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Category Archives: Pro-Evangelical Universalist

Chad Holtz on what he gained and lost when he changed his mind on hell

WHAT I LOST LOSING HELL

(Originally posted here)
by Chad Holtz

While surfing through the deluge of posts and comments surrounding Bell’s approaching apocalyptic book, Love Wins, I started to think about the fears that are present on both sides of the conversation. Those defending the more traditional view of hell do so because they care very much about something they are convinced is true. I do not doubt their sincerity. Nor do I doubt the reality that whenever we shift paradigms with our beliefs, we lose something. It may be things we did not know we had.

I was raised in the church. From the time I could talk I believed in an eternal hell and that it would be full of people. This all changed about 3 years ago for me for a variety of reasons. But for 33 years I knew nothing else.

For the past few years I have given some thought to what I lost by losing hell. No doubt, there have been some major casualties. Here is a brief list of the big ones for me along with a description.

1. I lost the idol of belief.

Most of my Christian life I believed that I was saved because of what I believed. Yes, of course, I knew it was Jesus that made it possible for me to believe what I believed, but at the end of the day it was my good fortune (to be born a pastor’s kid in a predominately Christian culture) and my good sense that assured me a place in heaven versus hell. While I could not and would not have named it as such at the time, I idolized my belief of belief. When I lost hell, I also lost the the notion that I could secure anything about God’s future for myself through right (or wrong!) doctrine.

2. I lost a very powerful and useful motivator: Fear.

This was one of the hardest loses for me. Fear operated not only on others but on myself. No longer could I motivate myself to do good, to pray more, to go to church more, to be more charitable, etc., because a tormented eternity awaited me if I did not. I admit, for a long time that was a compelling motivator. It’s one I use on my kids probably far too often (not hell, although the fear of losing their Wii rights is a form of hell for my boys).

I also lost the ability to use fear as a tool to manipulate others to believe as I did. No longer could I get the satisfaction of seeing a crowded altar full of fearful, repentant sinners because I delivered a sermon that painted a picture of a very hot, miserable eternity if they died tonight without a belief in Jesus. Fear has worked wonders for getting people saved. It worked for me when I was 12 (and 13, and 14, and 15, and 16…). I had to find another motivator.

3. I lost the right to hate my enemy.

Yes, it’s true. Yes, I am well aware that Christians are supposed to love their enemies and pray for them. I’m aware that we are to love others as ourselves. But I have to confess that in my heart of hearts, that place where I worshiped a God whom I knew would send all His enemies to an everlasting hell, I really hated my enemies. Yes, I said with my lips that I “loved the sinner but hated their sin” (forget for the moment that our sinfulness is so ingrained in our person-hood that I, a sinner, am terrible at separating the sinner from the sin) and that I loved them with Christ’s love, but deep down I had a smug satisfaction that one day they would get theirs. This gave me comfort. And I can’t imagine that this deeply ingrained attitude of condescension was not obvious to those I sought to convert.

4. I lost my place in a tribe.

This is probably obvious given the many smear-blogs happening today. John Piper’s flippant, “Farewell, Rob Bell,” says it all. When I lost hell I lost my place in a “holy huddle” where I felt safe, secure and respected because I believed just like everyone else in the huddle. Losing hell made me an outcast to the sort of places I called “church” for 33 years, making me more like a nomad among Christiandom, with no real place to lay my head.

These are some of the things I have lost losing hell. I’m sure there are more. There are also some things I have gained, which perhaps I will write about at another time.

In the meantime, what have you lost when you lost hell? OR, what are you afraid of losing if you did?

WHAT I GAINED LOSING HELL

by Chad Holtz

Last week I wrote a note titled “What I Lost Losing Hell.” The discussion both there and on my page has been fantastic and I appreciate everyone’s contributions. Keep them coming! In that note I said I’d jot down some thoughts about what I gained by losing hell. Here are those thoughts. What are yours?

