Aug 212012
 

here I am lord

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.

ifgraceistrue

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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.

May 242011
 

Robert_Indiana_love Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell. I bought this book on Audible (Amazon’s audio book company) for several reasons. First of all, it was very high on the best-seller list in spirituality and secondly because the subject has always appealed to me. In fact I was in the middle of writing a piece on much the same subjects. I’m extremely glad I picked it up.

While I would approach the subject slightly differently than pastor Bell, this book will be appreciated by someone who wants to take a fairly conservative and orthodox view of the Bible and yet is troubled by the exclusivist teaching of some fundamentalist and evangelical branches of Christianity.

Using a good assortment of scriptures, historical notes, stories and excellent prose, Bell makes a Christian case for being at least OPEN to the ideas of a limited hell from which people can be redeemed, for eventual universal salvation, and the real presence of the kingdom of God in the here-and-now.

Love Wins

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I’ll give a brief example of his prose. After quoting a ream of scriptures to the effect that God desires the salvation of everyone, and that God’s purpose cannot be ultimately resisted, Bell summarizes like this:

Once again, God has a purpose. A desire. A goal. And God never stops pursuing it. Jesus tells a series of parables in Luke 15 about a woman who loses a coin, a shepherd who loses a sheep, and a father who loses a son. The stories aren’t ultimately about things and people being lost; the stories are about things and people being found. The God that Jesus teaches us about doesn’t give up until everything that was lost is found. This God simply doesn’t give up. Ever.

It’s true that Bell qualifies his points quite a bit, needing to walk a bit of a fine line to stay within the conservative biblical view. Still, his questions alone have been enough to make his book extremely popular, and extremely controversial. People who find exclusivist Christianity limiting but who still love Christianity feel quite liberated that someone has finally spoken to them. And plenty of people in the exclusivist branches of Christianity seem very threatened. And that’s probably a very good sign.

I’d highly recommend the book to Christians who’d like support for a more enlightened version of the Christian tradition, and for non-believers who could use an example of Christianity that isn’t all about sending other people to hell.

 

The picture below links to a short video intro on the book

Mar 302007
 

Universalism is the doctrine that eventually, all humanity will be saved and united with God. Since I've argued elsewhere that the infinite punishment of an everlasting hell is incompatible with the love, justice and mercy of God, it follows that eventually, all punishment must end, and all humanity united with God. While I find this doctrine obvious simply by what I know of God's love, as I've studied it, I find it has amazingly strong support even from a literal interpretation of the Bible. I'd like to present several scriptures which I don't believe can be properly understood or explained except by a universalist interpretation.

"and through him [Jesus] to reconcile ALL THINGS to himself, by him, whether things on the earth, or things in the heavens, having made peace through the blood of his cross. You, being in past times alienated and enemies in your mind in your evil works, yet now he has reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and without blemish and blameless before him" (Colossians 1:20-22 WEB)

Can anyone suppose that a soul tormented in hell is "reconciled" unto God? According to this verse, ALL THINGS will be reconciled, and presented holy and without blemish to God. No exceptions are mentioned. In fact, it was verses such as this one which led the early Church father Origen to speculate that eventually even Satan would be reconciled to God. But I'll be satisfied for this writing to concentrate on humanity. At the least, it's very hard to see how all things can be reconciled to God while a significant portion of humanity are suffering in hell, eternally separated from his presence. Here's another scripture

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ ALL will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then those who are Christs, at his coming. Then the end comes, when he will deliver up the Kingdom to God, even the Father; when he will have abolished all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For, He put all things in subjection under his feet.[1] But when he says, All things are put in subjection, it is evident that he is excepted who subjected all things to him. When all things have been subjected to him, then the Son will also himself be subjected to him who subjected all things to him, that God may be all in all.
(1 Corinthians 15:22-28 WEB)

This one is quite shocking also. ALL will be made alive by Christ. The same "ALL" who die in Adam, which is to say, all humanity.  This does not refer only to the resurrection, where death will be abolished, for it says that death is the LAST enemy that will be abolished. All other enemies will be in subjection and (per the scripture before) reconciliation to Christ BEFORE the resurrection. And then God will be "all in all". God will be FULLY united, through and through, with all humanity – a difficult thing to reconcile with the idea of millions screaming in hell.
Origen put it this way: So then, when the end has been restored to the beginning, and the termination of things compared with their commencement, that condition of things will be re-established in which rational nature was placed, when it had no need to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; so that when all feeling of wickedness has been removed, and the individual has been purified and cleansed, He who alone is the one good God becomes to him "all," and that not in the case of a few individuals, or of a considerable number, but He Himself is "all in all." And when death shall no longer anywhere exist, nor the sting of death, nor any evil at all, then verily God will be "all in all" –Origen, De Prinicipiis, 3.6.3.

