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Evangelicalism’s Biggest Challenge

posted by Scot McKnight

Claiming something is evangelicalism’s biggest challenge is sport for some. I’ve heard a number of items, including complementarianism, the Second Coming, and socialism. I want to register my suggestion, and I believe this idea erodes the very core of evangelicalism. It’s universalism.

Evangelicalism is marked by four features: the centrality of the Bible, the cross as atoning, the necessity of personal conversion and the personal active faith of the Christian. Universalism is an assault on three of these: universalism suggests personal conversion is not finally necessary, it calls into question the importance and even necessity of evangelism as a form of Christian activism, and it weakens the atoning significance of the death of Jesus if it is understood as that which separates the believer from the non-believer. 
And I want to point to the facts that indicate universalism is on the rise. The facts come from Rodney Stark, What Americans Really Believe
, and they say this:
1. Since 1957, somewhere between 70 and 80% of the American public has believed in life after death/heaven with some level of confidence.
2. The Baylor study shows that about 66% of Americans are somewhat certain to certain that they will go to heaven.
Now here’s the indicator of growing universalism:
3. In 1964 52% said that one had to receive Christ to go to heaven.
4. In the Baylor study … we get the following, and I’m wondering how you read this chart?


Table 1.jpg

“If you believe in heaven, how many of the following people do you think will get into heaven?”
Here it goes: Of Americans who believe in heaven, % below think half or more of them think the following will enter into heaven. That is, 29% think half or more of nonreligious people will enter heaven.
Average Americans  54%
Christians  72%
Jews  46%
Buddhists 37%
Muslims 34%
Nonreligious people 29%
Only 21% of Americans who believe in heaven think no irreligious people will enter into heaven. In other words, one could say 21% of Americans who believe in heaven are exclusivists — believe only Christians will enter into heaven.

Table 2.jpg



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Wolf Paul

posted May 20, 2010 at 12:26 am


I am more concerned about those who believe Moslems and Buddhists will enter heaven, than those who believe nonreligious people will, because there have always been a lot of Evangelicals who say being a Christian is not being religious. To them religion is bad, and dead; they don’t have a religion, they have a relationship.
This highlights how meaningless such statistics ultimately are because you don’t know how the respondents understand these labels they are asked to respond to.



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kevin s.

posted May 20, 2010 at 12:51 am


I agree, and I think we have Christians to blame for the phenomenon.
This recalls an interesting question I was recently discussing with a friend. How will God treat those who hold to an orthodox view of the atonement for themselves, but preach universalism to others?
I have wondered if misrepresenting the gospel is the unforgivable sin, the ultimate blaspheme against the spirit. I haven’t done enough research to assert this with any measure of confidence, but how can you believe in the saving power of Christ in your own heart, but minimize him with your words?



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Matt

posted May 20, 2010 at 1:07 am


I don’t think the Gregory MacDonald/evangelical universalist perspective (which views death/hell as an ongoing, and inevitably triumphant effort to bring all people into God’s kingdom) offends any of these three concepts:
1. Personal conversion IS finally necessary though it may not happen prior to death.
2. “Conversion” now is much preferable, even urgent, as it still saves people from hell, albeit a non-eternal form of hell.
3. Regardless of the form of universalism that one embraces, I don’t see how atoning death itself can in any significant sense be “weakened” when its scope becomes universal. I think its more appropriate to say that it “weakens” the doctrine of exclusive access to the atoning death.
Not that I’m a strict evangelical universalist. I’m just pointing out that it is possible to hold a universalist perspective that doesn’t offend these notions.



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Darren King

posted May 20, 2010 at 2:42 am


Scot, let me take your points one by one:
“universalism suggests personal conversion is not finally necessary”
No, not necessarily. Just that conversion isn’t necessary *before* death in this lifetime. Why draw that arbitrary line?
” it calls into question the importance and even necessity of evangelism as a form of Christian activism”
That depends on what you believe the Good News you’re preaching to be. There’s plenty of good news to be spread around without addressing the issue of hell, and the avoiding of eternal, conscious torment and all that. Besides, if one really does experience the fruit of a relationship with Christ, one doesn’t need the Hell issue to get “fired up” (sorry, couldn’t resist) about evangelizing. Jesus and the Kingdom of God is good news, here and now, and “there and then”. Why? Because he leads us in the Way of the truly *good* life.
“it weakens the atoning significance of the death of Jesus if it is understood as that which separates the believer from the non-believer.”
It doesn’t weaken it at all in my mind. Jesus’ sacrifice is not BETTER somehow if its separates me from others. I think it was a hugely significant event because it was a necessary bridge-builder, for me, and others. In other words, its not “weaker” in my mind if more people, rather than fewer, gain from its having happened.



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Your Name

posted May 20, 2010 at 3:45 am


Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father. except by me.” John 14:6
If you don’t repent of your sins and accept Christ as your Lord and Savior, there is no way you are going to heaven.
“For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son that we may not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna or Karl Marx is not going to save you.
Don’t store up your treasure on earth, because you’re reward is in heaven with the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.



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phil_style

posted May 20, 2010 at 4:00 am


#5: I’m wary of quoting scripture to support one’s position. Proponents of Universalism also use scripturte to demonstrate that ALL knees will bow etc…
Scott: Should we really frame Universlaism as a “challenge” to evangelicalism. Why not an opportunity for Evangelicalism?



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Scott

posted May 20, 2010 at 5:07 am


Scott,
The studies you are referring to here do not give any evidence that Universalism is an issue for Evangelicalism. They simply show that Americans are leaning more toward Universalism than they once did. While this may be an issue which evangelicals need to wrestle with, it most certainly is not an issue from within the camp.
If you are suggesting that Universalism is the greatest challenge for Evangelicalism because it is a growing trend in the general American mind, then you may have an argument. However, just because it is a challenge does not mean that it is nearly the “greatest” challenge. I would argue that latent imperialistic values, consumeristic spirituality, and general greed are far more significant challenges to Evangelicalism than Universalism is.



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Scot McKnight

posted May 20, 2010 at 7:01 am


Darren, thanks for that pushback. I got to thinking of Robin Parry’s (aka Gregory Macdonald’s) stuff while I was writing this and thought that his view (1) would make it too complex and (2) is probably not within the purview of very many who were answering the questions in the Baylor study. In other words, most universalists are probably not of that stripe, though I could be wrong.
I think you’d agree with me, though, that universalism, not the Robin Parry kind, seriously undercuts the traditionalist within evangelicalism. Yes? No?
Captcha: jailor 88



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Scot McKnight

posted May 20, 2010 at 7:05 am


Scott, yes I’d say these studies do address evangelicalism, but indirectly.
1. Only 21% are true exclusivists, and that’s way down in forty+ years. That’s got to include many evangelicals.
2. It focuses on those who believe in heaven, and there would be a great percent of evangelicals in that group than in the general population.
3. My own experience … an increasing number of evangelicals young adults who both believe in Jesus with their whole heart but can’t for the life of them understand how God could send anyone to hell.



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Helen

posted May 20, 2010 at 7:44 am


Kevin (2): how can you believe in the saving power of Christ in your own heart, but minimize him with your words?
If Jesus saves everyone, rather than some, then he is maximized, not minimized, by universalism.
Scot(9): 3. My own experience … an increasing number of evangelicals young adults who both believe in Jesus with their whole heart but can’t for the life of them understand how God could send anyone to hell.
Scot, what do you think has shifted? I think at least some evangelicals in earlier generations have found hell difficult. But they accepted the doctrine whereas these young evangelicals today are not accepting it. Is it because this generation has more empathy for ‘the other’ because society has become increasingly mixed? Is it because it’s more ok to question rather than simply accept teaching than it used to be? Is there some sort of communal tipping point that has been passed – one in which enough self-professed evangelicals (or well-known Christian authors?) have said “I can’t accept hell” that people would would have kept their problems with hell to themselves in earlier times now feel comfortable admitting them?
And, whatever has changed, is it something that is reversible, or not?



