the day universalism knocked on my door

June 22, 2009

Brought up in an Evangelical-Reformed church, in the nineties of South African youth culture, with the quasi-charismatic youth revivals running high, as a young theological student Universalism had the meaning that everyone was going to heaven… or maybe it rather had the meaning that no one was going to hell. This was a doctrine to be feared, some had to go to hell to legitimize the God we prayed to (if you find yourself within this approach, and distance yourself from fundamentalism, wouldn’t you please leave a better understanding in the comment section).

Universalism knocked on my door thanks to our Western linear approach to time. Thing is that I believed that the Jews of the Old Testament was children of God, a.k.a children of Abraham. Then Jesus came, and you had to become a Christian. But this 19/20 year old wannabee theologian started wondering: when did it change? I mean, at which stage did you move from being a Jew going to heaven to being a Jew going to hell? Well, my evangelical-reformed-quasi-charismatic-semi-fundamentalist theology could probably answer it, but it needed to much of metaphysical ideas, and so much of psychological presuppositions (such as whether someone “really” believed, “really” regretted his/her sins etc) that it didn’t really help me.

One sentence I read today brought this question up again. It talked about the “train going to hell”, the train that was going to Auschwitz, carrying Jews. The hell that it was talking about was the hell of Auschwitz, a hell that made Dante’s Purgatory look like children’s party. The question I wondered about was whether my theology should say that this train was also leading to the metaphysical hell that Dante wrote about, since everyone on the train was Jews, and wouldn’t convert before they were killed.

Anyhow, how would they have converted, since the only Christians they would have had contact with after getting on that train was Nazi Germans, probably Lutheran, from the tradition that talked about Sola Gratia and Sola Fidei more than anyone. Am I willing to also say that those Lutherans would go to the metaphysical place called heaven as well while their Jewish victims go the Dante’s hell?

I don’t think Universalism is the answer, so please don’t quote me for saying so. But I do think the system that I had (and whether this was an accurate understanding of Reformed doctrine is highly debateble) wasn’t addequate, and that it has to be modified. This is some of the questions that we really need to look at somewhat more seriously.

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3 Responses to “the day universalism knocked on my door”

  1. Lourens Says:

    The problem is that being a Christian might first be a confession, but it is also a choice for a new way of life. It is called the fruit of faith or whatever else. When you give over to Christ as king he has to reign over your life and I struggle seeing Christ sending that train to Auschwitz. Even on the cross Jesus prayed that the Father would forgive those (Jews) that put him there. Christ forces us to look differently at violence and war. In whose service am I enrolled, in dad’s army or Dad’s army, because that changes my orders and the country I am fighting for. It also determines who is the one that judges who goes where. I am a child of the kingdom of God living in South Africa. My allegiance lies with that kingdom and what God asks me to do, to do like Christ would. My passport and ID has a different code on it. It asks us to love all. That is a fruit of faith. That is our most powerful weapon in war with which we can kill and condemn people to heaven (I still believe in heaven). I do believe unfortunately that some will not change their passports despite love. Some of these will be so-called Christians, other will not.

  2. cobus Says:

    How would this approach relate to classic Reformed theology and it’s understanding of Grace and Faith? Where would those of other religions, who also made a choice for a new way of life, fit in? Say those who follow Jesus as a moral teacher? Or would you say it’s always confession + new life? Faith + new life?


    • This is a vitally interesting question to me too. I once heard a lecture on the subject in which we were told that the “faith + new life” formula must hold for salvation, but many old testament characters (notably some of the Psalmists and Abraham) put faith in, not Jesus Christ the Messiah, but the IDEA of a savior, or the idea of helplessness and relying on God for mercy and not on works. The lecturer went on to explain in a long, detailed explanation that it can be shown from scripture that this is enough for God, but I can’t hope to do it justice from memory. But perhaps this helps answer at least some answers.


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