Lance, Are You a Universalist?

Disclaimer: This is only me dipping my toe into the waters of the Rob Bell discussion. I have yet to read the book. I have watched most of the television interviews he’s participated in, including the LiveStream archives of his panel dicussions. This is not a rebuttal or counter to any explicit topic, especially Bell’s book, Love Wins, but is related to the overall discussion about universalism.

A Definition

To start, a definition is in order so we’re starting on the same page. Webster defines Universalism as a theological doctrine that all human beings will eventually be saved.” I want to believe this. I really do. My humanity wants me to believe that Love Wins and God would not send people to an eternal suffering. How unfair of a loving God to judge people so harshly! Anyone with a conscience probably wants to believe that.

The Savior of All People?

A discussion with a great friend this morning brought up some tough to grasp scripture that may lead to some of this contention. 1 Timothy 4:10 (ESV) says “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” If you leave off those last five words, you’ll see the difficulty in reconciling God’s judgment the fact that He is truly the “Savior of all people”. In addition to those five clarifying words, you also must understand the context of this statement. Timothy was preaching to overcome Jewish dogma and false teachings, in that physical rights such as circumcision lead to salvation. In this context, these words mean that Jesus is the Savior, sent for all, but it is our responsibility to accept and obey the teachings of that Savior.

Another tough passage brought up this morning is Titus 4:11 (ESV) which says “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people”. Again, though, it is important to read this in context. Keep reading through verse 14. “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” It’s pretty easy to see our responsibility in the rest of this passage as living “self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age.” This isn’t a universalist belief at all.

Three Categories of Belief

In an extremely simplistic view of the world, I see three categories of belief. There are those who have heard The Gospel and believe, those who have heard and denied it, and those who have not heard at all. Please, please, please hear me when I say that’s an “extremely simplistic view”. The first two of those categories are easy for me. The Bible is extremely clear on those. It’s even clear in Revelation 3:16 (ESV) that the gray area that may exist in between is worse.

Where I trip up is the third category, those who haven’t heard at all. For that, another BFF pointed me to Romans 1:20 (ESV) which says “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” Wow, “without excuse”? Interesting. That is all I can say on that topic.

Lance, Are You a Universalist?

In my opinion, universalism and Christianity are mutually exclusive. If you believe that everyone will be saved/redeemed at any point, dead or alive, currently in Heaven or Hell, then the Gospel is irrelevant. The Great Commission is irrelevant. Yes, Jesus died for all people, but it is our responsibility to respond, as seen in John 3:16. “For God so loved the world (everyone) that He gave his only Son that whoever believes in Him (not everyone) should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

All of that said, judgment is not ours. Those gray areas in between should not distract us from our mission. Rob Bell brings up a situation of a woman molested by a pastor/priest. Is it fair to assume that in her situation, we should assume she should just get over it and disconnect that “man of God” from God Himself? Good question. If grace is truly irresistible (a Calvanist doctrine), then yes, we can assume that, but only because “with God, all things are possible” – Matthew 19:26 (ESV).

While we may want to lean towards universalism, we must look at scripture before putting our own desires above the teachings of Christ.

Closing Disclaimer: Please remember, I don’t direct this at Rob Bell, but only discuss conversation topics I’ve participated in recently. I have yet to read his book and can not speculate and don’t want to come across as rebutting text/comments I have yet to read.

If there was ever a post I wanted feedback on, this is it. Please comment!

Form vs. Function

I have more of the same this week. By that I mean more business influence in spiritual matters and vice versa. Monday, I was reading this post by Joshua Blankenship and was struck by something. In my past life as a usability analyst/interaction designer for the web, the concepts of design vs. content and form vs. function were constant balancing acts. While aesthetics are critical to the experience, they should enhance the content rather than overshadow it or become the focus. How often do we do this in our spiritual lives as individuals or churches?

The Individual

We all wear masks to hide our core. If you’re a church-goer, you’re probably very familiar with the concept of being one person on Sunday and a completely different person the rest of the week. It is not an easy task by any means, but how much less effort would we have to exert if we changed the content rather than the design? If we lived a lifestyle of worship, led by the Holy Spirit and allowed those fruit to come naturally rather than be a result of window-dressing, how much differently would we look?

The Church

For the local church, this can be taken both literally and figuratively. Do you care more about bodies, budget and buildings or the hearts inside the bodies, the ministries driving the budget or the people inside and more importantly outside the buildings? Take two churches side by side. One has all the marks of a church on mission – they’re growing in number, discipleship and reach in the community. The other seems to have plateaued on all accounts. The first meets in a brand new $25 million facility with the latest technology throughout. The second meets in a high school gymnasium built in 1960. What if you swapped locations? If the “content” is the focus, it won’t matter. That’s an extremely tough concept to grasp given cultural influence of media and those things that churches are seemingly “competing” with.

The Right Priorities

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

Don’t get me wrong, a $25 million facility can do great things to get people in the doors. But if you don’t put God’s word at the center, you’re just putting lipstick on a pig (sorry, but it’s better than saying “polishing a turd” in this context). Allow God to drive the ministry that creates the need for additional facilities and technology. In the case of the church, function comes before form.

Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.

—JOE SPARANO

Just don’t try to force your way without God. Let the natural byproduct of His influence be transparent. If it’s not, you’re still just putting lipstick on that pig.

The Love Gospel

When I originally titled this post, I had no idea that there existed a concept called “The Love Gospel”. And, it sort of fits with the latest Rob Bell fiasco that I’m not willing to talk about yet. Before I went about my writing, I hit up Google to see what the Internet had to say about the definition. Wow, am I glad I did. If you Google “The Love Gospel”, you will find some pretty adamant opinions about why what they describe is unbiblical. Most of it I’m in agreement with. So, if we stick with the overall concept, I agree wholeheartedly, but I should probably come up with a different name of what I’m calling it, because our definitions differ.

The common definition sits somewhere between political correctness and laziness. That you either keep your trap shut until after you’ve first loved a person to Christ or you ignore sin completely for sake of love. Either way, you might as well just be a motivational speaker. I won’t necessarily go into either of those because they’re pretty obvious points. I am a strong believer in Bill Hybel’s book, Just Walk Across the Room, which could easily be compared to the “keep your trap shut” method. However, Bill isn’t talking about bait and switch or the laziness argument. He’s talking about making your agenda known up front and just loving on people while the Holy Spirit does his thing to change hearts. In most cases, you’ll find people aren’t looking for someone to spew The Gospel on them every time you meet. Instead, most people, after knowing your heart, just want you to be you.

So why do I think my “Love Gospel” is better? I don’t. I didn’t make it up. Jesus did. Take a look at Mark 12:29-31.

29 Jesus answered, The most important is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. 31 The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.

A scribe asks Jesus what is the greatest commandment, and He answers him plainly. Even in John 3:16, the most widely known verse in scripture, it begins with God’s love. Jesus & His Father, God, are the only ones who are ever able to use absolutes like ‘all’, ‘never’ and ‘no other’. So, when Jesus says “There is no other commandment greater than these,” that’s exactly what He means. Nothing else. It isn’t context-based, culturally or time-boxed.

Some will bring up The Great Commission or the Ten Commandments, etc. I see those as a both/and not an either/or. They’re all crucial to our jobs as Christ-followers. In my opinion, though, we will not be successful following through with any of God’s commandments unless we first “love the Lord your God” and “love others.” This is along the same exact lines as my previous thoughts on the Holy Spirit, that we won’t display any of the fruit unless we first pursue the Holy Spirit.