How the Church Supports ‘Ultimate Restoration’
Updated January 8, 2014: We have discovered even more evidences within the Body of Christ which continue to expose our faith in “Christian Universalism” which means the absolute success of the cross for all mankind. They happen to be some of the strongest! (We decided to update and re-post this article since it is central to understanding our unique approach to defending Christian Universalism or Ultimate Restoration: We the collective Church are revealing it to ourselves!)
There are many websites that provide evidence for the doctrine of Ultimate Restoration through Scriptural, historical, philosophical and logical proof. The purpose of the websites, GodsLoveWins.com and ChristianUniversalism.com, in addition to offering the above study-helps, is to highlight how “Ultimate Restoration” is being taught and supported by us, the Church, the very Body of Christ! We submit that it has always been the “majority view” of the Church when you consider the Church in the context of itself, which is ALL of us together.
We have observed at least 19 ways in which Universal Restoration is shown to be within the spiritual “DNA” of the Church as a whole. Collectively this is being worked out within the Body in profound and remarkable ways. It is easier to understand how this is true when you actually picture the Body of Christ as God intended, as a body. If you view the Church as one entity and do not segregate the differing parts of the Body as we have done by our denominationalism you will hear one coherent Gospel, one Story of God. With this is mind, if you put all the following trajectories or “movements” of the Church together, you will see that from within the Body of Christ itself there is arising a stunning vision of a finished redemption and restoration of all creation.
And isn’t it just like our God who loves, and is dedicated to, our unity (Jn 17) to weave into His Church a condition which creates a need for one another? A way in which we must be in unity with one another in order to see clearly His message? The parts of the Church are like pieces and facets of a puzzle that when fitted together form a beautiful and powerful panorama of the Gospel. Observe how parts of the Body of Christ appear incomplete and confusing when they reject another part of the Body but how amazingly the Story resonates when they are fused together!
He did not hide this Gospel from us but for us…within His very own Body!
Ways the Body of Christ is presently revealing and supporting Universal Restoration:
1. The “Radical Grace Movement”
There is a movement of grace that is exploding within the Church today. Never before have there been the myriad of books and Bible-studies on the subject of grace. And the revealing thing is, as we shall see, is that they are coming from all denominations, Arminian and Reformed! Whether or not they have all put their finger on exactly what grace is, is not the point. It is that the Body of Christ is on a pilgrimage to restore a sense of connection with the God and Savior they have been taught they should feel close to and yet do not. The fruit of their religion has been feelings of distance, condemnation, guilt and loneliness. The message of unconditional love and grace comes as a spark of hope that the Gospel really is about the Father’s embrace and Jesus’ intimate companionship.
But the revelation comes when we hear the grace teachers begin to offer and explain this “pure grace.” In order for the Arminian grace teachers to extend their message they must borrow from the Calvinist’s theological paradigm and vice versa. For instance, I hear ‘free-will’ grace teachers now saying things like: “Even your faith is a gift from God.” They understand that if it isn’t then it is a work of our own doing and a sticking point for assurance. But believing that God gives people the very faith to believe makes you a Calvinist!
Likewise I hear my Calvinist/Reformed brethren say how God loves and redeemed all mankind and desires all to be saved. I agree with that now but didn’t while identifying with the Calvinists who do not believe that salvation is available for all without exception, only all without distinction (“God loves all kinds of people”).
This borrowing of off-limits theology is what is fueling the grace movement 100%. You can’t have pure radical grace without both theologies, it just won’t work. Just read or listen to how Tim Keller, Tullian Tchividjian or Steve Brown flip-flop between a Reformed mindset and an Arminian one. Or note how Arminians Max Lucado, Scot McKnight, or Brennan Manning defend the sovereignty of God on one page and be an advocate of free-will on the next. If you mix them they create a portrait of God that is nothing less than the God who is both willing AND able to save all!
For more details and examples from this movement see article The Radical Grace Teachers Lead Us toward Christian Universalism
2. The revival of Trinitarian theology by the new “Trinitarian teachers”
Many in the Body of Christ have already called this one. It can be heard all over the internet by theological watchdogs that “the new Trinitarians are nothing but Christian universalists.” Nevertheless the leaders of this Trinitarian movement deny the labels and the accusations. But in the meantime they are basking in the beautiful Story of Grace that a clear understanding of the Trinity provides. And once again they are coming from both the Arminian and Calvinist camps.
They can be heard distilling the works of Trinitarians such as Athanasius, Karl Barth and the late Torrance brothers. Some who are promoting this teaching would be Paul Young (The Shack) and while Dr. C. Baxter Kruger (Perichoresis, Francois du Toit and Andre Rabe are also teachers of this glorious doctrine and have taken it on the road doing conferences. Some heavy-duty trinitarian theology is being offered by what are known as Evangelical Calvinists. (For John Crowder fans.)