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Scot McKnight

posted May 20, 2010 at 7:54 am


Helen, one could also say Christ is minimized if he doesn’t seem to make a difference in this life. But that’s not why I’m commenting.
Yes, hell has been difficult for a long, long time. On causes … I doubt we can know that sort of thing. A variety of influences contributes to it, including empathy, globalization, doctrine of tolerance in public education and society, etc..
Reversible? Possible yes; but ideas aren’t things that are reversed; they mutate and shift.



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Jason Lee

posted May 20, 2010 at 8:29 am


I think you’re onto something here. I think Christian Smith sort of points to something like this at the end of his “Souls in Transition.” He basically wonders whether young adults have retain the worst of both worlds: (1) the relativism of Mainline Protestantism; (2) and the hyper-individualism of Evangelicalism. What you get are individualistic relativists. Jesus is my personal therapist but he doesn’t actually require much of me or the world.
To what degree this is specifically true within evangelicalism and whether its truly driving other outcomes (and not driven by them) remains an open question. Surely some people are looking into this…



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Travis Greene

posted May 20, 2010 at 9:18 am


I agree with Matt @ 3 and Darren @ 4 about the need to distinguish a robust, Christ-centered universalism that insists Jesus’ atoning work saves everyone, and a kind of lazy universalism that ignores Jesus and thinks everyone is saved because there’s nothing to be saved from.
Now, Scot is probably right that that nuanced universalism (the good kind, rather than the kind that doesn’t take evil seriously) probably isn’t what most of the people in this survey had in mind. But I think the real issue here is relevance. Evangelicalism, to oversimplify, caricature, and point to its worst forms, tends to teach a faith that is pretty much irrelevant. It is all about the afterlife, with this world and this live being an unimportant sideshow at best, and only really as a venue for telling others about the afterlife and how important it is and how you get in. So, if you lose the impetus of hell, it is indeed a great challenge to evangelicalism.
But I think it’s a good challenge. Most Christians’ ideas about hell, judgment, heaven, and so on, are not well-thought through biblical positions, but are amalgams of contextless Bible verses, received tradition, Hallmark card, and wishful thinking. If universalism is the antithesis to evangelicalism’s thesis, then I’ll be glad if it makes the Hegelian move and actually thinks through what it believes, and arrives somewhere new and better.



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Scot McKnight

posted May 20, 2010 at 9:30 am


Travis, I think you and others are right though: a carefully nuanced universalism, while it is not yet written at a level that is compelling to lay level thinkers, can alleviate many of the critiques I offered. I rarely hear such a nuanced view on the part of ordinary Christians.



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Glen

posted May 20, 2010 at 9:39 am


“…it calls into question the importance and even necessity of evangelism as a form of Christian activism…”
Scot, you talk a lot about the need for a robust gospel that doesn’t make escape from hell the b-all and end-all. But now you are saying that universalism calls into question the necessity of evangelism… which would imply that escape from hell really is all that matters in the gospel. There’s a contradiction here. If the gospel really is “robust”, then there has to be a reason to evangelize that goes well beyond the question of where a person will spend eternity.



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Travis Greene

posted May 20, 2010 at 9:51 am


Scot, I agree. Part of the problem, I think, is that most Christians are used to certain categories: exclusivism and universalism, and maybe some kind of inclusivism if you’re lucky. Stark, polarizing polemics are issued, contending you can either believe that one must hold and articulate a specific view of the atonement of Jesus or else you are damned, or else you are a universalist who thinks trees have souls and it doesn’t matter what anyone believes, all pathways are equally valid, and we’ll all be laughing it up with Hitler and Jack the Ripper in heaven with God, or Vishnu, or whoever.
Thus, if you no longer accept exclusivism (maybe you have a cognitively disabled child, or just can’t stand to think about the millions who lived and died before Jesus was born being consigned to hell), you feel pushed into other camp. I think this slippery-slope dynamic (you are either this, or that) is prevalent on a host of issues.



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Scot McKnight

posted May 20, 2010 at 9:52 am


Glen, you’re right. I’m using “evangelicalism” here in a traditionalist sense. And I think universalism assaults that kind of universalism.
Still, a robust gospel for me is one that must be believed so evangelism is high on my list of what constitutes evangelicalism, and that means belief in Christ is central. And I would agree that the escapist centrality is mistaken, but that does not mean I deny hell or even the final judgment as warrant and warning. So, it is your third line in the 2d par that extends either what I’ve said or what I believe. “all that really matters” …
It goes beyond where we spend eternity, but it includes that.



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RJS

posted May 20, 2010 at 9:58 am


As I look at the question and the bottom graph – “How many nonreligious people will get into heaven?” – I would have to say that I would fit into the “no opinion” category. God will, through his grace, do what he does. I see nothing in scripture that requires me to assume that all others will go to hell. All salvation is “through Jesus,” but how this works out is less clear.
More later – this is an important topic.
Captcha = wagering life



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keo

posted May 20, 2010 at 9:59 am


So, the challenge to evangelicalism becomes: Can you make your members Biblically literate, savvy with regard to the historical tensions and diversity within orthodoxy, and able to both grasp and handle a nuanced theology?
From my experience in the church and as a teacher, this is unlikely.
The real problem for evangelicalism, then, is not the fact that the “seats in the pews” aren’t prepared for the intellectual task, but that most of its public spokespeople fail the challenge, themselves.
What is the solution? I’m working on my own children, so I’m trying to do my part! Beyond that, I’m not sure.



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ron

posted May 20, 2010 at 10:10 am


Maybe I am missing something, but the Baylor study is just weird. I know apparent non-religious (that is, don’t engage in regular worship activities or meetings of religious nature) who are faithful to their marital vows, honest in business, raise obedient children, who donate time and treasure to the poor. I know people who are inside of a worship building every Sunday, active in leadership who beat their wives, cheat on their wives, I wouldn’t do business with due to their cheating ways in business and who claim to be Christians and will tell me to my face that they are filled with the Holy Spirit and that Jesus is Lord. I would answer ‘yes’ to the question, Are non-religious people in heaven? Does this make me a universalist? I don’t think so.



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Michael Todd

posted May 20, 2010 at 10:19 am


It is not that odd. Catholics and Eastern Orthodox each espouse a form of universalism, and Mormons baptize the dead. It is only certain evangelicals who take the more rigid position: God is love, but God is more just than He is love, so those who don’t cross the magical lines of demarcation are out. Evangelicalism’s problem is a binary, simplistic, unimaginative view of God’s grace.



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ron

posted May 20, 2010 at 10:21 am


@Michael, I agree with your last sentence!



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Scot McKnight

posted May 20, 2010 at 10:26 am


Michael Todd,
That’s inaccurate. Yes, there have been “some” Catholics and Orthodox who hold to forms of universalism, but I studied and blogged through a recent Orthodox book — a definitive theologian — on the descent into hades and that book clearly showed (1) that there was diversity, (2) the majority were some level of exclusivists, and (3) from Augustine on the theme of universalism became a very minor voice.
What you say about Evangelicalism, then, is hardly to be laid at their door alone. Ever read the harrowing statements about hell in Roman Catholic theologians?