1. I gained a more profound faith

As I reflect on the years when I believed in a literal, eternal, tormenting hell I have to confess that I was a pathetic witness. While I claimed to believe in hell and that it would be quite full of people and I would happily make this belief known in my “holy huddle” (church), this belief did not translate to my every day life. For had I truly believed it, and had I truly loved my neighbor, I would have been telling every person I ever passed on the streets that hell was in their eternal future if they did not repent. So I have to conclude that at least one of two things was true about my belief in hell: > I didn’t really believe it and > I didn’t really love my neighbor (let alone my enemy).

As you might imagine, this tied me up in knots with guilt and anxiety. I worried all the time about all the billions who never would hear the name “Jesus” in their lifetime. I worried all the time about my friends and loved ones who believed differently from I because they were not fortunate enough to be born in my family. And I even worried about the people who claimed to be Christians but they didn’t act like it or they didn’t believe quite like I did (for instance, they didn’t believe in a literal, eternal hell). My anxiety over the future state of their souls, while doing nothing to really compel me to warn them incessantly, seemed to serve as a sense of assurance about my own eternal destiny. If I am concerned about you burning for eternity than I must be OK.

What I gained when I lost hell was a profound sense of trust that God, in Christ, has “all things,” including all the people I once worried about. I gained freedom from worry. After all, didn’t Jesus teach us not to worry? (Matt. 6). If I could trust God with my own eternal fate, perhaps I could trust God with the fate of all of Creation. For the first time in my life, I began to experience what I think is real trust. I no longer trusted my faith to set me free but I trusted in Christ and Christ alone to set us all free.

2. I gained a new boldness in evangelism/preaching.

When I lost hell, the Gospel became not just potential Good News for some but radical, scandalous Good News for all of God’s Creation! This gave me a boldness in my preaching and interactions with other people that before I did not have. It is a powerful thing to come to the realization that my arguments about God, my beliefs about God, or my ability to conjure the right amount of fear in the hearer or my well articulated and rehearsed presentation of the “Way of the Master” did not matter one iota. It was all skubalon.

Instead, I could preach grace. I could say to someone along with Saint Paul, “You ARE reconciled to God in Christ, therefore, BE reconciled!” (2 Cor. 5:12-21). Salvation was no longer reduced to fire insurance in the afterlife but became Good News to the oppressed, the broken, the sick, the poor, the sinner and the saint. The Gospel took on a power that I had never known before. No longer did it tell me and others what you could be if X, Y and Z are done but rather, it told us the truth about ourselves – it tells us whose and who we are! Rejection of this truth is not a sentence to hell in the afterlife but a denial of who you already are. In other words, to reject Christ is to live a lie today. Paul said, “Today is the day of your salvation! So….wake up!” I am far more motivated to tell people to wake up to what is already real today than I am of trying to convince them to believe in X or pray this prayer so that they can eat cake after they die.

3. I gained a new found humility

Yes, I am aware of the joke, “I’m the most humble person here.” What I am attempting to say here is that losing hell helped me recognize a profound truth about myself and every human alive: We are contingent beings relying solely on the grace and mercy of God.

Before I lost hell I thought my beliefs or actions somehow secured, for good or ill, my eternal fate. Yes, Jesus did something 2000 years ago that was important, but my belief about that event was even more important. My faith or lack thereof unlocked the doors to either heaven or hell. Because of this bedrock belief, it is easy to see why belief itself became everything (and Jesus became the object of belief to haggle over).

But Paul says something in Romans 11:32 that levels all of us. He makes the outrageous claim that God has imprisoned ALL in disobedience so that God may have mercy on ALL. Not some – ALL. This included even me with my “right” beliefs. I am just as disobedient and in dire need of mercy as the person who never heard of Jesus. Disagreements today became less about a judgment from the Sorting Hat for eternity and more about appreciating the multiple flavors we all bring to God’s table.