But as discerning minds have been detecting their words form a perfect paradigm for the ultimate restoration of all mankind. This is because they teach “all are included” in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, through what they call His “vicarious humanity.” All were included in Christ and therefore it is a finished work that is offered to the world (which they claim can still be rejected). Here is a quote by T. F. Torrance that is shared by many new trinitarians:
God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.” ~T. F. Torrance, “The Mediation of Christ”, 94
I was personally told that this trinitarian theology was not on a trajectory of Christian Universalism. I guess they can create limits for it if they want to and call it “New Trinitarianism”or “Evangelical Calvinism” but they can’t stop what the heart does with it: it hopes God will do “exceedingly abundantly above all we can ever ask or imagine”!
“Whatever God assumes, He heals. Whatever God becomes, He saves.” –Gregory of Nyssa
3. Calvinism and Arminianism–Two sides to God’s Glory
The Internet has only highlighted the two diametrically opposed sides of Calvinism and Arminianism magnifying the hopeless theological chasm between those who claim to be members of the same “Body” of Christ. Calvinism says that God is able to save anyone He so desires but has chosen not to apply this ability to save to everyone. Arminianism teaches that God certainly desires that all be saved and provided redemption for all but cannot overcome the “free-will” of most of mankind. We are hopelessly divided between these two paradigms. Roger Olson says Calvinism makes God out to be a moral monster. J.I. Packer says Arminianism makes God out to be a moral failure. There clearly is no solution. Both sides have called each other heretics and accused the other of “maligning the character of God” (and for good reason; both views by themselves do malign the character of God!)
But we believe this tragic division in the Church is only an apparent division and will actually give way to the solution: the realization that the God who wants to save all must in fact be the same God who is able to save all!
If we see that instead of a hopeless division they are rather supporting two very essential aspects of God’s character, His love and His sovereignty, we will finally experience a coherent vision of the Gospel. It is when we see them together that we have one God with one purpose and see a full vision of His glory!
Ironically both Arminians and Calvinists have accused the other of being “dangerously on the edge of universalism”! Roger Olson claims Calvinism Leads to Universalism while J. I. Packer and James White say that Arminianism Leads to Universalism.
Only together do they reveal a Gospel Story that resonates deep in our hearts!
4. The recent focus of redemption as applying to all of creation using very inclusive language
We are continually encountering these statements in books and sermons and they come to us without any qualifications (with no one asking). Here are just a few examples:
“God moves toward His world in care and love. He is committed to every part of His creation, loving it and upholding it. And though sin and evil have marred the world, so it is just a shadow of its true self, at the end of time, nature will be restored to its full glory and we with it.”
“The whole world will be healed as it is drawn into the fullness of God’s glory. Evil will be destroyed and all the potentialities in creation, latent until that moment, will explode with fullness and beauty.”
“Because creation was made in the image of a God who is equally one and many, the human race will finally be reunited and our racial and cultural diversity will remain intact in the renewed world. The human race finally lives together in peace and interdependence. Glory to God in the highest goes with peace on earth.”
—Tim Keller The Reason for God (pg 232-233)
“The goal of redemption is nothing less the restoration of the entire cosmos. The scope of redemption is truly cosmic. Through Christ, God determined ‘to reconcile to himself all things’ (Col 1:20). Matthew 19:28 speaks of the renewal (the word is ‘regeneration’) of all things. Acts 3:21 also indicates a cosmic regeneration when it says that Jesus must remain in heaven ‘until the time comes for God to restore everything’.
“Why must God regenerate, give new life and direction to, all things? Because the entire creation has been drawn into the mutiny of the human race (Rom. 8:19–24). Because man’s fall affected not only himself but also the rest of creation, redemption must involve God’s entire creation.”
— Michael D. Williams Far As the Curse is Found
“To speak of sin by itself, to speak of it apart from the realities of creation and grace, is to forget the resolve of God. God wants shalom and will pay any price to get it back. Human sin is stubborn, but not as stubborn as the grace of God and not half so persistent, not half so ready to suffer to win its way.
“Moreover, to speak of sin by itself is to misunderstand its nature: sin is only a parasite, a vandal, a spoiler. Sinful life is a partly depressing, partly a ludicrous caricature of genuine human life. To concentrate on our rebellion, defection and folly — to say to the world, ‘I have some bad news and I have some bad news’ — is to forget that the center of the Christian religion is not our sin but our Savior.
“To speak of sin without grace is to minimize the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the fruit of the Spirit, and the hope of shalom.”
