Happily Ever After (Part 04) – The Biblical Argument for Universalism: New Testament

The story of Jared and Tyler Duncan’s conversation about universalism continues.  This time, they will be taking a look at what the New Testament has to say about the doctrine. Continue reading

The Search for Original Christianity

I left the evangelical movement for good in 2008, though a great number of loved ones still reside in their churches.  I grant to each person the freedom to determine what they believe is the truth.  Since the time of my departure I have been on a mission.  I want to get back to ground zero.  I want to find the original teachings of Christ and His apostles.  I am no longer interested in debates over eternal security, substitutionary atonement, and the rapture.  These are all doctrines invented in the centuries since the Reformation and, as far as I’m concerned, are non-issues.  I am interested to know what the early church, especially those just after the apostles passed away, thought about the cross, the divinity of Christ, the nature of the gospel, the purpose of the sacraments, and its understanding of life in the age to come.  My research of the past three years has netted what is to me overwhelming evidence of the pervasive belief in universalism among the early Christians, attested to from the mouths of even Augustine and Jerome.  I am starting to see my faith in a whole new way.  I feel like I’m connecting with what the Spirit of Jesus was doing among the early disciples in what was called “The Way.”  It’s been so refreshing over the past months to dig in and find the true essence of the gospel being about loving one’s neighbor and the nature of salvation not being about getting out of literal hellfire for eternity, but about being transformed into a person of love like God the Father.  Those who live lives full of love for neighbor enter the kingdom in the golden age to come after this one while those who live selfishly and destructively will enter an age of chastisement meant to purge them of self and transform them into Godly men and women.  I’ve purchased a large volume set of the writings of the early church fathers and I intend to start reading a little bit every few days to get a feel for what was going on in the early second to mid fourth centuries.  As I have searched, I have found Eastern Orthodox Christianity to be a great resource of early Christian thinking and, except for a few hang ups I have with that church’s way of doing things, I am seriously considering what it would look like to be an Orthodox Christian.  If you are frustrated with the seeming powerlessness of today’s shallow consumer Christianity and are looking for something to refresh your faith, I invite you to join the search with me for original Christianity.

Conformity to God’s Will: Why Punishment Doesn’t Work

Church history is replete with examples of power plays and fear tactics to induce people to conform to what some particular authority believes is the will of God.  Sadly, these efforts have resulted, at times, in brutal physical, spiritual, and psychological terror.  Some people never seem to learn the lesson that one cannot be forced to obey God against his or her will.  Perhaps the most famous campaign to terrorize people into correct living and correct believing is the Inquisition, where the church used unspeakable torture or threats of torture to produce conformity.  In this blog post, I want to examine the three ways that social psychologists posit that conformity can be stimulated and relate it to the subject of following God’s will in discipleship.  I hope to demonstrate that the fear of punishment, still ever so popular in many Christian circles, is not effective in producing life-changing results. Continue reading

Saved from What?

“Have you been saved?” The evangelist thunders from the pulpit. “Jesus Christ desires your salvation and if you will repent of your sin and confess Him as Lord and Savior tonight then you will be guaranteed a place in heaven when you die!” The lights in the sanctuary begin to lower and the organist plays a slow-moving hymn. The evangelist calls forward those who “feel the Spirit tugging at their hearts” and people begin making their way down the aisle, kneel in front, and pray a prayer to receive Christ and salvation from eternal misery. Continue reading

Signs of the Times?

This week, in an interview with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour, the Reverend Franklin Graham, son of the famous evangelistic preacher Billy Graham, proclaimed to a national television audience that signs of the nearness of the end times were abundantly apparent in an increase of wars, famines, and earthquakes. Graham asserted that, based on his understanding of Matthew chapter 24 where Jesus speaks of these very events occurring during a time of great tribulation (what he interprets to be the end times), the second coming of Christ is imminent. It is popular belief in evangelical and fundamentalist circles that the many armed conflicts and natural disasters that occur today are divine “birth pains” leading up to the main events of earth’s destruction via God’s judgment and the return of Jesus Christ physically to this world. The only problem with Graham’s assessment, besides what I believe to be a mistaken understanding of eschatology (study of last things), is that wars, famines, and earthquakes are most certainly not increasing in frequency. Continue reading

Book Review: “Love Wins” by Rob Bell

Rob Bell, author of Velvet Elvis, has produced a masterful treatment of the subject of hell and heaven from the perspective of God’s unfathomable and limitless love.  I read this book in one day!  Bell hits on all the main issues that Christians struggle with in the debate over heaven and hell.  How could God create billions of people only to save a relatively small handful of them?  Bell’s thesis is that God’s love wins in the end.  While he stopped short of endorsing universalism, keeping the door open for one to reject God’s love forever, the book was the best down-to-earth explanation of the universalist arguments that I have seen in print so far.  Most books on the subject tend to treat the subject from a scholarly theological perspective, but Rob Bell is a master of explaining things almost in a story-like manner. Continue reading

Book Review: “A Generous Orthodoxy” by Brian McLaren

This is my first book review.  I know that, technically, there is a certain way to write a book review starting with an introduction, general overview of the book, strong points, weak points, and finishing with a summary and conclusion (or something like that).  Instead of all that, I’m just going to tell you why I loved this book.  How’s that?  LOL!  You see, book reviews on the Christian Independent are going to be more like journal entries than technical book reviews, because I’m past the point of reading books simply for theological information.  I’m interested in transformation.  I did the whole “stuff my head with knowledge” thing and that ends in stale orthodoxy.  It’s ironic that those words flowed off of my fingers, because that is the opposite of what Brian McLaren is aiming at in this book.  He’s trying to get at something deeper than theological systems.  He’s trying to get at a way of life (one that includes beliefs) that is generous.  He contends that the dichotomy that exists in our thinking between orthodoxy (right beliefs) and orthopraxy (right practice or living) should not exist.  We should live out our beliefs in a generous way that transforms us, others, the community, and, ultimately, the whole world.  Believe me, I’m doing a grave injustice to Brian by writing this review, because I cannot capture the beauty of what he is proposing and directing us toward in any way that can fully articulate his thoughts.  You’re going to have to read the book yourself. Continue reading