Suggestions for Reform of the Christian Universalist Association: A Message by the Founder

In 2007, I founded the Christian Universalist Association (CUA), with the help of a diverse team of twelve other ministers and evangelists. I had spent the previous two years building a ministry to connect a wide diversity of people throughout the United States and around the world who believed in Christian universalism. During that process, I identified religious leaders from across the denominational spectrum — especially Pentecostals, Evangelicals, and Unitarian Universalist Christians — who believed in the importance of coming together to teach that God’s judgment upon sinners is limited and that all will be saved in the end.

Christian Universalist Association logo

The Christian Universalist Association was intended to be a broadly ecumenical umbrella organization for people with that belief, including both liberals and conservatives and a wide range of Christians of various denominations. Our focus was the Biblical teaching of the ultimate reconciliation of all souls and the temporary and reformative nature of hell or divine judgment (e.g., see Luke 15:4, 2 Cor. 5:19, 1 Tim. 4:10, Phil. 2:10-11, 1 Cor. 15:22-25, 3:12-15, Mark 9:49) — an interpretation of Christian eschatology called “restorationist universalism.” The CUA also emphasized the Biblical teaching that humans are children of God, called to grow up into greater perfection in Christ (e.g., see Gen. 1:27, John 10:34-36, Acts 17:28, Rom. 8:16-17, Heb. 2:10-11, 12:5-11, Luke 6:40) — a vision of salvation that goes beyond mere faith in Jesus as Lord to the higher callings of discipleship, sanctification and theosis, or being made more divine in God’s image.

From the beginning, the CUA was inclusive of marginalized people and rejected a spirit of hatred or harsh judgment toward anyone. However, our organization did not take positions on controversial social, cultural, political, or moral issues. We did not see ourselves as a specifically liberal or progressive religious organization, and in fact, many of the CUA’s founding leaders were Baptist, Evangelical, or Charismatic Christians and had generally conservative views. I, myself, was an ordained minister in the Pentecostal Latter Rain movement at the time — a version of Pentecostalism in which many people had come to believe in restorationist universalism and theosis, but still held a high view of scripture and accepted most of the teachings of orthodox Christianity.

Rebooting this Ministry: New Book Coming Soon and Future Plans

In many ways, 2022 through the spring of 2023 has been a time of transition in my life and my spiritual journey. I haven’t been blogging as much because I’ve been focused on completing two books that will be published later this year.

Eric Stetson
Eric Stetson, founder of Universal Restoration Ministries

One of my new books, which should be out at the end of May, is about religion. The Long Road to Zion: A Journey of Faith Beyond Religious Deconstruction is my spiritual testimony and an in-depth argument for Christianity, especially the theology associated with radical Restorationist traditions such as Latter Rain Pentecostalism and the Latter-day Saint movement. If you’d like to be notified as soon as it’s published, please contact me and I’ll be in touch.

When The Long Road to Zion is published, Universal Restoration Ministries will focus on spreading the word about the book and its ideas. We will also launch an online book club for people who would like to read and discuss it together.

This ministry will not be relaunching an online church. Instead, we are shifting into promoting specific ideas and teachings within Christianity in general. Much of our work will be aimed at expanding awareness of the concept of a “Restoration” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, by highlighting important truths that were mostly lost from mainstream versions of the religion but can be vigorously defended using the Bible.

The Story of Christian Faith: Summary and Key Verses of the Bible

The Bible is a long and complicated book with many different authors, literary styles, stories and ideas. For many people, reading the Bible from cover to cover may seem daunting, and as a result, they never do. This is unfortunate, because to have a good understanding of the message of Christianity one must have a broad knowledge of the contents and themes of the Old and New Testaments, which comprise the Judeo-Christian scriptures commonly known as “the Bible.”

Psalm 136 in the Old Testament

People who grow up in a church may absorb many Biblical teachings through sermons and Sunday school lessons. But what about the many people who come from a non-religious family and have never decided to read the Bible on their own? And what about the huge percentage of the world’s population who belong to a different religion and are unfamiliar with the scriptures of the Christian faith? For such people, a simple distillation of the Bible could be very helpful — and even for those who grew up with it or are already familiar with it, this could be a useful refresher and study tool.

Below, I have compiled a list of what I see as the most important themes of the Bible, with links to verses that present these stories and teachings. Every student of the Bible will have their own idea about what would be worth including in such a list. This list comes from my own spiritual perspective, which could be described as Restorationist Christian Universalism. Therefore, I tend to emphasize Biblical messages that are hopeful and inclusive. To sum it up, my view of the Christian Gospel — and the overall story of the Bible in general — is of a God who has created and loves human beings with a parental love, and who leads us on a journey from our fall into sin to our redemption and exaltation through the awesome, all-encompassing power of our divine-human brother and perfect exemplar, Jesus Christ.