— Cornelius Plantinga Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be
“Because a God who is ultimately most focused on His own glory will be about the business of restoring us, who are all broken images of Him. His glory demands it.” —Matt Chandler The Explicit Gospel
5. The return to a higher view of the Resurrection. (While never negating the centrality of the cross! 1 Cor 2:2)
“If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…and you are still in your sins.” (I Cor 15:14, 17)
“Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life…In the same way count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ.” (Rom 6:4, 11)
”The apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” (See Acts 4:1-2; Acts 1:15-16, 21-22; Acts 4:33; Acts 17:18)
“As in Adam all die; so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor 15:22)
6. The “missional” focus of the church.
Ironically the word “missional” was coined by the late Lesslie Newbigin, a Christian “universalist.” His book The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society is a foundational handbook for the recent missional movement to “be an incarnational Church” for the world. He writes:
“God’s electing grace calls into being a people charged with the responsibility of being the bearers of His universal salvation…To be chosen, to be elect, therefore does not mean that the elect are the saved and the rest are the lost. To be the elect in Christ Jesus, and there is no other election, means to be incorporated into His mission to the world, to be the bearer of God’s saving purpose for His whole world, to be the sign and the agent and the firstfruit of His blessed kingdom which is for all.”
—Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society (“The Logic of Election” pgs 86-87)
As Newbigin notes above a missional focus always begs the question, “What have we been elected for?” We are being reminded that we have been “blessed to be a blessing” to the world and that we are “a chosen priesthood” for the lost. The true purpose of election is coming to the fore and bringing the concept in alignment with its original meaning: that we are elected into a partnership with God for the restoration of others and the entire created order!
A powerful revelation of this one mission of God is laid out in Christopher Wright’s book, The Mission of God: Unlocking the BIble’s Grand Narrative which “goes beyond a theology of mission to demonstrate that mission itself is what God is all about.”
(See review of book)
7. The Church has been catching the vision for “restorative justice” as the model most reflective of true Biblical justice
Books such as “Justice That Restores” (Colson) or “Generous Justice” (Keller) clarify that the true nature of justice is found in doing justice not in getting justice. We are coming to understand that locking people up is not to be viewed as justice being satisfied, only consequences being brought to bear. Simply “getting justice” is contrary to the Bible as Mark Driscoll so boldly states:
“Am I looking for vengeance? Or am I thankful for justice?” The two may seem similar on the surface, but at the heart level they are at odds with one another. Vengeance is contrary to the gospel. So, we can be thankful that God is just, and we can be very thankful that God is gracious.”
We are beginning to see that real justice is not “getting even” but rather returning things to their original intention or their “right-useness” (righteousness). It is pointed out that the goal of true Biblical justice is restoration. Therefore true justice entails restoration of the perpetrator as well as the victim. This is being presently taught in the Body of Christ and highlights the logical parallel between earthly justice and God’s eternal justice.
So at the same time we are given “God is a God of love BUT He is also a God of justice” as an explanation for the doctrine of ECT (eternal conscious torment) we are also being told that because God is a merciful God we need to practice “restorative justice”! That means it’s OK, even expected, for God to be unmerciful and vindictive when it comes to His final justice but He requires us to be merciful and redemptive in our earthly justice. This inconsistency is evoking a sense that something is seriously wrong in our theology.
This recent clarification and emphasis on the nature of true Biblical justice as “restorative” is powerful evidence for the nature of God’s ultimate justice…that it MUST be redemptive!
(See post on how A29 Church unpacks the concept of true Biblical justice which inadvertently supports Christian universalism HERE)
8. Recognizing Story as the God-given language of the heart
The Church is discovering that the Bible is not a book of principles with stories to illustrate their points but rather “one grand Story of redemption with principles sprinkled throughout” (Keller). Biblical-Storying methods are taking off in young missional churches. But the approach often gives way to such a bird’s eye view of the Gospel that people are beginning to see THE OVERALL plan of restoration of all within the Story of God!
So it appears that the Gospel is escaping the confines of Systematic Theology and coming alive and bearing witness with our spirits through the recent practice of Biblical-Storying.
(See Echo the Story –listen to their one minute promo video that shows how their students are seeing this sweeping restoration in The Story of God! In addition the newly published BibleMesh program witnesses to a wider view and scope of God’s “plan of the ages.”)
9. We believe that desire indicates that Ultimate Restoration is written on our hearts and “inner most beings.”
The Psalmist said “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desire of your heart.” Most Christians honestly desire for all to be made whole someday. But we don’t think our desires are good enough or pure enough to trust. Let’s consider someone like Francis Chan (Crazy Love) for an example then. Chan has confessed numerous times that he wishes that an eternal hell were not true and that he honestly “desires” all could be redeemed and saved. Randy Alcorn has recently confessed to a similar desire. Paul tells us, “To Him who is able to do immeasurably above all we ask or imagine.” Well, apparently Chan, Alcorn…and we, CAN imagine more!
