Warning! Theology to follow....
I am not a person who thinks that the Bible is God's perfect, inerrant revelation. In fact, I think the Bible is 100% man-made, albeit one of the most important man-made books ever. And it offers us spiritual riches for sure, perhaps even an entry-point into certain kinds of deep truth. I believe in faith (when it means "trust" anyway) and I use God-language in describing reality and in my deepest thoughts and feelings. I think I am a reverent agnostic.
Anyway, this post is not to criticize or defend Scripture, but I wanted to be clear on my opinion of Scripture.
All that said, I also enjoy arguing for Christian Universalism (the idea that in the end, God will save all), even when it means accepting the premise that Scripture is wholly reliable and uniquely inspired in its communication about God. It's a premise that I disagree with, but one that I can accept for the sake of argument. Why do I care? Because I love Christianity and I would rather it exist as something that a reasonable person could hope is true, rather than in a form that any reasonable person should hope is not true.
Wade Burleson, in a recent blog post here talks about Christian Universalism, which is a hot topic thanks to Rob Bell's new book. It's called "Hell's Bells" I think. Oh wait. I mean "Love Wins" is the title! ;)
I would like to say that I enjoy discussing things with Wade quite a bit. He considers what his conversation partner is saying, he is polite and he is straightforward. I have always appreciated this. Wade does a great job of outlining the two premises that many Christian Universalists accept which leads them to the conclusion that God will save every person who has ever lived. He phrases the premises in the following way:
1. It is God's redemptive purpose for the world, and therefore His will, to reconcile every single sinner to Himself.
2. It is within God's power to achieve his redemptive purpose for every single sinner.
Wade states that if a person believes these two premises, then it will necessarily lead to Christian Universalism, for God has both the will and the power to save every person.
Wade agrees with premise two, but he disagree with premise one. This is the standard Calvinist position, in contrast with the Arminian position that accepts premise one but not premise two.
Wade believes that God does not wish to save certain people. He believes that God has created people that He does not love enough to save. Wade writes that while he agrees with Bell on God's love, grace and kindness, he disagrees "with him over the extent to which, or maybe it is better said "the sinners to whom," God has chosen to show His love, grace and kindness."
God will withhold his life preserver from many, despite having the power to pull them out of the waves, and it is simply because He does not want to help them.
I may get into what I perceive as a deeper disagreement with Wade in a subsequent post, but first I look at the Scriptures Wade uses to justify His position that God does not wish salvation for all people.
"How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" (Hebrews 2:1-4).
First, the typical Christian Universalist maintains an exclusivist position. This means that they do not believe a person can come to God if he ignores salvation through Jesus Christ. Rather, the universalist simply believes that in the end every person will cease to ignore salvation and will be saved by God. So this Scripture does not seem to violate Christian Universalism at all. Secondly, if one looks at the context of this verse, then we see that there are consequences for ignoring God's salvation. Once again, this is certainly a view shared by the Christian Universalist. If being apart from God is suffering and being with Him is bliss, then this is obvious. The typical CU position I have run across is that people will certainly resist God's salvation, leading to their own suffering. But given the unending love of God, the extreme benefit to the sinner of coming to God, and the unlimited means at God's disposal (patience, time, etc.), then all will eventually come home. So the Hebrews verse presented simply says that a person cannot be saved if he ignores God's salvation. A Christian Universalist would agree but add that in the end God will accomplish His redemptive purpose by leading all people to stop ignoring this great salvation.
I could bring up Scriptures which state plainly that God does will the salvation of every sinner (1 Timothy 2:3-7 comes to mind). But it's not too hard to come up with a view and find Scriptures to support it. Many criticize the Bible for this, perhaps justly, but I also think it contributes to the richness of the Bible. It can be quite theologically ambiguous. Perhaps we must seek ourselves, using our ethical intuitions and our reason in determining a view of God that is (hopefully) truly worthy of praise. For his supreme power? Sure. But much more importantly, for His perfect goodness.
And my question to Wade must be - if God has the power to save, to reconcile, to perfect His creation, and yet He lacks the will to do so, then is God perfectly good? I imagine that Wade would respond that our sinfulness means that we all deserve eternal separation from God (presumably by God's own decree), and that God is not obligated to do anything for us in order to maintain His perfect goodness (I apologize to Wade if this is an incorrect guess at his view). But this seems odd to me. If one has the power to make something better, to sincerely convict the heart of the sinner, to bring about healing and redemption, and one does not do it, this does not sound like perfect goodness.
Then we might also ask why God wishes to create sinful creatures with a will counter to His own (yet He created them that way so is it really counter to His will?) if there is no ultimate purpose of redemption for them. The Calvinist response I have often read is something like - God has created some people not to save so that, in the interest of His own glory, he can display His justice on them for eternity. Their suffering will be a testament to God's holiness, righteousness and justice. And their suffering is God's intent.
But if this is what we use the label "good" for, then I am not sure I want to be "good".
I appreciate Wade's engagement with this issue. I will try to write a bit further on broader notions of love, justice and goodness. And I would love to read other's thoughts.