I AM AN UNIVERSALIST

William Barclay wrote in his book “A Spiritual Autobiography” on page 56 ff.  “But in one thing I would go beyond strict orthodoxy – I am a convinced universalist. I believe that in the end all men will be gathered into the love of God.”  I join him in that conviction.  In the end all persons will be gathered into the love of God.  We can resist that love and resist it we do, but at some point God gets what God wants.  In the First Letter of Timothy we read about a God “who desires all persons to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  My theory is that God gets what God wants.  (In this method of communication, I refer you to the story of FRED in another thread.)

While I have hinted at this position most of my life, I remember preaching it during my month at Hana, Maui, Hawaii, in 1981.  It was March and the church was located next to a very fancy resort/hotel.  A woman in his 80’s came out of church and shook my hand, saying:  “Young man, you just preached me back into the church.”  Pretty heady stuff.

Such ideas were so foreign to some of the saints in Nome, I spared them a dose of this theology from the pulpit, but I went after it at my next church in Anchorage. Finally an active layperson took me aside and said:  “John, we all agree with you.  Why don’t you move on to another subject.”  Words of wisdom.  When I went to the church in Sitka, I mentioned my views to the Staff-Parish Relations Committee in the introduction process.  Two members decided they needed to think about it overnight and then they decided it would be good for them to be exposed to some new ideas and they voted to allow me to be their pastor.  Life was good there and in Spokane, but when I went to Stanwood, there was some attempt to fire me after one year as the pastor there.  When this effort failed, several families left the church.  I actually published a three sermon series on my views at Spokane and it remains a good tool for introducing persons to the concept that when God says “ALL”, God means “ALL”.

Now for a more complete quotation from William Barclay.

Permission to quote on the Internet was granted for up to 400 words, provided that the source is credited by author, title, copyright date, and publisher.

“A Spiritual Autobiography – a Joyous Affirmation of Life and Faith by one of the world’s most beloved and respected authors: William Barclay. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company edition published 1977.”

Here is what he wrote and I affirm:

“But in one thing I would go beyond strict orthodoxy – I am a convinced universalist. I believe that in the end all men (sic) will be gathered into the love of God…

“First, there is the fact that there are things in the New Testament which more than justify this belief. Jesus said: ‘I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men (sic) to myself.’ (John 23:32). Paul writes to the Romans: ‘God has consigned all men (sic) to disobedience that he may have mercy on all.’ (Romans 11:32). He writes to the Corinthians: ‘As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.’ (I Corinthians 15:22); and he looks to the final total triumph when God will be everything to everyone (I Corinthians 15:28). In the First Letter to Timothy we read of God ‘who desires all men (sic) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,’ and of Christ Jesus ‘Who gave himself as a ransom for all’ (I Timothy 2:4-6)   The New Testament itself is not in the least afraid of the word all…

“Second, one of the key passages is Matthew 25:46 where it is said that the rejected go away to eternal punishment, and the righteous to eternal life…Eternal punishment is then literally that kind of remedial punishment which it befits God to give and which only God can give…

“Third, I believe that it is impossible to set limits to the grace of God. I believe that not only in this world, but in any other world there may be, the grace of God is still effective, still operative, still at work. I do not believe that the operation of the grace of God is limited to this world. I believe that the grace of God is as wide as the universe.

“Fourth, I believe implicitly in the ultimate and complete triumph of God, the time when all things will be subject to him, and when God will be everything to everyone (I Corinthians 15:24-28)…

What is forgotten is that God has eternity to work in. It is not a question of God, as it were, rushing a man (sic) into heaven. It is a question of God using an eternity of persuasion and appeal until the hardest heart breaks down and the most stubborn sinner repents.

As I see it, nothing less than a world is enough for the love of God.”

I am honored and pleased to affirm these scriptures and this outstanding biblical scholar.  Here I Stand!

My journey to becoming a public universalist got a big bump when I wrote a letter to the editor of a magazine that claims the names of “Good News”  (at times it seems like “Bad News”) objecting to some of the negative things they were saying about universalism. The magazine purchased my comments and then did a feature article titled “Will Everyone Be Saved”.  I took the affirmative and they got a leading theologian by the name of J. I. Packer to present an opposing view. There was no dialogue or contact between myself and Dr. Packer. The editors put a picture of Hitler right next to my comments, along with John Wesley, Gandhi and Mother Theresa without identifying them.  It would be of interest that many right-wing believers would put Gandhi in the same hell with Hitler, but I digress. They also left out my own affirmation of faith in the living Christ. Perhaps that was an oversight or an unethical revision of my remarks. We will never know.

I wrote that we are not all “drifting” toward universalism. Some of us are “rowing in that direction”.

For the next two issues, the letters to the editor attacked my viewpoint.  Three in the first issue and two in the second one. I was motivated to write another letter that was actually treated as a letter. As would be plain to the reader, I was and am working for inclusion of individuals in God’s reign that many try to exclude (that is, non-Christians).

Some of the letter writers proved my point about exclusion. My right to preach is questioned and my right to be an United Methodist was challenged. I pointed out that my position was held by William Barclay (see the quote above in this article), Leslie Weatherhead and Harry Emerson Fosdick. “Pretty good company, if I do say so myself.”

Then I quoted a letter written by a friend of mine (when I shared the “great debate” with him) who I did not feel comfortable naming at the time, but the letter was from the late Dr. Harrell Beck, the Old Testament professor at Boston School of Theology, who taught the scriptures to Martin Luther King, Jr., among others.

“It is our love for Jesus Christ which mandates our love for persons in whatever tradition or condition. Can’t people get that? Universal salvation is a term which scares people, in part because the church has so often had to have some prey, to be vindictive. What is this psychic need among so many of us? Isn’t it enough to know God’s love, to be grateful for it, and to exercise it as fully as we are capable of doing? And I wonder, whether in the eyes of the Perfect One there is all that difference between those who have made confession/profession, and those who have not. Of course I sense the importance of making our profession but not if it cripples us…”

Sadly, the debate goes on. But I continue to believe that we need to build bridges of understanding and respect between different religions and between people of faith and people of no faith. I have tried to do my part.

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2 thoughts on “I AM AN UNIVERSALIST

  1. I love this theory and agree with you wholeheartedly!!! Wish I’d have heard your early sermons in Stanwood.

  2. Loved the narrative John. I sometimes think that if more pastors had been honest with folks about what they really thought we wouldn’t have lost so many thinking individuals.

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