Until now, most Christians have assumed that evangelicals – people who base their convictions clearly on the teaching of Scripture – cannot possibly be universalists – people who believe that God will one day redeem all mankind.
With the release on March 8 of Zondervan’s Four Views on Hell (Second Edition), that understanding suddenly changed!
For the first time, a well respected, evangelical publishing house has clearly acknowledged that universalism is a view Christians should seriously consider.
An Evangelical Universalist
The four views presented in the book are: Eternal Conscious Torment, Terminal Punishment, Purgatory, and an essay by Robin Parry on Christian Universalism.
According to the book’s general editor, Preston Sprinkle –
All of the authors are committed Christians who believe in the full inspiration and authority of the Bible . . . All of the authors will derive and articulate their views based on Scripture and theological reasoning.
Dr. Sprinkle goes on to say –
I found Robin Parry’s essay to be a fascinating read! And, if I can be quite honest, I think it is a game-changer . . . Christians can no longer dismiss his view as unorthodox. We must now actually crack open our Bibles and, like the Bereans (Acts 17:11), see if these things are so.
Response by Brad Jersak
While 'Christian Universalism' and indeed a truly 'Evangelical Universalism' is as old as St Gregory of Nyssa and as rich as Rev. George MacDonald, it has often required some key leader, popular denomination or established publishing company to formalize broader acceptance of any controversial doctrine, practice or people. Who has the courage of St Peter to come along and say, 'Like it or not, 'they' (whoever they happen to be) DO have a legitimate place at this table'?
So, just as in the late 80's, when John Stott formally signaled that one can be BOTH a solid Evangelical and a convinced 'annihilationist,' so too it appears that Zondervan (that Evangelical monolith) has now 'officially' risked assigning a place for Universalism within the boundaries of the Evangelical camp. Whether or not such a welcome 'takes' will be up for grabs as long as so many confessions of faith forbid their preachers and teachers even to ask the question or dare to hope for an outcome more gracious than eternal conscious torment. On such grounds, the assumption has been to reject Christian Universalists, however 'evangelical,' as false teachers heretics. We'll see what happens now.
As of today, Christian Universalists would find it very tough to crack into the faculty of most North American Evangelical colleges and seminaries. Even milder 'hopeful inclusivists' (like me) may be shown the door or excluded by Evangelical schools, churches and conferences if their convictions are discovered. In general, if you don't believe and affirm the necessity of eternal conscious torment, the majority of Evangelical contexts continue to be 'out of bounds.'
But given this landmark book, could the tide be turning as Sarris suggests? Perhaps a decade from now we will see that this topic is no longer the deal-killer that it was when Evangelicalism bade Rob Bell 'farewell.' Given Robin Parry's winsome tones and biblically solid arguments, I suspect that many people (individual en masse) will embrace his view (and have been waiting for the license to do so) even if that requires rejecting the Evangelical label!
Indeed, that's obviously already the case on a grand scale among the Progressives, Nones and Dones. Whether the schools and churches who claim to be Evangelical can harbor leaders (teachers, pastors) who make the shift, or proceed through a transitional 'don't ask, don't tell' basis, remains to be seen. As with Stott and now Parry, British Evangelicals may lead the way. On the American side of the pond, if forced to choose, many may just move on, identifying the 'Evangelical' brand with as much suspicion as they do 'Universalist.'