Re-habilitating (and recovering from) my own evangelicalism

Last time I was looking at some of the reasons why evangelicals get a bad press, often unjustly. I suggested that some dislike evangelicals because of their theology, their stance over certain issues, or because of feeling written off or looked down on by them.

I can identify with all of these, but in my case there’s another and more important reason for my anti-evangelical bias. It’s that for quite some time I was an evangelical (or thought I was and tried to be), but over the past few years have started emerging from evangelicalism – and reacting (maybe over-reacting) against it in something not unlike a teenage rebellion.

I’ve written plenty before about the idea of stages of faith development, and how an early black-and-white fundamentalist phase can often later give way to a period of doubting, questioning and perhaps rebelling against the authorities that you once trusted. This has certainly been the case for me.

My journey into – and out of – evangelicalism

So I found, or rather re-found, Christian faith 20 years ago and joined a charismatic evangelical Anglican church which was vibrant, alive and exciting. Having been brought up in an ultra-‘high’ Anglo-Catholic tradition which I never really connected with, this felt like a breath of fresh air; the real thing. And in plenty of ways I think it was, sort of; I don’t want to knock it now.

But over the years I found that there were elements within the wider evangelical and charismatic traditions that I felt increasingly uncomfortable and unhappy with, not to mention parts of the Bible I struggled to accept as ‘God’s Word’. I tried hard to accommodate all these things, but cracks started to appear in my watertight theology.

Finally, maybe about 10 years ago, I began to realise that I simply couldn’t accept a lot of the fundamental premises or worldview of evangelicalism. It seemed increasingly clear to me that the Bible wasn’t inerrant, and that there were other and (I felt) better ways to interpret it and to understand crucial aspects of faith such as sin, atonement, salvation, hell and so on.

Reacting against evangelicalism

So I began to react against evangelicalism. I felt that I needed in some ways to ‘recover’ from it, or perhaps recover my faith from it. I was (am) seeking a new, different way of being Christian – a way that radically reinterprets my former evangelical beliefs while remaining to some degree grounded in them.

So a lot of what I’ve said in this blog is a reaction against aspects of evangelicalism that I’ve found personally unhelpful, unhealthy, restrictive, not life-affirming… or which I simply don’t like.

And I’ll admit that quite often my reaction is irrational and disproportionate. It’s something of an allergic response. Particular evangelical phrases almost bring me out in a rash – for example ‘God’s Word’; ‘sharing (or preaching) the gospel’; the adjectives ‘biblical’, ‘scriptural’ or ‘sound’; certain Bible verses quoted out of context. I hear these red rag phrases and I want to shout rude things – doubtless a sign of my spiritually parlous state.

Something else that often unreasonably annoys me about evangelicalism is a tendency to take everything (not just the Bible) too literally and seriously, and so to miss out on symbolism and metaphor, complexity and ambiguity, humour and playfulness. I’ve complained before about an evangelical lack of imagination. I don’t actually think that’s a fair assessment. But even if it is, it’s not wrong to be that way; it just doesn’t work for me.

Evangelicalism suits a particular type of person

So I wonder whether evangelicalism may simply suit certain kinds of people and personality better than others.

My theory (for what it’s worth) is that evangelicalism is a brilliant system for people who like systems. It’s ideal for those who like things well-ordered, neat, correct, clear, systematic, logical, watertight. And I think it can also be great for activists, people who like to get out there and do faith rather than spend ages thinking about nuance, complexity and alternative possible interpretations.

I’d suggest then (at the risk of crass generalisation) that evangelicalism may be particularly well suited to lawyers, engineers and physicists, maybe even librarians, and rather less well suited to poets, artists or philosophers.

So the main reason I’m no longer evangelical is not that evangelicals are nasty, nor even that they’re wrong necessarily. It’s simply that I don’t feel at home within evangelicalism; don’t feel that’s where I truly belong, where my personality best fits.

Evangelicals are not baddies

I’d suggest that the vast majority of evangelicals are simply ordinary folk who love Jesus, love the Bible, and love people. They’re doing their best to follow Jesus (as they understand him through the Bible), and to care for people in the way they believe to be right (according to the Bible).

I would query some of their ideas about what Jesus wants, how to interpret the Bible and how best to care for people – but their care, devotion and dedication often put me to shame. And where we disagree, I’ve no real guarantee that I’m right and they’re wrong.

Indeed, perhaps some of my dislike or fear of evangelicals as a species (not as individuals) is because, deep down, I have a nagging fear that they might actually be right after all. And as my hero Albus Dumbledore once wisely observed, it’s much harder to forgive people for being right than for being wrong.

And if I’m really honest, some of the things that most wind me up about evangelicals are traits and tendencies I dislike in myself and wish to distance myself from.

Of course it’s all too easy to form groups and take sides, to define ourselves as not evangelical and then (by a small leap) anti-evangelical. As humans, we so often forge our own identity by attacking, dismissing or excluding others who aren’t like us (or who we wish to dissociate ourselves from). But that’s never Christ’s way. It’s not about goodies and baddies.

So if you hate or despise evangelicals and evangelicalism, I’d ask you to reconsider.

And if you’re an evangelical and have felt got at by this blog in the past, I’m sorry. I will try to do better (forgive me when I fail). And I’d ask you in turn to consider that evangelicalism may not be the only way to be truly Christian.

Despite all I’ve said, evangelicalism will probably always remain a part of me. I’m no longer truly an evangelical, but I can’t reject it completely. So for now at least I’m an Evangelical Liberal – an odd marriage of opposites that kind of works for me.

Posted in Evangelicalism, Liberalism, Stages of faith | Tagged , , | 45 Comments

Why do many people not like evangelicals?

Evangelicals are much nicer than people think
If you bump into one then your heart shouldn’t really sink
They’re really lovely guys
Who just aren’t keen on compromise
So change the subject if doctrinal issues should arise…

Thus begins a jaunty little ukelele calypso I’ve been working on. The first line repeats each time, getting progressively more qualified until it ends up ‘(Most) evangelicals are (mostly) nicer than (most) people think (most of the time)’. Which isn’t fair, but might be a little bit funny, perhaps – so that makes it okay, right?

Okay, much as it galls me to, I must admit I’ve been guilty of anti-evangelical bias in my thinking and in this blog. There are reasons for this, but I’d like if possible to take a slight step back from that now, apologise for hurt caused and try for a slightly more positive and balanced position. That’s not to exclude legitimate critiquing, but I’ll try to avoid cheap shots and carping. Mostly.