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Helen

posted May 20, 2010 at 10:31 am


Scot (11): Helen, one could also say Christ is minimized if he doesn’t seem to make a difference in this life. But that’s not why I’m commenting.
I know it’s not why you were commenting, but I would say Christ being minimized by not making a difference in this life is a problem of traditional evangelicalism rather than universalism. It’s traditional evangelicals who are in danger of overemphasizing the next life so much Christ doesn’t make enough difference in this life. Universalism makes a difference to one aspect of the Christian life – evangelism – and I realize that matters to you – but the call to follow Jesus in loving God and loving one’s neighbors is the same.
I also realize that the answers to the survey are probably more of a knee-jerk reaction against hell than a thought-out universalist position.
Yes, hell has been difficult for a long, long time. On causes … I doubt we can know that sort of thing. A variety of influences contributes to it, including empathy, globalization, doctrine of tolerance in public education and society, etc..
Reversible? Possible yes; but ideas aren’t things that are reversed; they mutate and shift.

I hope greater empathy stays with us and appropriate tolerance in education and society (any move away from categorically demonizing ‘the other’ seems good to me)



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dopderbeck

posted May 20, 2010 at 10:34 am


Scot, I’m grateful that in the comments you clarified what you meant, because at first the post made me feel queasy, but not for the reasons you were suggesting. I thought for moment that you were veering back towards the “hard restrictivism is the only orthodox option” school of thought. keo (#19) I think summarizes very well the problem with that approach.
Here’s the problem I see with the empirical data and with the post: some very important terms are not defined.
I also think the use of the term “universalism” in the post is confusing. What you’re really referring to is “pluralism,” not “universalism.” Scot, I think your concern is the apparent belief that a person’s disposition towards God doesn’t matter at all — that even people who actively oppose God and everything a good and just and beautiful God would represent are perfectly “ok.” But as you’ve clarified in the comments, that sort of radical pluralism is very different than a “Christian universalism” or even a “Christian pluralism” in which Jesus remains uniquely savior and a person’s disposition towards God really does matter (even if that might not always mean comprehending the “four spiritual laws”).
So, if we’re clear that what we’re really talking about is “radical pluralism,” then I agree — it is a challenge for evangelical Christian faith, indeed for any variety of Christian faith, to articulate the saving uniqueness of Jesus in a radically pluralist cultural context. The missional moment here is very much like it was for the first Christians in ancient Rome. When you say things like “universalism is the greatest challenge facing the evangelical church,” however, that sounds to my ears like a hard-restrictivist fundamentalist calling his fellows to the ramparts against other Christian theologians, even though this isn’t what was meant.
With respect to the survey itself, I’m not sure it’s really all that illuminating, again because of vague terminology. What does “nonreligious” mean? The evangelical tradition I grew up in was fond of saying “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship!” ron (#20) summarizes well the problem of equating “religious” with having “faith.” I might be inclined to agree with many of the survey respondents that being “religious” has nothing at all to do with “going to heaven.” But then, if “religious” refers more broadly to one’s disposition towards God as reflected in life practices, I might answer differently. So I have a pretty large problem with the survey methodology.



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dopderbeck

posted May 20, 2010 at 10:40 am


Scot (#23) — yes, but… Catholic and Orthodox theology as that tradition has developed in its engagement with the broader world up until today is what matters, not only what was said by the Fathers or the scholastics. In this sense, Michael Todd is right, I think. The Evangelical tradition on this question (and many questions) seems to go back no further than Calvin and Luther and then only as filtered through the fundamentalist-modernist controversy. Except in a few halting ways, our tradition seems to have trouble moving forward, perhaps evidenced by our difficulty dealing with folks such as Balthasar and Barth.



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Scot McKnight

posted May 20, 2010 at 10:46 am


Helen, here are your words:
“It’s traditional evangelicals who are in danger of overemphasizing the next life so much Christ doesn’t make enough difference in this life.”
This is a myth. Trad evangelicals do speak alot about the next life and heaven and all that, but they are also ones who emphasize making a difference in this life. Any history of evangelicalism will prove how activist the evangelicals have been.



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Scot McKnight

posted May 20, 2010 at 10:53 am


dopderbeck, but I do think hard exclusivism/restrictivism is the default position of traditional evangelicalism. I would say the universalism that threatens is a mixture of universalism and pluralism, but more a universalism that has been shaped in its social context by pluralism.
If we can count the Hans Kungs et al of the Catholic world, and the universalists among the Orthodox, then one has to count the universalists among the evangelicals, and those who are not hard exclusivists, like annihilationists and CS Lewis and George Macdonald and others.
So, let me try to put this together in light of the above:
The kind of soft universalism, shaped in a pluralist culture, we are seeing today threatens the viability and theological integrity of American traditional evangelicalism in profound ways. What it threatens most is the necessity of faith in Christ alone as the Savior. Crucicentrism and conversionism, Bebbington’s terms, are at stake. (Not to say that “Gregory Macdonald” can’t deal with those.)



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Kenny Johnson

posted May 20, 2010 at 11:14 am


I guess I fall into the soft exclusionist camp? I pretty much agreed with Dallas Willard’s view in “Knowing Christ Today.” If I remember, I believe Willard argued that its possible someone could be saved without having specific knowledge of Christ, but someone who knowingly reject Christ would not be saved.



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Robin

posted May 20, 2010 at 11:15 am


When I look at the charts it looks like people have abandoned an exclusivist/inclusivist dichotomy for pure salvation by works. Christians get in because they are “on average” good people, as you work through Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and Atheists you go through the stereotypes of ‘Greedy’, ‘Have no idea what they believe/do’, ‘Terrorist’, and ‘Can’t be good without God’. It is purely based on perceived good deeds outweighing bad deeds and the universalism aspect is not consciously considered.



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Michael Todd

posted May 20, 2010 at 11:19 am


Scot,
I am a convert to Christianity. I am a United Methodist, so I fit within the Evangelical tradition. I did not make a profession of faith until I was 25. I once asked a close friend who is a Southern Baptist minister, what would have happened to me if I died at the age of 24, before I professed Christ as savior and lord. He said I would have died and gone to hell.
If we are after consistency, then my friend is at least true to his beliefs. But, is he loving? I found that a little harsh, because I thought, so, I say some words, and then I am one one side of the line, and if I do not say some words, I am on the other side. Does God look at human life this way? My friend seems to see no gradations. One is either in or out. It is a cut and dry view of the afterlife.
Now, you are likely correct. I am dead wrong in my understanding of Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. Regardless, in my mind, even though it may have a warped interpretation, there appears to be a wider swath of grace for what happens to me after I die.
I could be wrong in how even my other brethren regard me, if I have not said words, performed in ceremonies, or announced membership, then I’m out. If they have a similar view as Evangelicals, then I put the same label on them. They have a binary, tactless, unimaginative, graceless, rigid, ugly view of the God whom I love and serve. I can imagine God extending His grace to individuals who did not say a creed, receive a sacrament, or join an institution, and surely, I am not more imaginative or filled with mercy than Jesus.



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keo

posted May 20, 2010 at 11:23 am


Scot #28, “but I do think hard exclusivism/restrictivism is the default position of traditional evangelicalism.”
Yes, this “traditional evangelicalism” is certainly threatened by the pluralist universalism you are describing, but is that all bad? Wouldn’t it be amazing to see evangelicalism shift from a lazy assumption of dominance to a more measured engagement with the culture and with the minority voices within the church? from the expectation of agreement — and a sloppiness in presenting the gospel, as a result — to a careful, deliberate witness of the Biblical Christ?



