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New Reformation and Universal Salvation

March 1, 2011

I’ve been posting about Big Tent Christianity and related trends that are definitely signaling something new.  Is it a new “Reformation” of some sort? Is it merely an acceleration of the evolution in Christianity that always goes on in every religion? Is it perhaps mainly the kind of questioning and creating of new expressions of faith and worship that younger believers produce in almost every generation?

It does seem to me to be more than the last of these… at least an acceleration of several times normal; perhaps the early stages of a major adjustment in the dominant forms of Christianity–even to the core of their dogma, their structure of beliefs, along with the outward expressions of them.   

Just today I spent a few minutes reading about a very up-to-date indication of things along these lines.  It was a bit on the hoopla being generated around pre-release promotion including a video, reactions, etc. about Rob Bell’s upcoming book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.

If you haven’t come across this yet, the basic issue is universal salvation or “universalism.”  This has been an ongoing controversy in Christianity for centuries.  It appears to have heated up again (as it has periodically), and this time I think the perceived threat to orthodox (or traditional) believers will be greater because the context of the re-examination is richer and the re-examination is likely to be deeper.   I suppose I should add that the threat to orthodox formulations of belief is genuine, I believe; but not the fear that followers of Jesus or the “cause of Christ” have crucial things to lose if, indeed, universalism in some form is correct. 

I say that because the real core of the kind of historic Christianity (“orthodoxy”) which seems to have come more from Paul than from Jesus or his direct followers, is the “work of Christ on the cross.” More specifically, it is substitutionary atonement… that Jesus’ death was in our stead, as a necessary substitute, he being the only sinless one able to satisfy the wrath of God against sin — the pervasive “original sin” that every person carries. 

Virtually all Christians and investigators of the faith, from serious theologians to kids in catechism or Sunday School, have pondered over, often agonized over this issue.  Not necessarily substitutionary atonement itself, as it has a powerful positive sentiment to it, but over the fate of people who do not believe or may otherwise fail to be covered by that atonement.  I understand how the centrality of this doctrine makes a serious re-examination of it dangerous; but is it any less dangerous to let it stand if there is any chance someone(s), somewhere along the line, may have gotten it wrong? And that no doubt millions have suffered anxiety or agony over their souls or those of loved ones, and continue to, to this day?

Actually, I think the deep New Testament scholarship of the last few decades, working mainly within the NT texts themselves, makes it possible to decipher just how we did get this concept and how it logically became the core of much else at the center of Christian concepts of salvation, connection to God, and growth in spiritual maturity.  So let the re-examinations continue, and deepen!  

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