The caricature and the reality

I’ve tended to caricature evangelicals as lacking in imagination and humour, as ploddingly literal, embarrassingly earnest, Pharisaically fun-hating. I don’t think I’m alone in this. It’s all too easy for liberals, progressives and Anglo-Catholics to dismiss all evangelicals (unfairly) as sanctimonious, self-righteous, sin-obsessed, po-faced, puritanical, pious, homophobic and a whole bunch of other things we  don’t like, and which in reality most evangelicals aren’t like.

When we think of evangelicals it’s often the more vocal ultra-conservatives, über-Calvinists and fundamentalists who come to mind. But evangelicalism is a far broader church than that. There are progressive evangelicals, open evangelicals, liberal evangelicals, charismatic evangelicals and contemplative evangelicals. There are evangelicals who support gay marriage and female ordination. There are evangelicals who accept evolution, evangelicals who don’t believe in a literal hell, evangelicals who question biblical inerrancy. There are even evangelical universalists.

There are extremely intelligent and deep-thinking evangelicals (think Tom Wright for starters); evangelicals who understand science, do nuance and get metaphor. There are open-minded and generous-spirited evangelicals, like the late John Stott. And there are deeply compassionate evangelicals who work their hardest to make the world a better place for everyone to live in. The abolitionist William Wilberforce was famously an evangelical, and Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis are contemporary examples of progressive evangelicals with a passionately strong social conscience.

But are these not just the exceptions? I don’t believe so. I could list plenty more names, but more important are the many ordinary evangelicals I know personally who are for the most part kind, intelligent, good-humoured people – however much I may disagree with aspects of their theology.

So why do a lot of people – including other Christians, and including me – often dislike or misrepresent evangelicals, or feel that they’re fair game for mockery?

The Bible and bigotry

Probably one of the chief reasons evangelicals get a bad press is the perception that they hold bigoted, antediluvian views and beliefs – at least, views that look that way to anyone steeped in the values of modern liberal western culture. For example, we assume that evangelicals are fairly likely to oppose gay marriage and female ordination.

But that isn’t the case for all evangelicals, by any means. And where it is, that’s often not because evangelicals really want to hold these views – they simply feel they have to, because that’s what they’re convinced the Bible says and they believe the Bible to be God’s written Word and final authority.

But of course the Bible wasn’t written in or to a modern liberal western society. Plenty of stuff in the Bible is pretty repugnant to many of us now, and that (often unfairly) rubs off on those who feel they must defend the Bible, align themselves with it and try to live by its teachings.

Not really homophobic?

So I suspect that the majority of evangelicals probably aren’t significantly more homophobic or misogynist than the rest of us (a few may be). The difference is that they’re often sure that the Bible – God’s Word as they see it – unequivocally prohibits same-sex relationships and female leadership. So whether they like it or not, they feel they have no choice but to follow that line if they’re to remain obedient to God.

But there really is a difference between believing homosexual intercourse to be prohibited and being homophobic. It’s a subtle difference, to be sure, and can be hard to spot if you’re feeling hurt or excluded by a group who consider any expression of your sexuality to be wrong.

But take the example of shopping or working on a Sunday. Many evangelicals used to consider this prohibited (fewer do now). The plot of Chariots of Fire hinges on Eric Liddle refusing to compete on a Sunday. Yet evangelicals didn’t once a week suddenly hate, fear or despise shopping or work or any of the temporarily prohibited things; they simply didn’t do them. And the same kind of distinction applies to many evangelicals’ views of homosexual practice – forbidden, not (necessarily) hated.

Hell and exclusivism

Then of course there are all the other repugnant ‘biblical’ doctrines – hell for example.

Again, many evangelicals feel that they have to believe in the doctrine of a literal hell of eternal conscious torment, because they’re sure that’s what the Bible teaches. I suspect that few evangelicals are really happy or comfortable with this belief, but again they feel they have no choice. But because we hate or fear the doctrine, many of us also feel some repugnance towards those who hold it.

What perhaps makes it worse is that evangelicals also often believe that this hell is the inevitable ultimate destination for all non-Christians, as they’re convinced of the exclusivity of the Christian gospel – that only those who submit their lives to Christ are saved. And of course this is pretty off-putting to those on the outside. I have at least one non-Christian friend who (rightly or wrongly) felt judged and condemned by the evangelical Christians at her university. I suspect she misunderstood them, but if so it’s an easy mistake to make.

Those of us who aren’t evangelical can sometimes feel looked down on, excluded or dismissed by (some) evangelicals. And evangelicals can sometimes seem arrogant in their certainty; unwilling to listen because they know they’re right because the Bible says so. Again, I don’t think this is entirely fair to most evangelicals, but it can feel that way at times.

But I’d also say that where a few (usually conservative) evangelicals really are arrogant or exclusivist, that’s often simply out of fear. They fear straying from the Only Right Path and so being damned; they fear associating with ‘heretics’ and ‘sinners’ in case that leads them astray. It’s not an enviable place to be; such as these deserve our compassion not our hate.


Finally, evangelicals’ adherence to the Bible can sometimes lead them to positions which just seem silly to the rest of us and make them a laughing stock. Creationism – particularly Young Earth Creationism – is a prime example. For the secular world (and for many Christians now), evolution has long since won the fight and any who continue to deny it are, well, dinosaurs. But for some evangelicals, the Bible simply must be defended; nothing less than God’s perfect Word is at stake.

However, an increasing number of evangelicals, particularly scientifically-literate younger ones, don’t hold strictly to Creationism any longer. The Cambridge immunobiologist Denis Alexander is a prominent evangelical proponent of evolution, and he’s far from alone.

So a good number of evangelicals are prepared to re-interpret the Bible in the light of other evidence, whether it be historically on the issue of slavery like Wilberforce, or currently on issues like homosexuality, gender roles, evolution or the doctrine of hell.

And crucially, many evangelicals are much better than their theology. Even those who hold beliefs we strongly dislike or disagree with are often personally kind, decent and likeable people. It’s not our theology and beliefs that matter most in the end or that truly define us, but rather our humanity and how we treat each other.