That being said, I fully acknowledge that I could be wrong about every thing I believe. We all live into a story, however. My beliefs are not what earn me merit with God but rather enable me to live either well or poorly into the story God is already writing, with or without me. My future, my very breath, is entirely a gift from God.

4. I gained a new motivation: Love.

I was once asked by a friend, “If you take hell out of the picture, why follow Jesus? Why not just live however you want?” I responded with a question of my own: “Do you serve and honor your wife because you fear divorce?”

When I realized that it was not my beliefs about Jesus but Jesus himself who has saved and is saving the world, I began to fall in love with a person and began to release the idol of my ideas. I do not serve and honor Jesus as my Lord because I fear an eternity in hell. I love him because he first loved me. Period. No agenda.

When I loved Jesus for an agenda (getting out of hell) I found that I also loved people with an agenda (getting them out of hell). My love for them was conditional. When they rejected my agenda I rejected them (“Farewell, Rob Bell”).

God loves because this is who God is. God does this perfectly, and perfect love casts out all fear. I’m called by my Lord, whom I love, to be perfect as my Father in heaven is perfect. While I stumble and fall more times than I care to admit, I’m thankful that it is into my Father’s arms I fall and not a fiery pit.


 

Links to 19th Century Universalism Defenses

Here are a couple of older links to readings too long to copy/past that defend Universalism.

Universalism: The Prevailing Doctrine

Bible Proofs of Universal Salvation

 

William Barclay – Why I am a Convinced Universalist

I AM A CONVINCED UNIVERSALIST

by William Barclay

 

Professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at Glasgow University and the author of many Biblical commentaries and books, including a translation of the New Testament, “Barclay New Testament,” and “The Daily Study Bible Series.”


I am a convinced universalist. I believe that in the end all men will be gathered into the love of God. In the early days Origen was the great name connected with universalism. I would believe with Origen that universalism is no easy thing. Origen believed that after death there were many who would need prolonged instruction, the sternest discipline, even the severest punishment before they were fit for the presence of God. Origen did not eliminate hell; he believed that some people would have to go to heaven via hell. He believed that even at the end of the day there would be some on whom the scars remained. He did not believe in eternal punishment, but he did see the possibility of eternal penalty. And so the choice is whether we accept God’s offer and invitation willingly, or take the long and terrible way round through ages of purification.

Gregory of Nyssa offered three reasons why he believed in universalism. First, he believed in it because of the character of God. “Being good, God entertains pity for fallen man; being wise, he is not ignorant of the means for his recovery.” Second, he believed in it because of the nature of evil. Evil must in the end be moved out of existence, “so that the absolutely non-existent should cease to be at all.” Evil is essentially negative and doomed to non-existence. Third, he believed in it because of the purpose of punishment. The purpose of punishment is always remedial. Its aim is “to get the good separated from the evil and to attract it into the communion of blessedness.” Punishment will hurt, but it is like the fire which separates the alloy from the gold; it is like the surgery which removes the diseased thing; it is like the cautery which burns out that which cannot be removed any other way.

But I want to set down not the arguments of others but the thoughts which have persuaded me personally of universal salvation.

First, there is the fact that there are things in the New Testament which more than justify this belief. Jesus said: “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). Paul writes to the Romans: “God has consigned all men to disobedience that he may have mercy on all” (Rom. 11:32). He writes to the Corinthians: “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22); and he looks to the final total triumph when God will be everything to everyone (1 Cor. 15:28). In the First Letter to Timothy we read of God “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” and of Christ Jesus “who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:4-6). The New Testament itself is not in the least afraid of the word all.

Second, one of the key passages is Matthew 25:46 where it is said that the rejected go away to eternal punishment, and the righteous to eternal life. The Greek word for punishment is kolasis, which was not originally an ethical word at all. It originally meant the pruning of trees to make them grow better. I think it is true to say that in all Greek secular literature kolasis is never used of anything but remedial punishment. The word for eternal is aionios. It means more than everlasting, for Plato – who may have invented the word – plainly says that a thing may be everlasting and still not be aionios. The simplest way to out it is that aionios cannot be used properly of anyone but God; it is the word uniquely, as Plato saw it, of God. Eternal punishment is then literally that kind of remedial punishment which it befits God to give and which only God can give.

