Universalism, W. Paul Young: My Response

william-paul-young-CROSS-ROADSOn today’s episode of “Off the Highway”, Paul Young, author of “Cross Roads” and “The Shack” takes a few minutes to unpack a label that he is often accused of, at least some people treat it like an accusation.  And let me add, as Paul does in the video, we use accusations and labels to dismiss people… and many have determined to dismiss Paul Young, to their shame.

The label we unpack today is “Universalist.”

In light of his many accusations, I chose to ask Paul to his face, “In what ways are you a universalist and in what ways are you not?”

Watch today’s Off The Highway episode for his answer.

When I listen to his words, I am comforted by the articulation and nuance of his thinking.  Paul takes the debate away from bumper-sticker dogma and actually has a lovely conversation.  I find his distinctions helpful.

We need to remember that blanket universalism (all will be saved) really is an invalidating belief.  It invalidates people’s basic humanity and, at least how it is most often framed, it is a violent sort of forced destiny.  The irony is that people want to defend universalism as a doctrine of love, but I am not sure that we small humans can imagine it as such in light of our understanding of actualization and free will.

On the other hand, and I have this conversation more often than I want to admit…

I was standing in a Christian university classroom in the midwest not too long ago and we were discussing Islam.  One of the students asked me if I thought there would be Muslims in heaven. My answer catalyzed the most wonderful discussion.

As a part of my answer, I made this statement:

“I am not a universalist.  The Bible speaks as if some are going to be with God and some will not and I hold to that belief.  However, I am not sure a person can call themselves a Christian, by New Testament standards, and not HOPE that all people will be in heaven… that God knows a way to woo all peoples to Godself.  If you find delight in some people going to hell, then I am not sure you have Christian affections and beliefs.  If you find personal validation from declaring that other people are going to hell than I am not sure what beliefs you hold to.”

Then I went one step further.

“To put it more bluntly… if I claim to be a Christian, and my heart has never begged God to damn my soul that others might know Jesus… I am not sure that my beliefs meet New Testament standards.”

2 Responses to “Universalism, W. Paul Young: My Response”

  1. I can see why you might feel that a belief in universal salvation is a “violating belief” in that (if I understand you) it seems to imply that God takes over our freedom in order to “force” us to do what’s best for us. It wouldn’t be a problem for a determinist, but for someone like me, raised Arminian, it IS a problem. I found it difficult to impossible to reconcile this belief in the value of free will with any possibility for universal reconciliation, for many years.

    I’ve come to a different conclusion now; a conclusion I could never even have imagined before. We are not free (in the world). Or at least, we are not VERY free and certainly not completely free. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” The corollary to this has to be “You are not free unless you do know the truth” unless there is some other means of becoming free. I don’t think there is. The point though, is that if the truth SHALL make us free, then we therefore are NOT free. Otherwise we couldn’t be MADE free.

    There is no free will of any significance to violate until we come to know the Truth. Once we know the Truth, then He makes us free. I’m sure we’re all familiar with Paul’s argument in Romans concerning the bondage of human beings to sin.

    If I do what I don’t want to do, then it’s no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall FREE me from this body of death. I thank my God, through my Lord Jesus Christ. (I’m quoting that from memory, so I’ve probably missed getting it perfectly.)

    I believe that God will continue to work with those He loves until we become free enough to know the Truth. This is not a violation of personhood nor a violation of “free will.” Until we KNOW, we cannot make informed choices, and no uninformed choice is truly free. It might end up being a lucky guess, or it might be a big mistake. We hope for the best, but we all make bad choices; we do not mean to, but we simply don’t know any better. Nobody looks at a decision and says to himself, “Well, let’s see which option will cause me the most grief in the long run and I’ll choose that.”

    “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” True that. BUT Thomas was still blessed though he needed to see. So were every single one of the other apostles. They ALL saw and therefore believed. Paul was literally ambushed by the Truth and pretty much forced to believe. I think that God is a lot more interested in our FREEDOM than in our supposed “free will” which is, if you look at it honestly, terribly constrained and limited.

    Many, many, most people in this world have little opportunity to know God as He truly is (or even to approach that). Millions lived before Jesus was born and had never heard of the Jewish people. Billions never receive a credible witness of Christ. The church grants and “indulgence” to some of these; to unborn and very young children, perhaps to those who haven’t heard, maybe even to those who have heard lies about the true God. Does that mean it’s better not to hear? That if you don’t hear, you’re safer — because you might hear and not believe? Limited reconciliation simply makes no sense.

    I can make sense of the viewpoint (well, more sense) that people might resist God for all eternity. Theoretically, this COULD happen. But to make sense of the viewpoint that God suddenly draws the line at physical death — except for this or that person, for one reason or another? Especially as none of this is supported by scripture? No.

    God does not have to torture people until they “repent.” He doesn’t have to destroy them because He cannot save them without “violence.” He isn’t constrained to torture them for all of eternity because their souls cannot die and His “cut-off date” has already passed. He isn’t even required to consign them to a Lewisinian “hell” (which is also hard to find in scripture) because He isn’t able to persuade them without violence, though He has eternity in which to do it.

    What He has to do is probably harder than all the above, but nothing is impossible for God. First, He has to heal them of their delusions and insanities and hatred and ignorance and pride — and all the things that deceive them, by whatever means is required, including allowing/forcing them to personally relive their hateful deeds from the point of view of their victims so that they finally face the truth of what they have done and become.

    Second, He has to show them a true picture of Himself. He has to do this until they see the light. I think He’s up to it; I really do. If some do resist forever, then He must persist, as His steadfast love never fails and His mercies never come to an end. God cannot give up. His mercies never end.

    It seems to me though, that God (who sees the end from the beginning) has said over and over that He will NOT fail; that all things will be summed up in Christ, that He makes peace through the blood of His cross with ALL, whether of heaven or of earth, that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord ***to the glory of the Father*** of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the earth. That seems very conclusive to me.

  2. This is an extraordinarily thoughtful, well crafted response!

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