Posted in Evangelicalism | Tagged , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Knowing God vs knowing about God

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years writing about God, faith and spirituality. So it’s easy to kid myself that I’m a bit of an expert (albeit an amateur one, if that isn’t a contradiction in terms – or even if it is). “God? – yeah, I’ve written loads about him”, I catch myself thinking. “Faith? – yeah, I know tons about that.”

Now that’s not actually true – as I realise whenever I read the writings of someone who really does know a lot. But even if it were true, the problem is that knowing about something isn’t at all the same as knowing something – really knowing it inside and out, inhabiting it, letting it inhabit and change you.

It’s a little bit like the difference between being a film critic and being an actor, director or screenwriter. The critic may know all sorts of interesting facts about films and be able to relate them very well, but s/he doesn’t know what it’s like to create and inhabit a story that people love, a world that people want to belong to.

Knowing a person

Furthermore, God of course is a someone not a something. And knowing someone is a very different kettle of fish to knowing anything else. Knowing a person – any person – is a very special and intimate kind of knowledge, one that only comes through genuine and long-term relationship.

These days we all know lots about all sorts of people, including people we’ve never met and never will. The media feeds us every intimate secret of celebrities’ lives that we could ever wish to know (and then some). But that doesn’t mean that we really know these people. Their true reality and nature remains hidden to us.

Closer to home, if for some odd reason you really wanted to, you could find out a fair few facts about me by the dark magic of Google – but that wouldn’t enable you to know me. Only by spending time with me in all my different roles and moods and aspects could you start to say you knew me (or I you). And even then there would be lots we wouldn’t really know about each other, much that remained opaque or mysterious. There are things I don’t even know about myself, things that are hidden in God.

What can we say about God?

And of course all this is even more true of God, whom none of us have ever seen and most of us haven’t directly or audibly heard.

As I’ve discovered, it’s pretty easy to say a lot about God and faith. My output on this blog currently stands at something like 300,000 words and rising, with no signs of an end in sight – sorry guys.

Yet I sometimes wonder it’s really possible to know or say much that’s very definite or helpful about God. There are certain things we may be able to say provisionally and partially, such as that God is love, God is good, God is uncreated spirit, etc. But I’m not sure these things are hugely meaningful except within the context of a real, living relationship with the actual, living God. Outside that they’re just dry bones without flesh or beating heart.

And for the many things we can’t be sure about, we can explore and debate ideas which can be very interesting and maybe even sometimes helpful. But in and of itself, I’m not sure how much further forward just discussing theological theories gets us spiritually. Sometimes I think it can have the opposite effect.

God the Great Unnameable

When we write (or read) a lot about someone we can easily think we understand them, and may even think we control or own them. It’s like the old idea that once you can name something, you have power over it.

But God is the Great Unnameable – the ‘I am’ whose very name is an enigma wrapped in a mystery. We can’t Name or Tame him; “he’s not a tame lion” as C.S. Lewis famously put it. And we absolutely can’t own or possess him. He is other, he is free, he is himself (or to avoid gendered language, God is Godself).

God is way more (unimaginably more) awesome, amazing, mysterious and indeed terrifying (in a certain sense) than we can imagine. Look at nebulas in deep space, at the vastness and number of countless galaxies, at aeons of time, at mighty elemental power and at the unfathomable complexities of the human brain, and all that’s nothing compared to the reality of God. If I do know anything about God at all, it’s probably less than 0.0000000000000001% of ‘him’.

Knowing, not knowing about

But lest this should all merely sound depressing, the really good thing is – I would contend – that you don’t need to know much (if anything) about God to know God.

My cat doesn’t know anything about me apart from that I’m one of the big incompletely-furred not-quite-cats who give him food and shelter and affection. But he doesn’t need to. A human infant knows hardly anything about the parents who love and nurture him or her, but they don’t need to either.

And on a more cosmic scale, you and I can have a profound and meaningful relationship with the one we call God without having to be able to recite the shorter Westminster catechism or understand the finer points of Christology, eschatology and ecclesiology. We don’t really need to know anything (at least not to start with) except that God is there and we can turn to him, can trust him, can love and be loved by him. If that sounds childishly simple, it’s because it is and is meant to be.

Most of the time I think we massively and unnecessarily over-complicate Christianity – which I may come back to another time.

Anyone can know God

I am utterly convinced that anyone can know God, regardless of their mental capacity, ability to communicate or anything else.

Indeed, sometimes I think that great intellectual capacity can be more of a hindrance than a help in knowing God, but I’m sure there’s a place for geniuses and academics in the Kingdom too.

No, I know that there’s a place for intellect – reason is God-given as much as imagination, our mind as much as our heart. We’re called to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength (or body) – with every part of us, intellect and imagination, bodily life and mental life, everything we are and have. But the key is that we’re called to love – not to understand. And what we learn about God intellectually has to feed back into love, into relationship, or else it becomes stale or even unhelpful.

And when we know God, a lot of the stuff we don’t understand – say about the Bible – ceases to matter so much. I find I can far better accept the nasty stuff I don’t like in the Old Testament – that in  odd ways, it can even start to make some sense – when viewed within the context of a loving, trusting relationship with God, rather than when I’m just approaching it as an academic puzzle.

Seek ye first…

So yes, talking or writing about God can be a fun pastime, and it’s one that I happen to enjoy a lot. But you can talk or write about God forever without ever once encountering the actual God. And if we do that (as I suspect I often do), I suggest we’re in danger of entirely missing the point, and that we gain little of real value by it.

At the risk of sounding overly evangelical then, I urge you – and me – to seek the living God with all our hearts. Then we can talk about him and it can really mean something.

Posted in Love of God, Spirituality, Theology | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Why imagination is great (and why many evangelicals don’t like it)

I’ve written before about the dichotomy between Truth and Love, and I suggested (perhaps unfairly) that Truth was a more evangelical concern, whereas liberals are perhaps more concerned with Love. And there’s a similar dichotomy between imagination and rationality, or between art and science, and again this has liberal/evangelical implications.

In my experience, Evangelical Christianity (for the most part, with honourable exceptions) tends to view imagination and art with considerable suspicion – for example, the reaction among some to Harry Potter, which I think is largely a failure to appreciate imagination and symbolism.

Why evangelicals don’t trust imagination

It’s not all that difficult to see why this is so. Evangelical Christianity is arguably a fact-centred faith, which holds Truth as its key foundation, founded on the solid rock of Scripture. For evangelicals, the Bible is a record of definite historical fact, and also of timeless truth and changeless command rooted in the fixed character of God the righteous law-giver. There’s little room within these parameters for creativity, or imagination, or for art except that which depicts biblical themes and can be used for teaching or evangelistic purposes.

