Is Christian Universalism a Slippery Slope?

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 LOTD 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.

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2 thoughts on “Is Christian Universalism a Slippery Slope?

  1. Your thoughts, though no doubt sincerely expressed, are nothing new. Your point of view has been extrapolated throughout the history of the church by various theologians and scholars, from both “orthodoxy” and obvious heresy. Your statement that everything must be “built upon”, so to speak, the “love of God”, sounds great, but has no scriptural basis. Granted, God’s love is spoken of often, but so is God’s righteousness and coming judgement. There is no scripture that says that everything about God MUST be understood through the lens of His love. To do so would be do ignore voluminous scriptures that speak of His holiness, righteousness, anger, judgement etc. Christ speaks of hell directly more than any biblical individual. Strange emphasis from one building His teaching (which He says is His Father’s teaching) supposedly on love.
    I certainly understand the difficulty. No one wants to believe someone has to suffer eternally, even the most evil. Then again, try as we might, we have little to no understanding of what is meant by God’s holiness and His hatred of sin, or what violations of His Law actually mean or their seriousness. We might say we do, but really, we don’t. Everything we think we know is clouded by sin and is imperfect at best. I would suggest that the truer nature of the slippery slope you speak of is our sudden belief that we know impeccably what God would or would not do, even beyond what little scripture teaches. Usually those who question God’s will and motives in scripture find themselves speechless (Job, for example) and under discipline. I find that the safest (considering my sinful nature) conclusions to reach are those that accord with scripture. If hell was only temporary, there appears to be an utter dearth of any scriptures telling us so. Eternal usually means eternal. Arguing from love is just playing one aspect of God’s nature against the others. Nor are there scriptures that clearly and literally teach us that hell is really just annihilation. There are contrasts, however, between what the believer and non-believer experience, i.e., just as the believer experiences eternal life so the non-believer experiences eternal separation from God. If this separation is not eternal, then logically eternal life with God is not eternal.
    There is much in scripture i do not fully grasp. To try to understand it, however, through my comprehension, emotions, judgement, etc. will invariably lead to heresy, unintentional though it may be. And this, from my 40+ years of experience and study, is the very basis of heresy: people trying to conform God to their own ability to understand or to their comfort level with said teachings. What you and i think and whether we approve of teachings about God is irrelevant. As you seem to imply, does it conform to scripture is the real question. And in all my studies of this specific topic, those who have and do agree with your reasoning do a barely adequate job of exegeting God’s love and a terrible job of expounding on His righteousness and judgement.
    You may end up being right. If you are, you and the few in orthodox christianity who agree with you have managed to perform a miracle. You have gone against the consensus of 2000 years of the church, which claims also to be based on scripture, and have managed to see what so few have seen (though many who claim such enlightenment have done so only in the last few decades). Again, not impossible, but always unlikely. Trust me, if you are right, i won’t be disappointed at all. God can do whatever He wants without our permission and without our understanding. His ways are not ours, nor are His thoughts. Blessings

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