(Dixie implied that blogging through a book will scare away most of my readers. I sure hope not. If you’re not into theology, then skip these posts.)
Back in October, Graham at Leaving Münster posted a three-part interview with Gregory MacDonald (a pseudonym), author of The Evangelical Universalist (interview parts one, two and three). The interview intrigued me enough to order the book.
MacDonald, an otherwise conservative Evangelical Christian, will argue that there are Biblical grounds for a universalist position and that this position is “is not a major change to the tradition and that it actually enables us to hold key elements of the tradition together better than traditional doctrines of hell” (The Evangelical Universalist, p. 4). MacDonald describes himself as a “hopeful dogmatic universalist”—that is, he is dogmatic about universalism, but he recognizes that he is not infallible. MacDonald came to be a universalist slowly and with a great deal of resistance. He says,
“My ‘conversion’ to universalism was not sudden but very gradual and, at times, anxious. Such a departure from the mainstream view of the church is not something to be rushed into. I do not expect readers of this book to rush to embrace universalism—in some ways I would be concerned if they did.” (p. 4)
There are a variety of universalisms out there and they’re not all the same; the universalism MacDonald is proposing is “Christian Universalism”. He describes an imaginary Christian universalist to give the reader a concrete idea of what he means:
Anastasia is an evangelical Christian. She believes in the inspiration and authority of the Bible. She believes in all those crucial Christian doctrines such as Trinity, creation, sin, atonement, the return of Christ, salvation through Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. In fact, on most things you’d be hard-pressed to tell her apart from any other evangelical. Contrary to what we may suspect, she even believes in the eschatological wrath of God—in hell. She differs most obviously in two unusual beliefs. First, she believes that one’s eternal destiny is not fixed at death and, consequently, that those in hell can repent and throw themselves upon the mercy of God in Christ and thus be saved. Second, she also believes that in the end everyone will do this. Now, not all Christian universalists would agree with Anastasia’s views here, but it is her kind of universalism that I primarily have in mind when I speak of universalism. (p. 6)
A couple of things to keep in mind as I blog through this book:
- MacDonald is humble and cautious about his position, which I think we should all be, at least when it comes to the issue of eternal damnation.
- This book is not about the existence of hell (MacDonald believes that there is a “hell” and a final judgment). Rather, the issue in question is whether the “unsaved” will suffer eternal, conscious punishment in hell. MacDonald does not think this subject is an essential or, if you will, “creedal” doctrine, but it is important enough to ponder.
- MacDonald and those he refers to in the book are theologians and philosophers and much smarter than I am. I don’t expect to be able to defend or critique anything said completely. I am merely throwing this stuff out there for interest’s sake. I haven’t read the whole book yet
I think it’s reasonable to expect all Christians to be at least hopeful universalists, even if one doesn’t believe in universalism. That is, we should very much want everyone to be saved and should grieved at the notion of anyone being lost. Every once in a while you hear someone speak about eternal torment in hell as if they find pleasure in other people’s discomfort, as if they delight in the fact that some (probably many) will be damned. This does not seem to me to be a Christian way of thinking. The Bible itself is very clear that God desires everyone to be saved (which will come up in chapter 1) and we should desire the same thing.
As I go through the book, some question I will keep asking myself are,
- What are the eschatological implications of the Christian doctrine that salvation is through Christ alone?
- Is it still an important doctrine if everyone is saved in the end?
- Does salvation through Christ alone require that I know and/or acknowledge that salvation is through Christ alone?
- Does grace lose its value if it is given (not just offered) to everyone?