I Survived the Christian Right
Ten Lessons I Learned on My Journey Home
Lesson 9: Embrace Universal Life – Before I went to Malawi and early on in my evangelical walk in 1982 I got one major thing right. Faith in Jesus includes emulating his concern for the poor. I packed my bags, joined an evangelical relief agency and headed off to the “ends of the earth,” in this case Somalia, to aid refugees devastated by war.
I also wanted to share my faith with Muslims. My evangelical theology taught me they were lost without someone like me converting them. It didn’t take long to see the logical conclusion of that doctrine. The overwhelming majority of Muslims, steeped in their own fundamentalist religion since birth, were not coming to Jesus. They were toast. Burnt toast and destined for an eternity in hell according to evangelical theology. Problem was, I didn’t buy it. Since I experienced God’s love personally and felt divine love for my Muslim friends, I surmised God’s character demands He not destine people to eternal separation and torment. I adopted, and kept secret for the most part, the very minority position of inclusivism—that salvation is possible outside of Christendom.
Fast forward to my seventeenth (I lost count) crisis of faith in 2007. Having changed my view on scriptural inerrancy and authority, the church, tithing, the return of Jesus, sexuality, and gay rights, why not go for broke? I had become an open-minded seeker desperately trying to prevent my brains from leaking out. After reading three thoughtful, progressive evangelical authors and another former Pentecostal minister, a long-time puzzle was solved. Through a combination of Bible abuse and upholding man-made tradition, the evangelical church had squelched a view of salvation that had been espoused by several church fathers including Origen and Gregory of Nyssa. It was universal reconciliation—that all would eventually be reconciled to God, thus more in line with God’s character of unconditional love. “Even while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Turns out that pesky word “eternal” used in conjunction with “punishment” and supposedly talking about hell doesn’t really mean forever. A better translation is “punishment of the age to come,” for the Greek word aionios is more accurately rendered “pertaining to an age.” Also, the Greek word for “punishment” always refers to the remedial variety. So, universal reconciliation doesn’t mean God doesn’t punish evil, just that it’s temporary and always corrective and not for retribution. I concluded that Paul was right all along: “As in Adam, all will die, in Christ, all will be made alive.”
If you’re going to believe, believe in the really good news.
61 Talbot, Thomas, The Inescapable Love of God, MacDonald, Gregory, The Evangelical Universalist, and Keith DeRose, http://pantheon.yale.edu/%7Ekd47/univ.htm
62 Pearson, Carlton, The Gospel of Inclusion
63 MacDonald, Gregory, The Evangelical Universalist, page 173
64 MacDonald, George, Op. cit. page 147
65 Talbot, Thomas, The Inescapable Love of God, page 91.
66 I Corinthians 15:22
67 Luke 2:10 – “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.”