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dopderbeck

posted May 20, 2010 at 11:29 am


Scot (#28) — now once again I’m not really sure what you’re getting at. If you want to argue that “traditional evangelicalism” as you describe it — with hard restrictivism at its core — ought to be preserved, I would have to ask, “why?” We could have the same argument about many things that are essential to “traditional evangelicalism,” such as a very tight concept of Biblical inerrancy.
As we’ve talked here about a “third way” and so on, I’ve always thought that there was a general agreement that “traditional evangelicalism” is a tradition in need of some important revision. If you now want to say that “traditional evangelicalism” ought to be preserved as an ossified tradition, I don’t get that.
BTW, you can’t shuffle Catholic inclusivism off to the margins of “the Hans Kungs et al of the Catholic world.” It is a central teaching of the Second Vatican Council and is enshrined in various documents of the Magesterium.



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dopderbeck

posted May 20, 2010 at 11:30 am


Michael (#31) — not only that, the person you spoke with held an incorrect and probably unorthodox view of God’s election in the economy of salvation.



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Robin

posted May 20, 2010 at 11:36 am


Michael Todd,
You seem to be placing a lot of emphasis on external acts (prayed a prayer, say a creed, receive a sacrament) but I don’t think that is what your Southern Baptist friend meant. Praying a prayer (or altar calls) are typically an outward manifestation for repenting and believing which can be done at anytime by anyone, anywhere. And yes, most evangelicals would agree that if you have not repented of your sins and believed on Christ (the exact meaning of these two phrases differ by group) then the forgiveness found in the blood of Christ does not apply to you whether you are the thief on the cross, the jailer, the rich young ruler or Gandhi. Furthermore, I think most would say that repentance and belief is the essential part but that it will definitely result in some outward expression from selling all that you have (rich young ruler – or his refusal to do so) being baptized as an outward confession, turning from drunkenness and debauchery. They way to forgiveness is repentance and belief, but that is always followed with evidences of repentance and belief.
The common phrase I have heard from the pulpit 100 times is “We’re saved by faith, not works, but a saving faith always leads to good works” and they turn to Ephesians 2:8-9 and the passage in James about being justified by works.



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kevin s.

posted May 20, 2010 at 11:43 am


@Helen
“If Jesus saves everyone, rather than some, then he is maximized, not minimized, by universalism.”
If Jesus saves everyone, regardless of what they believe about him in this lifetime, then he is not the truth, the way, and the life. He will only become so in heaven. Your are the one espousing a worldview in which only the afterlife matters.
@Michael
I have never heard any evangelical suggest that God is more just than he is love. That is a straw man, period.
Regarding the term binary.
At this point, the term has become empty pejorative, used to caricature any viewpoint with which someone disagrees. I understand it’s rhetorical function. Nobody wants to be compared to a lifeless computer. But let’s dig a bit deeper.
Any number of philosophical, ethical and moral questions resolve in a binary fashion. Child abuse, for example, is wrong. I’m binary on the child abuse issue. If someone comes along with a more nuanced view on the question, it is insufficiently persuasive for that person to simply declare my position to be binary.
Of course, we may argue what constitutes child abuse. Is yelling at your kid abusive? If so, when does it become so? What about discipline?
Similarly, evangelicals (contrary to the assertions in many of the comments) debate what it means to follow Christ. Is it necessary to believe that God is sovereign? What about biblical inerrancy?
We ask these questions, and debate them vigorously, because the stakes are so high. We agree that, without Christ, we are condemned. We didn’t invent that position. Serious biblical scholars agree that this is what the scriptures say.
As such, yes, we arrive of one of two possible conclusions, based upon a whole host of considerations. If this is somehow binary, then so be it, but I fail to see why it is problematic.
Usually, when someone resorts to pejorative, it is an intellectual dodge, and that is the case here. The “binary” charge usually arrives at the behest of untenable logic. Someone is confronted with a conundrum, and chalks it up to the binary thinking to the computer-like mind.
An aversion to binary thinking is no reason to embrace incoherent logic. And, if your logic is coherent, there is no reason to worry whether those testing your logic are binary thinkers or not.



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Michael Todd

posted May 20, 2010 at 11:57 am


Robin,
I place emphasis on outward expressions, because the man-made denominations within the body of Christ say salvation is assured because one is a member in good standing, or one has trusted in the words of Christ performed at sacrament, or one has had an internal experience which is manifested by an outward expression.
dopderbeck,
My friend is now a 32 year old pastor of a Southern Baptist church with an average attendance in a town 20 miles outside of Lexington, KY. To say there is an orthodox and unorthodox view on a matter which seems to rest on human conjecture about a world which is vaguely revealed to us in Scripture smacks of spiritual hubris.
There will soon be no Protestants on the Supreme Court. The Senate majority leader is a Latter-day Saint. The President is nominally Protestant (UCC), and his Vice President is Catholic, as is the Speaker of the House. To me, this post makes me think that Evangelicals are coming to terms with the loss of a culture they helped to found.



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Michael Todd

posted May 20, 2010 at 11:59 am


Sorry, I mean to say my friend’s church’s average attendance is about 300 per Sunday.



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AnotherJoe

posted May 20, 2010 at 12:06 pm


I’m with Ron (#20). We have people living out the teachings of Jesus who aren’t Christians, and we have Christians who do anything but love God and neighbor. I cannot see how God’s justice, the dividing line between heaven and hell, will be based on simply having the right belief in your mind.
Pretend Hitler accepted Jesus as his personal savior the instant before he shot himself. The epitome of human evil goes to heaven. Meanwhile, Ghandi,who walked “the way” of Christ better than anyone I can think of and died for his neighbor, spends eternity being burned in agony.
If that’s God’s justice, he needs to explain it better because I’m not getting it. I tend to think Jesus said it all in Matthew 25:31-
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Robin

posted May 20, 2010 at 12:07 pm


Michael Todd,
I have spent the past decade in southern baptist churches and I probably live about 10 miles from your friend (unless he is on the other side of Lexington) and I just think your perception as an outsider to Baptistic churches lacks nuance (I am assuming in the current discussion evangelical=baptist and PCA, Methodist=mainline=not evangelical). I have known some Baptistic churches where the preacher, and congregation, truly believed that saying sinner’s prayer=repentance and belief, but the vast majority of Baptists I have known, especially in the Calvinist wing would say that repentance and belief might be evidenced by sinner’s prayer or it might not, the important thing was repentance and belief (and yes lack of repentance and belief=condemnation).
I attended Southern Seminary, I worked in a neo-calvinist campus ministry in the bible belt and almost all of our evangelism training was centered on – (1) praying a prayer or going to church or mowing the old lady next door’s lawn doesn’t make you a Christian (2) repentance and belief makes you a Christian (3) If your life isn’t actively demonstrating the fruits of a Christian life (love, joy, peace, etc., or lack of drunkenness and debauchery, etc.) you need to reconsider whether or not you have ever truly repented and believed – then we would share some gospel presentation in the training.



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Travis Greene

posted May 20, 2010 at 12:10 pm


Kenny @ 29,
The problem with that is, we are then incentivized not to evangelize.



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Robin

posted May 20, 2010 at 12:15 pm


Another Joe,
we can do one better, pretend the thief on the cross confessed Jesus as Lord just before he died and entered into the bliss of his master, while the thief on the other cross didn’t (even though his crimes were identical) and he failed to enter into the joy of his master.
I think there also is a problem with accept Jesus as savior=pray sinner’s prayer. Maybe my view is more thorough than most church-going evangelicals, but I view repentance and belief as truly turning from my sins, viewing them as abhorrent to God and man and deserving of eternal damnation for the ones I have committed and endeavouring, imperfectly, to avoid future occurrences and believing as recognizing that my sins are so heinous and deserving of hell that nothing I will ever do can make up for my past and current sinfulness and I am really without hope unless Jesus really was fully God and fully man and he provided a propitiation for my sins.
If that is the fullness of what we are talking about, then yes, even Hitler gets into heaven if he has experienced true conversion or even Moses, or even David, or even Paul.
If that isn’t enough, if it wasn’t Paul’s repentance and belief that earned him favor, but his missionary expeditions, and his writing sacred scripture, and his preaching, then we are really saying that the death of Christ is not sufficient, it really was not finished at the cross, and we really do have to enhanced the sacrifice of Christ with our good works – Please tell me how many good works are necessary to perfect the sufferings of Christ.