Secondly, Evangelical Christianity is concerned with order, rightness and propriety; with law, structure and authority. Things are to be done, literally, ‘by the book’, in the proper and God-ordained way, according to the rules. There is a divine order and pattern to all things, which humans must learn to follow like the steps of a formal dance. Again, there is little room for human invention, creativity or imagination.

Imagination and art introduce a jarringly – or excitingly – flawed, fantastical and fickle human element into this neat and harmoniously ordered picture. Imagination is inherently disruptive, subversive, mischievous, playful. It’s creative and inventive, irrational and emotional, wild and free. It challenges norms and conventions and subverts the status quo.

If evangelical religion is a formal dance to sedate chamber music, imagination is more of a wild freestyle dance to improvised rock or jazz – of which more later.

Imagination and disorder

Of course, imagination and art can be unhealthy or disordered. Not everything that comes out of the human imagination is good or helpful. But imagination itself is a good thing.

Imagination and art are gifts of God. Yes, there’s a place for order, for structure, for solidity. But I believe that place is to form a solid, secure foundation and framework for creativity and imagination, for art and story and play.

Disorderly is not always the same as disordered. I do believe that God is a God of order and harmony and beauty. But I’m not convinced that his order and harmony and beauty always look the way we expect them to. God often does things in a counter-intuitive and upside-down way – even sometimes, dare I suggest, in a subversive and authority-challenging way.

God is also a God of paradox and irony. Just as his wisdom is sometimes shown in apparent foolishness and his strength in apparent weakness, I believe that his order and harmony are sometimes best shown in apparently chaotic and playful improvisation.

I think of the romp at the resurrection of Aslan in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, or the literally bacchanalian carnival at the end of Prince Caspian. God sweeps through the dull, rigid, lifeless systems of the old order with his new, liberating and deeply disruptive life. It’s almost pagan; almost, but not quite; almost, but Christ-redeemed.

it’s why I love Mike Riddell’s poetic and playful Godzone and Frederick Buechner’s profoundly human writings, whereas works of systematic theology (however brilliant) leave me cold.

I want to break free

A number of years ago, while still in my broadly ‘evangelical’ phase, I wrote the following not-very-good poem:

Christianity and poetry seem expected by tradition-and-convention
To be of regularity and regulation,
Reason set in motion by the long-repeated rules
Of rhyme and rhythm, not of
Revelation – fluidity and flow and flight and freedom,
Which to me are Christianity and poetry –
Something of rivers – living – breaths – and atoms spinning –
Flowering and flying – light
That shapes and is reality (forget religion).

Yeah, I did say it wasn’t great ;) . But the gist was that I was longing for a freer, wilder, more poetic and open faith of the heart, rather than one of sound doctrines, systematic theologies and set forms. I wanted to run free through wide open spaces of the spirit, rather than sit in cramped corridors of correct creeds and moral codes. I’d glimpsed the sky and I wanted to soar above the clouds.

I suspect that a lot of people get tired of what seem like all the life-sapping restrictions and rigidities of codified religion. Many seek to escape into a personal spirituality based on following the heart, rather than trying to adhere to the doctrines and disciplines of formal faith.

However, I believe the rules and disciplines are helpful (even vital), not as an end in themselves but as a starting point. Anyone who’s tried to bring up small children knows that to start off with they need fairly black-and-white rules and clear boundaries, before later gradually learning the shades and nuances, and being able to make their own more complex moral decisions.

It’s important to learn and internalise the ‘rules’ in order that ultimately – at the right time and in the right way – we can break free from them. This is true in music, art and indeed poetry as well as in life and in faith. Only by knowing where the boundaries lie can we learn when it’s okay (even good) to cross or ‘transgress’ them – for example, when it may be right to tell a lie in order to protect the innocent.

Ultimately the rules and limits are there to provide a structure, a framework within which there can freedom for creativity and play and discovery. Like walls they’re simply there to provide protection and shelter, and to enable the really important stuff to take place within the space they surround.

So we need both sides – the rational, logical and ordered, but also the poetic, artistic and imaginative. We need both the rules and the heart, both the rigid walls and the free space they enclose, both the ‘evangelical’ and the ‘liberal’.

Postscript: playing by ear or by the score

One of the things I’m quite good at is playing music by ear. If I hear a piece a couple of times, I’ll make a fair go at bashing it out on the piano or guitar. I’ll get the feel of the piece, if not the exact notes.

But give me the sheet score for the same piece and I’ll struggle through it slowly and painfully; it might be more accurate and have all the ‘right’ notes, but played by me it won’t sound great. However, give the same sheet music to a professional musician and they will make it sound effortlessly beautiful, whereas they may struggle if you ask them just to play by ear.

Classical music is an essentially formal discipline, relying on lengthy training to play note-perfect by the score. You don’t get marks in classical for improvising. Rock, pop and jazz by contrast rely on spontaneity, ‘feel’, vibe, exuberance and energy rather than note-perfect rendition of a score.

Classically-trained musicians and music critics often sneer at popular music as low art for the musically illiterate. Conversely, rock and jazz musicians dismiss classical music as staid, dull, rule-bound ‘establishment’ music. But I love both types, and I’m convinced that both have their place. Both can learn from each other, and there’s far more overlap than at first appears.

There are rules and structure even in rock, jazz and improvised music; and there’s room for interpretation in classical music – no two performances are exactly the same. And of course much rock and jazz is formulaic and dull, while much classical music is vibrant and visceral (think The Rite of Spring).

And it seems to me that liberal and evangelical Christians – and high and low church Christians – may be in a similar position. We dismiss and fail to understand each other because we come from such utterly different schools of spirituality. We can’t see the value in each other’s different formulations and expressions of faith. Yet we have much to teach each other and much to learn from each other, if we can only break out of our little boxes and trenches and stop seeing each other as heretics or enemies.

Posted in Arts, Evangelicalism, Liberalism | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

How do we know what true Christianity is?

or, Whose orthodoxy is the right one?

There’s been a lot of talk recently about whether Islamic State militants are truly Islamic. They of course claim to be the true representatives of Islam, but mainstream Muslims argue that I.S. absolutely do not represent them.

