My mother was a life long teacher and learner. Through United Methodist Women and otherwise, she did a great deal of reading. For years, she participated in the School of Christian Mission sponsored by United Methodist Women, which was recently renamed “Mission U”.
I developed the same habit or tradition, attending such schools as provided in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest Conference. One time I was asked to be a teacher of a class on Christian Social Concerns. One of the students was a person who did not agree with some of my public positions on legislative issues and she took the course with one purpose: “To try and understand why I did what I had done in the political arena of the State of Alaska”. This turned out to be very useful because I eventually became her pastor and she was able to handle that with what I would call a sense of maturity and respect, all because of her decision to try and understand where I was coming from theologically and biblically. Thank you, School of Christian Mission, now Mission U.
While I lived in Alaska and while my mother was still alive, we developed the pattern of writing letters to each other on Saturday evenings. It was a great way to maintain contact and enabled us to share thoughts at a deeper level than occasional phone calls. That opportunity and experience was something I cherished at the time.
I learned a lot about her and she learned a lot about me. My father, on the other hand, was not as comfortable with my life and work, fearing for my life when I took on the “principalities and powers” in various situations. He did not accept the fact that I was just following his example.
Mother would share what she was reading and I would share what I was reading. I miss that in many ways and I am finding that no one in the next two generations are interested in such things. But that is another story. If anyone was interested, I would let them know what I am reading and experiencing in life, even in retirement.
As my own theology has shifted (and hopefully grown), there have been many factors. For years I said that I would focus on interfaith issues when I retired. But that happened earlier when I was asked to teach a college course on “Religions of the World” at Sheldon Jackson College. To prepare for that experience, I did a massive amount of reading on that subject. Got it done before retirement.
In retirement, I have participated in a lot of small group studies, based on books by various contemporary theologians and pastors. For years I said that I wanted to write a book on the subject of universal salvation, a concept that has become very important to my belief system. I did preach it in my last four churches. In fact, a dear friend at the first of those four churches came up to me after one of my sermons and said: “John, we all agree with you. Why don’t you move on to another subject.” Ah, the honesty of family and friends.
But lots of people don’t agree with me. So it is helpful to find others who have lived life and come to the same conclusions that I have reached. In fact, two persons have written a book on this subject that is so good, that I will no longer have to write my book. They have done it for me. The book is: “If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person” by Philip Gulley (Quaker minister) and James Mulholland (United Methodist and American Baptist).
Once I started preaching this theology, I found that lots of people agreed with me. The first one was an eighty year old woman visiting in Hana, Maui, Hawaii, when I was a one month (March, 1981) pastor there. She shook my hand at the door and said something like: “Young man, you just preached me back into the church.” I never looked back from that point on, though I didn’t shake up my Presbyterian friends in Nome, as I was too close to the end of my time there to work it through with anyone.
East Anchorage handled it well, the folks at Sitka thought “some new ideas would be good for them” so they didn’t veto my coming there and Manito in Spokane eventually got a three sermon series that I published without any kick back. However, when I came to Stanwood, there was a group that resisted my preaching to the point that they became Free Methodists. But at least I knew they were listening. My views were present in the early church (first 500 years after Jesus), but they were suppressed, some times violently. Boy, was I born in the right era! Thanks mother Bernice and father George and God.
As I am writing this in 2015, I would recommend several books to anyone who wishes to have more understanding of the issues surrounding this theology.
Recommended reading: “A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story” by Diana Bulter Bass. She is also the author of “Christianity for the Rest of Us”. Dr. Diana Butler Bass started out as a Methodist, but is now an Episcopalian.
And if you want to get right to the bottom of the issues and decisions facing modern Christians, try “Permission Granted: Take the Bible into Your Own Hands” by Jennifer Grace Bird. Part of the glory of this book is that Jennifer was raised with other views and came to her positions through intensive study. She didn’t think women should be pastors, based on what she thought the Bible says, even though her own mother is one. She no longer holds that viewpoint.
Oh, lots of people disagree with me. Some easily assign millions of people to the fires of hell because they just happen to belong to other faith groups than that of Christianity. Actually, there are some Christians who assign everyone to hell that does not happen to be their brand of Christian. That position has probably caused more people to reject Christianity than any other factor. I have tried to do my part, but my platform has been so small. And the ocean is so very big.
Just to be clear. I believe in hell. But my position is that it is empty. Thanks be to God. Happy Reading. If you know how to reach me, I would even be glad to give you a copy of the book I could have written, given enough time. But Gulley and Mulholland wrote it for me.