By Eric Stetson — September 2008
(Note: These Q&A’s were originally published in The Christian Universalist Connection newsletter.)
What is the difference between Universalism and Christian Universalism?
Universalism is a broad view of spirituality based on the idea that many religious traditions contain some truth, that many paths ultimately lead to the same goal. While I do not disagree with this, I think there is a tendency among people who believe in a generalized Universalism — without putting the focus on Christ and his message — to treat religion as something of a smorgasbord and to fail to develop a coherent spiritual worldview. Case in point: Unitarian Universalism. It is extremely difficult to figure out what a “Unitarian Universalist” believes about spiritual issues, because there are no theological truth claims being made in the modern UU movement. Lacking a theological grounding, UUism drifts off into a vague secular humanism with some snippets from the world religions thrown in.
Christian Universalism, on the other hand, has a clear theological message because it is based on the concept of Christ, his life as recorded in the Bible, and the teachings he proclaimed to the world. Focusing on Christ gives us a platform to stand on, a model to emulate, and a basis for sifting through the various ideas of different religions to see which of them may be compatible with the spiritual worldview of Jesus and which are not. Universalism becomes more meaningful as Christian Universalism because Jesus Christ proclaimed the idea of a loving, merciful God who is the Parent of all human beings — and he embodied the character of this God in his own life. In other words, Jesus taught and lived according to Universalist theological principles in a way that is uncommon, in some respects even unparalleled, among religious leaders throughout history.
To sum up, Christian Universalism is the type of Universalism that is based on the founder of Universalism: Jesus. If we want to be Universalists, shouldn’t we be following the one who bequeathed us our spiritual ideals?
Why should Christians evangelize if everyone will be saved?
Non-Universalist Christians ask this thinking that it will be very difficult to answer and that it’s somehow the weakest point of Christian Universalism, when in fact, if understood correctly, this question reveals an essential truth about God’s plan of universal salvation. Many people erroneously believe that God will save all souls by just automatically snapping His divine fingers, whereas in reality, all souls will be saved through the work of the children of light to bring them out of darkness and hell. Right here on earth, souls are being rescued from the hell that can be experienced on this planet when we fail to understand and practice the love of God. The same thing will happen after death, in other worlds. Regardless of where it happens, souls are saved because God’s mature sons and daughters work to bring the immature and rebellious back into harmony with their Heavenly Father.
Christian Universalists believe that Christ and his fellow-workers, his millions of disciples, will not give up until every soul in the universe is saved. God has an infinite amount of time to overcome sin and rebellion and, through both love and judgment, will eventually succeed in persuading all to repent and be transformed in the divine image. As Paul says, we are called to be “Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us.” (2 Cor. 5:20). We have been given “the ministry of reconciliation” and God has “committed to us the message of reconciliation” (vs. 19). In other words, God is counting on us to help make His plan of universal reconciliation a reality!
Therefore, Christians should evangelize precisely because God is committed to the salvation of all. Sharing the Good News — whether in this life or the next — is how universal salvation will be accomplished.
What is the significance of the cross if everyone will be saved?
There are many interpretations of the cross, but I would focus on two things: what it says about God and what it says about us.
First, the cross reveals to the world that God is a personal God who is willing to experience human pain and death in order to empathize with us and meet us where we are. Human beings are living in a world filled with sin, corruption, suffering and death. In order to save us from this world, God comes into this world in Christ and experiences the worst that earthly existence has to offer — as summed up in the cross, a death of torture. This proves to the world that God loves us enough to do anything in order to reach us and save us. If God hadn’t experienced the cross through Jesus Christ, could we really be sure that God would do anything for His human children?
Secondly, the cross reveals what human beings are and what we can become. It shows that humans are prone to sin — even sins so terrible as murdering the greatest saint and prophet who has ever lived. It also shows that a human being has the capacity to overcome sin, casting aside the considerations of self, ease and comfort, and going so far as to lay down one’s life for the cause of goodness and truth. That is what Jesus did. The man who least deserved to die was willing to die, to teach the world a lesson about who God is and who we can be — divine children of God — if we put aside the ways of the flesh and turn to the Spirit. Jesus died on the cross to serve as the most memorable and profound example in human history of “the man who conquers by laying down his sword” — the archetype of attaining ultimate victory through the paradox of submission to God’s will rather than building up oneself with worldly power.
Numerous people throughout history — even many who did not call themselves Christians — have followed the spiritual path revealed in the cross of Christ, the path of self-renunciation through which one may be transformed from animal to divine. Christ on the cross is an object lesson in Divine-Humanity, the intrinsic potential that is within all of us and which God is calling us to manifest.