I could be wrong!

In fact there is a good part of me that hopes I am wrong.  Let me back up a little, in fact to really be thorough, honest and academic we will need to back up at least 100 years (if not a couple thousand).  What I am talking about is a subtle agenda being pushed to the fore by many very talented and gifted communicators in various forms to include TV, media, books and movies.  I’m speaking about universal salvation as well as several other beliefs which seem to be commonly tacked on to the coat tails of universal salvation.

In short, universal salvation, or Christian universalism, is “a school of Christian theology focused around the doctrine of universal reconciliation – the view that all human beings will ultimately be restored to a right relationship with God” (Wikipedia).  Naturally and closely associated with Christian universalism is the belief that there is no eternal physical punishment (a burning hell).  There are numerous other practices or beliefs which follow closely behind these 2 schools of thought such as acceptance of gay lifestyles in the church, a de-emphasis on chastity as well as embracing a philosophy of never judge and always include.  But for the most part I will only offer some thoughts on Christian universalism and hell.

Let me first say, as I hinted at earlier, I completely understand the appeal of Universal Salvation and the absence of a physical and eternal hell.  I have many family members and friends who do not profess Christ and who would benefit from an eternity lacking a permanent physical punishment and the opportunity to be reconciled to the Father beyond the grave.  That would be wonderful on so many levels even if mildly disconcerting to me and my, before the grave, efforts to embrace the cross and commands of Christ.  However, the above views are not what I see in scripture, but if I’m wrong it’s still a win win for everybody.  Yes I, and many like me, may have endeavored to live more circumspectly in this life to no real avail, but in the end, that end being eternity, there would be no real down side to having been wrong and having lived a life of discipleship and devotion to Jesus.

Here is my concern and caution with the increasing evolution of some mainstream Christian beliefs and the direction in which they are moving.  These beliefs, theologies and practices did not follow 50 – 100 years of respected Christian theologians from the most respected Christian seminaries beginning to question and debate the possibility that we may have been wrong about salvation and hell.  In fact the opposite has happened.  Secular philosophies of “if it feels good – do it” and other related beliefs which were introduced in the 60’s ultimately carried influence into the walls of an insecure church desperate to “stay relevant”.  This was closely followed by accusations of intolerance and hate towards anyone or any church/denomination which dared to hold onto traditional beliefs instead of getting on the “right side of history”.  Barbie and I have even had very dear friends with whom we have discussed some of these issues pull back from relationship, cut off relationship or “unfriend” us because we are the ones perceived as narrow and intolerant – I trust you see the sad irony there.

So, in what I believe to be a misguided effort, many churches in recent decades have embraced the all inclusive universal salvation position complete with setting aside significant moral prohibitions in what can best be described as a “land for peace” deal with secular society.  I will be the first to admit that it appears compassionate and inclusive to promote universal acceptance of varying cultural practices.  This is especially effective when combined with the elimination of hell as a place of punishment.  And perhaps if I had sat under different teachers in my life I might easily go there as well.

As I said earlier, if I am wrong there is no real downside to me or anybody else to having held fast to traditional beliefs of what it means to be like Christ and to hold traditional views of salvation and hell.  However, and this could be the costliest however in the history of the church, if these highly influential teachers, church leaders, movie makers and book writers are the ones who are wrong then 100’s of millions of lives could be forever separated from the Father.  That is a down side none of us should consider as an acceptable risk.

http://babylonbee.com/news/progressive-criticizes-jesus-not-christlike/

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Shacking up with universalism

It was probably a dozen years ago when I first read the Shack.  I loved the book and the message of forgiveness worked some much needed healing in my life.  I vaguely remember some small dust ups of controversy back then but was able to set it aside since the book was in fact fiction and all of the theologically questionable things actually happened during the course of a dream – and we all know how weird dreams can be.

Fast forward to present day and my wife and I went to see the movie based on the book and, as before, we loved it and embraced the main message of the movie being the necessity to deal with forgiveness.  It was also true that a couple of the theologically questionable things came through a bit more in the movie.

The two events which left me with some questions as to what Paul Young actually believes were when Papa seemed to be shocked that Mackenzie made a reference to a vengeful God and towards the end when Mackenzie’s dad is included in a large group of people presumed to be those who have passed on and are in the congregation of a heaven of sorts.

Actually there was one other thing that really bothered me and that was the fact that anybody, and I mean anybody other than Morgan Freeman was used to play the role of God.  I am going to choose to believe it was because his fee simply too much for the films budget.  But in all seriousness, I had no problem whatsoever with God being portrayed as a warm and affectionate black woman nor an aging American Indian.  I know that some, maybe many, took special exception to the whole God as a woman part and to those I have a couple of things to say.  God is portrayed as many things in scripture to include Father, mother hen, spirit, a flaming bush, strong tower, nursing mother, wind, judge, comforter, cloud, pillar of fire, etc. etc.  Hopefully you get the point that to think that you know what God looks like is, well, frankly, arrogant, narrow and religious.  I have read and heard all the arguments and most of them go something like this “God is most often portrayed as male” or “isn’t He called Father for a reason?”.  The thought that our finite minds could even begin to visualize all that God is and all the forms that He has manifested or described Himself as during this incredibly short blink of an eye moment called world history is shallow at best.  What percentage of the image of God is the form we call the human male?  50%? 100%? 1 billionth of a percent?  Do you really think God can be condensed down to a form so contained, controlled and simple as to be a something we could replicate in wood, stone or gold?   I don’t think so.

So what does Paul Young believe?  Actually, a lot of what I believe!  But with all the questions and discussions about error, universalism and issues about hell I decided to buy his most recent book, “Lies we believe about God”, and dug in.  It is crystal clear, in this book, that Paul Young has gone all the way down the road of universalism.  Here is a short excerpt from the book and I promise you that I am not taking it out of context.

“God does not wait for my choice and then “save me.” God has acted decisively and universally for all humankind. Now our daily choice is to either grow and participate in that reality or continue to live in the blindness of our own independence.

Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation?

That is exactly what I am saying!”

Paul has also embraced a similar view of hell as Rob Bell in which there is no eternal physical punishment.  I do not presume to know for certain who will be saved or what hell is or isn’t.  But I do know that I do not want to be in the position of that person mentioned in scripture for whom it would have been better if he had never been born because of leading people astray.  The appeal of all being saved is significant as I have many friends who I love and who do not follow Jesus and the thought of them not being in heaven is not pleasant and the thought of them experiencing eternal physical punishment is horrific.  But I cannot but continue to exhort them that Jesus is the only way and that to choose any other path will result in serious eternal consequences.  As a visual, to promote a Gospel message in which the broad road and the narrow pathway ultimately converge in heaven could be the greatest deception and disservice to humanity ever put forth.  This would of course give little incentive to choose the hard and narrow road over the broad and easy one.  To put it another way, there really does appear to be a special place in hell for those who lead other away from the narrow way.  Brings a whole new sobriety to the saying “better safe than sorry, really really sorry.”

In closing this blog, I can freely encourage you to read the Shack or watch the movie and embrace the message of forgiveness while at the same time understanding it is fiction.  Unfortunately, I must also place several chapters in Paul Young’s most recent book in the fiction category as well.  May God be merciful to Paul and those who are led astray by him and other like him.