With that introduction, here is what I would encourage all people to take from the Bible as a starting point, to learn the things that matter most in this great book of Christian teachings.

Yes, Resurrection: A 21st Century Case for the Miracle of Easter

Throughout history, Christians have taught that the man Jesus Christ was crucified on a cross, buried in a tomb, and rose from the dead — not only spiritually, but in a glorified body that people could see and touch, yet which could defy the laws of physics by appearing and disappearing from this world.

In modern times, this story became embarrassing for many Christians. The advancements of science during the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution gave rise to the concept of the “clockwork universe,” with God as a remote “watchmaker” who set the gears of reality in motion, thereafter letting deterministic physical laws take over in all situations. According to this worldview, the Easter miracle would be impossible.

As a result, many people today shy away from the traditional Christian proclamation of the resurrection of the dead. Instead, growing numbers of Christians interpret the Biblical testimony of the empty tomb and the resurrected Christ as only a metaphor, a beautiful myth intended to teach us that good triumphs over evil and our spirits live on, in some mysterious way, after physical death.

I believe the story of Easter is indeed a powerful metaphor, but I also believe the seemingly supernatural events of Jesus’s resurrection as reported in the Bible could be literally true — and the latest advancements in science and technology make it possible for an intellectually sophisticated person in the 21st century to affirm this.

Why Christianity Should Not Be Politicized

Would you feel comfortable going to church with somebody from a different political party? In America today, many people wouldn’t — because they feel self-righteous disgust, even hatred toward people on the other side of the political divide.

Polling data reveals a nation of people filled with partisan anger and convinced they are morally superior to those who disagree with them about politics. For example, over 40% of both Democrats and Republicans believe members of the opposing party are “downright evil.” About 20% of people in both parties believe that people in the other party are “like animals” and “lack the traits to be considered fully human.” And perhaps most disturbingly, 20% of Democrats and 15% of Republicans believe “we’d be better off as a country” if most people from the other side “just died.”

These polls were taken before the incredibly divisive year 2021, which has polarized Americans even further. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that seemingly the only thing many people can agree on is that if the wrong party controls the government, it might be appropriate to resort to violence. In early 2022, according to a Washington Post poll, more than one-third of Americans said they believe anti-government violence is sometimes justified — including 40% of Republicans, 41% of independents, and 23% of Democrats.

A second civil war or a Rwanda-style genocide might be in America’s future, if we continue down the path of mutual hatred, dehumanization, and escalation of tensions between opposing political factions. Is there anything Christianity can do to help reverse this terrifying trend?

New Beginnings: The Future of Christianity and Our Church

A year ago, I started the Universal Church of the Restoration. With the help of my friend and fellow liberal Christian, Colin Mills, we began weekly video services and online small group meetings last January. We continued this for six months, then cut back to once per month. In total, during the year 2021, we produced 28 video services with sermons and stories of spiritual heroes, and we held a similar number of online meetings for prayer, fellowship, and discussion.

Starting a nondenominational church is not easy, even when the leaders do a good job of creating inspiring and meaningful content. Colin and I believe we have done that to the best of our ability. Despite our best efforts, however, the UCR has not attracted an audience as large as we hoped it would during the first year of its existence, and there are few signs of growth or increasing engagement with our church and its message.

After much thought and prayer, we have decided to stop producing videos, which we have learned is an inefficient way to spread our ideas. We have also discontinued the small group meetings for now. We will be continuing the ministry as a blog about religious teachings and issues from the perspective of Restorationist Christian Universalism.

The Baby and the Bathwater

More than 2,000 years ago, a poor young mother had a baby who changed the world. That baby Jesus, who was born in a trough where animals feed, became the most revered spiritual hero in history.

Mary and baby Jesus

Today, more than half the world’s population — 31% Christian and 23% Muslim — regard Jesus the Son of Mary as a messianic figure who brought God’s message to the world. And what was that message? As Jesus announced to his hometown synagogue, reading aloud from the Torah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for He has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the captives
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

(Luke 4:18-19, quoting from the Book of Isaiah)

Jesus taught a religion of boundless hope for all people — that we are beloved children of God, called to a high destiny as sources of light and ministers of compassion in our world.

But in a world full of ignorance and suffering, there were bound to be misunderstandings. For 2,000 years, people have been twisting the religion of Jesus into the very things he opposed — and in so doing, they have impoverished their spirits in a prison of darkness, bringing God’s disfavor upon their cause.

Thoughts on Founding the Universal Church of the Restoration

About a year ago, I began reflecting on the growing need for a new type of church — a community of faith that brings people together in a coherent understanding of who we are as beloved children of God, and which, while being open-minded and inclusive, inspires people to live a devoutly religious life. The combination of progressive faith and a strong commitment to organized religion is hard to find, but for many years I have believed it to be the answer to many of humanity’s problems. This elusive synthesis can facilitate the greatest moral progress and spiritual maturity both for the individual and society.