With Christianity also, mainstream and progressive believers often feel that what we see as the true Christian message is being hi-jacked by the fundamentalists and fanatics with their homophobic, racist, sexist or anti-science agendas.

But how do we know that our version rather than the extremists’ is actually the right one? Is it even possible to define what is and isn’t genuinely and authentically Christian?

Religion – monolithic or messy?

Recently I was at an interfaith gathering in Croydon, designed to promote harmony and understanding between different religions. Ironically, I ended up drawn into a fruitless conversation with a militant anti-theist.

This good fellow had, he maintained, studied the history and scriptures of all the major religions, and could authoritatively pronounce that they were all fundamentally and historically brutal, bloody and bad.

What struck me was his utter conviction that he as a self-proclaimed atheist academic knew the reality of my faith better than I did. And the more I said ‘but I don’t recognise what you’re describing as my religion’, the more he assured me that his was the reality, and mine was mistaken.

Interestingly, this approach mirrors that of the religious fundamentalists, insisting that only their version is true and all others false.

I’ve encountered before the anti-theist insistence that each religion is a homogeneous and monolithic entity. If some Christians once fought the Crusades or conducted the Spanish Inquisition, then that’s the reality of what Christianity is. If some churches have used the Bible to justify homophobia or apartheid, then that’s what the Bible says and what the church is.

But this just isn’t my experience of the confusingly complex, diverse and often conflicting set of people, beliefs and practices which make up my own or any community of faith.

Re-defining Christianity to suit ourselves?

I can see it from the anti-theist’s perspective. It must be very annoying when they’ve chucked at us all the awfulness that’s been done or daftness that’s been believed in the name of Christianity, and we just say ‘oh, that’s not our kind of Christianity – we would never condone that.’ We can’t always just disclaim all responsibility for our co-religionists’ views and actions. But neither do we have to accept as ‘Christian’ everything that’s ever been taught or done under the guise of Christian orthodoxy.

It also seems obvious to an outsider that there should be a single officially-designated, objectively-definable version of Christianity, which we have to agree to and abide by or else not call ourselves Christian. We can’t just re-define Christianity to suit our preferences and leave out the unpalatable or embarrassing bits – that’s not cricket!

Well, I do accept that it’s mighty inconvenient, inconsiderate and unfair for there not to be a correct version of Christianity that others can hold us to and beat us up with. But the trouble is, there just isn’t – at least not that anyone can agree on.

Whose orthodoxy is right?

Many have of course tried to define an absolutely orthodox, standard, authorised version, but they generally disagree – hence the estimated 40,000+ Christian denominations. And a similar principle holds for Islam, and Hinduism, and Buddhism, and pretty much all the other faiths.

For sure, there are some historical creeds and catechisms and a few core beliefs that give a broad, general outline, some basic common ground. But within and around that there are almost as many variations of Christian belief and practice as there are individual Christians. And there are almost as many interpretations of the Bible as there are people who read it. One believer’s creed is another believer’s heresy.

And that’s just the thing with religion – however much some parts of the official churches try to control and define it, it’s an inherently diverse and evolving phenomenon, not a uniform or static one. And I for one am very glad of that.

Ultimately, I’m not sure that an absolutely orthodox set of beliefs and practices could ever be possible to determine, nor that it would be of that much benefit if we could. But that’s for next time…

Posted in Atheism/agnosticism, Fundamentalism, Heresy/blasphemy, Liberalism, Orthodoxy, Religion | Tagged , , , , , | 28 Comments

God is love, light and life

So reality, relationship and redemption are at the heart of what it’s all about for me.

Another pleasingly alliterative way of expressing these interconnected ideas is light, life and love. They don’t map exactly, but broadly speaking light relates to reality, love to relationship, and life to redemption.

You could call love, life and light the ‘Johannine trinity’ (I prefer ‘the Johnny three’ ;) ). They’re based on three statements about God made in the gospel and letters associated with John the mystic apostle. ‘God is love’ (1 Jn 4:8b, 4:16b); ‘God is light’ (1 Jn 1:5; Jn 9:5); and ‘God is life’ (1 Jn 1:2; Jn 14:6).

Light, life and love: for John at least, these three ideas above all sum up God’s essence, his nature, his reality. Let’s start with love.

God is love

Love is not merely one of God’s attributes; it is perhaps the profoundest statement of who he, of his most fundamental nature and character. ‘God is love’ is a revolutionary, even shocking statement. It’s not that God is merely loving, or lovely, or love-like. God is love. Love is who he is; that’s how he chooses to make himself known. He is not primarily force, or power, or wrath. He is love.

Love is a mystery. Love is real, but it cannot be measured, manufactured or destroyed. Love has qualities that transcend the physical, and anyone who’s felt its force will laugh at the idea that it’s nothing more than an evolutionary strategy to ensure our genes’ survival.

Love is a paradox. It’s the greatest power in all the worlds, yet also the weakest. Love can move mountains, break down mighty walls and melt icy hearts, yet cannot force the weakest will to change or do anything; it can only woo, not coerce. Love cannot make others respond to it or reciprocate it.

Yet perhaps in the end it’s love that guides and directs the universe and history.

All you need is love?

We are created in love, by love, and for love. We all need love – to love and be loved. Without love we wither and die. And there is a deeper love, a love beyond and behind natural loves, which creates and permeates the universe; the love of the divine being, ‘the love which moves the stars’.

Love of course has many meanings, not all of them equally helpful. In religious use, it means something like the steadfast commitment to the complete wellbeing of another person, spiritually, emotionally and physically. When Jesus calls us to love one another (even our enemies), he means to care for people, to actively seek the best for them, to assist them in their need.

Love is quite easy in the abstract, but very hard in the particular. We can be generally philanthropic towards humankind, but mean to those in our house or on our doorstep. And love always has to be particular. It’s only actual relationships with real people that count.

God is light

Physical light is a riddle. It appears (impossibly) to be both a particle and a wave. It’s the fastest known quantity in the universe, almost able to be in two places at once. It travels across unimaginable aeons of time and space to show us the far reaches of our universe and even the distant past.

Light, like love, has an almost spiritual, non-material quality. Like the mystical view of God, light is simultaneously one and three and seven – the pure unity of white light made of the three primary colours, and refracting into the rainbow’s sevenfold spectrum.