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Robin

posted May 20, 2010 at 12:20 pm


I agree Travis (41) when I was undergoing my conversion experience (from agnosticism/universalist form of Catholicism) the priest who met with me assured me that Christ’s death paid the ransom for everyone whether or not they knew God or worshipped him and that everyone would eventually end up in heaven (I don’t know if he meant everyone including Hitler, or just everyone that hadn’t committed genocide) and I asked him if that were true, and it the apostles had just spent 3 years learning that from him, then why on earth would they ever endure the mistreatment they did or lose their life spreading a message that, by definition, didn’t need to be spread. If everyone is going to be saved no matter what, then why would Paul or any of the other apostles ever endure the hardships and deaths that they did. He responded that sometimes people who are really passionate just do things that are unnecessary.



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Mike Clawson

posted May 20, 2010 at 12:20 pm


When it comes to exclusivism there are really two important questions that I don’t hear a lot of evangelical leaders addressing:
1) Is it actually taught in scripture, or have we misunderstood/misused the text? (And, if the latter, are we willing/able to admit it?)
2) If it is taught in scripture, are you still interested in believing in and worshipping a God like that? I.e. one who would willfully create people who he knows will ultimately spend eternity in conscious torment because they weren’t elect/didn’t accept particular religious doctrines/didn’t help enough poor people (or substitute whatever other preconditions for salvation you prefer)? If you do still believe in that kind of a God, how do you justify claims that such a God is a “good” God?
These aren’t rhetorical questions. They are questions that I wish more evangelical Christians would deal with honestly and openly before condemning those who disagree with them.



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dopderbeck

posted May 20, 2010 at 12:32 pm


Michael (#37) — well, I know of churches that average thousands or tens of thousands on a Sunday and that are plainly not orthodox, including, for example, LDS churches all over the world, some very large oneness Pentecostal churches, some enormous “health and wealth” churches, and so on.
Election is a central Biblical doctrine. Your friend’s apparent understanding of the “moment of conversion” in the order of salvation, as expressed in that conversation, was unorthodox. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad person or a bad pastor, but it does suggest to me an unfortunately deficient understanding of “salvation” and in particular of God’s initiative in salvation.
No person is saved because he or she made a “decision for Christ.” Rather, a person makes a “decision for Christ” — or better stated, a profession of faith in Christ — because “before the foundation of the world” he or she was elect in Christ (Eph. 1:4). To ask “what would have happened if you had died before accepting Christ” is to ask a question that quite literally is nonsensical, because your profession of faith evidences the fact that from eternity past you were already elect in Christ. Trying to answer that question as your friend did is really playing God and second-guessing God’s eternal decree of election. (BTW, if you think I’m heading towards a high Calvinist approach to election — I’m not. I have a post on this which will be up tomorrow. My view ultimately leans towards a modified Barthian approach to election, ultimately recognizing that election is in the truest sense a “mystery”).
The vital importance of the concept of election is also at the heart of what is puzzling me about Scot’s post and subsequent comments. “Traditional evangelical theology” as it has developed, it seems to me, often is conversionist to the point of functionally denying the doctrine of election.
Now, in reality, truly “traditional” evangelical theology, represented by a figure such as Jonathan Edwards, was all about election — the “conversion experience” was understood as an outward sign that a person was among the elect, not as the cause of the person’s salvation. Somehow, we’ve come to think of the “decision for Christ” as the cause of salvation, at least at the popular level.
At least as I’m reading it, Scot’s post, the survey to which it refers, and the ensuing discussion, seem to me implicitly to make this “human decision theology” mistake. The reason I would respond “I don’t know” to the question whether a “nonreligious” person will be “in heaven” is precisely because salvation comes only by God’s initiative and election ultimately is mysterious. This doesn’t mean I discount the centrality of the human response of repentance and faith in Christ in light of the truth of election — not at all. It also doesn’t mean I discount the importance of the missional Gospel call to faith and repentance — i.e., evangelism — again, not at all.
But it does mean that I’m not willing or able to make firm judgments about the nature, timing, and visibility of how other people do or do not seem to respond or about the nature, timing and visibility of the knowledge about election in Christ that God makes available to others.
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Matt

posted May 20, 2010 at 12:32 pm


Scot @ 28:
I am essentially in agreement with your statement in the last paragraph. I would like to see that book!



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Robin

posted May 20, 2010 at 12:35 pm


Mike Clawson,
Leaving aside question 1 since it is more than I am presently able to defend, I would like to know your answer to question #2, except with regards to Egypt and the peoples inhabiting Israel at the time of the Exodus. If the text is accurate and God really did harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he could destroy him and magnify his name in the ancient world and if he really did overlook the abominations occurring amongst the Philistines so that they could complete their measure of sin and then he really did both actively command and participate in genocide (including women and children) then is that a God worthy of worship and can we still call him ‘good’.
I can say that as uncomfortable as I am with those stories that his ways are higher than my ways, he is the potter and I am the clay, and I have no right to say “For what purpose did you make me”, but if I am reading your question right, it looks like you should not only declare the God of the Old Testament to be a monster unworthy of worship, but anyone who worshiped him, including Jesus and all of the apostles, to be monsters and unworthy of respect and or worship (Can we really say that Jesus worshiped God in triune form or as the father, what is the appropriate terminology). If the Old Testament was false then it was, at a minimum, Jesus’ responsibility as philosopher or God to utterly denounce the entire Old Testament and not just the extra-biblical rule-keeping the Pharisees required. Failure to do so makes him complicit.



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Michael Todd

posted May 20, 2010 at 12:41 pm


Kevin S., Robin, and dopderbeck,
I will bow out of this conversation. You guys have it all figured out. I will continue to tell people about Jesus. I believe he is the only way, but I will also say that my beliefs are just that – beliefs, which are limited by a mind which is trapped by two categories of space and time. I don’t believe other paths lead to God, but I also don’t know for certain how God will handle those in the afterlife. Some of my brethren are confident that they know, but I don’t. I pray for the dead, and if there is an afterlife, then one of the first things I am going to do is look around for people I can’t find. When I can’t find them, I am going to march up to whatever line I have to stand in, and say, “Hey, where’s that dude I use to work with?”
“Oh, Mike, he’s in the das nichtige.”
“God, you’re Barthian?”
“No, but I thought you would get a laugh if I used that word.”
“That is funny, but still, can we get him out? I mean, c’mon, they don’t have a body or spirit to rebel against you anymore. Can’t you get through to their eternal soul? You’re God. You’re awesome!”
Now, at this point, God will either pat me on my head and reveal to me why there is no way in heaven that what I am asking is possible, or He may look at me and say, “Mike, I like the way you think.” Who knows. All I know is that I don’t have the confidence that my fellow Evangelical brethren do about the cut-and-dry facts concerning the afterlife.
So, I still disciple people, and I still present Jesus, and here is what I say to a potential disciple, “I have a limited bandwidth. I don’t have the time or energy at following a multiplicity of religions. I respect the others. I believe that humans are extraordinary. I’ve seen people healed, like legs grow, deafness cured, and heart disease totally reversed. I called on the name of Jesus, whom I proclaim as Lord, Savior, Healer, Deliverer, Judge, and Friend. Alas, he is the judge, I am not. I am called to bless and love. He wants me to do the job He’s given me, and He will do the one which is His. If you want to learn about Jesus. What it means to become holy. To live with heaven in your heart, and the kingdom of God in your finger tips, then I am very willing to talk with you. Come over, hang out, we will talk about where you are and set aside time in the future to intentionally live a life of order, discipline, and simple love toward our King. If you aren’t, heck, you seem like a great person, come over anyhow. I am called to love, and to me, love is all about taking an account of another individual’s uniqueness. Also, ideally, love has no conditions, so you are cool by me if you never make a profession of faith.”



