Maurice’s Musings For Monday, April 23, 2012
In early April, LifeWay Research (Southern Baptist) released new research concerning “Universalism”. In this survey participants (all Protestants) were offered the following statement, “If a person is sincerely seeking God, he/she can obtain eternal life through religions other than Christianity”. Participants were then given 5 possible responses: Strongly Disagree, Somewhat Disagree, Neither Agree Nor Disagree, Somewhat Agree, Strongly Agree. The results were . . . interesting.
Some 77% of Protestant Pastors “Strongly” disagreed with the statement, while another 7% “Somewhat” disagreed. But among non-pastors, only 48% of Participants “Strongly” disagreed while another 9% “Somewhat” disagreed. Ed Stetzer, President of LifeWay, summed it up this way: “In other words, protestant church attendees are substantially more pluralist/universalist than their pastors.” That’s one way to summarize things. Let me offer a different summary.
“Incipient Universalism” (i.e., universalism in its early or beginning stages) is manifesting itself among the rank and file of Protestantism. When only 48% of church attendees interviewed are willing (or able) to “strongly disagree” with such a blatantly universalistic statement, it means that at a very “grassroots” level our theological understanding of salvation and of “last things” (death, judgment, hell, etc) is “mushy” at best. Add to this the number of blog sites which are openly espousing various forms of Universalism (such as “Purgatorial Conditionalism”) and “the game is afoot”, and most Evangelical Christians are still playing “catchup”.
This is not a “minor” issue, but one with profound spiritual implications. I am reminded of A. W. Tozer’s observation in his article“What It Means to Accept Christ”, an observation that is relevant to any discussion concerning Universalism:
“Our relation to Christ is such a matter of life or death, and on a much higher plane. The Bible-instructed man knows that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners and that men are saved by Christ alone altogether apart from any works of merit. That much is true and is known, but obviously the death and resurrection of Christ do not automatically save everyone. How does the individual man come into saving relation to Christ? That some do, we know, but that others do not is evident. How is the gulf bridged between redemption objectively provided and salvation subjectively received? How does that which Christ did for me become operative within me? To the question ‘What must I do to be saved?’ we must learn the correct answer. To fail here is not to gamble with our souls; it is to guarantee eternal banishment from the face of God. Here we must be right or be finally lost”.
Tozer’s closing comment bears repeating: “Here we must be right or be finally lost”. This is not an “academic” matter, rather, it is a matter of eternal life or eternal death”. As I have stated before (and will again and again), Universalism represents “the suicide of Christian theology”. I explain why in the Introduction to our book “All Dogs Go To Heaven, Don’t They?: Biblical Reflections On Christian Universalism and Ultimate Reconciliation”. The battle over Universalism is on, and we appear to be losing at the level of the average church attender.