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Here we are at the end of my study into universal salvation as presented by Philip Gulley in his book “If Grace Is True”. It took a lot longer to get here than I originally thought but this is a very serious subject so I shouldn’t be surprised. I am still not totally in the camp of universal salvation but I am definitely leaning pretty severely that way. I guess the lingering doubt has to do with all the years that it was drilled into my head that Jesus’ sole purpose for coming was to die for me a sinner. That type of guilt trip is hard to counter. As I am reading  the Bible going forward I will do so with universal salvation in mind and see if that affects my thoughts.

On reason I am leaning toward universal salvation is I’m sure a push back against being told all those years that God viewed me totally as just a poor miserable sinner. I know the apostle Paul almost fixated on that but I really don’t remember many words from Jesus emphasizing it.  I grew up with a very low sense of self-esteem and I’m sure the “poor miserable sinner” mantra  being drilled into me contributed toward that feeling of incompetence. I have eventually come to see God not as a wrathful being but a God who has agape love for all his creation. Yes, he is likely disappointed in our obedience to his demand to love each other but since agape love is all encompassing he loves us despite that falling. Why shouldn’t God’s total and unending love be the primary lesson for all who grow up in a Christian family? Why do we need to fear God when He says he is all about love?  I wonder how much different the world would be if more Christian kids were taught that God loves them and wants them to accomplish great things in their lives?

What if universal salvation is true? What are the consequences? To me they are many and significant. Christians spend so much time trying to get sinners to come to Jesus but if that has already been taken care of then we seem to be wasting our time doing something that is already a done deal. If we want people to understand who Jesus was then the best way to do that is to live our lives as Jesus taught us. He gave us that message more time than I can remember.

Of course if universal salvation is true then we can no longer believe that we will be the only ones in heaven. We can’t believe that the other 39,000 versions of Christ are wrong. We can’t make enemies of those of different faiths. Universal salvation makes the crusades and all the other murderous ventures that occurred in the church’s history totally senseless. It also takes  power away from the myriad of “fire and brimstone” religious leaders and put it back on God and His love where it belonged all along.

When it comes right down to it God said he wants everyone to come to him. Who am I to try and deny him that power??

Are You Saved???

April 10, 2013 — Leave a comment

If Grace is trueOccasionally people knock on my door or hand me a tract on a street corner or strike up a conversation with the aim of asking, “Are you saved?” Even before I believed in the salvation of every person, I always answered with an enthusiastic yes. Often, rather than sharing my elation, my inquisitors would look me up and down with a dubious eye and ask another question. The second question varied depending on the person. Many asked, “Have you repented of your sins and accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior?” Some asked, “Do you belong to a Bible-believing church?” Others asked if I’d been fully immersed or baptized in the name of Jesus or filled with the Holy Spirit and spoken in tongues. My salvation hinged on how I answered their second query. Those most aggressive about determining my salvation were also most certain what it meant to be saved. They knew the sole formula. Claiming to be a Christian was never enough. I had to subscribe to their specific explanation for the human condition, the activity of God, the means and purpose of salvation. If not, I faced damnation.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (p. 155). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

We humans, and that includes everyone who is or has ever been in the church, put so many conditions on God’s grace where he seem to have put none. Putting an emergent twist on this topic, this has been the case for most of the church’s history. One theologian believes “X” and another believes “Y”. If they aren’t overpowered as a heretic then the church’s belief becomes “X+Y”. Over the ages this has resulted in a belief code that is almost as long at the U.S. tax code.  Much about the church has become what to believe rather than what to do.

I spent several years trying to sort all of this out. There are literally hundreds of published theologians around today and I studied many of them. In some ways they are kind of like expert witnesses at trials.  If you just look enough you can find one who will testify as the the truthfulness of whatever you want to believe. During those years of study I became overwhelmingly frustrated in trying to discern what God was really like. It was not until I heard a whisper telling me to not be concerned about what the theologians said  but instead to listen with my heart and soul.