Third, I believe that it is impossible to set limits to the grace of God. I believe that not only in this world, but in any other world there may be, the grace of God is still effective, still operative, still at work. I do not believe that the operation of the grace of God is limited to this world. I believe that the grace of God is as wide as the universe.

Fourth, I believe implicitly in the ultimate and complete triumph of God, the time when all things will be subject to him, and when God will be everything to everyone (1 Cor. 15:24-28). For me this has certain consequences. If one man remains outside the love of God at the end of time, it means that that one man has defeated the love of God – and that is impossible. Further, there is only one way in which we can think of the triumph of God. If God was no more than a King or Judge, then it would be possible to speak of his triumph, if his enemies were agonizing in hell or were totally and completely obliterated and wiped out. But God is not only King and Judge, God is Father – he is indeed Father more than anything else. No father could be happy while there were members of his family for ever in agony. No father would count it a triumph to obliterate the disobedient members of his family. The only triumph a father can know is to have all his family back home. The only victory love can enjoy is the day when its offer of love is answered by the return of love. The only possible final triumph is a universe loved by and in love with God.

 

(Quoted from William Barclay: A Spiritual Autobiography)

 

Bart Campolo talks about his move to Universalism

Originally printed in Youth Specialties

The Limits of God’s Grace

Written by Bart Campolo

A few years ago, after being politely asked to depart early from yet another speaking engagement for giving the wrong answer to a question about the limits of God’s mercy, I decided it wasn’t fair to keep sneaking up on unsuspecting Evangelicals.

Strange as it seems to me, I know all too well that to proclaim a God compassionate enough to seek the rescue of every one of his children—and powerful enough to pull it off—is a dangerous scandal to such folks. In a very real way, they don’t even hope for universal salvation. After all, without the fear of their unsaved loved ones’ eternal damnation, how would they motivate one another for outreach and missionary service?

And yet, almost everywhere I go, I meet people—especially young people—who are not motivated at all by such fear. On the contrary, these people are utterly horrified by the notion of a Heavenly Father who e

ssentially says to his children, “I love you, but if for any reason you fail to accept that fact before your mortal body expires, I will kill and torture you for all eternity.” Especially if that same Heavenly Father holds in hand all the reasons the children do or don’t accept in the first place.

These are the people who ask me the questions that used to lead to my early departures, and who write me letters and emails like this one:

Dear Bart,

This might be kind of weird, but I have a question for you.

I lived and worked among the poor with Mission Year in the inner-city of Atlanta last year. When you came to visit my team, you told a story about how when you first started working in rough neighborhoods, you got to know a girl who was gang-raped as a nine-year-old and—after her Sunday School teacher told her God must have allowed it for a reason— rejected God forever. Because you believed God was indeed in control, and because you believed that girl’s lack of faith doomed her to eternal damnation, you decided that God must be a ‘cruel bastard.’ You sort of said the words inside my head out loud, words I had wanted to say for a long time.

Anyway, after putting this off for almost a year, I want to know how you reconciled that. How

did you make it from, “God is a cruel bastard” back to “I can trust him”? I can’t seem to make that leap. Sometimes I begin to really trust him, but as soon as I think about my past abuse and those I know and love who are bound for Hell, it just doesn’t add up. I want to know the God you know—who apparently allows for horrible things in this world to happen, yet remains pure and holy and trustworthy and faithful and loving.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense to you, but as I was wrestling with it again today I was reminded of you and hoped you might be of some help.

