I am the Evangelical Universalist
About 2002 or 2003 I wrote a book called The Evangelical Universalist. It was not intended for publication but was simply a way of helping me think through some issues. Anyway, I was advised by a friend to send it to a publisher for review with possible publication in mind. So I sent it to Wipf and Stock who accepted it in their Cascade list and published it in 2006. SPCK then picked it up (not knowing who I was) and published a UK edition in 2008.
But why remain anonymous?
- Not because I was embarrased about my views (I would have loved to be more open about them).
- Not because I feared losing my job
I kept my identity secret in the first instance to protect my employer. Sadly there are some Christians out there who would not be at all happy to know that the Editorial Director for Paternoster is a believer in universal restoration. For the most part this is simply because they do not understand the position that I hold. They imagine that if I am a universalist I must believe propositions such as the following
- that all roads lead to God (Jesus is a way but not the way)
- that it does not matter how we live as we shall all be saved anyway
- that we must choose the parts of the Bible that we like and reject the parts that we do not.
- There is no Hell
- etc, etc
Of course, I don't believe any of those things. I am a relatively conservative evangelical Christian who seeks to found his theology on Scripture. I believe that salvation is in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. But the problem is that it takes a while to explain the view that I hold and it is easier to rush to judgment. I noticed this the other day in an old online article in Christianity Today about people it called 'evangelical universalists'. In fact the people in question were pluralists that attended evangelical churches. This confusion of universalism with pluralism is sadly common (even though a little reflection would show that universalism and pluralism address totally different questions). When many evangelicals hear the word 'universalist' in one ear they hear the word 'heretic' in the other. So I am starting on the backfoot. All the traditionalist has to do to prove (to their satisfaction) that I am unevangelical is quote a verse about Hell. Case closed. The Bible says it, they believe it, that settles it. For me to make my case requires a lot more work to overcome prejudices and misunderstandings. Anyway, I digress...
So to avoid unnecessary difficulties for my employer I kept my real name out of it until enough people had read the book to say, 'Well, he may not be correct but his view is not unChristian.' In fact, some might even say, 'Goodness gracious me! The boy's right!' (which, of course, I am :-))
(As an aside, it has always been my policy not to use Paternoster as a vehicle for the promotion of my own ideas. Consequently I have not used it, nor will I use it, to promote universalism. I have worked for Paternoster for 8 years now and have been a universalist the whole time so I hope that my track record will calm any fears on this front. We willingly publish books defending annihilation and eternal conscious torment - in fact we publish both. Paternoster publishes within the bounds of broadly evangelical Christianity and does not have party lines on pet topics).
My other reason for anonymity was that one of my books, Worshipping Trinity , is a more important book than TEU and I am keen not to undermine its important message. I am pleased that it has been having a positive impact on various churches. Sadly, I know that there are people out there who would avoid that book like the plague if they thought it was written by a so-called 'heretic'. Everything I ever wrote or said would be untouchable. I do not care about that as far as my reputation goes (what reputation? not much to lose, eh?) but I do care if it stops churches hearing a word of the Lord that they need to hear (and I do believe Worshipping Trinity is a word of the Lord).
So why confess my identity now? It was always my intention to reveal who I was when it seemed right. When the church might understand universalism enough to accept it as a Christian position (even if not the only one or even the right one). We're not there yet but we are closer than we were a few years back, so I thought, 'It's going to come out some time - better to reveal my identity myself than be 'exposed'.'
Of course, it may be too early. People may now avoid me, or stop inviting me to preach, or stop reading my books and Bible notes, or advise others to avoid me as dangerous, etc, etc. Well, so be it. God will have to look after me.
So let me concluse with the words I ended the book with:
"Let me ask you to hold in your mind traditional Christian visions of the future, in which many, perhaps the majority of humanity, are excluded from salvation forever. Alongside that hold the universalist vision, in which God achieves his loving purpose of redeeming the whole creation. Which vision has the strongest view of divine love? Which story has the most powerful narrative of God’s victory over evil? Which picture lifts the atoning efficacy of the cross of Christ to the greatest heights? Which perspective best emphasizes the triumph of grace over sin? Which view most inspires worship and love of God bringing him honor and glory? Which has the most satisfactory understanding of divine wrath? Which narrative inspires hope in the human spirit? To my mind the answer to all these questions is clear, and that is why I am a Christian universalist."