Dialogue With an Evangelical – Part 2: The Bible

Everlasting torment in hell isn’t the only topic I’ve discussed with “Bob.” We’ve talked about all sorts of other theological and philosophical issues, one of my favorites being when we’ve talked about his thoughts on the Bible:

Bob: The problem with most Christians today is that they just don’t follow the Bible any more. If more Christians read their Bible and actually followed it we’d see real revival in the Church.

Me: Are you telling me that you follow the Bible perfectly?

Bob: Nobody’s perfect, but I do my best to practice what the Bible teaches. Not like those liberals who pick and choose and only follow the passages that make them feel good while ignoring all the passages that make them feel uncomfortable.

Me: So someone who picks and chooses which passages to follow and ignores the rest is a liberal Christian?

Bob: If you can call them a Christian at all. I sometimes have a hard time thinking of these cherry pickers as Christians, but I’m nothing if not generous so I try to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Me: I’m glad to hear that. Particularly since your generosity might come in handy for you down the road.

Bob: What do you mean?

Me: Well, I’m just not sure that you really do follow the Bible quite as thoroughly as you might think you do.

Bob: What?! How can you say that?

Me: Because of all the Bible verses you completely ignore.

Bob: You’ve got to be kidding me. Like what?

Me: Well, the Bible teaches that witches should be killed, for instance. Do you kill every Wiccan you come across? It also teaches that shellfish and pigs are an abomination. Do you ever eat shrimp or pork or have pepperoni on your pizza?

Bob: But those are Old Testament teachings. According to the New Testament we’re not under the law any more and don’t have to follow those rules.

Me: I know some Seventh Day Adventists who would disagree with you, and Jesus said that He didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it, and many Christians still base many of their doctrines on the Old Testament. But okay, let’s just focus on the New Testament for now. At your church, do you allow your women to speak?

Bob: We don’t have any female pastors or teachers in our church, no.

Me: That’s not what I asked though. I asked if you allow your women to speak at all. For instance, after a sermon, do you allow the women to talk out in the foyer about the sermon you all just heard, or even just about life in general?

Bob: Well, sure, once the church service is over.

Me: But in 1st Corinthians 14:34-35 Paul says, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” It doesn’t say anything about whether a church service is still going or not, it just says they can’t speak in the church. It even says for them to wait until they get home to ask their husband if they have any questions.

Bob: Well, it does, yeah, but we have to consider the context of that passage and interpret it accordingly.

Me: So it’s okay to interpret passages of Scripture and not just take them at face value?

Bob: Of course. Not all passages are meant to be taken literally. And not all passages are intended for all people in all times. There’s the historical and cultural context to take into consideration.

Me: Ah, I see. So how would you interpret that passage then?

Bob: Well, I don’t know. I’m sure it didn’t mean that women couldn’t speak at all in the church building though. That just doesn’t make sense.

Me: But I assume you have some good basis for interpreting away the literal meaning of the passage beyond the fact that it doesn’t make sense to you. I don’t see anything in the passage that seems to indicate that Paul only meant it for the Corinthians, or that he only meant during the service, or even that he only meant it for Christians in the first century.

Bob: I don’t know. But my pastor lets the women speak in our church and I’m sure he wouldn’t if that passage was meant to be taken literally.

Me: Are you saying that your pastor is incapable of being wrong?

Bob: You really like that question, don’t you?

Me: As long as people fall back on the pastor excuse I’ll continue to ask it.

Bob: Touché. But no, I realize he can’t always be right about everything. He isn’t God, after all. Still, even if he is wrong, there’s no way we could tell the women in our church not to talk to each other. That wouldn’t go over well at all.

Me: So, in other words, we should ignore a passage because it makes us feel uncomfortable. Doesn’t that make one a liberal by your earlier definition?

Bob: I don’t know. I’m confused now.

Me: And that was only one New Testament command that you don’t follow. I could go on with dozens more that I’ll bet you ignore, many of them given by Jesus Himself.

Bob: I’m not sure I’m ready for any more right now.


I really could have gone on with literally dozens of passages that no Christian takes at all seriously. And yet these same Christians will not hesitate to condemn other Christians for interpreting the passages they do take literally in a manner different from the way they interpret them.

And just for the record, I have no problem with women speaking in church. 🙂

Dialogue With an Evangelical – Part 1: Hell

The following is a dialogue between myself and “Bob,” an Evangelical Christian, about the subject of hell:

Bob: Hi, I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions.

Me: Sure, why not? What’s up?

Bob: If you were to die today, do you know for sure where you’d end up?

Me: Creepy question, but okay. I’d probably end up in a coffin or an urn.

Bob: What I meant was, do you think you’d end up in heaven or in hell?

Me: I’d have to say heaven.

Bob: That’s good to hear. Does that mean you’ve accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour?

