theological liberalism

Universalism — opiate of thought leaders and the clergy

Michael McClymond

Michael McClymond

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.”

McClymond continues,

“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.

McClymond asks,

“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”

 

Gotta Serve Somebody


You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you're gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody


Bob Dylan, Gotta Serve Somebody 
 

I was saddened to hear recently of Eugene Peterson’s on again, off again support for same-sex marriage.

He’s written some great books on spiritual formation. I particularly recall his reflections on Jonah: Under an Unpredictable Plant.

His writings are a great help in learning obedience to God's word. He wrote as a man under God's word. That's where he should have remained.

For thousands of years, the Jewish-Christian scriptures have clearly spoken on the nature of marriage. Jesus made it clear he stood in that tradition (Matt 19). One man, one woman for the whole of life, forsaking all others.

No Christian scholar has questioned that teaching, until recently. The cultural wind has changed and now influential leaders are taking advantage of it. Or at least remaining silent for fear of alienating the people who attend their churches and conferences, buy their books and read their blogs.

Jesus warned (Matt 24) that in the time before his return false prophets and false messiahs would emerge and attempt to deceive God’s people. The love of many will grow cold. Despite this falling away, the gospel will be preached throughout the world. God will triumph.

Paul warned the Ephesian elders that after he left, "savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock" (Acts 20: 29). We’re at war. Expect incoming missiles, expect casualties. Why then did Paul leave? What resources did the Ephesians have to remain true to what they had received? Just two—Paul committed them to the Word and the Holy Spirit.

Ask yourself, whose word is supreme? Ours or God’s? Progressive or liberal Christianity places human experience, culture and rationality above Scripture. Start there and anything goes.

The incarnate Son of God submitted his life and ministry to the living Word of God, we must do the same. Place culture above the Word and you’ll live a peaceful life, accepted by those around you as enlightened. The pressure to conform is enormous. You won't be a target if you remain silent or even better, bow the knee and sacrifice to the Emperor. Get your certificate of approval.

In 250, the Emperor Decius ordered everyone in the Empire to sacrifice to the Roman gods and to the well-being of the Emperor. The sacrifices were to be performed before a magistrate and a certificate issued confirming the act. The religious motivation was minimal. The Emperor wanted to know that his subjects were loyal to the state. Yet Christians died rather than bow to the demands of a pagan culture.

A disciple is someone who is learning to obey what Jesus commanded (Matt 28). No matter what the price. In the end, we all have to choose. Has God spoken? Do we place our lives under the authority of his Word? Do we follow the example of Jesus who went the Cross rather than disobey the Father?

Satan offered Jesus the world if he would bow. Jesus chose instead "It is written!." He preferred the Cross to expediency.

A first time for everything

There is a first time for everything. A report of a declining mainline theological seminary that has turned away from theological liberalism and returned to a high view of scripture and the historic Christian faith.

Not long ago, United Theological Seminary (UTS) in the Dayton, Ohio area was just another declining, has-been mainline seminary, facing ominous financial hardships, dominated by Scripture-demoting theological liberalism, and reflective of so much of what was wrong with its shrinking sponsoring denomination, the United Methodist Church. 

Today, the school is a very different place than what many alumni experienced. It is now explicitly committed to a high view of biblical authority, “the historic Christian faith,” “the cultivation of holiness,” and “the renewal of the church.” 

Applicants for faculty positions must be explicitly committed “to the historic Christian faith.”

God has clearly been blessing this new direction under the leadership of President Deichmann. A recent headline from the Dayton Daily News summed up the seminary’s new situation: “Rebounding from Crisis, United is Among Fastest-Growing Theological Schools in U.S.” United’s tripling of its enrollment in the last four years, with now over 600 students, along with the rapid expansion of its faculty, is all the more remarkable in light of the decline at other official United Methodist seminaries.

Dr. Deichmann describes the turnaround as “a miracle.” But it is also important to note her own impressive administrative leadership of making tough financial decisions in the face of a budget crisis she inherited, guiding the school through a nearly complete turnover in faculty, and being a clear, articulate voice for the biblical, historic Christianity to which the seminary is now committed. 

What's the lesson? It took a crisis and an exceptional leader to turn a declining institution around.

Movements are renewed by making an innovative return to tradition. Well done Wendy Deichmann, you beat the odds.