Friday, August 19, 2005

Universalism- What is it? What isn't it?

Here's what I call Universalism. Since this is a personal journey (as is yours), I'm not going to pretend this definition is accepted by everyone who calls himself a Universalist. Some might ask " Why should I care about this? I'm saved. It's not up to me to save the world or worry about their eternal destiny." Well, as a Christian, I think it is up to you to worry about the rest of the world. We are our brothers' keepers. Is it possible to love your neighbor as yourself and not be concerned that the G-d you serve wants to eternally torment that person with no hope of escape?

What Universalism Is

A Universalist is someone who believes that ultimately, G-d will reconcile all of mankind to Himself. Period.

There are many opinions on how this takes place. That's all very interesting. But, IMHO it's not the most important thing. The exact method of salvation and its timing can be approached through careful Biblical exegesis, theology and philosophy. But, the how is up to G-d.

The reason why I think Universalism is so important, as it stands opposed to ECT (Eternal Conscious Torment), is I believe that ECT makes a mockery of the Love of G-d. If G-d is Love (as the Bible tells us) and G-d is all powerful, how can we possibly believe He either can't or won't save a portion of His children or even worse has created many of them just to display His "wrath" for His "glory"? These distorted views of G-d hinderered my ability to have a real loving relationship with Him that wasn't either based on fear of Him purposely rejecting me eternally or viewing Him as weak because He couldn't overcome my "free will" and I might be able to somehow slip through the cracks into Hell.

Specifically, I am a Christian Universalist. This is a subset of the overall group of Universalists. I believe that Jesus (Yeshua) is the Christ (Messiah) and that God (YHWH) sent Him to the world to proclaim the Gospel (Good News). I don't know exactly how this works. But, I believe all will be saved through Yeshua.

What Universalism Is Not

Universalism is not a denomination- Universalists can be members of any of a number of denominations. There are very few beliefs Universalists cannot embrace. Arminianism would be one (that G-d will allow man's free will to rule over His grace and desire for all to be saved) and Calvinism would be another (that G-d purposely creates people for the purpose of eternally and consciously tormenting them). There are, however, other elements of both of these beliefs that Universalism can and does embrace, including the Arminian view that God purposes that everyone will be reconciled/saved, and the Calvinist view that God will accomplish His purpose.

Universalism is not a view that G-d is just a big old softie
- at least Christian Universalists believe that G-d is a responsible Father/Creator. I've heard this sentiment expressed (not using the word Father) by people of other religions also. Universalists do not necessarily believe that G-d has no interest in our sanctification and that He will not do whatever necessary (even using correction) to achieve His means. As a responsible parent, G-d chastizes. The difference between a URer and an ECTer though is that we believe G-d uses punishment for correction or chastisement (kolasis is the word Yeshua used), not for retribution (timoria). When I discipline my children, I discipline them just enough to correct them. I do not discipline them out of "anger" or "wrath". I discipline them because I love them and want them to be better people.

Universalism is not an excuse to live any way you want because we'll all be saved anyway- Christian Universalists take sin very seriously. I daresay more seriously than many ECTers who believe saying the Sinner's Prayer is a get out of hell free card. Just say the magic words and at death you're whisked off into eternall bliss. I believe each will be judged according to his works and will suffer for sin (even if this suffering is "merely" remorse at knowing the pain we have caused and how much it hurts our Father). The natural consequence of sin is pain and those who continue to sin will suffer pain. All will be drawn to G-d. Sinners will experience pain. Whether hell is a literal place or a mental/spiritual state, most Universalists I know of expect that people who cling to sin will be purged of it in a not-so-pleasant process. As George MacDonald pointed out, our G-d is a all consuming fire. Christian Universalists take that quite seriously. Belief in Universalism does not negate the belief in a hell-like state that people will have to pass through whether here, in the after-life or both. Many fear the proliferation of the belief in Universalism because the masses will begin to live in sin knowing that, in the end, they'll be saved anyway. Sadly, many of the Universalist church fathers shared this same fear and taught Universalism only privately while continuing to preach a doctrine of ECT that they did not believe themselves.
 
 Universalism is not a cult- I've heard Universalism referred to as a cult. The most common definition of a cult is a religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader. Universalists are all over the board way too much to be considered a cult. We have no one leader and we do not live under authoritarian or unconventional manners. The term cult is an unfair disparagement.

Universalism is not a group that denies the deity of Jesus- Christian Universalists (like any other Christians) hold varying thoughts on the origin and exact nature of Jesus. Some say if you believe in the Trinity, you are not a "true" Christian. Some say if you do not believe in the Trinity, you are not a "true" Christian. I don't squabble over such distinctions. But, Universalists do not necessarily hold that Jesus is not part of the Trinity and is not equal to G-d. Many Universalists do believe these very things.

