulley and Mulholland come to trust their own experience of God as a supremely loving being and subordinate their understanding of scripture to that experience. This leads them inevitably to the conclusion that not all of scripture portrays God properly. A view of scripture where all scripture is equally perfect and inerrant is discarded.
Other universalist authors (such as Rob Bell to a degree) believe they can stay within the boundaries of an inerrant view of scripture and still hold to universalism. It’s an intriguing project – and If Grace Is True has a nice appendix presenting the universalist view from scripture and church history. But ultimately I think these two pastors take the more honest approach. The love of God and the love of our neighbor are the two principles by which any other principle is to be judged, and even scripture must bow to the principle of love.
I’ve quoted this before, but let me present a brief exert of this book to give you an idea of it’s heart:
I had rejected the image of a wrathful, powerful God anxious to punish the wicked in the fires of hell, but I was left with a benevolent but feeble God who had no choice but to destroy the ones he loved. Hell was another Holocaust, where once again millions would be thrown into the furnaces while God stood by powerless and defeated. When confronted with the inconsistency of an all-powerful God incapable of accomplishing his desire, I drew a careful distinction between what God wanted to do and what God was able to do. God was not free.
I defended our freedom to reject God–but denied God’s freedom to reject our rejection. Acknowledged that God can have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and compassion on whom he will have compassion, but I quickly defined the persons and situations in which God could be merciful and compassionate. My God was shackled, powerless to act.
This shackled God was not the God of Jesus.
Simply put, this is a wonderful book, for anyone who is ready for it. Universalism makes the gospel into the really good news, and alters our view of everything around us – for the better.