I quote the next one from Youngs Literal, because there is an important nuance in the Greek that Young's captures.

"So, then, as through one offence to all men it is to condemnation, so also through one declaration of `Righteous' it is to ALL men to justification of life; for as through the disobedience of the one man, the many were constituted sinners: so also through the obedience of the one, shall the many be constituted righteous. "
(Romans 5:18-19 YLT)
Who will are condemned because of Adam? Absolutely everyone. Who will be made righteous in Christ? The same group – absolutely everyone. Who became sinners because of Adam? "the many". Some Bibles simply translated it "many" – but it actually implies "THE many". Which many? The group specified before – ALL mankind. In any event, the many who became sinners in Adam are the same many who are constituted righteous – that is, absolutely everyone.

Next, in Romans 11…

"For God has shut up all to disobedience, that he might have mercy on ALL."  (Romans 11:32 WEB)

Paul has used several examples to show that even disobedience doesn't disqualify us from the mercy of God. ALL will be shown the same mercy, and Paul concludes with this profound scripture:

"For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things. To him be the glory for ever! Amen."  (Romans 11:36 WEB)

Everything came from God (of). Everything is sustained by God (through) AND…. everything will RETURN TO God (to). There will be no eternal separation.

But isn't it an absolute requirement that everyone confess the name of Jesus to be saved? That is the position of some. They would point to this scripture:

"that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. " (Romans 10:9 WEB)

You'll notice it doesn't say "ONLY if you confess…" simply that this is one route. But even if we want to say it is an absolute requirement… it's clear from scripture that absolutely everyone will meet that requirement!

"that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, and that EVERY TONGUE should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. " (Philippians 2:10-11 WEB)

Even those who are dead ( "under" the earth ) will ALL (EVERY tongue) confess that Jesus is Lord – and at that point, will obviously believe with certainty that God raised him from the dead, and hence will be saved! But wait, you exclaim. Isn't it too late to confess Jesus after one is dead? Says who? There is no such limitation in the text of Romans 10:9. Certainly it takes more courage to confess Jesus in the here-and-now. But does God save by courage, or by grace? Is there some "merit" in confessing before death? Does God save by merit, or by grace? There is nothing in scripture to forbid the idea of that the dead may confess and receive salvation.

"For it is evident that God will in truth be all in all when there shall be no evil in existence, when every created being is at harmony with iteself and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; when every creature shall have been made one body". –Gregory of Nyssa, 335-390

"We can set no limits to the agency of the Redeemer to redeem, to rescue, to discipline in his work, and so will he continue to operate after this life" –Clement of Alexandria

There is much, much more to say on this topic. Perhaps a 30 part series would work 😉

Sep 212006
 

In the process of looking up a few universalist writings, I ran into a very interesting bit of writing from a liberal Quaker. First, a recap of a few universalist ideas:

The basic argument for universalism is quite simple and powerful – Human beings are finite. Because they are finite, they are only capable of finite good and finite evil. To suffer in hell eternally would be an INFINITE punishment. Since God is just, he could never insist on or even allow an infinite punishment for a finite evil. To do so would be infinitely unjust.

Traditional Christianity responds by making the concept of hell a bit more sophisticated. God is not throwing us into hell or keeping us there. We reject God, and that rejection IS hell. God cannot interfere with our freedom, and so we are free to continue to reject God and remain in hell forever.

Now I quote from the Quakers:

“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.”

(From If Grace Be True: Why God Will Save Every Person. Philip Gulley & James Mulholland.)

This idea that God is free to reject our rejection of him also works into their view of the crucifixion. Quoting again:

“Calvary was not the fulfillment of a divine plan. It was not the final installment on a cosmic debt. It was not necessary to satisfy some bloodthirsty deity. The crucifixion was the cost of proclaiming grace. The more insistent Jesus was on God’s grace, the more likely was his eventual death on the cross. His death was a human act rather than a divine sign. People, not God, demanded his crucifixion."

“God did something glorious in Jesus. His resurrection settled once and for all the question of God’s attitude toward his children. God has determined to love and redeem. In the crucifixion we said no to God, but in the resurrection God rejected our rejection. This is the triumph of grace”

I found this point of view quite refreshing.

Found at: http://www.quaker.org/quest/issue-9-gulley-02.htm

 

Jul 282006
 

Gold Leaves

Lo! I am come to autumn,
When all the leaves are gold;
Grey hairs and golden leaves cry out
The year and I are old.

In youth I sought the prince of men,
Captain in cosmic wars,
Our Titan, even the weeds would show
Defiant, to the stars.

But now a great thing in the street
Seems any human nod,
Where shift in strange democracy
The million masks of God.

In youth I sought the golden flower
Hidden in wood or wold,
But I am come to autumn,
When all the leaves are gold.

G.K. CHESTERTON

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