Universalism is not a deliberate attempt to distort the Bible- Christian Universalists hold varying beliefs about the inerrancy and authority of the Bible. Some are just as Bible-worshipping and literal as any Calvinist. Some take the Bible seriously, but not literally. But, all Christian Universalists that I know try to read the Bible as a whole and take it very seriously. However, we don't limit our studies to the often poor translations we have today. We attempt to understand the Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic that was originally used and try to understand the historical and social contexts of the passages. I would say our critics are just as guilty of "proof texting" as any Universalist I have ever come across. Proof texting is taking passages from the Bible, out of context and stringing them together to prove your point rather than trying to go to the Bible with an open mind and make a cohesive whole of what you are reading. I refuse to play the proof text game because it gets you nowhere in the end. I am writing this blog for those who are willing to explore with an open mind. If you are not willing to do that, I will not waste your time or mine trying to convince you of anything. Some key words have to be understood to understand what the Bible is saying. Words like "eternal", "hell" and "punishment" in our English Bibles are often the result of sloppy translation, at best and deliberate attempts to promote a doctrine of ECT at worst.

Universalism is not pure emotionalism or merely wishful thinking- Universalism has many arguments including philosophical, theological, biblical and historical/traditional (many of the early Church fathers were universalists). I freely admit that I would not have found Universalism if it weren't for the fact that ECT just never fit right in my heart. I could not accept it even though I was told it was clearly taught in the Bible. For many of us, our hearts lead us to universalism. But, we don't check our brains at the door before we enter. Universalists are not just emotional saps who want to save the world, we believe G-d wants to save the world and we have good reason for believing so.

Universalism is not Unitarians (necessarily)- I am not a Unitarian Universalist and I'm not sure I even know what one is. They are merely a subset of Universalists.
 
In my case, Universalism was born out of the fact that I just could not believe that an all-loving and all powerful G-d would torment anyone eternally, let alone the vast majority of His creation. For my entire Christian life (since I was about five years old), this belief bothered me. This view of G-d made me feel small and vile and made me think of Him as cruel, weak, insecure and/or schizophrenic. I'll go into the details about that later. Thank G-d, He showed me sound reasons why I could set this doctrine aside and begin to truly worship Him in love and not out of fear.

If you are a Christian or are considering Christianity, but you just cannot abide the belief in a G-d who would do the things many Christians say He would do, there is biblically based, theological and philosophically sound reason to have hope that G-d is greater than you might have been taught. G-d is not weak, cruel or schizophrenic. G-d is Love.

Peace,
Brian

19 comments:

Rev. Jeff Doc.Div. said...

Thats how i define universalist also brother. The comment pertaining to Unitarian.... the first major division (even though Universalists remain united it's how non-Universalists divide us) in universalists is Unitarian and trinitarian. Weather we believe in a trinity combination of divineness or believe in a seperate Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as acting force.

Reid Bradley said...

I like how you state this.... i have been dabbling in the ideas of universalism for awhile too. It is great to hear your perspective. thanks.

Joyce Leggette said...

Brian,
The bible doesn't say that the "majority" of His creation will be tormented in hell. This comment seems as if you have had bad/false teachers. The Lord DOES tell us in several places that He gives ALL of His creation a way to know Him.

Following your understanding of scriptures, those who could not read or those who lived before the bible was widely published [i.e. before the 1600's], would also be doomed since they had no text to study to know they were doomed to hell, etc. But the word of God tells us that He reveals Himself to us in His creation....that is, that a text is not required to know God. Have you thought of that? Before we all got so caught up in the literal & "scholarly" meanings of texts, the saints of God simply believed. And that's been good enough for God all along. Amen.

brian said...

Hi Joyce,

Thanks for your comment on my blog. I guess I didn't make myself clear. Of course the Bible doesn't say that the majority of G-d's creation will be tormented in hell. That's one of the major points of my blog. Scripture does not support the idea of ET for the majority of creation. But, that has been the understanding of a great number of Christians over the last couple of hundred of years. The understanding that only a "saving knowledge" of Jesus obtained in this lifetime could save a person from a (deserved) eternal fate of torture.

I completely agree with your post.

Peace,
Brian

chadholtz said...

Brian-
Just found your site. I like!

I wonder if you read Will Willimon's newest book, Who Will Be Saved? It has really helped sharpen my understanding of universal reconciliation.

I'll have to check by here more often. You might be interested in a sermon I preached a few weeks back called The Truth About You. It is on my blog and can be linked to directly here:

http://chadholtz.wordpress.com/2008/06/14/the-truth-about-you/

peace,
CHad

Mark Main said...

