When Christians are first introduced to the doctrine of Universal Reconciliation (UR), they are usually caught off guard. Since it challenges part of the foundation of the Atonement, as they know it, many are defensive of the Christianity that they have come to know. Since Scripture states that the wages of sin is death and that the second death is the Lake of Fire, many believe that Jesus came to save us from an all too real lake of burning sulfur; one, in which, people are tormented day and night — forever and ever. Therefore, when someone denies the doctrine of Endless Conscious Torment (ECT), Christians tend to either ignore the naysayers or they valiantly defend their doctrinal convictions.
When I started to doubt this doctrine, I was approached by several Christians, on many occasions, who felt like they were being led by the Spirit to tell me that I was stepping onto a very slippery slope and to warn me that I was in danger of backsliding. At first, I felt alarmed. Was I sliding down a frictionless slope toward heresy? It surely felt like it, at the time. I kept telling myself that I couldn’t accept CU regardless of how much it comforted my soul. It was heresy and I would not become a heretic.
However, as time went on, I realized that I needed to look into what actually makes heresy heretical. Did CU deny some essential truth of the Christian faith? Did it deny the exclusivity of Jesus? It must have—since it denied the reality of that from which Christ came to save us. He did come to save us from ECT, right? Is that not the death about which Scripture so frequently speaks? . . . Is it?
At the time, I was questioning so much of what I was brought up to believe. How far back had I slid? Had I crossed the threshold of no return? Could I escape this slippery slope of death? Just how close was I to the fiery pit that I was questioning?
Eventually, I began to realize that I was not backsliding at all, but following biblical instruction. Scripture commands us to “test all things” and to “hold onto what is good and true.” Was I following and trusting in a carnal, earthly kind of reasoning? Is there even such a thing? On the contrary, I decided to accept God’s invitation: to come and reason with him; rather than to blindly trust in what I was told is good and true.
Growing up, I was often reminded to beware of false teachers and to avoid strange theology, which sounds like great advice. Even though I was instructed to avoid false teachers, I was never taught how to identify them or their teachings. The company with which I surrounded myself identified strange doctrine as that which is unfamiliar or “unorthodox”; they assumed that one of the first steps onto a slippery slope included a willingness to entertain unorthodox ideas.
Backsliding definitely sounds like something we all should avoid, but what exactly is it that constitutes backsliding? Is questioning orthodoxy one of the criteria? Is it spiritually unhealthy to question the purpose of hell or any other particular concept? Does possessing great hope in the ultimate reconciliation of all things, which is a biblical concept, make one backslidden? Consider what Jeremiah had to say about this subject:
“’Your own wickedness will correct you, And your backslidings will rebuke you. Know therefore and see that it is an evil and bitter thing—that you have forsaken the LORD your God. And the fear of Me is not in you,’ Says the Lord GOD of hosts.” —Jeremiah 2:19
Firstly, where is the wickedness in questioning orthodoxy? Where is it in the doctrine of UR? I am not referring to the supposed wickedness in denying what many see as the “clear” teaching of Scripture. When the Bible speaks of wickedness, it always pertains to moral misdeeds, which leads to spiritual error. Questioning the validity of orthodoxy is anything but spiritual error because Scripture calls us to test such things.
Secondly, how are those who question orthodoxy forsaking the LORD? It seems to me that church authorities are the ones who feel forsaken. They are the ones fighting opposition, refusing to allow there be be diversity among their lambs. We who are committed to testing all things are not forsaking the LORD. If anything, we are trying to escape religious oppression so that we may walk toward a less distorted image of Christ.
Finally, is the fear of the LORD necessarily in anyone who believes in a particular doctrine of postmortem judgement? What is the fear of the LORD, exactly? We know that it is the beginning of wisdom; but what is a fear of the LORD that gives birth to wisdom? Does it spring up from a fear of ECT — if not for ourselves, then for the uncommitted?
Why do so many Christians believe that God desires so many broken souls to be enslaved and manipulated by such a fear? I cannot believe that it is so, not any longer. I have come to believe that the fear of the LORD is not a trepidation of postmortem possibilities, but a holy reverence toward he who formed our delicate souls. We who possess this great hope in UR are no more void of a fear of the LORD than are those who believe in ECT or Conditional Immortality.
The fear of the LORD may affect our understanding of postmortem judgement, but it does not constitute it. Given the criteria Jeremiah provided for being backslidden, one cannot say that questioning orthodoxy has anything to do with it. If anything, our desire to test theology, whether it is strange or not, reinforces our reverence toward God. As a Christian who believes so strongly in the cross, I cannot imagine a scenario beyond one in which Jesus succeeds in drawing everyone to himself. He is a God who keeps his promises, after all.
At the end of the day, if believing in UR places me on a slippery slope, I am sure that I will enjoy the ride! Christian Universalism is anything but heretical because it is built on a solid foundation — the unfailing love of God. The fear of the LORD may be the beginning of wisdom, but love is undoubtedly its end.
What do you think about “slippery slopes”? What does it mean to be backsliden? Share your thoughts below.