Thursday, July 10, 2008

I've spent several hours reading but this was all online, not books. I mentioned this subject back on 8/13/06 and got reprimanded by a couple of my fundamentalist friends for delving into heresy, so I put it on the back burner and haven't pursued it since then. But the subject has been in the news lately, so naturally my interest was once again piqued. It started with the dust-up between Dr. James Dobson and Barack Obama. Then Amy Sullivan of Time reported:

A new Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey of 35,000 Americans reports that 70% agree with the statement "Many religions can lead to eternal life," including 57% of Evangelicals. No less a figure than George W. Bush responded "no" when asked in 1999 if he believed heaven is open only to Christians.

"Is Barack Obama a Universalist?" my Republican neighbor demanded. Not really knowing a lot about Universalism, I skirted that discussion for as long as I could, but he wouldn't leave it alone. Finally, I realized I had to get more informed about the subject if I were going to discuss it. So that's what I've been reading today. And there are lots of sites with lots of articles to read, and some very compelling arguments, I must admit. No wonder the Calvinists have their knickers in knots.

I'm no theologian, so I'm really not qualified to say who is a Universalist and who isn't. I did read that the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention the Rev. Johnny Hunt has been accused of being one. In a sermon to the SBC Pastor's Conference in 2005 he said: By the way, aren’t you grateful, that there’s hope? Listen to me carefully, its important we understand this, Convention. There’s hope for everyone in Jesus. Everyone. Everyone. Not a select group. Everyone. Someone says, ‘Pastor you believe that you’re the elect?’ I sure am. Everybody that gets in is the elect; and he’s elected all of us. I believe everyone can be saved. Anyone can come to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Someone said, “I don’t think you ought to preach like that.” Well, I just hope no one gets saved that’s not supposed to. I’m serious. We better get away from that and get back to the book and invite everyone to come to Christ! Just preach it! Invite everybody! Tell everyone!

If that is Universalism, I guess I've been one for a long time. He's not saying anything there that I haven't heard my own father preach from his pulpit many times. This sketch was on one of the discussion boards I visited today.

Dr. John MacArthur fell out with Billy Graham saying he was one, too, and the late Pope John Paul. By the way, I'm not a fan of MacArthur but he did preach a sermon about moralism that I liked. I agreed with about 95% of it, in fact. Those who know me will have no trouble picking out the part I didn't agree with.

Karl Barth was accused of being universalist when he taught that restrictive ideas about salvation reflected a rejection of the sovereignty of God. He said things like, Man can certainly flee from God... but he cannot escape him. He can certainly hate God and be hateful to God, but he cannot change into its opposite the eternal love of God which triumphs even in his hate.

And William Barclay, whose commentaries I used as a Baptist Sunday School teacher, was unequivocal on the subject. He made radical statements like this: It is claimed that it takes the iron out of Christianity because it removes the threat. No longer can the sinner be dangled over the pit of hell. No longer can what Burns called the “hangman’s whip” of the fear of Hell be threateningly cracked over the sinner. But the kind of universalism in which I believe has not simply obliterated hell and said that everything will be all right for everyone; it has stated grimly that, if you will have it so, you can go to Heaven via Hell.

If this is a subject that interests you, too, I've found enough resources on these two sites to keep any spiritual seeker busy, Tentmaker Ministries and The Christian Universalist Association. Something else that won't surprise some of you is that today's study reminded me of a favorite old hymn, "There's a Wideness in God's Mercy."

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.

There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Are more felt than up in Heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings
Have such kindly judgment given.

There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior;
There is healing in His blood.

There is grace enough for thousands
Of new worlds as great as this;
There is room for fresh creations
In that upper home of bliss.

For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.

There is plentiful redemption
In the blood that has been shed;
There is joy for all the members
In the sorrows of the Head.

’Tis not all we owe to Jesus;
It is something more than all;
Greater good because of evil,
Larger mercy through the fall.

If our love were but more simple,
We should take Him at His word;
And our lives would be all sunshine
In the sweetness of our Lord.

Souls of men! why will ye scatter
Like a crowd of frightened sheep?
Foolish hearts! why will ye wander
From a love so true and deep?

It is God: His love looks mighty,
But is mightier than it seems;
’Tis our Father: and His fondness
Goes far out beyond our dreams.

But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.

Was there ever kinder shepherd
Half so gentle, half so sweet,
As the Savior who would have us
Come and gather at His feet?


Charlie J. Ray said...

Ms. Sippi,

Somehow your blog article got linked to my article on Karl Barth's universalism. However, to briefly respond to your article, I have to say your have confused two distinct theological positions. Karl Barth's view of universal salvation basically says that no one will go to hell. Your quote from Barclay is the same position. The other theological position, which you seem to conflate with universalism, is a univeral atonement which makes it "possible" for anyone who "believes" to be saved. This is pretty much the position taken by the vast majority of "Arminian" Evangelicals such as the Southern Baptists in general.

I don't know if Johnny Hunt is a Calvinist but I hope so. However, Hunt's comments do not necessary contradict a particular atonement which is only for elect individuals. What Hunt is calling for is a general call or invitation to all who hear the Gospel. Most Calvinists I know of would never object to preaching the Gospel to every single individual on earth. And, as Hunt said, I pray only those who are elect will be saved. The rest are not supposed to. However, from the context, Hunt's remarks are merely sermonic and not theologically accurate. Even Arminians believe you cannot be elected until you make a decision of faith. It's called "conditional election" while the Calvinist position is called "unconditional election." In other words, election takes place before the foundation of the world and is not conditioned on the basis of your faith or decision.

The trouble with Evangelicalism today is that it is becoming more and more liberal because doctrine is being left by the wayside. May God open the eyes of the blind and lead them to true conversion!


Shamby said...


As we have discussed in your blog, Barth's so-called "universalism" cannot be boiled down to a belief that nobody will go to hell. This interpretation requires an assumption because any time that Barth discussed human salvation, in was in the context of their inability to influence God's sovereignty, even to the degree that when humans do something wrong, it does not affect God's sovereignty to do with them one way or the other according to God's grace.

Barth was not saying that all would be saved, he was saying that what God does is entirely up to him. That said, Jesus Christ is God's statement on the issue. One might interpolate that sending Christ, for Barth, meant universal salvation for all, but it would remain an interpolation and not in actual fact, the belief of Barth himself.

Barth was once asked point blank, "Are you a universalist?"

His answer: "No, but I'm not sure that God isn't."

That said, universal salvation can imply universal atonement, where they are functionally the same thing. I will allow that Barth implies this, but only from God's perspective. To suggest that it is HIS position destroys the spirit of his entire Dogmatics.

I recognize that the line is subtle here, but when dealing more deeply with Barth's theology, it becomes fairly significant to understand the difference.

I'm not agreeing with Barth, just stating the case (since I've studied him).