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dopderbeck

posted May 20, 2010 at 12:47 pm


Travis (#41) — I think one problem with your comment is an inadquate ecclesiology. Evangelism relates to ecclesiology as well as soteriology. Or perhaps better said, a comprehensive notion of “salvation” includes the great blessings of membership in the ekklesia. When we evangelize, we not only call people to put their faith in Christ to escape Hell; we call people to a comprehensive fellowship with God with all the covenant community. Offering that call is certainly worth all the effort.
Here again I’ll refer to the maturity of Catholic theology, particularly in the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium. You really have to read the whole thing to get a good flavor of how its ecclesiology, Christology, and soteriology work together. As Protestants, of course, we will differ significantly with some of the ecclesiology, particularly with the segments on the Laity vis-a-vis the Clergy and the Blessed Virgin. However, note Paragraph 16:

. Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God. In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh. On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues. But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohammedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things, and as Saviour wills that all men be saved. Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel. She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, “Preach the Gospel to every creature”, the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.
It seems to me that that biggest problem facing evangelicalism is that we lack the sort of ecclesiology, Christology, and soteriology that can allow us to arrive at this sort of balance.
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Kenny Johnson

posted May 20, 2010 at 12:50 pm


@Travis Greene (41),
I don’t think so. I don’t believe Willard is saying that those who don’t know Christ ARE saved, but that it’s possible. Read his chapter on the subject. I’m probably not doing it justice and can’t articulate it as well as he did. I think even Billy Graham held a view similar to this. . . and he certainly evangelized.
Heck, even Calvinist evangelize. :)



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Richard

posted May 20, 2010 at 12:51 pm


Good discussion. Glad to see the pushback asking for more clarification on universalism/pluralism.
Question for Dopderbeck: what is the purpose of the doctrine of election and does it necessarily pertain to salvation after death?
Background on the question, what if election is about representing God here and now as a firstfruits of a greater redemption still yet to be consumated.
BTW,
I think consumerism/materialism is a bigger danger to contemporary evangelicalism than universalism.
Wish I had more time to post today. Peace.



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kevin s.

posted May 20, 2010 at 12:54 pm


“2) If it is taught in scripture, are you still interested in believing in and worshipping a God like that?”
This might be an interesting question, but not a terribly relevant one. I am not interested in another X-Men movie. It will exist nonetheless, and my beliefs will have no impact on that existence.
But I’ll play ball. Any way you slice it, if you are going to believe in God, you are believing in a God who allows death, misery and suffering. He wasn’t on vacation during the holocaust and blood purges. He’s not blind to the tragedy of abortion. I can’t just disbelieve away these phenomena.
Since I acknowledge that God exists, and also that suffering exists, I am perfectly content to believe in a God who rescues those who follow him from a world of torment. Since that torment is of our own creation, it is very easy for me to believe in a fully human realm, which, without God’s redemption, is eternal misery.
“They are questions that I wish more evangelical Christians would deal with honestly and openly before condemning those who disagree with them.”
You really think evangelicals don’t contend with the questions of how a good and loving God can condemn people to hell? There are thousands of books, sermons, blog posts, doctoral thesis etc… Devoted to the topic.
It is one of the central paradoxes of the Christian faith. Outside of the question of why good things happen to bad people, I cannot think of another topic that has been the subject of more intellectual inquiry.
That said, having considered these weighty questions, most people arrive at conclusions. It seems as though you are inveighing against the conclusions, and assuming a flawed process.



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Helen

posted May 20, 2010 at 1:02 pm


Scot McKnight (27):
Helen, here are your words:
“It’s traditional evangelicals who are in danger of overemphasizing the next life so much Christ doesn’t make enough difference in this life.”
This is a myth. Trad evangelicals do speak alot about the next life and heaven and all that, but they are also ones who emphasize making a difference in this life. Any history of evangelicalism will prove how activist the evangelicals have been.

Scot, I tried to word what I said carefully but maybe I wasn’t careful enough.
I said they are in danger of it, not that they are all doing it. The reason I say they are in danger of it is because it’s a psychological reality that people who have insurance are less careful than those who do not. People who believe themselves eternally secure are in a similar situation psychologically, no matter how much (some) evangelical Christians emphasize this life. As you point out, some evangelicals have overcome this and made a big difference in this life. But the danger is there.
I suppose you could say the danger is there for universalist Christians too; fair enough, but I don’t see a reason why they would care less about loving God and loving others in this life than eternally secure exclusivist evangelicals.



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Mike Clawson

posted May 20, 2010 at 1:43 pm


Robin (47) – I’m not saying anything one way or another. It’s not about what I think. Like I said, my questions were not rhetorical – I wasn’t just trying to make a point about my own beliefs. They are just questions that I think more evangelicals should wrestle with openly and honestly, rather than defensively and argumentatively (i.e. to prove the “universalists” wrong).
You said that your particular answer is “his ways are higher than my ways, he is the potter and I am the clay, and I have no right to say “For what purpose did you make me””. That’s fine. I know that answer works for a lot of Christians (the whole “not a tame lion” thing). But on the other hand, I also have a lot of atheist friends for whom such an answer doesn’t just seem like a cop-out, a way to avoid dealing with a very disturbing issue, but also seems frighteningly inadequate as an answer. After all, it’s not just some issue of abstract theology that we’re talking about here. We’re talking about real women, men, children and babies… people with lives and loves and hopes and relationships. And we’re talking about divine actions that, if they were done by a human being, would cause us to put that person in the same category as Hitler, or Stalin, or other genocidal maniacs. That’s why I can very much understand why my non-Christian friends respond, “If that’s the kind of God your reading of the Bible leads you to believe in, and the only excuse you can give for these deeply disturbing actions is “I’m sure he has his reasons,” then why even bother with Christianity in the first place? Why would you even want to bother with the Bible if that’s the kind of worldview and ethics it leads you to?” They’re not interested in whatever hermenuetical or philosophical gymnastics we can pull off to help soften the horror of such doctrines. For them the whole system is in question. I wish more Christians felt the same freedom to step back and evaluate their own beliefs with such honesty rather than always feeling the need to get defensive and condemnatory whenever anyone raises the questions.



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Mike Clawson

posted May 20, 2010 at 1:52 pm


Kevin (#52) – if all those “thousands of books, sermons, blog posts, doctoral thesis” are only allowed to ultimately answer the question in one way without being kicked out of the evangelical camp (and thereby risking jobs, relationships, etc.), is such a discussion really “open and honest”? When the answer is assumed before one even begins, why even bother asking the question?
It’s not reaching conclusions that I have a problem with, it’s when only one particular conclusion (or a very small range of conclusions) is considered acceptable that I have a problem. As Helen has said in the past, evangelicals are fine with people asking questions, just so long as you ultimately come down within their “range of acceptable answers.” This has definitely been true in my experience.