At that point I learned a valuable lesson and that is that God just can’t be defined by human logic or understanding. Mine or anyone else’s. The theologians throughout the ages are simply men like you or I who have an opinion which they hope will garner them some authority with the body of Christ and praise from men.  They like everyone else want to leave a legacy behind so they make up this or that rule or belief to add to all the others before them.  Do they do this with a belligerent intent? For the most part I don’t imagine so.

As a result we, as one of the 39,000 different versions of church, have piled belief and rules one upon the other where God had put only two. As the quote above inferred every version of Jesus’ church they have the sole formula for salvation. God in the person of Jesus made it pretty simple and that is to love God with everything you have and to love your fellowman. It couldn’t be simpler than that.  Why have we allowed so many since Jesus’ time to pile on so many other things?

Am I saved? If I believe in the agape love and grace of God then I can give you an emphatic yes as an answer. If I live by the piles of accumulated beliefs that answer is not so simple. I think I will choose Jesus’ simple words instead of man’s complicated ones.


If Grace is trueFor what good is grace—this unconditional love of God—if it is not extended to those who deserve it the least but need it the most? God is love. Holiness and justice are not competing commitments. God has not chosen to turn his back on us or to punish us as our sins deserve. God has chosen to redeem us. Nothing requires God to condemn us, so God has not. Rather, in his sovereign freedom, he waits patiently for the day of our redemption.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 87-88). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The above quote comes at the end of a chapter entitled “The Character of God”. I must admit that I have had many of the same painful questions about the character of God as Mr. Gulley.  When I was told to believe that absolutely everything in the Bible is literally and in absolutely true I simply could not reconcile much of the god of the Old Testament to the person of Jesus. Until I was willing to weigh scripture the dichotomy of a vengeful God vs. Jesus of “love your enemy” I was racked with doubt about all things the church pronounced. When I fell in line with the idea of the “infallible words of God” my two views of God were irreconcilable.

I must admit that the God of the Old Testament scares me.  When he supposedly in the tenth chapter of Joshua told the Israelites to kill every man, woman and child in the town of Libnash this horrified me. This simply didn’t sound like the God of Jesus I had come to know in the New Testament. I heard various explanation trying to reconcile the two gods. One was that God was trying to protect the Israelites from the corrupting influence that intermarriage would have caused. Like Mr. Gulley mentioned about this story to me it sounds much like what Hitler used for destroying the Jews.

Here is a quote from Mr. Gulley relative to weighing scripture when it comes to these sort of opposite visions:

Weighing Scripture allows for the possibility that some descriptions of God and his behavior are inaccurate. It is not merely counting how many Scriptures say “this” about God and how many Scriptures say “that” about God and believing whichever one receives the highest score. Weighing Scripture is what Jesus taught when he was asked, “What is the greatest commandment in the law?” If Jesus had believed that all Scriptures were of equal worth, he would have answered, “All the commandments are equally important.” Instead, he replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37–39). Then Jesus added a pivotal footnote. He said, “All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:40). In other words, these two verses exalting love are as heavy as the rest of the Bible. Jesus tipped the scales irrevocably in favor of love.

When we finally reject the idea of every word in the ancient text is absolutely true and applicable for eternity then this contradiction between two gods goes away. I, as Mr. Gulley quotes above, believe  Jesus showed us that all scripture is not equal or inerrant.  There are just too many places where he taught us a different way than was recorded in the Old Testament.

I don’t spend much time in Old Testament lessons anymore. I know there are some valuable lessons to be learned from the experiences of those before Jesus but I choose to concentrate on Jesus and his lessons at this point in my life.

If Grace is trueWe can’t have it both ways. We can’t honor the words of the men and women of the Bible while ignoring their example. They trusted their experiences with God more than the words of those who preceded them. They believed in a God of fresh words. How can we canonize their words but ignore their radical obedience to the voice of a living God? We have become people who read well but listen poorly.

Yet, if we were to read Scripture carefully, we would discover an interesting truth. Of the nearly four hundred and fifty times when Scripture speaks of the “word of God,” only a handful of references imply any written document. In Scripture, the “word of God” is almost always spoken or heard. The word of God is a voice. It is experienced.

