Universalism: The Dangers of Postmodern Theology in the Church
“The notion that a creature born imperfect, nay, born with impulses to evil not of his own generating, and which he could not help having, a creature to whom the true face of God was never presented, and by whom it never could have been seen, should thus be condemned to everlasting torment is as loathsome a lie against God as could find place in a heart too undeveloped to understand what justice is, and too low to look up into the face of Jesus. It never in truth found place in any heart, though in many a pettifogging brain.”
– George MacDonald
Universalism, the concept that all people will eventually be reconciled to God and experience eternity in heaven, is not a new idea. Universalist teachings have been recorded as early as the third century in Christian literature, namely from the early church father, Origen. Its popularity has fluctuated since then, but now seems to be especially high. Many people attribute the recent upswing in support to theologians such as Friedrich Schleiermacher and George MacDonald. These theologians, who both came from Calvinist backgrounds, spent a great deal of time arguing for a universal salvation. These theologians, as well as some others, certainly did well in spreading the view to people, but I believe the main reason why universalism has done so well recently has a lot more to do with our culture’s leaning towards postmodernism than anything else.
At the heart of postmodernism is a rejection of a knowable, universal truth. The postmodern viewpoint is an intentional move away from the scientific mentality and objectivity which was established during the era of the enlightenment. With the rejection of these principles, people are free to form their own views about truth and reality.
This may not sound like our culture because, at first glance, we seem to be very scientific-minded, but upon closer inspection, there are certain areas of thought in which postmodernism flourishes. Among these areas of thought, religion is the most relevant to our current discussion. Though postmodernism is much more apparent in secular views regarding spirituality, Christianity is not immune.
Postmodern thought is very common within the church, albeit in a slightly different form.
We have a bad habit of trying to shape christianity into what we want it to be. If we don’t like a certain verse or doctrine, then the solution is simple: deny, deny, deny. We shape our theology around what we think is most desirable, and then we find anything that might be evidence in support of it.
This is something that I have tried to search out and eliminate within my own views recently, but realistically, this kind of “build-your-own Christianity” is ubiquitous.
I believe that this kind of postmodernism within Christianity is at the heart of universalism today. We seem to have such a hard time coming to grips with a God who is angry. We have a hard time accepting that He will send people to hell to suffer for an eternity. George MacDonald puts this very clearly in the quote above. We don’t like the doctrine of hell, so the opportunity to brush it off as “a lie against God,” is tempting.
We look to God as the ultimate embodiment of love and it’s not a surprise that there can be difficulties incorporating hell into that picture. But, what are we supposed to do? Should we abandon the teaching of hell in order to make Christianity more appealing?
The problem with that as an option is that scripture speaks of hell as a reality. It may be easier for us to abandon the teaching of hell, but in doing so we abandon the teachings of Christ as well. Jesus spoke quite clearly of the dangers of hell and quite often. When sending the disciples out into the world, Jesus says, “Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt 10:28, HCSB).” Although we may not like it, Jesus preached the reality of hell.
We must come to the point of accepting that an absolute truth in regards to this issue exists. What we want to be true has no bearing on what is actually true. I may want to believe that I don’t have to pay any bills this month, but reality will not accommodate that desire. Just the same, I may want God to save everyone, but that doesn’t mean that He will. If we hope to grasp the gospel in its true form, then we must look upon it as it is and accept it, regardless of whether or not we like it.
This may not seem like a satisfying position to hold, but we must know what the reality is before we can truly understand it. We can ultimately come to a place where we understand God’s heart in this, but we wont ever get there if we are trying to make God fit into our current sphere of understanding. If you want to know God and understand His plan for humanity, then you have to be willing to meet Him where He is.
THEOLOGY21 is a co-op of authors dedicated to renovating theology for a new generation, taking the ancient truths of scripture and theology and speaking to the post-Christian culture of the 21st century. To keep up-to-date on all things THEOLOGY21, Give our Facebook page a “like”, follow our twitter page, add yourself to our email list, or subscribe to our feed!