Imagine, if you will, that you are a salesman for an auto insurance company. All day and every day you walk the sidewalks of subdivisions and local towns, approaching each door with confidence and poise, straightening your tie or perhaps adjusting your ponytail before raising your hand to knock. The door opens. You introduce yourself, smile, and kindly explain to the homeowner why it is imperatival, an absolute necessity, that they purchase insurance for the SUV or minivan sitting in their driveway.
Now what would happen if the government issued an edict stating how, contrary to popular belief, insurance was not required and, furthermore, the state would cover any costs previously insured under the policies you sold? What would happen to your insurance sales?
Universalism poses a similar threat to Christian Evangelicals. For the sake of the discussion we can treat “Universalism” as an umbrella-term under which the beliefs of Inclusivism and Pluralism could also fall. The common factor between these world-views is that they do not hold that the confession of Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture is the key to eternal salvation nor that in order to be saved an individual must confess His Lordship.
Inasmuch, these nuanced viewpoints all pose a shared threat to the Evangelical train of thought.
Because we adamantly believe and confess salvation to be attainable exclusively through the Gospel message. Not only that, but we place a lot of stock in it being completely and 100% true. Our very name is derived from the act of sharing the good news. Our worldview is built around the necessity to convert the masses to Christianity, the urgency to rescue them from eternal damnation. But, at perhaps a more personal and often unacknowledged level, the necessity of Christ’s supreme and exclusive role as Savior has to do with our identity.
For if Universalism had a hint of truth to it, the entire purpose of the Evangelical churches would be, in effect, shattered. An auto insurance salesman in a country devoid for the necessity of such coverage would find himself quickly out of a job and just as quickly devoid of an identity, somewhat lost in the cosmos. The threat Universalism poses to Evangelicals is that our perceived earthly purpose might, possibly, be a moot point.
I raise this peculiar notion because it is an overlooked but necessary contemplation of every Christian who believes in the urgency of evangelism. Are we opposed to Universalism because of sound theology, or is our opposition rooted in an identity crisis? Is the problem with Universalism that it is watered-down and incoherent theology? Or is our reaction fueled by the fact that it poses a significant threat to our personal identity? Too often it seems that it is not faith in Christ’s sole kingship that drives our evangelical witness so much as it is an affirmation of our own ego.
Inasmuch, Evangelicals have found themselves with what they deem to be justified necessities to “defend the gospel”. The irony in this is that, in doing so, the very thing we defend proves to work against us. For we cannot defend what is an objective reality; the infinite truth of its own existence surpasses any defense we could offer. Rather, the only thing we can accomplish is to live as a testimony to this objective truth, to incorporate our lives into the salvation narrative rather than see the gospel as a facet of our own existence.
True and effective evangelism, real evangelism, stems not from anything derived of our own identity but from a well-articulated faith grounded in processed and dogmatic theology. Put another way: the only pure Christian Evangelicalism is that which exists not out of fear of being proven false, not in defense of any particular view of the gospel, but rather in true and earnest testimony to the gospel, whatever it may prove itself to be.
Inasmuch our testimony must be much broader than we have accounted for historically. For the gospel, which promotes the message of the exclusive saving work of Jesus Christ, that same gospel also includes several other commands, mandates which Christians often bypass en route to their namesake. Such oversight in favor of an agenda-driven message is diluted theology as is its Evangelistic product.
To the contrary, true evangelism adheres to an objective reality and acts not in a defensive nature, sheltering the self-imposed perceptions of the faith in a harbor of misguided theology, but rather moves outward, propelling the good news into all spheres of life.
True evangelism, therefore, finds solace and unity with environmentalism, promotes social justices, and embraces peacemaking in all its forms. It does not oppose these things out of a fear of its message being lost to a more attractive or seductive sales pitch. It is not concerned with anything other than witnessing to the kingdom and message of Christ.
True theology does not need to raise swords of argument in defense just as the true Savior of the world did not need weapons to defend Himself. A theology that fears questioning is no theology at all. For the God of the Universe is a God who created, for His glory, humans that posses free and critical intellect. Any attempt to theorize about this God must find itself not threatened, but rather strengthened by questioning.
Universalism, when properly encountered, can literally scare the hell out of our Evangelical thought. It startles us out of our subjectivism and removes prideful attachments to our viewpoints. It challenges us to base our faith on something other than our personal perceptions of good and evil, something outside of ourselves. For with this discussion comes the necessity to purge ourselves of any attachments to our personal identity that drive a subjective and emotional defense. With it comes the necessity embrace the objective reality of the gospel as a tenant of our faith.
This is why Universalism, though existent throughout the ages, could prove itself to be a great asset to the church. For with the challenge of Universalism comes the challenge to the members of the faith to articulate and share their message in a manner that is not based not on an identity crisis or biased subjectivism. But rather it implores us to articulate our personal faith on the basis of the objective reality and truth of a God that is, a God that loves, a God that saves.
This is, after all, the only message worth sharing.