Me: I have, and I also do all sorts of good works.

Bob: But don’t you know that salvation is by grace through faith, and not of works?

Me: Of course, Ephesians 2:8 and 9.

Bob: Then how can you believe that you’re going to heaven based on your good works?

Me: When I read about the subject in the Gospels, I notice that Jesus seemed to teach that there are a few reasons one goes to hell, as well as a few ways to avoid going there. The Bible says He taught that those who were rich and those who said that the work of the Holy Spirit is actually the work of the devil and those who didn’t help the helpless and those who didn’t amputate body parts that offended them were the ones who had to worry about going there. He also seemed to tell us that the way to escape this fate is to feed the hungry, to give something to drink to the thirsty, to invite strangers into your home, to give clothing to those who need it, to take care of the sick, to visit those in prison, to cut off body parts that offend you, to be poor rather than rich, and to never say that the work of the Holy Spirit is actually of the devil. Avoid those things, and Jesus tells us we’ll avoid going to hell and instead we’ll go to heaven, at least based on a literal interpretation of Scripture.

Bob: Yes, it does seem that Jesus taught those things, at least if we take them at face value without properly interpreting them. Since the apostle Paul taught us that salvation is not by works, but is by faith, then obviously Jesus didn’t mean for us to interpret those things literally.

Me: So you’re saying that He meant for us to interpret those passages figuratively, then?

Bob: We’d have to, in light of what Paul said.

Me: Okay, fair enough, the passages are figurative. I assume you’re going to be consistent and interpret the whole of the passages figuratively, right?

Bob: What do you mean?

Me: Well, if we’re going to interpret the passages figuratively, to be consistent we’d have to say that the “everlasting punishment in hell” part is meant to be figurative as well, right?

Bob: Well, um…

Me: Because there’s nothing in those passages that gives us any reason to believe that Jesus suddenly went from figurative speech to literal speech when He went from talking about how to escape from the punishment to talking about what the actual punishment itself is, right?

Bob: I don’t know. Are you saying that hell isn’t real?

Me: I’m just saying that, to be consistent, one can’t just choose to interpret half of a Bible verse figuratively and the other half literally for no good reason. Wouldn’t you agree?

Bob: Technically, yes… but Jesus spoke more about hell than He did about heaven, so it must be real.

Me: First of all, I never said hell wasn’t real. Secondly, Jesus is recorded as having spoken about everlasting torment in hell a grand total of three times, according to my concordance. That’s many, many times less than He’s recorded speaking about heaven. Thirdly, that has nothing whatsoever to do with what we’re talking about, which is being consistent in our interpretations of Scripture.

Bob: Okay, then what about Ephesians 2:8 and 9? You agreed that it says that salvation is by grace through faith and not by works.

Me: I did, which means that salvation and escaping from hell must be two completely different things if we’re going to remain consistent in our interpretations, at least according to the traditional methods of interpretation.

Bob: But that doesn’t make any sense. Everyone knows that salvation is about escaping hell and going to heaven.

Me: Do they now? Whether that’s true or not, how do you explain the fact that it would be inconsistent to interpret it that way?

Bob: I don’t know. I just know that this is what I was taught. Are you saying that my pastor is wrong?

Me: Are you saying that your pastor is incapable of being wrong?

Bob: Well, no. But that’s what Christians have always believed. Isn’t it?

Me: Actually, no. Many Christians have had a completely different take on heaven and hell than what you’ve been taught, from today going all the way back to the early church.

Bob: Really? Like what?

Me: These Christians believe that the passages talking about how to avoid everlasting torment in hell are indeed meant to be taken figuratively, but they remain consistent and interpret the whole passage figuratively, not just the first half. They believe that judgement in hell is not everlasting, but is only temporary, and that eventually everyone will end up in heaven.

Bob: You’re talking about Universalism. We know that can’t be true since the Bible teaches that hell is eternal.

Me: Only if one is inconsistent in their interpretation of the three places Jesus spoke about “everlasting torment in hell,” which we just covered.

Bob: But that would mean that everybody gets the same reward. That means that all the good works I do, and all the sin I avoid, is for nothing, because someone who lives a life full of sin is going to heaven anyway. What was the point of all my good works?

Me: Good question, you tell me. Didn’t you just try to tell me that salvation isn’t based on good works?

Bob: Well, yeah, I guess. But still, what’s the point of living a good life if you’ll just go to heaven anyway?

Me: Because living a good life is its own reward, perhaps? Certainly not so you’ll go to heaven, since salvation isn’t by works, right?

Bob: I suppose. But these people didn’t choose Christ, so why should they get to go to heaven?

Me: When you quoted Ephesians to me earlier, you left out a vital part of the passage. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Our faith in Christ is not of ourselves, it is entirely of God. We don’t choose to have faith in Christ, God chooses for us by giving us the faith.

