Monday, April 25, 2011

Bound for Glory?

The question of how to get to heaven has been hotly contested over the centuries. Back in the 1500’s, Martin Luther broke from the Catholic Church and launched a Reformation, partly from due to his conviction that we are saved through grace—not through the sacraments of communion or confession or other observances that he considered “works.” The wars of religion engulfed Europe in a bloodbath to settle the issue. But new research suggests such fighting may be a thing of the past.

A recent report from Barna, a religious polling non-profit, suggests that more and more Americans are embracing Universalism, the doctrine that all people will be saved, regardless of what church they happen to attend. According to the data released last week, “One-quarter of born again Christians said that all people are eventually saved or accepted by God (25%) and that it doesn’t matter what religious faith you follow because they all teach the same lessons (26%)."

A report from the Pew Center in 2008, based on interviews with 35,000 respondents, was even more striking, suggesting that a strong majority, even among evangelicals, agreed that Christianity is not the only gateway to paradise, while 83% of those describing themselves as mainline Christians agreed that Jews, Hindus, Muslims and others might make it into heaven.

Universalism—the belief that all souls will eventually be restored to God—spans the ages. Among the Church Fathers, Origen (ca. 185-254 C.E.) held this position. Mega church pastor Rob Bell, who preaches to 10,000 worshipers weekly at his Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan, made headlines more recently for describing “hell” in purely earthly terms—consisting in the cruelty, abuse and neglect we visit on ourselves and our neighbors—rather than an abode of eternal punishment awaiting evil-doers.

Universalism has been part of the American scene since the country’s beginning. Benjamin Rush, an intimate of Jefferson and Adams and along with them a signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote that, “A belief in God’s universal love to all his creatures, and that he will finally restore all those of them that are miserable to happiness, is a polar truth. It leads to truths upon all subjects, more especially upon the subject of government,” establishing a principle of equality among humankind. George and Martha Washington were subscribers to the Gleaner—a magazine with Universalist leanings edited by Judith Sargent Murray, the wife of America’s most prominent Universalist clergyman of that day

Seemingly more and more people are beginning to agree that religion should be concerned with “getting heaven into people” rather than getting people into heaven. If that means less sectarian bickering and more cooperation among people of different faiths, Universalism can’t come too soon.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

When you talk of getting "heaven into the believer", what are you talking about? I certainly would not want to prescribe a "god of love" when there isn't a smidgen of evidence that one is personally involved in the all that is.

Co-operation between parties has to be because one believes in a certain job and it purposes/goals/outcomes. The real world is the reality of conflict, negotiation, self-interest, need and ends. And that has little to do with religion, that has to do with political interests.

Co-operation is the result of knowing a specified need, as a job description, having the ability, not just intellectually, or physically but also, wanting the job and prioritizing of personal goals, to accomplish what the job requires. All jobs call for specific talents and those that are not artfully engaged in other endeavors that might cause for a conflict of interest.

So, what do you mean by "getting heaven into believers"? Unless you mean for believers to act in a civil manner toward those that differ in their convictions about morality.

Jason Pappas said...

Well, I for one don’t want to live with Jeffrey Dahmer, Pol Pot, or Hermann Goring. If they’re in heaven, I'll put up a fight before they send me there! I have my standards.

As I mentioned before, Dante has a classier group in the 1st rung of hell:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Benjamin Rush's is a universalism perhaps better described as "universal atonement" [Jesus died for all men] or as Elhanan Winchester put it, a "final restitution" [a sort of purgation/punishment of "long, long duration."]

Rush was a Trinitarian, and "final restitution" keeps the idea of "a future state of rewards and punishments."


"At Dr. Finley's School, I was more fully instructed in these principles by means of the Westminster Catechism. I retained them but without any affection for them 'till about the year 1780. I then read for the first time Fletcher's controversy with the Calvinists in favor of the Universality of the atonement. This prepared my mind to admit the doctrine of Universal salvation, which was then preached in our city by the Revd. Mr. Winchester. It embraced and reconciled my ancient calvinistical, and my newly adopted Arminian principles. From that time I have never doubted upon the subject of the salvation of all men. My conviction of the truth of this doctrine was derived from reading the works of Stonehouse, Seigvolk, White, Chauncey, and Winchester, and afterwards from an attentive perusal of the Scriptures. I always admitted with each of those authors future punishment, and of long, long duration."

"Of the poor services I have rendered to any of my fellow creatures I shall say nothing. They were full of imperfections and have no merit in the sight of God. I pray to have the sin that was mixed with them, forgiven. My only hope of salvation is in the infinite transcendent love of God manifested to the world by the death of his Son upon the Cross. Nothing but his blood will wash away my sins. I rely exclusively upon it. Come Lord Jesus! Come quickly! And take home thy lost, but redeemed Creature! I will believe, and I will hope in thy salvation! Amen, and amen!"

Jonathan Rowe said...


The Old School Universalists took that into account and posited a middle ground that satisfied your concerns just like Dante did. The bad got what they deserved; but the idea is since everyone's sins are finite, they don't suffer forever. Consider if Hilter, Pol Pot had to internalize all the pain they caused. They'd be in Hell for thousands if not millions of years. But not for eternity.

Jason Pappas said...

Interesting development.

Brian Tubbs said...

Christian speaker and author Frank Turek answers the question of hell (and who goes there) pretty well, I think, in this exchange...

Jonathan Rowe said...

Or we could watch FT debate Christopher Hitchens, a more formidable opponent.

jimmiraybob said...

After the second or third time that Turek answered with, "it depends on how you define....." I switched off. Too much like, "It depends on what is is."

At this point where Christianity, without some creative maneuvering (heresies?), cannot definitively answer the question of whether a baby born on Monday that dies on Tuesday will go to heaven or suffer an eternity of torment and suffering in hell, you pretty much have to admit that there is not a good answer to heaven or hell. Maybe "more or less acceptable based on what I bring to the discussion" is more accurate than good or bad.