Sarah

Dear Sarah,

Thank you for writing to me. Over the past few years, I have become convinced that yours is actually the single most important question in the world. As Rabbi Harold Kushner observes, “Virtually every meaningful conversation I’ve had with people about God has either started with that question or gotten around to it before long.” While I am sure my answer will not be as eloquent as his, I will do my best.

First of all, while I certainly believe my most cherished ideas about God are supported by the Bible (what Christian says otherwise?), I must admit they did not originate there. On the contrary, most of these ideas were formed during that difficult time I described to you, when I was suddenly disillusioned by the suffering and injustice I discovered in the inner-city—I suddenly did not trust the Bible at all. At that point, for the first time, I realized that people’s lives don’t depend on whether or not they believe in God, but rather on what kind of God they believe in. I also realized, for better or worse, that the only evidence I could rely on was that w

hich I saw for myself.

What I saw then, and still see now, is a world filled with dazzling goodness and horrific evil, love and hate, beauty and ugliness, life and death. In the face of such clear dualities, it seemed to me then, and still seems to me now, that there are but a handful of spiritual possibilities:

* There are no spiritual forces. The material universe is all. Our lives bear no larger meaning, and those who hope for more hope in vain. In this case, considering that nine year-old rape victim, I despair.

* There is only one spiritual force at work in the universe, encompassing both good and evil. This w

orld is precisely as this force wills it to be, and everything—including the rapes of children— happens according to its plan. In this case, again, I despair.

* There are two diametrically opposing spiritual forces at work in the universe, one entirely good and loving and the other entirely evil. Satan (or whatever one chooses to call that evil force) is most powerful and therefore will utterly triumph in the end. The suffering of that poor little girl is but a foretaste of the complete suffering that is to come for us all. In this case, of course, I despair.

* There are two opposing spiritual forces at work in the universe, one entirely good and loving and the other entirely evil. God (or whatever one chooses to call that good and loving force) is most powerful and therefore will utterly triumph in the end. The suffering of that poor little girl—evil’s doing—will somehow be redeemed, and she herself will be healed as part of the complete redemption and absolute healing that is to come for all of us. In this case—and in this case alone—I rejoice and gladly pledge my allegiance to this good and l

oving God.

I cannot prove or disprove any of these possibilities, of course, based on the evidence of my experience. What I know with certainty, however, is the one that makes me want to go on living, the one I choose for my own sake, the one I deem worthy of my allegiance.

I may be wrong in this matter, but I am not in doubt. If indeed faith is being sure of what we hope for, then truly I am a man of faith, for I absolutely know what I hope to be true: that God is completely good, entirely loving, and perfectly forgiving, that God is doing everything possible to overcome evil (which is evidently a long and difficult task), and that God will utterly triumph in the end, despite any and all indications to the contrary.

This is my first article of faith. I required no Bible to determine it, and—honestly—I will either interpret away or ignore altogether any Bible verse that suggests otherwise.

This first article of faith was the starting point of my journey back to Jesus, and it remains the foundation of my faith. I came to trust the Bible again, of course, but only because it so clearly bears witness to the God of love I had already chosen to believe in. I especially follow the teachings of Jesus because those teachings—and his life, death, and resurrection—seem to me the best expression of the ultimate truth of God, which we Christians call grace. Indeed, these days I trust Jesus even when I don’t understand him, because I have become so convinced that he knows what he’s talking about, that he is who he says he is, and that he alone fully grasps that which I can only hope is true.

Unfortunately for me, God may be very different from what I hope, in which case I may be in big trouble come Judgment Day. Perhaps, as many believe, the truth is that God created and predestined some people for salvation and others for damnation, according to God’s will. Perhaps such caprice only seems unloving to us because we don’t understand. Perhaps, as many believe, all who die without confessing Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior go to Hell to suffer forever. Most important of all, perhaps God’s sovereignty is s

uch that although God could indeed prevent little girls from being raped, God is no less just or merciful when they are raped, and those children and we who love them should uncritically give God our thanks and praise in any case.

