What’s really at stake in the debate about universalism

Ted Grimsrud—April 3, 2011

Years ago I met a guy who pastored in Canada in the Mennonite Church. He struck me as a good person, seemed pretty gifted, someone I could easily imagine being successful in ministry. But he told me (and this was confirmed by others later) that he had gotten in trouble pretty often, even lost a couple of jobs. What was the problem? He was a universalist. He believed all people would find salvation, and he was willing to state that openly.

Ever since that conversation, I have noticed that for whatever reason, universalism seems like about the worst heresy there is. It seems like, at least in circles I’m familiar with, that it is much more objectionable for Christians to be too welcoming than it is to be too strict.

I have been aware of this dynamic surfacing again in controversy among North American evangelical Christians over a new book by a young superstar pastor named Rob Bell (the book is called: Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived; here’s one long highly critical review and a here’s link to the Google page for “rob bell love wins”). Before Bell’s book was even published, some of his theological enemies caught wind that he argues for a view that struck these thought police as dangerously close to universalism.

This debate about Bell’s book is fascinating, and has stimulated me to reflect a bit more on the universalism controversy as I have experienced it over the years—and to think some new thoughts about what I think may actually be at stake. I think the real issues that matter are a bit different than those generally discussed. And, I think this in large part because of what I understand the Bible to teach. Continue reading “What’s really at stake in the debate about universalism”