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SamB

posted May 20, 2010 at 2:28 pm


I agree with Mike’s desire (expressed in #54)that we could have a deeper conversation about the horrible things we read in the Bible, which like human history is full of beauty and horror. I read a recent quote by the Eastern Orthodox theologian D.B Hart. I think it is pertinent and addresses the value of such a conversation:
“…The utter inconsequentiality of contemporary atheism is a social and spiritual catastrophe. Something splendid and irreplaceable has taken leave of our culture–some great moral and intellectual capacity that once inspired the more heroic expressions of belief and unbelief alike. Skepticism and atheism are, at least in their highest manifestations, noble, precious, and even necessary traditions, and even the most fervent of believers should acknowledge that both are often inspired by a profound moral alarm at evil and suffering, at the corruption of religious institutions, at psychological terrorism, at injustices either prompted or abetted by religious doctrines, at arid dogmatisms and inane fideisms, and at worldly power wielded in the name of otherworldly goods. In the best kinds of unbelief, there is something of the moral grandeur of the prophets–a deep and admirable abhorrence of those vicious idolatries that enslave minds and justify our worst cruelties…”



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Mike Clawson

posted May 20, 2010 at 2:29 pm


BTW Kevin, to the first part of your question, see my reply to Robin in #54. I’m suggesting that we need the freedom to step back and reevaluate our entire belief system, including the existence of God. I don’t see why examining that particular belief should be off the table any more than the rest of them. I don’t know why “belief in God” should just be a “given”. It’s certainly not for my atheist friends. And, just speaking personally, until I could get to the point where I could hold my own beliefs as open handedly as they did their own, I don’t think I’d say what I had was really “faith”.



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DRT

posted May 20, 2010 at 2:39 pm


You all are going to make me lose my job. I spend waaay too much time on this. If you make me lose my job will that make you no longer a saved person?
What is wrong with Jesus being the way, truth and life in a non-literal way. If people follow his ways (isn?t that what it actually says) then aren?t they saved? It does not matter if they are Buddhist or whatever.
If someone is thinking the idolatry angle on this makes it impossible, then we can just fall back on the fact that all sin.
I must not be seeing something.
Dave



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kevin s.

posted May 20, 2010 at 2:59 pm


@DRT
The bible is emphatic on the point that all fall short of Christ’s standard. There is no such thing as a human being following his ways, because his ways were sinless. You acknowledge this in your comment.
Our sin is literal and tangible, and so, too, should the means of redress.
We need Christ in order to emulate Christ. That’s why he his way, truth and life cannot simply be symbolic.



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dopderbeck

posted May 20, 2010 at 3:06 pm


Mike (#57) — ah, but now that seems to me more rationalistic than rooted in a relationship with the God who is beyond us. I don’t hold the reality of God “open handedly” any more than I would hold open whether various people I love and relate to exist. The question is, having met God in Christ through the invitation of the Spirit, what then can I know about all these other existential questions we’re discussing? I want to suggest pretty strongly that there are “better” and “less helpful” ways of thinking, and yet I kind of agree with the idea that, at the end of the day, the only response I can be sure of is worship and trust.
DRT (#58) — I think the problem is that scripture and the coherence of Christian truth require a lot more. I’ve been pushing back here against what I think was some sloppiness in the post and comments, but I agree with Scot that the essential proclamation of Christian faith is that “Jesus is Lord” — and that is a “literal” truth. So, at some point, and however exactly this works, the “way” a person is following must “literally” connect with the truth that Jesus is Lord, or else it can’t be the way of God’s salvation.



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Mike Clawson

posted May 20, 2010 at 3:11 pm


dopderbeck (#60) – have you read Pete Rollins on this point? I agree that it’s about a relational encounter with God, but in no way does this thereby create in me some kind of rational certainty that I can then base all the rest of my beliefs on. Quite the opposite in fact, according to Pete. The encounter with God becomes the basis for our subsequent experience of the absence of God, and thus the beginning of all our questioning.



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keo

posted May 20, 2010 at 3:19 pm


dopderbeck #49, #45
1) That is an amazing paragraph from Lumen Gentium. Thanks for sharing it.
2) “Somehow, we’ve come to think of the ‘decision for Christ’ as the cause of salvation, at least at the popular level.”
I wouldn’t say I was taught “cause,” and I hope that most people would reject that phrasing, but I was certainly taught “moment” of salvation.
3) Shocking though it may sound, I can’t remember hearing a single sermon or even discussion on election, except on the radio. And I’ve been up to my eyeballs in church all my life, and in some pretty fundamentalist / every Sunday + home Bible study every week type churches.
So, Calvin’s influence is by no means universal in the American church. Looking forward to your post tomorrow.



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dopderbeck

posted May 20, 2010 at 3:22 pm


Kevin (#59) — and yet I think you seem to be erring in a different direction. Whatever happened to the work of the Holy Spirit?
No one recognizes Christ as Lord without the Spirit, which means the work of the Spirit always precedes any person’s confession of faith. (Not to open up another historical can of worms — the nature of the procession of the Spirit — but someone suggested to me this formulation: the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son.) So, it seems to me entirely possible — in fact it seems always to be true — that a person can be moving along the “way” for some time without being aware of it.
The proper way to put it, I think, is that we need the Holy Spirit to emulate Christ, and we need the atoning work of Christ to approach the Father. Neither the work of the Holy Spirit nor the completed atoning work of Christ require the present knowledge of the person in whom these gifts are being effected.
But the confession of Christ as Lord is an essential part of “salvation” — of the holistic restoration of the human in relation to the Triune God — and this requires a recognition (knowledge) of Christ (See, e.g., Romans 10). I find it hopeful to consider that Christ may be recognized gradually or suddenly, in a moment of conversion early in life or on a deathbed, or perhaps even in a moment of beautiful realization as a person passes from this life. And there is nothing more right and natural than that those of us who have come to know Christ would want to proclaim the evangel to others.



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keo

posted May 20, 2010 at 3:31 pm


Michael Todd #48, Sorry to see you leave. I enjoyed your last comment quite a bit.



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R Hampton

posted May 20, 2010 at 3:40 pm


When children and infants who die before baptism (before the accept Christ) does God allow them into heaven?
The Roman Catholic Church wrestled with this idea for centuries, and until recently promoted a concept of Limbo – a temporary condition in the afterlife in which these souls would wait until redemption. However the Church has since humbly retreated. Of course their sincerest hope is that God offers to Salvation to non-Christians in the case of innocent and/or ignorant souls, but they must honestly admit they just don’t know.
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DRT

posted May 20, 2010 at 3:46 pm


I hope this does not offend anyone, but from South Park
(Hell, waiting area. Many souls are there, wondering where they are, and why.)
Hell Director: Hello, newcomers, and welcome. Can everybody hear me? (taps the mic a few times) Hello? Can everybuh-? Okay. (the crowd quiets down) Uh, I’m the hell director. Uh, it looks like we have about 8,615 of you newbies today, and for those of you who are a little confused, uh, you are dead, and this is hell, so, abandon all hope and uh yada yada yada. Uh, we are now going to start the orientation process, which will last about-
Man 4: Hey, wait a minute, I shouldn’t be here. I was a totally strict and devout Protestant! I thought we went to heaven!
Hell Director: Yes, well I’m afraid you were wrong.
Soldier: I was a practicing Jehovah’s Witness.
Hell Director: Uh, you picked the wrong religion as well.
Man 5: Well, who was right? Who gets into heaven?
Hell Director: I’m afraid it was the Mormons. Yes, the Mormons were the correct answer.
Crowd: (disappointed) Awww.