We don’t generally see light itself, but by it we see everything else. And we experience God in a similar way – not as something or someone we (usually) see directly but as one whose light illuminates all else, making all other reality known to us. We sometimes wonder why God hides; but perhaps as the old hymn has it ‘Tis only the splendour of light hideth thee’. Perhaps we’re looking at God all the time, but we don’t see him for light.

Light, in one sense, changes nothing; it just reveals what is already there, shows it in its true colours. But in doing so, it changes everything.

Light in the darkness

Light is also a potent metaphor. It’s the universal symbol of hope, truth, goodness and purity since time immemorial. Light banishes darkness and drives away fear; light exposes error and reveals truth; light gives us sight, insight, illumination, enlightenment. Light also represents reason and wisdom – the original ‘logos’ or divine Word; the law that shapes and forms the universe, making it a cosmos not a chaos.

‘God is light’ is a metaphor of course; God isn’t literally physical light. But perhaps it’s better to stay with the symbol rather than trying to ‘unweave the rainbow’, separating out light into its spectrum of meanings. There’s a reason John uses the metaphor; it lets us glimpse a fuller picture and gain deeper understanding than more concrete terms.

So the spiritual ‘light’ of God acts within our deep being, illuminating, revealing, leading us into truth. As plants need sunlight to grow and flower, so too our souls need the sunlight of the Spirit to flourish. A lot of this probably happens without our input, but perhaps we can put ourselves in places to receive more or less light. And we may also to a greater or lesser extent be able to shut out the light if we choose to.

So I believe we’re called to receive and reflect God’s light to the best of our abilities, cracked mirrors as we are.

God is life

What is life? It’s an enduring enigma. We still really don’t know how biological life arose or even exactly what it is beyond a description of how it behaves. Science may answer these questions one day, but I’m not sure that will detract from life’s mysteriousness. Like love and light, life seems to have almost a spiritual essence, something apart from merely physical existence.

Life has the almost magical ability to heal and regenerate itself, to replicate and recreate itself, to adapt and develop, survive and multiply, diversify and specialise. Concrete over the earth and life will spring through, pushing up between the cracks, breaking out into the light. And life is even able to hold its own against the universal forces of entropy and disintegration, by borrowing energy from the Sun (light again).

Just to be physically alive is a tremendous miracle. To breathe, to feel, to be aware – these are unparalleled gifts. And there is I believe also a spiritual life that flows in us, making us alive more than biologically; alive to God.

In our physical beings we need the things which sustain and promote life. And spiritually we need the life of the Spirit flowing through us, the ‘spring welling up to eternal life’ as Jesus put it.

This is the redemptive aspect of religion – God’s new life in us, his eternally renewing life healing and transforming us into his likeness. Again, some of this may happen without our awareness; life flows and grows in us without our conscious input. But we can also seek God’s life and those things which nurture it. And perhaps again we can also block them out, though we may not succeed.

Love, light, life and the world to come

Love, light and life are deeply interconnected. Love gives birth to life which grows towards the light, which sustains life, which looks for other life to love.

Love, light and life seem to come from somewhere beyond this physical realm of time and space. They shine in like the foretastes of a new kind of world, a new way of being.

Within the shell of this current order are hints of a new one being formed, like a seed in the ground, a butterfly in the chrysalis. The new realm is being made out of the transfigured material of the old creation. And the laws of this new order are love, light and life.

There are the tales, the whispers of something unprecedented yet expected; non-predictable, yet clearly right. Rumours of incarnation: of Reality made flesh, of Love come among us, of the source of Life born among decay, of the true Light beyond the stars come into the world.

And then, more surprising still, the other end of the tale: rumours of resurrection, of Love and Life and Light that cannot be stopped by mere physical death.

In Christ’s birth, imperishable love, light and life have been woven into the very fabric of space and time; in his resurrection from death, the redemption of the cosmos has begun. Death and decay, sin and evil no longer have the final word.

For now the old laws still operate, but they will not win. Love wins. Light wins. Life wins. They must, for they are aspects of the very nature and being of God; and the new realm being born among us is God’s Kingdom.

Note: Parts of this piece have been unashamedly nicked from earlier post The forces of chaos and the forces of life.

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Religion = 2. Relationship and Redemption

So I was saying that the heart of true religion for me is the pursuit of reality.

It seems to me that the world we experience bears the marks (however damaged and disguised) of reason, goodness, beauty and love. These qualities are all elements of personality, and I find it hard to imagine how they could arise in the universe apart from an underlying Personality or Person.

So to me, the heart and core of reality is Personal. Reality at its most fundamental has the characteristics of personality, of a personal being rather than a force or impersonal energy. And if reality is personal then it (or he/she) is also surely relational. Or to put it more simply, God is love.

So pursuit of reality is also pursuit of a person. It’s the pursuit of the One who alone is truly real and who makes us truly real. It’s perhaps most like a passionate love affair, a romantic relationship.

Engaging with a personal reality

I said that we need to seek to understand and to line ourselves up with reality. Because reality is fundamentally personal and relational, we also need to engage with ‘it’ personally and relationally. And this is what worship and prayer, contemplation and mysticism are essentially about. Religion is not just a matter of the intellect or even just of ritual practice, though it can involve both. It’s a matter of the whole being in relationship with the divine being, the divine essence.

Indeed, worship and contemplation are ways in which we can start to align ourselves with the ultimate, foundational reality of God. They’re not the only ways of course; and there are other things we may need to do too. But the crux and nub is that religion is a relationship; a relationship with reality at its truest, deepest and most personal.

The Christian understanding of God has from very early on been the Trinity – a perfect unity of three persons in one being. How this works is beyond our ken, but it does say something very important about the kind of God we’re talking about. The Triune God is fundamentally and above all a God of relationship, of love, with an eternal and joyous communion of three persons always at its or his or their living heart. And that Trinity of love reaches out and draws all others into the circle of God’s embrace.

Which means that not only is true religion a relationship with the divine reality, but it is also a relationship with each other and even with ourselves. Relationship, love, is the heart and meaning and essence of reality; it’s what it’s all about. We are drawn into the magnetic love of God, and we become magnets drawing others to him and to ourselves.

I’ve often secretly felt that I’d be a better Christian by myself – without other people who distract and tempt, infuriate and provoke, and who I so easily hurt or am hurt by. But that would entirely miss the point. Periods of solitude can be spiritually helpful, but Christianity is fundamentally relational and can’t be lived in permanent isolation. How we treat people and how we relate to people may even be the most crucial part of our spiritual lives, more important than how we worship or pray or read Scripture.