I think I have seen you commenting elsewhere before, but just recently stumbled across your site. I love the name. It truly is a 'beautiful heresy' isn't it?

I had always had a problem with the conflicting ideas of God's love and eternal punishment as part of the evangelical church for over three decades.

I had heard of Universalism, but simply been warned that it was something dangerous that I should stay away from. Imagine my surprise when I found out what it was. Through much prayer and study I too think this idea represents the God I read about in the Bible much more than the one that is going to torture large amounts of his creation for all eternity.

I look forward to reading more of your site.

Anonymous said...

is there no one who reads and understands teh bible that god is able to keep untouched? Revelation 20??

rodgertutt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rodgertutt said...

Calvinism, Arminianism, or Christian Biblical Universalism

Which view of salvation is true?

Two good expositions specifically answering that question!

ABSOLUTE ASSURANCE IN JESUS CHRIST – Charles Slagle
http://www.sigler.org/slagle/absolute.htm

THE LAW OF CIRCULARITY – J.Preston Eby
http://www.godfire.net/eby/circularity.html

OPPOSERS OF CHRISTIAN UNIVERSALISM REFUTED
If necessary, copy and paste the links into your browser.

COMMON ARGUMENTS ADDRESSED
Good news of God's love for all mankind - find it here at Tentmaker
http://www.tentmaker.org/FAQ/index.html
and
Quick Find: Links to Information on Hell and Universal Salvation
http://www.tentmaker.org/bloglinks.htm

CONSEQUENCES OF ETERNAL TORMENT THEOLOGY
http://www.tentmaker.org/articles/hells_fruit.html

BIBLE THREATENINGS EXPLAINED
http://www.tentmaker.org/books/BibleThreateningsExplained.html

THE SCHOLARS CORNER THE CENTER FOR BIBLE STUDIES IN CHRISTIAN UNIVERSALISM
http://www.tentmaker.org/ScholarsCorner.html

UNIVERSAL SALVATION UNIVERSITY
http://richardwaynegarganta.com/universalsalvation.htm

RESPONSES TO CURRENT CHAMPIONS OF ETERNAL TORMENT THEOLOGY

Don Hewey
http://gtft.org/Library/condon/QuestionsWithoutAnswers.htm
http://www.saviourofall.org/opposers/HeweyOnAion.html
http://www.saviourofall.org/opposers/HeweyCLNTReliableOne.html
http://www.saviourofall.org/opposers/HeweyCLNTReliableTwo.html
http://www.saviourofall.org/opposers/HeweyCLNTReliableThree.html

Eric Landstrom
http://www.saviourofall.org/opposers/Landstrom.html
http://www.saviourofall.org/opposers/Landstrom2.html
http://www.saviourofall.org/opposers/EricLConceptofAion.html
http://www.savior-of-all.com:80/aionian.html

Matt Slick
http://www.tentmaker.org/articles/matt_slick_doubletalk.html
http://www.saviourofall.org/opposers/Exposing.html
http://scaredofhell.com/CARMmattslickuniversalismrebuttal.html
http://indefenceofthecross.blogspot.com/2008/06/rebuttal-to-matt-slick-on-universalism.html
http://www.city-data.com/forum/christianity/704708-my-letter-carm-run-matt-slick.html

Tom Logan
http://www.saviourofall.org/opposers/TomLogan1Cor1528.html

Hal Lindsey
http://www.purposeoflife.org.uk/reply.htm

Dwane
http://www.saviourofall.org/opposers/EonLimitGod.html

W. E. Vine
http://www.saviourofall.org/poisonfruitofvine.html

A great fifteen chapter introductory series to ultimate reconciliation.
J. Preston Eby does a thorough job covering many aspects of the topic.
Fundamental reading for any person interested in studying universalism from a solid Biblical perspective.
Highly Recommended!
THE SAVIOR OF THE WORLD SERIES EBY
http://www.godfire.net/eby/saviour_of_the_world.html

THE WRITINGS OF DOZENS OF TEACHERS OF CHRISTIAN BIBLICAL UNIVERSALISM

Copy and paste into Google
GOD’S TRUTH FOR TODAY LIBRARY
http://www.gtft.org/Library/index1.html (98% UR writers)
and
IN THE GARDEN
http://www.gtft.org/InTheGarden/index.html

Christian Universalism: Universalist Thought Through Church History
Well known Christian church leaders who believed and taught Biblical universalism down through the centuries.
Including a separate list of famous people embracing Christian universalism.
http://www.tentmaker.org/tracts/Universalists.html
also see
http://www.hopebeyondhell.net/Church-History.html

TWO TREASURE HOUSES OF CHRISTIAN UNIVERSALIST ARTICLES
http://www.auburn.edu/~allenkc/articles2.html
http://tgulcm.tripod.com/cu/univart.html

Anonymous said...