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Mike Clawson

posted May 20, 2010 at 5:27 pm


Love it DRT!
But as amusing as that scene is, isn’t that more or less what a lot of Christians believe will actually happen? I know I did.
(And shouldn’t our reaction to this scene be a clue to something?…)



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Helen

posted May 20, 2010 at 5:31 pm


Kevin (36):
“If Jesus saves everyone, rather than some, then he is maximized, not minimized, by universalism.”
If Jesus saves everyone, regardless of what they believe about him in this lifetime, then he is not the truth, the way, and the life. He will only become so in heaven. Your are the one espousing a worldview in which only the afterlife matters.
Kevin, I don’t understand your thinking at all.
If Jesus saves more people then that doesn’t at all change who he is or whether his death is necessary.
Suppose you think of universalism as Calvinism in which the elect=all people.
Does Calvinism stop Jesus being the way, the truth and the life in this life?



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Yourname2

posted May 20, 2010 at 6:30 pm


I love it, DRT (#66)!
I do think this is the image many Christians have in mind. Crowds of Muslims, Hindus, and maybe even Catholics in Hell, getting the announcement that they didn’t make the right choice.
Your religion is based on your geography. A child born in Saudi Arabia has as much chance of being a Christian as a child born in the US does of being Islamic. I’m sure there are Christians who are native-born Saudis, just as I see American women wearing burkhas in my kid’s carpool line, but those are rare exceptions.
Perhaps it does all point back to predestination. If God decided you’re to be eternally damned before you were born, he makes you be born to an Islamic family.



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DRT

posted May 20, 2010 at 8:14 pm


Rather than predestination, perhaps it has more to do with corporate redemption. If the society determines what is bound and loosed, and the society is more or less saved or not….
Perhaps there is a corporate component?
Dave



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kevin s.

posted May 20, 2010 at 8:16 pm


@Mike Clawson
“It’s not reaching conclusions that I have a problem with, it’s when only one particular conclusion (or a very small range of conclusions) is considered acceptable that I have a problem. As Helen has said in the past, evangelicals are fine with people asking questions, just so long as you ultimately come down within their “range of acceptable answers.” This has definitely been true in my experience.”
It’s not whether the answers are acceptable. It’s whether they reflect biblical Christianity. Certain ideas have been considered and discredited. I don’t think it accomplishes much to dredge up these same ideas every few decades as though they are brand new, and I see a lot of that from those who advocate various brands of universalism.
So, yes, there are certain strains of theology with which contemporary evangelicals are not familiar. It’s not because they are too lazy, or disinterested, but because the teaching of discredited ideas is not commonplace, nor should it be.
If every conclusion represents biblical Christianity, then there is no such thing. If you believe everything, you believe nothing.
You stated previously that it is important to ask whether this is the sort of God you want to believe in? Isn’t that an act of, a priori, dismissing certain conclusions?
As far as atheists go, any argument from the sovereignty of God is going to be unpersuasive, by definition. That doesn’t make it illegitimate. Atheists are ill-prepared to form theology.
@dopderbeck
“and yet I think you seem to be erring in a different direction. Whatever happened to the work of the Holy Spirit? ”
How am I in error? The holy spirit enters those who accept Christ. Even a Calvinist (and I am not one) does not believe that we are born with the holy spirit.
@Helen
“If Jesus saves more people then that doesn’t at all change who he is or whether his death is necessary. ”
I didn’t say it did. I said his death makes no difference in this world, and is only meaningful after death.
@DRT et al…
South Park is usually less hackneyed, but beyond that, what point are you all making? That something is correct simply because we choose it?
I could just as easily craft a scene where the recently deceased are high-fiving Pol Pot and Stalin. That would illicit an equally strong reaction?
If we base our eternal perspective on what just seems right, we are left simply with a sort of works based system reflexive of contemporary western culture. The prophet Elijah had NO problem calling out people who were worshiping the wrong God.
@yourname2
“Perhaps it does all point back to predestination. If God decided you’re to be eternally damned before you were born, he makes you be born to an Islamic family. ”
Perhaps. There is certainly enough scriptural support for this position that you should take it more seriously than you seem to.



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Mike Clawson

posted May 20, 2010 at 9:09 pm


Thank you kevin. You have perfectly illustrated the kind of thing that I am talking about.



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Naum

posted May 20, 2010 at 9:14 pm


“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6]
Fundamentalists usually interpret this to mean that no one can come to God except by explicitly confessing faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Moreover, people have to make such a confession before they die, since there is no possibility of repentance after death. It follows that only a small minority of the earth’s population can ever come to God, since few of them have even heard of Jesus, and even fewer have had a realistic chance of professing faith in him as their savior. On this interpretation, salvation is for the very few, and God is content to condemn millions to Hell for no particular fault of their own.
A realization that God is a God of unlimited love — which is what John’s Gospel teaches — should definitely lead us to reject that fundamentalist interpretation. But the decisive consideration is that, in John’s Gospel, the person who speaks these words is not just the historical figure of Jesus. It is the eternal Word of God, who is the “one light that gives light to every man” [John 1:9], and who “became flesh and lived for a while among us” [John 1:14]. It is this eternal Word who is the way that every creature must follow to come to God. Every creature that comes to God can do so only by following the Wisdom of God and by being filled with that Wisdom, the uncreated light. The eternal light did become flesh. He is truly enfleshed in the person of Jesus. But he is not confined to that historical figure. He enlightens every man, and every creature who does not turn away. So Christians believe that in the end all humans will see that they are brought close to God through the eternal Word. They will see that the Word was truly in the person of Jesus. But they may never have even heard of Jesus during their earthly lives. The Light may have come to them in forms unrecognized or concealed. The advantage Christians have is that they are given the opportunity to recognize the Light. But in recognizing him, and precisely insofar as they do so, they recognize the light who gives light to the whole world [John 8:12].
~Keith Ward



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Kevin Brintnall

posted May 20, 2010 at 9:42 pm


Based upon a conversation I had with our youth worker about his frustrations with the beliefs and ideas the youth bring with them, I do believe this may be our biggest challenge. Thank you for starting the conversation. And thank you to those who have responded.



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dopderbeck

posted May 20, 2010 at 10:11 pm


Kevin (#72), you said: How am I in error? The holy spirit enters those who accept Christ. Even a Calvinist (and I am not one) does not believe that we are born with the holy spirit.
I respond: The order of salvation is that we are first called by the Holy Spirit. The way you are phrasing things makes it seem that the Holy Spirit responds to us. You are correct that a person is “indwelled” by the Holy Spirit as he or she becomes united with Christ, i.e. as he or she experiences faith in Christ. But it is a mistake to suggest that the Holy Spirit is not active in a person’s life until that person takes the initiative towards God. God always takes the initiative. Salvation is always, and entirely, a gift. This is not particularly a “Calvinist” position. It is a basic Christian belief that God takes the initiative in salvation.



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SamB

posted May 21, 2010 at 11:03 am


It was stated in a previous post(s) that if in the end Jesus saves everyone then “his death makes no difference in this world, and is only meaningful after death.” I think one point the commenter is trying to make is Jesus’ glory is reduced by the realization of God’s hope that not one is lost if indeed not one is lost. How can this be? Also, how can one conclude that if all are saved in Jesus that Jesus makes no difference in this world? How are these things connected? What kind of theology would lead to this conclusion? A question for everyone, “If all of creation is brought together in Jesus, saved in Jesus, including every human being, would any one of us say Jesus has made no difference in our lives here now on Earth?”



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kevin s.

posted May 21, 2010 at 11:13 pm


@Mike Clawson
Henceforth, then, please use my illustration in lieu of your own synopsis.
@dopderbeck
We are close to agreement, and I once flirted with the idea that people could be moved to act by the holy spirit before repenting and embracing Christ. However, would the first act of the holy spirit be to direct the heart toward Christ?



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nimblewill

posted December 3, 2010 at 6:57 pm


Do any of you, including you Scot, believe that only 5 to 10 percent of all creation will burn in a literal fire for all eternity?



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