The third and final strand for me is redemption – which encompasses liberation, healing, transformation, renewal.

Putting them all together, religion at its truest is a relationship with Reality which redeems us and others; a relationship in which we ourselves are redeemed and also participate in the redemption of the world.

Redemption is the process of being transformed from within from our ‘false’ or partial selves into our true and whole selves, and (simultaneously) into the full likeness of Christ. It is the process by which all our faults and flaws are overcome and even turned to the good, all our ugliness and brokenness becoming something of beauty. It is the process by which our sufferings and failures are transformed, given meaning and purpose, brought out to good ends.

Incarnation and resurrection

Redemption brings good out of bad, life out of death, victory out of defeat, hope out of despair. Redemption is the great work of God in a broken and messed-up world of broken and messed-up people. Redemption is the great message of Easter, of the resurrection of Christ.

And at the heart of redemption for me are both of the primary miracles of Christianity – resurrection and incarnation. The risen Jesus comes to live in us by his Spirit, enabling us to become Christlike, or if you prefer, to become Real. It’s by his active presence in us that we’re redeemed, raised to new life, made whole and healthy and real. And it’s by his active presence through us that we participate in the redemption of the world.

Incarnation and resurrection are not just for Christmas and Easter; not just ideas we recite in the Creed. They’re the living heart of Christianity, the dynamic engine of God’s redemptive purpose to raise and restore flawed nature and broken humanity, bringing us up into his utter reality, his life and light and love.

So redemption is relational, and is about restoring reality. Or you could say that reality is primarily about relationship, and that that relationship is redemptive. All of these elements tie up together, flow one into the other and back again, like a Celtic knot, like a picture of the interconnected Trinity of God’s being. This is religion I can believe in and want to be part of.

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Religion = Reality + Relationship + Redemption

So what’s the nub of religion (or faith, or spirituality) for you – what’s it all about? Is it  about religious observance and believing the right things, or leading a decent life, or getting to heaven and avoiding hell, saving souls or making the world a better place?

As I may have given away in the title, for me the essence of religion is three things – reality, relationship and redemption. Let’s start with reality.

The pursuit of reality

‘Mysticism is the art of union with reality’ Evelyn Underhill
‘Mental health is a commitment to reality at all costs’ M. Scott Peck

God is Reality (which isn’t to say that reality is God). God is the ultimate Reality, the great ‘I AM’; the source and ground of all that is; the underlying Reality behind our reality. All other reality – all that we see and touch and are – springs from the original, essential Reality of God. ‘In him we live and move and have our being’.

So for me, religion is about first seeking to understand Reality in all its fullness, and then doing our utmost to align ourselves with that reality – the reality of God. Religion is the unswerving pursuit not of happiness or success or prosperity, but of the deepest and truest reality.

Many see religion as the avoidance of reality, an escape into a comforting fantasy world because real life is too hard to face. And that’s certainly tempting. But true religion (or Christlikeness) is never about avoiding painful reality; it’s about embracing it and seeking the deeper reality beyond or behind it that gives it context and ultimately meaning.

And the pursuit of reality can and should include the practical insights of science and psychology. I’ve argued elsewhere against the idea that atheism is the true embrace of reality, and that science is inherently anti-religious or vice versa. I’ve also argued that physical things are spiritual things.

All pursuit of truth is good, whether mystical or scientific. But I think some truths are more foundational than others, and that science makes more sense when seen in the context of a God-illuminated universe.

Embracing reality, warts and all

I believe that a good way of evaluating the goodness and usefulness (or otherwise) of any beliefs is the extent to which they line up with reality, or help us line up with reality. Or to put it another way, how much they promote emotional and spiritual health.

So anything that just promises to give us comfort without effort, or to shield us from all unpleasantness and pain, probably isn’t the real thing. Anything that over-simplifies the complexity or airbrushes the messiness of reality probably isn’t the real thing. And anything that just sounds like pseudo-spiritual bunkum quite probably is what it seems. Though not always.

We need to seek, face and accept the full multi-faceted reality of God, of the world, of other people and (perhaps most difficultly) of ourselves. In other words, we have to accept these things as they truly are, not as we want them to be or think they should be. It’s reality, warts and all.

That isn’t always easy of course. We tend to fear and avoid reality, because it’s often painful and unpleasant, at least at first. We often have to go through pain to the good that lies beyond, like pushing through the pain barrier when we’re starting to exercise.

The path to healing and freedom always lies through honesty and reality, not denial or fantasy.

Real vs ideal?

But of course ‘reality’ means very different things to different people. We talk of Realpolitik and ‘living in the real world’, meaning a pragmatic, anti-idealistic approach to politics and people and religion. In this view, we have to work on the basis that everyone is basically selfish and unlovely, and that we have to accept and even exploit that to achieve what we need to. Is this what it means to ‘line ourselves up with reality’; to ‘embrace reality, warts and all’?

This is a thorny issue and one I’d like to devote a whole post to sometime. For now, I’d just say that to an extent, yes, we do have to live in the world as it is and not as we’d like it to be. Sometimes there is no perfect solution, and we may have to compromise, to accept the lesser of two evils. Sometimes the ‘right’ way isn’t clear or isn’t possible. But that’s only the start, not the whole story.

Present and future reality

I’ve written before about the two kinds of real – the ‘present imperfect’ of this broken and messy world, and the ‘future perfect’ of the coming Kingdom that is now in bud. And when I talk about lining ourselves up with reality, it’s primarily the latter I’m referring to – the deeper, better reality currently hidden in God. (Or mostly hidden – just occasionally it breaks through into our lives, giving us a glimpse of what will be.)

In other words it’s the potential reality of what can be (and what we can be) in God, more than the present reality of what now is – though that’s important too, as that’s where we have to live for now. But we’re always seeking to bring our current imperfect reality more into line with the perfect reality of the Kingdom – the burgeoning realm of love and beauty, of redemption and restoration.

So our current reality, our actual lives in the physical world, is the raw material of redemption. It’s our real lives that are changed by and into the greater reality of God as the two kinds of reality come into contact with each other.