Bob: You’re talking about predestination.

Me: Sure.

Bob: Okay, but whether they choose it for themselves or are elected by God, the Bible still tells us that only those who have the faith are saved.

Me: Actually, no, it doesn’t. It tells us that God is the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who believe. It doesn’t say “particularly those who believe,” or “only those who believe,” it says especially. If a teacher were to say at the end of the school year, “everybody passed this year, especially Lisa who got an A+,” we’d know that while nobody else got an A+, they still passed, since “especially” doesn’t mean “only.” To try to say this passage doesn’t teach that everyone gets saved is reading one’s own doctrinal bias into the passage, particularly since there’s no good, biblical reason to believe otherwise, as we’ve already covered.

Bob: Okay, but what about the Lake of Fire?

Me: What about it? We know that it isn’t hell, since the book of Revelation tells us that hell will be emptied and then cast into the Lake of Fire itself (hell, that is, not the people in it).

Bob: But aren’t people whose names aren’t written in the book of life thrown in there as well?

Me: Revelation does say that, yes, but you’ll notice that it doesn’t say that they’ll be in there forever. Neither does it say how one’s name gets put in the book of life. In fact it doesn’t even say that anyone’s name won’t be written in the book of life, just that if someone’s name isn’t in there they’ll be cast into the Lake of Fire for an unspecified length of time. Add all that to the fact that Revelation is entirely figurative up until this point, and, just like Jesus’ warnings about hell, there’s no reason to assume that this passage is suddenly meant to be interpreted literally after 20 chapters of symbolism either.

Bob: Hmmm. What about the other passages that warn about hell?

Me: Which ones? We’ve already covered every warning in Scripture about “everlasting torment in hell.” There are other warnings about everlasting destruction and things like that, but we’d have to read these passages figuratively to read them as referring to everlasting torment in hell since they don’t literally say that, they say things like “destruction.”

Bob: Interesting. Do you have any more information on this subject? I obviously need to do some more research on the subject.

Me: Definitely. Check out my website at www.ChristianHeretic.com where you’ll find writings by all sorts of Christian Universalists over the last two centuries or so.

Bob: Thanks. Can I follow up with you if I have any more questions?

Me: Of course.

Bob: Thanks.


The preceding was a combination of discussions I’ve had online and offline with various different Evangelical Christians. I hope you all enjoyed it.

Theological Evolution

While I’ve been a Christian Universalist for about seven or eight years now, there was a time when I believed very strongly that non-Christians would spend eternity in hell (and did lots of street preaching to try to prevent as many people as I could from experiencing this fate). After being introduced to the doctrine of Universal Reconciliation, and after much study and soul searching, I had to admit that I was probably wrong about my belief in everlasting torment and changed my mind.

Likewise, if you were to ask me for my views on any number of other theological and philosophical issues, you’d find that my beliefs have changed in many different ways from year to year. Some people have seen this as a negative thing and criticized my theological fluidity from time to time, but, as I recently said in a post on another blog, “my opinion is that if your theological views aren’t at least slightly different from year to year then you’re not to be trusted since it shows lack of growth. There’s no way that your beliefs (I’m speaking to everyone here) are so spot-on correct that you have no need to adjust them, or even completely reject them, every so often.”

What Has Always Been Believed

Recently, a traditionalist Christian was trying to promote his views by saying something along the lines of how we should ignore interpretations of Scripture other than those that have always been believed by the Church.

In response, I would suggest that there’s no such thing as “what has always been believed by the Church,” because there have always been Christians (members of the Church, in other words) who disagreed with the doctrines that came to be considered “orthodox.” Calling these people heretics because they believed something other than the theology that won the doctrinal wars doesn’t make them wrong, and the fact that a belief came to be considered orthodox doesn’t make it right. In fact, my theory is that the more “orthodox” a doctrine is considered to be, the more likely it is to be wrong. But would you expect anything less from a heretic like me?

Do Universalists Need Jesus?

Someone I know recently said that if Universalism is true then we don’t need Jesus and, since I’ve heard this statement too many times from too many traditionalists, I felt a need to give a short response to it here.

As a Christian Universalist, I like to respond to assertions like this one with a parable in the form of a news article:

At 6:00pm, Friday evening, firefighter Joshua Christos died in order to rescue all 300 children trapped in Kosmos Public School as it was burning to the ground. However, because he saved all 300 students, rather than just 2 or 3 of them, we are forced to declare that Joshua’s death didn’t actually serve any purpose even though none of the children would have been saved had he not died.

I realize that Universal Reconciliation isn’t an easy doctrine to swallow, but statements like “If Universalism is true then Jesus died in vain” make me wonder whether most traditionalists are even trying when they argue against the idea.

