Posted by: Dan | October 29, 2004

Universalism: Part One

I disagree with the general Christian approach to the doctrine of original sin. We are NOT born as sinful beings. Original sin is not a metaphysical doctrine, it is a social one. We are not born sinful, but we are born into systems of sin.

Of course this quickly resolves the whole dilemma about what happens when innocent children die, etc.

However, as we grow-up in our societies we blindly participate in systems of sin, oppression and death, and as such we become sinful. At this point ignorance is no excuse. I may not have realised my money was supporting child-labour but it was. I may not have realised I was treating women as objects, but I was.

So, although I was once born innocent, I am born into a sinful world and thereby become sinful.

That's why Paul keeps saying that our battle is not with flesh and blood but with powers and principalities. Some charismatics have taken this way out on a tangent and developed intricate diagrams of spiritual beings and their ranks, etc, etc. Really Paul is attacking the social structures of the Roman Empire when he writes this way.

The powers and principalities are sin and death. And it is these that Jesus defeated on the cross. They are ideologies. They are all the things that claim the place of God in our lives yet destroy right relationship in doing so. Racism, Sexism, Capitalism, Patriotism… They are also corporations and businesses. Nike, The Gap, Shell, MicroSoft… These are the structures of sin that exist in our society.

And it is these, I would like to suggest, that are damned to hell, it is these that are damned to annihilation. God is in the process of saving the world, of making all things new. These structures of sin and death and the only things that will not be redeemed. All else will be ushered in. Death after all is not a presence but an absence. When God is fully present there is no room for death.

And this is why Christians are now called to announce the forgiveness of sins. Somewhere along the way we've gotten it all wrong. We've been announcing judgment when we should be announcing grace. No, you are not damned, you are beloved! No, you are not tainted, you are beautiful! No, you are not being cast out, you are being welcomed home! What Christ has accomplished has been achieved for all.

The thing is that Christians also need to be living in a way that signals that the powers and principalities have been defeated if their message is to be heard. “It is by the church living as the one believing community, in which barriers of race, class, gender and so forth are irrelevant for membership, and to holding of office that the principalities and powers are informed in no uncertain terms that their time is up, that there is a new way of being human” (Wright). That's why John says that they will know we are Christians by our love.

Of course we can announce the forgiveness of sins. Israel wasn't called to be God's people so that they could be saved while the rest of the world wasn't. No, election was all about saving the world. Abraham was called so that all the earth would be blessed. So, now, after Jesus, it just doesn't makes sense to say God has called a different group of people while the rest of the world is damned. No, God, in his love, is saving the world and making us all new.

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Responses

  1. Wow.

    What a radical message you’ve written here! This post brings so much clarity, excitement and liberation. I can’t wait for you to get the other parts of this posted. Hurry up.

    Jude

  2. hey big shooter,

    still waiting for a personal email bye the way…that asside:

    there are parts of this post i really appreciate, parts i scratch my head over and parts…i don’t know if i’m willing to part from classic orthodoxy that much, at least not quite yet (and this from an anabaptist…you must be a heretic!)

    i like the thought of sin as system…in some ways it fits very well with where i am thanks to yoder and hauerwas these days.

    the gospel is more a change of politics than a belief in a system of propositions. it is a call to a new polis…a new community…a people set apart. that seems to be hauerwas as i understand him (read: resident aliens)

    the thought that it is these powers, principalities that will be destroyed…aka the systems of evil. i like that. i like hauerwas’ aproach to ecclesiology, which i think fits well with your thinking. the church exists as a counterculture, i.e. resident aliens “you are not of this world”. we are here to call people into a new community that lives radically different from the world.

    however, i don’t think i am willing to push this to a universalism. perhaps it’s my influence from western penal system and hearing nothing but the substitutionary image of the atonement growing up, but still there is a part in me that believes God will hold individuals to account. corporations are not simply entities that exist apart from human involvement…humans may be influenced by “demons, satan whatever term you like” but it is still humans making evil decisions. those who work against God’s call to humans to live as Christ trample Christ’s blood.

    anyways, that’s me. at least for now. pitty i’m not as radical-orthodox as i’d thought/hoped. :)

    tom

  3. Ah, just wait Tom my friend. I think I can defend universalism in a way that does justice to individual accountability and the idea of final judgment.

    I had a good laugh the other day when all my thoughts about this (probably from the last half dozen years) came together. One thought followed another, “Holy hell, I think I’m a universalist! … Holy hell, I think I’m a heretic!”

    Hauerwas and Yoder have been influential on me in this regard as well, as have the liberation theologians. I think I owe more to Moltmann and Wright though. For the idea on powers and principalities I am indebted to Stringfellow (“An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land”). I think there’s some Tertullian mixed in with the whole original sin idea as well. I’m pretty sure it was already way back in his day that this idea surfaced. Don’t you love/hate it when you think you’ve come up with a ground-breaking new idea only to discover that idea actually goes all the way back to the early church?

    Oh, and the email is coming. I noticed you typed, “that ASSide”. Intentional? Probably… you bastard!

  4. Deep. Man, I’ve read this about five times and it’s still blowing my mind. I love the stuff you write. Here’s two questions that I’m looking for a short summary on, you can email me if you want: Whay must we suffer for others? Why must we suffer with others? Scriptural references are good.

    Sorry my comments aren’t as frequent or as loving as Jude’s :) I don’t do feelings.

  5. Sorry, that last one was from Abe

  6. I love what you have to say, and want so desperately to believe it, but i cant get over stuff like when Jesus give the parable of the wheat and weeds, “Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds and burn them and to put the wheat into the barn.” Later, explaining this parable, He goes on “I, the Son of Man, will send my angels, and they will remove from my Kingdom everything that causes evil and all who do evil, and they will throw them into the furnace and burn them.” Doesnt this speak of a judgement where God will “throw them into the furnace”? (Matthew 13)
    What youre saying makes so much sense, and, i think, fits so much better with God’s character, and many of the other teachings of Christ regarding unconditional love, but I dont see how verses like above can be interpreted other than a judgment involving condemnation.


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