The thought of eternal punishment was something that bothered me from the very first day I comprehended what it meant. I would dare say that most Christians who do believe in eternal torment today are simply following Arminian theology, which is such a large majority, that has been taught for so long, that its inherrent errors are invisible to most. The problem is that most well meaned evangelicals never take the time to sit down and really think about the big picuture of the God they are proclaiming to the world. Armininan theology basically states that God created man to see who who would decide to choose him after putting in place a possible way to get out of hell by using our free will to choose him? This doesn't really fit with the concept that God is in control, all knowing, knowing the beginnig to the end, being full of love for mankind. It is an absurd doctrine that you kind of just have to blur your eyes to in order to accept the glaring discrepencies that are present. My heart and the light of reason led me to eventually embrace the perspective known as Christian Universalism

Fran said...

I am a BIG Mark Siljander fan & that is how I found your site.
I shared it on my facebook page because I really liked your review of A Deadly Misunderstanding.
Explain the dash in G-d to me please.
fran

brian said...

Here's why I spell God, G-d.

Why Do I spell G-d?

Helen Ann said...

Just discovered your blog and your overview of how your explanation of Christian universalism...I like you! I do not label myself as such - I just say I am follower of Jesus, but I also question the validity of an eternal torment in light of the character of God shown by Christ. One of the best books I have read about this conversation is 'Razing Hell' by Sharon L. Baker...A heretic like us! :) Blessings, brother! You can find me here, if ya want!

www.lightbygrace.com

Debbie said...

Well, one day, we'll all know the truth.

Lynelle said...

Joy, joy, joy!
As I've come to see things more clearly, the cognitive dissonance disappears.
God really IS love.
Sweet.

Amazing that people are "afraid for me" because I no longer believe in eternal torture from a loving God.
People cling to their belief that never ending suffering for some, is the only way God can be just.

God/Love is obligated to do a greater evil than I ever would? I would, at the very least, make it short and quick, not that I would ever torture anyone in the first place.

Silly. Life destroying. Freedom stealing. Light and love diminishing. Imprisoning, burdening, etc.

Christ died for all. As one sin doomed us all, the one sacrifice saved all.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.

I do not feel free, when I am believing that I'm "in" and others are "out", and therefore doomed.

We were created to be "flawed", i.e. human.
And then condemned because we are?

Love wins. No other way it makes sense.

Caleb Veritas said...

i would spend this entire post arguing on all of the problems with universalism, but there is one point that i must make. i compliment you on how much you tried to fight off all the things universalism is accused of, but you seem to still ultimately miss the final point.
you say that just because we will all be saved does not mean that there is a license to sin. i disagree. even if everything you say is true, that sin is still a very serious issue and that one will face a finite punishment for those sins, you still lose out. heaven is eternal bliss, unending and everlasting. it will be the greatest thing that could ever be known or felt by man. and as paul says, the pains of this present life are not to be compared with the glories that await at the Father's side. so, i could sin all that i ever want to and the worst punishment that i could ever receive will never ever compare to the wonder that i would get when i am saved. therefore i have no reason to repent and believe, besides, i can only sin until i die. once i die i get punished until i am fully saved. then i will never sin. so if i am going to do it i might as well do lots of it now.

Soli Deo Gloria
Caleb Veritas

Salvation4All said...

Hello!

I am also a Universalist and have recently written a book on it. It focuses mostly on the Greek Hebrew words for Hell and Eternal, hence it's name: "Hell and Eternity - It's all Greek to me".

I was wondering if you'd consider reading it (I can send a PDF or something) and reviewing it on your blog?

http://anthonywayne.net/?q=hellandeternity

universe411 said...

I have a hard time believing that god would send someone to be tormented eternally. Humans' knowledge is very limited compared to our fathers'. We are like very small children in the grand scheme of things. God sending people to eternally torment would be worse than a parent locking his children up for the rest of them lives with no hope of freedom, even if the children were extremely naughty because of the kids' lack of understanding. I disagree that universalism would encourage people to sin because they could just get punished for a finite period of time, then experience eternal bliss. Imagine that the amount of time a person ends up having to spend separated from god is 1 vigintillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000)years. That is still finite but unimaginably long. Eventually I would be in heaven but that is an extremely long time. A finite punishment would not encourage people to sin because the amount of time away from the father is unknown. Not knowing how long the punishment will be would be very frightening.

Brian D. Smith said...

The only reason to believe in Eternal Conscious Torment is because one has been taught it. And, we can look at history and see it was something dreamed up by the ruling class to keep the peasants in line. It was then introduced into some of Jewish culture where it bled into Christianity.

It makes no sense on any level of humanity. You are right Universe411.