Rejecting unreality

C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce is the best book I’ve ever read about heaven and hell. In it, Lewis depicts heaven as more real, more solid and substantial than our current reality. By contrast the ‘shades’ who dwell in his hell have ever-decreasing reality and substance to the point where they barely exist at all. To be able to dwell in heaven, the characters in the book have to become more substantial, more real – otherwise they would simply be crushed by the weight of glory.

I love this image, and it sums up what I’m trying to get at about the two kinds of reality. The reality we possess and experience now is only partial and incomplete. We need ultimately to become more real than our present reality, and one of religion’s great tasks is to point us to the greater Reality, prepare us for it and gradually transform us into its (or ‘his’) likeness.

So perhaps the easiest way to think of Reality is simply as the opposite of unreality – of falseness and lies and self-deluding fantasy, which for me is what hell is about if it has any meaning at all. God’s reality leads us out of these traps and prisons, sets us free to be fully alive and truly ourselves.

Though of course, I might just be talking a load of pseudo-spiritual bunkum ;)

Next time – relationship and redemption…

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Why doesn’t God just save everyone? II: Arminianism and Universalism

So last time I was looking at the Calvinist idea that God could sovereignly choose to save or redeem everyone, but doesn’t, for whatever mysterious reason. I said that though this view has some scriptural backing, there are other Bible passages that present a different (and I think better) picture.

Option 2 – God wants to save all but can (or will) only save those who are willing

Also known as Arminianism after the 16th-century Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius, this is the alternative mainstream view for those who (like me) reject Calvinism.

The deciding factor in this view is human choice and free will – whereas Calvinists think only God’s will should decide. But you could also put it that the deciding factor is God’s generosity or love; his willingness to let us have a say in our own fates.

A key verse is ‘God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim 2:4). This says clearly that God wants to save everyone, which instantly undermines the Calvinist approach (that he could save everyone but chooses not to).

An obvious related verse is ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16). This can be read in a Calvinist way – that only those who are called by God to believe in Jesus have eternal life. But the more obvious reading is that since God’s love is for the whole world (literally the cosmos), then he wants everyone to turn to Jesus and so be ‘saved’ – but it’s likely that not all will.

Not everyone wants to be saved?

This interpretation can then be read back into the texts that back the Calvinist view. Rather than meaning that God only calls some, only gives faith to some, they could perhaps mean that God calls everyone, but not everyone listens; offers faith to all, but not all accept. It’s not such an obvious reading, but it makes more sense to me in terms of what it says about God’s character and human nature.

So the bottom line here is that God wants to save all, but not everyone wants to be saved. Or to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, there won’t be anybody in hell (whatever that is) who hasn’t chosen to be there.

There are different variants of this view depending on whether you think people need to make an active choice to accept or reject Jesus, on whether or not everyone gets a chance to make such a choice, and on whether God takes account of the factors that may have hindered people from accepting Jesus.

Forced conversions don’t work

Assuming that we do need saving or redeeming in some way, there’s certainly a good argument that God won’t just rescue us without our consent and cooperation – because that would be coercive, disempowering and would lead to spiritual immaturity (even slavery). We need to struggle, to try (and fail), to be willing and active participants in our own redemption.

But what of cases where God apparently does override human free will to bring about a conversion, as with Paul on the road to Damascus? The difference is that Paul was already zealous for God, and his conversion was a radical change of direction within his existing commitment to God. Furthermore, what I think God will not (even cannot) ultimately force is our love, and that he works to woo and win us rather than using coercion.

So God doesn’t just save everyone or make them Christian with a wave of a magic wand, simply because that’s not how it works. It’s a relationship of love and freedom, and that can never be forced or imposed.

Option 3 – God saves all in the end

This is the ultimately hopeful option for those who don’t wish to believe that in the end anyone perishes. It’s certainly the one I hope for, even if I’m not fully convinced by it.

There are two main variants of this viewpoint – either that God simply saves everyone in the end (Universalism), or that he saves all who have any kind of religious faith (Inclusivism). If we say that even atheism and agnosticism are forms of religious faith, then the two versions come back to the same thing – everyone is saved. Lovely.

For Christian universalists and inclusivists, what then is the point of being a Christian at all – why bother with any faith, and why settle on this particular one?

Christian inclusivists might say that religion is like language – the underlying grammar is universal, and it doesn’t matter in the end which language you speak, but only one language will ever be your native tongue. And to those of us (like me) who still hold that Jesus is unique, the Christian inclusivists would argue that Jesus is present in other religions too, albeit in a more hidden way (though I might personally draw the line at Satanism and Scientology). If so, God doesn’t need to make people Christian to ‘save’ them.

Christian universalists might say that the role of Christians in the world is a bit like the role of priests in the Old Testament community. We become the priests of the whole world, and through our presence (or rather God’s presence in us) the whole world is sanctified and made clean, is brought into God’s presence.

Calvinist universalists

Oddly, support for universalism comes from the two extremes of the theological spectrum. So there are (surprisingly) a few Calvinist universalists, who argue simply that the utterly sovereign God must ultimately get what he wills. And since he wills for everyone to be saved (1 Tim 2:4 again), in the end all will be saved. You can find out more about ‘evangelical universalism’ here.

As I don’t share the Calvinist view of God’s sovereignty I don’t fully go along with this kind of universalism. But I do believe that God wishes all to be redeemed, to be part of the heavenly community of his Kingdom, and I hope that in the end all will.

At the other end of the spectrum (but with the same conclusion) are the liberal universalists, who don’t necessarily view the Bible as inspired, nor Christianity as necessarily the Only Way, but rather believe in the supremacy of the love of God, a God who is perhaps encountered in all religions, albeit in different ways. For them, this overwhelming and all-conquering love will ultimately win over all hearts; none will in the end be able to resist God’s great welcome.

So which is it?

So which is the true answer – that God could save all but chooses not to, that he wants to save all but can’t, or that he does in the end save everyone? I don’t know. It depends what you believe about God and about people and about the Bible. It also depends on what we mean by ‘saved’, and on whether or not that requires our cooperation. But though I don’t think we can know for sure, I do believe we can trust God’s great goodness and love.

So if I had to choose, I’d be somewhere between options 2 and 3. I believe God genuinely longs to redeem everyone and does his utmost to achieve that, and I greatly hope that he will ultimately succeed. But I’m just not sure it’s possible for God to redeem those who steadfastly refuse to accept his love or to participate in the process of redemption.

Posted in Bible, Evangelicalism, Salvation, Theology, Universalism | Tagged , , , , , | 17 Comments