In 2003, a prominent Christian minister came out as a Christian Universalist when he began preaching his “Gospel of Inclusion.” Bishop Carlton Pearson was treated like hell for denying hell as a place of eternal torment all non-Christians are destined for in the afterlife. Across the internet and in letters to the editors of evangelical Christian magazines, hate-speech was leveled at him as he was accused of denying Christ and turning his back on God.
In 2011, another prominent Christian minister wrote a book called “Love Wins.” Rob Bell didn’t go so far as to institute Christian Universalism into his religious teaching, but he was accused of it anyway. Across the internet, hate-speech was leveled at him, too. He was accused of being a heretic at best, and destined for hell at worst.
Even Billy Graham has been mistreated in the same way, having appeared on Larry King Live in his latter years. He was asked if adherents of other world religions are going to hell, and he graciously referred to the sovereignty of God when he said God knows the hearts of all people and how they would respond to the Gospel if they heard it and understood it. Houston megachurch pastor Joel Osteen made a similar remark during an interview with King’s successor, Piers Morgan.
Other prominent evangelicals have also become more open and inclusive; leaders such as Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo. A conversation is taking place across the evangelical community as our theological model is being reshaped. People are asking big questions, and rethinking the unsatisfying “answers” we were given during the indoctrination process in our churches.
Most of these evangelical leaders haven’t gone as far as Carlton Pearson, in terms of ideas and doctrines, but here’s the thing: They are reaching for a deeper connection with and understanding of God’s amazing grace – God’s covenant love in motion. An unconditional, limitless, endless and perfect love beyond even the best of human love. There is no reason to treat them like hell for it.
We are all tasked with managing the relationship between heart and mind. As we grapple with figuring that out, many have also wrestled with the extremes. One one side, there is an exclusive approach to theological orthodoxy (mainstream religious thought), while on the other side, you have pluralism. Many of us have struggled, or are now struggling, to figure out how to be open and inclusive without going outside orthodox theology. The good news is Christian history has not limited our options to these two; there is an inclusive approach to Christian orthodoxy.
The problem evangelicals are having is they have been taught to limit all of orthodoxy to evangelicalism, as they have been taught it. So, anything that seems way out there is misunderstood as automatically unorthodox. Then, they react and level hate-speech at their brothers and sisters: with the world watching.
This is not only unnecessary – it’s sin. We’re talking about people whose hearts are in the right place as they sincerely reach for a greater measure of God’s grace, and they’re being treated like hell for it. I understand that our friends who mistreat their fellow-Christians are sold on the rigid, constricting and exclusive ideas they’ve been taught, but there is an even greater problem. They’ve confused theology with mere ideology. Theology is not something one only thinks, as though it is born of the intellect; it’s a lifestyle you live from the depths of your being. It is the outgrowth of your connection with and understanding of God’s amazing love for you. It’s all about love – God’s perfect, unconditional, limitless and endless love.