TULIP

Believe it or not, I find that there is quite a bit in Calvinism to agree with, particularly their take on free will. There are a couple points where we disagree though, what with me being a Christian Universalist and all, so I thought I’d give my Universalist take on TULIP:

1. Total Depravity/Total Grace: Every part of our lives is affected by sin, but where sin abounds, grace super-abounds; so every sin has already been forgiven and all of humanity has already been ontologically saved in Christ.

2. Unconditional Election: God elects to noologically save some people based upon no merit of their own.

3. Limited (noological) Salvation in this Age: Only those to whom God has revealed the truth of their ontological salvation will be noologically saved during their lifetime.

4. Irresistible Grace: Those whom God elects cannot resist (noological) salvation.

5. Perseverance of God: God will sacramentally save everyone in the end.

This post explains the references to the three different stages of salvation (ontological, noological and sacramental), just in case you’re not familiar with them.

Let’s See What You’ve Got

In my experience, really thinking over the implications and ramifications of their own doctrines doesn’t seem to be something most Christians do. Likewise, theological consistency doesn’t appear to be a virtue among most Christians either. These observations are probably made the clearest when it comes to the topic of hell. The fact that interpreting the 10 passages generally used to defend Everlasting Torment in hell as an actual defense of the doctrine means that, in order to be exegetically consistent, one also seems to have to believe in salvation by works appears to completely fly over the heads of those trying to use those passages.

Interestingly, traditionalist Christians will try to exegete passage after passage in order to prove that homosexuality or premarital sex or abortion is a sin, not to mention in order to prove a multitude of completely trivial doctrines, and yet you’ll have an easier time trying to kill a grizzly bear with a toothpick than you will getting a believer in Everlasting Torment to explain how those passages actually back up this particular belief. My theory is that they realize none of those passages actually even seem to imply salvation by grace through faith and not of works but are in denial about the whole thing. They can (and sometimes will) argue that it’s just so obvious that there’s no point in explaining their interpretations of these passages, but, as I said, they’re happy to exegete passages to defend much lesser doctrines at the drop of a hat so that makes such arguments suspect in my opinion.

So, to those who insist that people will spend eternity suffering in hell if they don’t put their faith in Christ before they die, and that good works won’t help them, remember that extreme assertions require extreme proof, and we’ve yet to see even minor proof from your side. I’ve given my defense of Universal Reconciliation on this site and on various message boards, even from a completely biblical inerrantist position, but we’re all still waiting to see what you guys have to Scripturally and consistently back up your soteriology. The ball’s in your court now, let’s see what you’ve got.

You Are already a Heretic

It doesn’t matter what your theological views are, nor does it matter what denomination your church is, no matter who you are, you are considered a heretic by some other group of Christians out there. But, of course, your views and denomination are right and everybody else’s is wrong so it doesn’t matter what they think, does it?

If You Were a Universalist

I was recently reminded of a great old (possibly apocryphal) story about the 19th-century Universalist, Hosea Ballou:

Ballou was riding the circuit in the New Hampshire hills with a Baptist minister one day, arguing theology as they traveled. At one point, the Baptist looked over and said, “Brother Ballou, if I were a Universalist and feared not the fires of hell, I could hit you over the head, steal your horse and saddle, and ride away, and I’d still go to heaven.”

 Hosea Ballou looked over at him and said, “If you were a Universalist, the idea would never occur to you.”

In addition to making a point about Christian Universalism this story also points out a common misunderstanding of salvation itself by many Christians. The Baptist in the story forgot that any Christian who believed in Eternal Security (the idea of “Once Saved, Always Saved”) could hit you over the head, steal your horse and saddle, and ride away, and still go to heaven. This concept isn’t limited to Christian Universalists, it’s relevant to any Christian who believes in salvation by grace alone.

Interestingly enough I’ve had almost the exact same statement about Universalism made to me by more than one traditionalist Christian in the past, Christians who I know for a fact do believe in Eternal Security. Sadly, it seems that theological consistency is not considered a virtue among most Christians.

I’m Not Here to Convert You

Believe it or not, my goal is not to convert anyone to Christian Universalism (as if I could, anyway). It might seem like this is my goal but my actual reasons for discussing the topic of Universal Reconciliation on this site are a little different. My first reason is to provide some explanations to those who truly want to understanding why I believe what I believe about the topic, as well as to correct more than a few misconceptions about what it is that Christian Universalists actually do believe.

My second reason is to point out the weaknesses of the popular opposing view, mostly because I believe that most traditionalist Christians take too many of their presuppositions for granted and need to have them challenged every now and then.

My third (and probably most important) reason is to encourage those who already believe in Universal Reconciliation and to provide them with resources to help them fulfill the same three goals if they so desire.

Now, if my site happens to help someone come to believe in Universal Reconciliation then I’m thrilled, but I don’t believe that it’s my job to convince anyone of what to believe about anything; that’s between them and God.