This week someone who came to the Darkwood Brew Facebook page asked if there are other books that argue for some version of Universal Salvation besides that of Rob Bell, which we might recommend. The answer is “Yes, absolutely!” But before doing so, a little clarification is in order about what Universal Salvation means – and a caveat that Bell does not refer to himself as a Universalist.
In its simplest form, Universal Salvation is a doctrine that asserts that, in the end, God saves everyone. People accuse Rob Bell of being evasive on the question of Universal Salvation (while he insists that he’s not a Universalist, he implies regularly that God may save all people). In my opinion, Bell has good reason not to provide direct answers. Why? Because even in its simplest form, the doctrine Universal Salvation gets a bit complicated.
What does “in the end” mean, for instance? The end of a person’s life? The end of the world? The end of time?
If that timeframe is longer than a person’s life, does this mean a person could be saved post-mortem, i.e., sometime could “get in” even long after they physically die? If so, what would be the condition of salvation? Would someone be saved even if, for some reason, they chose not to be saved?
Not only does every statement about universal salvation open up new questions, but even the best, most theologically grounded articulation of what happens after death is still just speculation, since none of us has ever died and come back to tell the rest of us how it all works.
To me, the safest (though not the simplest) definition of Universal Salvation is that “God has the loving desire, and the absolute ability, to save all that God has created.” The question then becomes, does God get what God wants?
The extent to which the answer to the above question is “yes” is the extent to which salvation is universal.
I am a Universalist according to my suggested definition. But my understanding of universal salvation does, in fact, include an assumption that there is at least one case where God does not get what God wants. Thus, I don’t believe that everyone is necessarily saved.
I believe that if a soul was able to answer the question, “Is your desire to live within my Realm?” with full knowledge of all the implications of their answer, and with complete freewill, and that soul answered “No,” then God, as its creator, would simply uncreate it (“You were created from nothing, and to nothing you shall return.”) After all, if we were created by God, then we were created by God’s choice, not our own. And since God seems to honor our choices by giving us freewill (allowing us to choose against God time and time again, even if it means holocausts are the result), then it is not unreasonable to assume that, at some point, we are even given the chance to say “No” to the one thing we never had a choice in: our own existence.
Of course, I’ve never been dead, so I’m merely speculating. If you’d like to read more on the concept Universal Salvation, I recommend the following books:
Philip Gulley and James Mulholland, If Grace is True
Brain McClaren (our Skype Guest this Sunday), The Last Word and the Word After That
Rick Morley, Going to Hell, Getting Saved, and What Jesus Actually Said (Note, I haven’t read this book yet, but suspect it’s helpful).