Too many of us professing to be Christians get caught up in discussions over who will and will not end up in heaven. To some degree this is warranted: the Bible does have a lot to say about salvation. Jesus drew a bunch of lines and had people on both sides of those lines. My purpose here isn’t to argue for Universal Salvation. Nor is it to argue with John Piper fan-boys who want to make the issue irrelevant without first exegeting as much as possible using a redemptive-historical hermeneutic. I care about the text, but I care more about something else right now: who we think we are and what warrant we think we have to play Duck-Duck-Damned.
Christians—all Christians—should want the doctrine of Universal Salvation to be true. That want is not irrelevant, nor is it a distinct issue from “what the text actually says.” To want such a thing is to hope that Love indeed conquers all, that evil does not win out in any way, that we can still preach a specific Gospel of repentance and necessary faith in Christ while leaving eschatological issues aside. We tend too often to blend in our “non-essentials” with our “essentials.” I think it’s true that apart from Christ mankind is hopeless—the text is clear on that point. What is not as clear is whether Christ’s atonement extends past the end of people’s lives now. Indeed, the Israelites who died before Christ died without an explicit faith in Christ are not lost. God’s people are God’s people regardless of when.
What I’ve just said is not an argument for Universal Salvation. It is an argument for relaxing a bit and realizing that we are not as sure as we think we are. I paid my seminary dues and I get to talk with guys who have just started seminary. Many sound as sure as I sounded when I started. After four years I’m much less sure about a lot of issues where grey areas exist, where Scripture is either not so clear or textually suspect. I don’t care if I can create a nice, coherent systematic theology. I don’t have anything against that; I just don’t care to go that route. I’d rather be heterodox but consistent in how I approach and interpret the text without having to gerrymander Scripture to get my interpretation to fit into the fabled “historical faith.”
So what do I do with these grey areas and unclear texts? I keep searching. But I also keep thinking about how to love people and love God. If I want any person to receive my love wholeheartedly it’s God. What that means is that I’m willing to give God the benefit of the doubt and preach a Gospel of repentance because that much is very clear. But to speculate on who is saved and who isn’t is playing God. Playing God doesn’t seem like a very loving thing to do to God. Adam and Eve learned that the hard way (didn’t we all?)
“So we can’t talk about who’s saved and who isn’t?” No, we can’t. Our business is to proclaim Christ and to love. “But how will we know who to preach to?” Easy: don’t pick and choose but be authentic with everyone you meet. Leave the rest up to the only One who actually knows what he’s talking about. We don’t do God or people any justice by deciding for God or them what their destiny is. We also expose the nastiness of our heart when we respond so negatively to the idea of Universal Salvation. We should pray that it is the case. Why? Because if you believe you’ve been saved by God from something terrible, then you are a cold-hearted person to want anything less than the same for anyone and everyone whom you (ought to) believe is in the same sinful boat you were and are. Reformata et semper reformanda.