If you read my previous post, then you are probably well aware that my patience with Christianity is wearing thin. Does that mean I’m renouncing Jesus? No. Does that mean I’m going to stop believing in the Gospel? No. Does that mean I’m heading back to atheism? No. It just means I’m frustrated and felt comfortable enough to voice my frustration.
I’m frustrated, first and foremost, because Christians are refusing to have honest discussions with each other. We aren’t, by and large, coming to the table and actually listening to the voices of others, especially those whom we have the most disagreements with. And it’s a shame because I think the beauty of Christianity, like any faith tradition, should be that the entire body gets to have a voice.
Unfortunately, however, this isn’t occurring nearly enough. It seems that more often than not those in the current majority are acting as the gatekeepers of the faith, dictating who’s in and who’s out, who’s orthodox and who’s heretical, who’s a true Christian and who’s a false brother or sister. It’s all just so disgustingly self-referential.
Of course, that is not always the case. Last Monday, I sat around the bonfire and had a wonderful conversation with a Buddhist, a retired Christian Universalist philosopher, and a former pastor of mine who is, for lack of a better term, Arminian in his theology (that is, he believes in eternal torment of some sort). And you know what happened? We had a wonderful time. We all listened to one another, heartily disagreed on certain points, poked fun from time to time, and parted ways amicably. What we didn’t do was demonize, accuse, and twist things in order to prove ourselves correct.
What a welcomed relief it was, especially for a Universalist such as myself. Generally, we are on the outside looking in, so to speak. But not on this night, not by this pastor. What he recognized is that we all should be allowed to voice our opinions, theological, exegetical, hermeneutical, philosophical, and otherwise. For that, I was extremely grateful, and just a bit less frustrated.
Then I stumbled upon an article on Patheos entitled “GQ Says the Bible is Overrated. Here’s What They Got Right” and my frustration returned. Here’s the bit that annoyed me the most:
“Just look at the rush from the pulpits to embrace . . . such concepts as ‘everyone goes to heaven’ because ‘God is love.’ Newly created views on hell, sin, humanity, and Jesus himself become social causes and fads that sweep up believers at an alarming rate.”
Now, there is nothing wrong with you if you aren’t a Universalist. There is nothing in the early creeds, for instance, that says one has to affirm universal reconciliation in order to be called a “Christian.” But dammit, please, please, please stop saying that rejecting the notion of hell as eternal conscious torment is a new idea! Can we at least be honest and admit that nobody who is alive today invented this doctrine? Please?
As I pointed out in my article “Indeed Very Many: Universalism in the Early Church,” the notion of “everyone going to heaven” is nothing new. It is not, as David Rupert suggest above, a fad that sweeps up believers at an alarming rate because, well, fads don’t last nearly 2,000 years. Rather, it is something taught by so much of the early church, including Bardaisan, Clement, Origen, Didymus, Gregory of Nyssa, Methodius, Macrina, and many others.
Nevertheless, as I just stated, you don’t have to believe in Universalism in order to come to the table. And the laundry list of early theologians who were Universalists isn’t proof that they are theologically correct. They could be wrong. I could be wrong. But guess what? So could all those who affirm eternal torment or annihilationism. At least admit it.
At the end of the day, none of us really know what is going to happen after we die. All I ask, however, is that you permit me to hope. Be like the pastor I just fellowshipped with and listen without judgment. Take the chance that those you disagree with may actually teach you something. And if they don’t, then they don’t. You’ll at minimum be no worse for the wear.
Until next time. Have a great day and be at peace with each other.