I’ve been really struggling the past few days to get the energy to write again. Oh, I’ve been doing the sermon thing — that monster never really goes away. It’s my other writing that has been a struggle — posts here, e-mail newsletters for the church, all those various and sundry things that filled my time for several days. Some of this is medication induced; I started a new med about 10 days ago and have been tired and listless. Some of this is that I simply haven’t had much to say.
Yesterday, I recieved a mailing and phone call from the brother-in-law of a friend. This man is a United Methodist minister who has taken up an itinerant ministry to combat what he calls “the heresy of judgement and eternal damnation.” He is an unapologetic universalist, and has committed his ministry to proclaiming this to the world. He wrote and called asking for an opportunity to speak at our church.
Talking with him and thinking about how this would fly at the place I serve set me to thinking about salvation and damnation. Frankly, I don’t preach much on damnation. I align myself with the Brennan Manning school which believes that proclaiming the radical love and grace of Christ is much more important than laying a guilt trip on someone that their soul is in mortal danger unless they accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior. I want to worship a God who wants to love folks into the kingdom, not scare them.
This issue of universalism, which is considered heretical by many, is interesting. Many of us in the Emerging movement have been accused of being universalistic in that we don’t talk much about judgement and damnation. In fact, several are more than willing to point out the problem of the paradox of a loving God and eternal damnation. Yet, none of us would claim to be universalistic. We believe in the possibility of separation from the divine.
I believe that God’s intention is that all are saved. To posit a God whose desire is otherwise is to suggest that this loving God that we worship is in fact a sadist, reveling in the pain of those who reject God. While God’s desire is for all to be saved, God’s gift of freedom (sometimes called free will) allows the created to reject the creator. Thus, separation from God comes not as a punishment by a spiteful God for unfaithfulness, but as an active choice to ignore the signs of the creator which are all around us.
Basically, I hold to an opt-out theology of soteriology as opposed to a opt-in. God’s desire is to save, to redeem, to transform, to recreate. But we’re given the ability to opt out of that desire, to reject God and say that we can function without God in our lives. An opt-in theology (usually focused on making a personal decision to accept Jesus as our personal savior) takes the focus away from God’s actions in the world to our actions. We basically say that it really isn’t important God’s place in salvation, but rather that our decision is the primary actor in the salvation story.
Of course, I am overgeneralizing and simplifying all over the place, failing to answer many key questions. It’s late and I’m tired. Yet, I believe that God wants to lead all into being who they were created to be. If that makes me a universalist, then so be it.