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."
I did enjoy the book.
If so, I suppose that puts you in good company!
David - like I always say - you know everything. Spot on! I am in very good company (though my opponents are in better company - Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, etc).
James - seriously.
Don Hendricks M.Div.
Sun Lakes, Az
God bless you and "ALL" your books and writings.
Yes, the Kings and Nations will eventually join the New Jerusalem!
Yes, the 7th and last benediction of Rev. 22:14 remains open for all the sinners of the next verse!
Thank you, again, for publishing TEU.
T.N. (of the Edinburgh Art Museum Coffee Shop).
Although I enjoyed your book, John Piper told me a tornado will soon pass by your office and tear off a shingle or two. Please accept this as God's warning to repent for your heretical beliefs in universalism.
Would not the pain of hell also be similar to that experienced by Ezekiel (if I recall correctly) who experienced the holy presence of God as painful (full sense of his uncleanness, and didn't he get a painful coal on his tongue or something?).
Josh - anonymity is not ideal and does hamper discussion a little. But only a little. There is nothing to stop people critiquing the arguments in the book and ripping Gregory MacDonald's case to shreds. (I'm still waiting for a proper critique. I often think that I can come up with better objections to my case than any I have read so far).
GM had exprerssed willing to have online debates with people or email dialogues. The only thing he could not do was to do alive debate (for obvious reasons).
To be honest, I don't think that there is a lack of scholars out there who could not make a good job of picking holes in my case. Instead I think most critics thought that universalism was too far off the charts to bother wasting time on. Of course, if it becomes more of a threat then more helpful criticisms will appear. And that is all good for the health of the church.
Anyway you've got be rereading George MacDonald Fairy Tales now.
I'm not ready to come out yet, though.
I enjoyed the book, and what a joy to get back from Greenbelt (plenty of EU's there, thank God) and find it was you wot wrote it...
See you at BNTC.
@ Michael Bird: you thought I'd written it?! I wonder why. Actually, I'm very flattered that you thought I might be able to write a book as accessible and thought-provoking as this irenic essay.
Actually, I know Robin will have no trouble proving he's Sparticus if he wants to try!
I think my recent post on hell kinda puts me out there with you... or would if I believed in the immortality of the soul or whatever you want to call the supposedly indestructible essence of humanity. But without that belief ...
Robin, you may remember that I e-interviewed you about your book a while ago, on Leaving Munster. I loved it then and I love it now. In fact, I'd have to say that you are completely wrong in thinking that 'Worshipping Trinity', is a more important book than TEU. but, hey, you can't be right about everything!
I'm really pleased you feel able to come out of the closet now.
Anyway, we are doing a series on Heaven, Hell, New Jerusalem and the overall narrative of God's plan at our church here in Ontario and this book has been extremely helpful on a number of fronts. While I doubt everything will be accepted with open arms this has really given some meat to my arguments and now when people laugh at me and make fun of my beliefs i can give them your book ;)
But seriously, thank-you so much for writing this book. It was excellent.
(Graham - of course I remember you. Give my regards to Mark Norridge)
Well no trouble that caused me any concern and no trouble that I am currently aware of.
All is quiet of the western front.
I read on Michael Heiser's blog that the author of that book had revealed his identity and guessed it might be yourself.
I have not read the book I am afraid.
I read 'Five Views on Election' and and thought Thomas Talbot had some good arguments for universal restoration, but I felt he did not should have dealth with some of the passages that are held to teach everlasting punishment.
I think some conservative evangelicals can sometimes have an unpleasent allergic reaction to universal restoration and make some unhelpful noises.
Every Blessing in Christ
Thank you for your labours of love and also for making your identity known when you sensed God leading you to. My name is Charles Slagle and my wife Paula and I ministered in England between 1984 and 94. In 94 George MacDonald's writings confirmed universal salvation to me and the knowledge of God's unconditional and committed love delivered me from many years of chronic depression and addiction. www.sigler.org/slagle tells the story. It's so exciting seeing this message spread, and thanks again for helping that happen! You have been in my prayers and will continue to be. Hang in there, and God bless you, bro! -Charles (and Paula)
I was amused to see you wrote the following in late 2009:
"To be honest, I don't think that there is a lack of scholars out there who could not make a good job of picking holes in my case. Instead I think most critics thought that universalism was too far off the charts to bother wasting time on."
I am guessing Rob Bell's "Love Wins" book has shoved this topic right up the theological agenda ;-)
All the best from NZ, Grant
Dr. Dom Pedulla
Oklahoma City USA
Thank you for writing this book. It has helped me to review what the scriptures actually teach about the reach of salvation and nature of hell.
There is one scripture I have recently re-read which I still find hard to reconcile wiht a universalist understanding of salvation: Mark 14:21. In this Jesus appears to suggest that it would be better had Judas never been born. Surely that would be incorrect if uninversalism were true?
If you have any insight into understanding this verse in a compatible way I would be grateful if you would share.