Saturday, August 05, 2006

Exclusivist By Default

I noticed recently that there are considerable and great discussions over universalism in the blogosphere. Patrik referred to D.W. Congdon's indexing of posts about univesalism on the ongoing discussion over this among blogging theologians and thinkers and... I was hooked.

My favorite is Jason's post about Gregory McDonald's book entitled "The Evangelical Universalist" and the engaging discussions that ensued after are not only enlightening but edifying as well. If you are a theology students or Bible teacher I recommend reading the posts in these links.

I have to confess however, that prior to reading these posts, my knowledge about universalism was so limited (it is still) and negative. I am an exclusivist by default although I always think that inclusivism is a good alternative. Now, I am open to change my stand about this. Let me explain this further. I came to know Jesus Christ in a very conservative and fundamentalist church. So the idea that salvation is possible outside faith in Jesus Christ is not an option. Exclusivism is the "only" correct option.

When I came to study at the seminary, I had the feeling that inclusivism, pluralism and especially universalism are great ideas but they are not to be held by any church leaders in my denomination. Even our theology professors at the seminary would not state their position about this matter and I understand them perfectly.

Universalism is identified with liberalism and liberalism is synonymous with heresy. If you give a hint in a group discussion among colleagues that you are a universalist they would look at you with disdain and without your knowing the next day you will be labeled as liberal. This is indeed a "career-ender" for any pastor or theology professor in my denomination.

However, after these interesting discussions in the blogosphere I really need to study deeper about universalism. I may not have the boldness and courage of a Gregoy McDonald (even he wrote the book under a pseudonym). But I do want to have a stand for or against universalism.

I have some questions though that have been going through my head ever since I started to study the Bible and theology. If God so loved the world, why would he just save all people? Is sending people to hell especially those who do not have a chance to hear the gospel (and there are so many of them) really in harmony with God's love, mercy and holiness? I know that others would argue that people made their decisions to accept or reject Christ and therefore suffer the consequent of their decisions. But if God is all-powerful why could he not save people from themselves? Does God's holiness and justice require hell? Does God delight that people who reject him go to hell? If he is not, then why allow this to happen?


D.W. Congdon said...

I'm encouraged to hear you ask these questions. I myself grew up in a fundamentalist home (hence my rather bold posts on the heresies of modern evangelicalism and my support of universalism), and the logic of the position eventually was clear: only me and people who think like me are saved. I was taught that Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians were all wrong, or at least mostly wrong.

But my support for universalism is much more nuanced than simply "God loves us." I think we need to move beyond the position of theological liberalism -- that God loves us all equally. Scripture presents a far more complex picture. For example, I still stress the importance of a "last judgment," but I think we need to think through such categories and concepts in light of the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ, the one who lived, died, and rose again in our place.

I encourage you to keep probing these questions, and keep reading. I do not think we should try "answer" the problem as if we can figure out God, but I do think that this is a theological question which is not left entirely a mystery.

Bro. Bartleby said...

Family, community, society, all fill and form the developing mind of the young, that is, until that mind 'takes on a mind of its own' and temperment mixed with personality mixed with education mixed with all that other stuff that was stuffed into our mind forms our person, and that person can be new and free and developing, or it may be locked into its youthful formation. So too our spiritual development, for some that youthful development is it, locked into place, development or change doesn't seem to be an option. Why? Usually because those who were feeding stuff into our youthful minds did it in a way that made freedom and freethinking a negative trait that should be shunned. The glue that holds family, community, society together is tradition. Tradition places great value on the past, as it should in most instances, yet tradition by its nature 'wants you' to keep all that was put into your youthful mind as well enough, and warms that further free thoughts could be not only damaging to your well being, but to your eternal future. That is why Jesus said that if you follow Him, you may very well be separated from family, from tradition. To follow Jesus one may very well have to break with tradition, and for the apostles, it was a break with traditional Judaism, for you and I, it may mean a break from all that tradition that formed our youthful minds. I shudder to think of the state of the minds of all those North Koreans that have been brainwashed from birth ... yes, the extreme example, yet it is easy for us on the outside to see that for them to cut from their tradition is the only way, but for them, a thought such as that is unthinkable.

Joey said...

D.W. Congdon,

Thanks for the comments. It is an encouragement that you have read my blog about this topic.

Although most of my colleagues in my denomination identified universalism with liberalism, I didn't. Even when I was still at the seminary, I had the gut feeling that universalism is not contrary to God's plan of salvation and I should study this "msytery" deeper. But I lost the drive to do it along the way. Until, I discovered this dialogue about universalism in the blogosphere. This somehow rekindles the fire.

As a missionary, I know that saving soul from eternity of hell is a good motivation but it is not the only motive to do missions. I believe that further inquiry upon this theological questions would give me a wider horizon to see God's nature and his dealings with human beings and the world.

I'll continue asking questions and read books and the Bible this theological question is answered and no longer a mystery.