My response is simple: I refuse to believe any of that. For me to do otherwise would be to despair.

Some might say I would be wise to swallow my misgivings about such stuff, remain orthodox, and thereby secure my place with God in eternity. But that is precisely my point: If those things are true, then God might as well send me to Hell. For better or worse, I simply am not interested in any God but a completely good, entirely loving, and perfectly forgiving One who is powerful enough to utterly triumph over evil. Such a God may not exist, but I will die seeking such a God, and I will pledge my allegiance to no other possibility because, quite frankly, anything less is not worthy of my worship.

Please, don’t get me wrong. I am well aware that I don’t get to decide who God is. What I do get to decide, however, is to whom I pledge my allegiance. I am a free agent, after all, and I have standards for my God, the first of which is this: I will not worship any God who is not at least as compassionate as I am. If Mahatma Gandhi and my young friend who got gang-raped are going to Hell because they failed to believe the right stuff, then I suppose I am too, for the same reason. John Calvin—or Jerry Falwell for that matter—may well be right after all, but if they are I would rather cling to my glorious hope than accept their bitter truth just to save my own skin.

You can figure out the rest. I don’t hate God because I don’t believe God is fully in control of this world yet. Heck, God is not fully in control of me yet, even when I want God to be—so how could I possibly believe that God is making all the bad stuff happen out there in the streets? I don’t hate God because I believe God is always doing the best God can within the limits of human freedom, which even God cannot escape.

On that last point, consider for a moment the essential relationship between human freedom and love, and then consider the essential identity between love and God. If God is love and made us for love in God’s image, then God had no choice but to make us free, to leave us free, and to win us over to his Kingdom as free agents (which, evidently, is a long and difficult task). So God did, I believe, and so God will.

I don’t hate God because, although I suppose God knows everything that can be known at any given point in time, I don’t suppose God knows or controls everything that is going to happen. I also don’t hate God because in more than 20 years on the street, I have seen too much of evil (and too much of my own, moving-in-the-right-direction but-still-pretty-doggone-sinful nature). I don’t hate God because it seems to me tha

t this world is a battleground between good and evil, not a puppet show with just one person pulling all the strings. I don’t hate God because the God I have chosen to believe in isn’t hate-able, and because I refuse to believe in the kind of God that is.

Now here is the good news: I may be entirely wrong, but even in my darkest hours, my God of love hasn’t stopped speaking to me. On the contrary, I hear God’s voice in places I never did before, always saying the same things, one way or another: I am with you. I’m sorry about all the pain. It hurts me, too, especially when my little ones suffer. I have always loved you, and I always will. Do the best you can, but don’t worry. Everything will be all right in the end. Trust me.

And I do. And I hope you will, too, sooner than later.

Your friend,

Bart

Of course, to believe in God the way I do is to change all the rules of ministry—especially of youth ministry. I still do my best to convince young people to accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, but not because I’m afraid God will damn them to Hell if they don’t. On the contrary, I want the kids I love to follow Jesus because I genuinely believe following Jesus is the best kind of life. Eternity aside, I want them to be transformed by the Gospel right here and right now, for their sakes and for the sakes of all the lost and broken people out there who need them to start living as Jesus’ disciples. After all, the sooner w

e all start following Jesus by feeding the poor and freeing the oppressed, the sooner God’s will shall be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

Most of all, however, I evangelize people because, having discovered that they are the beloved children of my beloved God, I don’t want them to suffer one minute longer than they have to without knowing that most wonderful fact of life.

And I stay in the inner city, in spite of all the suffering and injustice I see here every day, because I can. No longer do I blame God for what is beyond his control or hate God for so much pain his little

ones endure. Even in the midst of such ugliness, I can stay here because I am full of faith. I may not be sure of what I know anymore, but I am absolutely certain of what I hope for, and most of the time I manage to live in that direction.

I stay here for one more reason, of course: In places like this, nobody asks you to leave early because you can’t find the limits of God’s grace.