Time and again, those who opposed Jesus would quote Scripture. They would remind him of the Sabbath law, the requirement to fast, the provision for divorce, and the penalty for adultery. Jesus seemed unimpressed with a person’s ability to quote Scripture. His interest was in a person’s ability to hear God’s voice. He said, “He who belongs to God hears what God says” (John 8:47). To limit the word of God to the written word is to muzzle God.

This doesn’t mean I reject or ignore the Bible. It means I remember that the God I am reading about is looking over my shoulder, whispering in my ear. 

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 40-41). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

We can’t have it both ways.  We can’t say that God told us everything he needed us to know two-thousand years ago and then say that God doesn’t speak to us today. But that is just the dichotomy that many Christians put themselves in so that they can believe that the Bible is literal and inerrant and the final word.  As the quote says “we have become people who read well but listen poorly”. I think that is the case with most Christian denominations today. My Quaker friends, of which the two authors above are members, might be an exception to that general thought but there seem to be few others. It is very interesting to see the quote above about the use of the biblical phrase “word of God” being a spoken word not a written word.

I don’t know about those of Jewish faith if any of them believe in the literal truth in their holy documents but certainly many Christians are told to believe in the literal truth of the Old Testament which is based on the Torah. Jesus again and again throughout his time on earth told us not to believe in things that were considered law by the clergy of his day.  I remember vividly the places where Jesus said “you have heard it said… but….” It seems that Jesus did more discounting of the then Scripture than he did backing it.

As Mr. Gulley said that doesn’t mean that we are to reject or ignore the Bible. We must understand that much of that text was more about passed down stories of ancient times than they were about lessons for today.  God continues to whisper in our ears but he also speaks to me through through these ancient stories…  Yes, as my once clergy friend says I have to be aware that some things I might hear are not from God. But I must also be aware that some things I read in the ancient text are just stories. Jesus told me that much….

Gracae Book CoverI’ve never experienced a God of wrath. I’ve heard such a God preached. I’ve read of such a God. I’ve encountered wrathful people who claimed to be acting on God’s behalf. I’ve even allowed such sentiments to tarnish my view of God. Yet, in the midst of all these distortions, I never experienced a wrathful God.

The God I’ve experienced is the God of Jesus—a God of unlimited patience, infinite love, and eternal faithfulness. Jesus described a God who waits long through the night, with the light lit and the door open, confident his most defiant child will one day realize his love and turn toward home. Jesus revealed a God who loves the unlovable, touches the untouchable, and redeems those thought beyond redemption. He said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (John 15:9). My earliest experiences were with the love of Jesus.

I want to start off this mini-serious around the book by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland entitled If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person with a quote from the beginning pages. Being I buy most of my books from Amazon I can review a few pages to decide whether I want to purchase the book.  When I read these words I knew this was a book I wanted to learn more from.

I must admit that most of my church experiences have not aligned with the assumption that God will eventually reconcile all souls back to him. Especially from my Protestant years, I was taught  that I was to fear a wrathful God who would send me to an eternity of pain and suffering if I didn’t do what the church leaders told me to do. I was told to fear the power and wrath of God or risk eternal damnation. I was told that God only viewed me as worth no more than a piece of snot but he loved me anyway.

I was told that all the bad things that have happened in my life was probably just God getting back at me for things I had done in my life. It was his retribution for not being perfect. But even with all this rhetoric about a vengeful God I, like the quote above,  can’t say that I have ever really experienced a God of wrath.  I have encountered wrathful people inside and outside the churches I have attended over the years. They insisted on telling me week after week that people like us, that is those who made a declaration of faith in the beliefs they espoused and attended their particular version of church were saved from God’s wrath but just about everyone else would not make the cut.

When I dared to go off on my own and study the words of Jesus without those fearful words being chanted in my ears I discovered a different God. Now I will admit that there are some words attributed to Jesus that I can’t yet understand (I will have to do another series on that topic) but the vast majority that I do presently understand is about a God of love. One who has an agape, that is unconditional and infinite, love for me and all those he created.  With this new view of God I am beginning to align with Mr. Gulley’s notion that God will save every person.  How he is going to do that is not up to me and my petty understanding of him.  I just know that he is an all powerful God and if he loves us as the Bible proclaims then he will eventually bring us all back to his fold.

Much more about this and the book in the following posts.