The following is an excerpt from Hell in a Nutshell: The Mystery of His Will (see side panel to the right).
During a particular Sunday morning service—after the pastor had concluded his message and after the music director strummed his final chord—the youth pastor was closing the service with some final thoughts. Seeing how I, at the time, attended a Southern Baptist church that taught the prevalent doctrine of hell, I should have been the last person caught off guard by the situation in which I had placed myself.
Following his closing words, I hit a new low. I thought to myself, “Why should I even bother? What effect can I expect to make; not only among the church as a whole, but even among this small congregation? It’s not like this doctrine is up for discussion.” Right before the clock struck noon, the walls came crashing down. Just before the youth pastor closed the service, he gave thanks to God for our pastor who, according to him, was “bold enough to not just skip over what is ignored by so many churches.” I pondered, “Why does he assume that it takes intestinal fortitude to ‘preach to the choir’?”
Since I was recently in their shoes, I understood their perspective. Church congregants are conditioned to interpret conflict as though it is their cross to bear and are commissioned to stand firm in their convictions, regardless of whether or not they pertain to essential doctrines.28 Regardless of what type of a person decides to critique alleged inconsistencies in orthodoxy—whether it is an atheist, someone of a different religion, or a “liberal” Christian—they are usually seen as though they are just one in a multitude of skeptics who oppose other essential Christian doctrines.
In the eyes of many, Christian Universalists are blended in with the “hostile masses” that Jesus predicted would persecute his followers or lead them into false teachings. Jesus forewarned his disciples that they would be persecuted so they could prepare themselves for martyrdom—which they did. However, since his warning is applicable beyond its immediate context, many have interpreted whatever mode of conflict they happen to be in as a fulfillment of his prediction, which reinforces their presuppositions.
Unfortunately, Jesus’ words are not resistant to misapplications. Due to a overly-literalistic hermeneutic, many of Jesus’ followers misapply this admonition to circumstances that have nothing to do with martyrdom or persecution. Consequently, nonessential doctrines, like ECT, are treated as though they are essential the Christian Faith. Since many believe that their supposed persecution is the result of their loyalty to the biblical worldview and the authority of Scripture, many interpret contention as an affirmation of their presuppositions, which justifies their dismissive attitudes toward alternate theological possibilities.29
I rarely took statements like the youth pastor’s personally. It would have been naïve of me to allow statements that coincide with a church’s constitu- tion to offend me because I knew what I was signing up for when I joined the church. What bothered me the most was not simply what came out of his mouth because Scripture affirms that “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”30 Rather, I was caught off-guard by a premature “amen” from someone within an arm’s reach. Her remark was far more discourag- ing than anything the youth pastor could have said. It was almost like it was directed right at me or, better yet, for my benefit.
On the flip side of the ordeal, I have never felt such an abundance of joy than when I have shared in the fruit of my labor in sharing my convic- tions regarding the doctrine of Universal Reconciliation. Some time ago, I received a private message on Facebook that opened the floodgates of joy and humility. After months of estrangement, a former friend of mine sent me the following message:
Remember me? I was on your page and we had a big debate [on] Christian Universalism vs Eternal hell? And it all ended badly? Well, now I actually agree with you on Christian Universalism. I can’t see the teaching of an eternal hell in the Scriptures. Thanks for presenting this view to me, as it stuck with me for a while, nagging at me to consider. Being introduced into the church and believing eternal hell was a part of Christian doctrine is a hard hurdle to overcome. Just thought I’d give you this tidbit of encouragement. God bless you, Charles. Forgive me for my past.
For me, the only thing that surpasses witnessing someone come to the realization that God can and will draw everyone to the cross is when one of his prodigal children come home. I long to experience the two together. In this generation, I envision a worldwide revival built on the really good news of Universal Reconciliation. However, I doubt that there will be another nationwide revival, much less one that is worldwide, until CU is preached as fervently as ECT is presently defended.
I am by no means a prophet, but I foresee a time when salvation will no longer be presented primarily as a means to avoid an end.31 I am not alone. Many Christians long for the day when reconciliation will no longer be motivated by threats of annihilation or of endless misery, but rather with a simple explanation of God’s perpetual grace and mercy, relentless love, and victorious justice for all people.
In the grand scheme of things, we are all his sheep—either lost32 or found. So, too, are we all his children—either prodigal or at home in his arms. Our lives have been likened unto a vapor that vanishes just as quickly as it forms.33 In relation to eternity, our life on earth is but a dash or a comma in the celestial library of his kingdom, which is bursting at the seams with volumes upon volumes of books that are in the process of being written. When we die, it is not “THE END,” but merely one section of what he has for us. It is during the largest portion of eternity, after we exhale our final earthly breath, that the character of God will matter most. Can we trust the Author and Finisher of our faith to do what is right? God help us, if we cannot.
28. Many Christians have come to expect unbelievers and even professing Chris- tians with a “liberal” bend to disagree with their “God-given” views.
29. Keep in mind that I am not saying this describes everyone who believes in ECT.
30. Matt 12:34b.
31. This is not to say that everyone who accepts ECT sees it like that.
32. In the following section, I will examine the claim that goats and lost sheep are synonymous terms.