Christianity Today interviewed Michael McClymond about the rising popularity of an idea Christians have rejected for most of church history. Universalism is the doctrine that all human beings will come to final salvation and spend an eternity in heaven with God.
About twelve years ago McClymond had “an unnerving encounter in which I saw God’s coming judgment arriving in the form of an overpowering storm; people in the path of the storm were pleasantly chit-chatting when they ought to have been seeking cover. The dream left a lasting impression. It suggested to me that we’re unprepared—both inside and outside of the church—for the return of Christ.”
“Universalism isn’t just a theological mistake. It’s also a symptom of deeper problems. In a culture characterized by moralistic therapeutic deism, universalism fits the age we inhabit. As I argue in the book, universalism is the opiate of the theologians. It’s the way we would want the world to be. Some imagine that a more loving and less judgmental church would be better positioned to win new adherents. Yet perfect love appeared in history—and he was crucified.
Universalism seems, then, to be fundamentally out of sync with the New Testament narrative of God’s loving initiative in Christ provoking some to faith and others to offense and even hatred. Because of its incongruence with the gospel narrative, universalism is, to my mind, not the first step off the path of orthodoxy, but perhaps—in Kevin DeYoung’s words—“the last rung for evangelicals falling off the ladder.”
Movements rise and fall depending on their alignment with the life and ministry of Jesus. Once dynamic movements are often led into error by thought leaders and clergy seeking a more socially acceptable faith. Obviously, the reality of a God who is both loving and holy is an uncomfortable truth for us all. But it is true.
If universalism is true, we’ll need to redefine what mission is — if no-one is lost we will have to save society or the planet instead. Universalism is the end of the evangelism.
“Where are the universalist evangelists, going to the ends of the earth, painstakingly learning and transcribing hitherto unknown languages and suffering opposition, up to and including the prospect of martyrdom, so that they can deliver their message of final salvation for all? Among the non-universalists, there are tens of thousands of such laborers.
He finishes with this challenge:
In light of past history and experience, I wonder whether the evangelical church of the 21st century will truly recover its spiritual, ethical, and missional urgency without first renewing its preaching (and awareness) of Christ’s return and the awesome reality of God’s final judgment of each individual”