As we mention in another article, desire is based on our God-given nature and reflects His very image in us. We believe therefore that the desire for all to be saved comes directly from God Himself. For how is it possible, equipped with redeemed natures and hearts, to deeply yearn for something so completely opposite from what we have been taught and come to believe He will do? The strength of this desire in us is an enormous indicator that universal redemption is written on our hearts, our collective “memory trace” as human beings, reflecting our beginning in God who is our Father.
“They know the truth about God because He has made it obvious to them…” Rom 1:19
10. The absence of eternal conscious torment language from most sermons, books, websites and conversation
It’s a topic that is softened, de-emphasized, relegated to fine print, and evaded. We all notice its sudden disappearance in hard cases like funerals of “doubtful people.” Suddenly hope takes over and Resurrection and restoration themes overtake all former convictions to warn others of the hopeless fate threatening all who do not believe in Christ.
We do not live out the logical implications of what we claim to believe. If we did we would spend every waking moment consumed with trying to persuade and save others from the horrific fate beyond our worst nightmare. The very fact that we do not is evidence of our very shallow and shaky “faith” in an eternal damnation for most of humanity.
11. The growing centrality of social justice within even the more conservative churches
We are realizing as a greater Body that the focus on the poor is included in the Gospel message and is born out of a proper theology of personhood and human value. If human beings are in fact God’s image-bearers then they are entitled to equality and the same respect we would give Jesus. This is highlighted by the “Parable of the Least of These” of Matthew 25. Therefore the doctrine of predestination to an eternal hell (Calvinism) or that of man’s ability to damn himself into “dehumaness” (Arminianism) both deny personhood. Both versions undermine the theology of mankind as image-bearers of God. Tim Keller states:
“The gospel opens our eyes to the fact that all our wealth (even wealth for which we worked hard) is ultimately an unmerited gift from God. Therefore the person who does not generously give away his or her wealth to others is not merely lacking in compassion, but is unjust.
“Christ wins our salvation through losing, achieves power through weakness and service, and comes to wealth through giving all away. Those who receive his salvation are not the strong and accomplished but those who admit they are weak and lost. We cannot look at the poor and the oppressed and callously call them to pull themselves out of their own difficulty. Jesus did not treat us that way.”
— The Gospel Coalition “Theological Vision for Ministry”
Justice and mercy are intertwined in the Bible. That’s why we often call social justice programs “mercy ministries.” The word justice is also linked to the word righteousness, which again means literally “right-useness” or “right-wiseness.” It is rooted in the value that man possesses as His “workmanship,” His “poema.” Therefore we realize that to do justice means “to return something to its original intent and design.” This would entail first and foremost a restoration of relationship with God and others. Even though limited in this life, that is the goal as followers of Jesus.
This emphasis on social justice leads us naturally into the vision of Ultimate Restoration by its very nature of compassion upon the least of these. Most of the world’s poor and “least” live in non-Christian nations where they die not only in their poverty but in their ignorance and unbelief. If God provides “justice for all the oppressed” and you believe in an eternal hell then there remains no realm for these “lost souls” to retrieve their promised justice. You would have to resurrect them to give them their justice and throw them back into an eternal hell for not having “saving faith,” alongside their oppressors. This is the logical evidence that proves this prescribed ”restorative justice” cannot cease at the grave otherwise God would be asking us to do something He is not going to do in an ultimate way! God is good, right and perfect and He never changes.
12. Understanding that Beauty is central to the Gospel Story
Brian Zahnd in his book Beauty Will Save the World states:
“Beauty will save the world. This is the surprising beauty of the cross when seen through the prism of the resurrection. The cross made beautiful is the ultimate triumph of God and His grace.” (31)
After centuries of defending the truth of Christianity based upon its moral goodness and intellectual merit (apologetics) the Church is experiencing the power of beauty itself to captivate and draw. Beauty has a way of convincing on a level that a logical defense of the faith cannot. Sadly the historical church has relied on the power of politics, wealth and what works (pragmatism). We have trusted in our human plans, systems and formulas to save the world. This has led to a very less than beautiful message of what we have claimed is “good news.”
But as we are awakening to this very ugly outcome of a gospel that has aligned itself with political power and worldly devices we are returning to a confidence in the glory of Christ Himself to allure through His own beauty of a life laid down in sacrifice and love. To the breath-taking Story-line of inclusion of all mankind through union with Christ “before time began.” (Eph 1)
This return to faith in the power of beauty to save has led us to consider the Biblical test of Phil 4:8 (“Whatever is true…lovely…think on these things.”) Zahnd applies this Scripture to the way we present the Gospel.
“We need to constantly ask ourselves,’Is this beautiful? Is this thought beautiful? Is this action beautiful? Does it reflect the beauty of Christ and the cruciform?’” …If the common man doesn’t recognize what we do in the name of Christ as beautiful, we should at least reexamine it. If a particular doctrine doesn’t come across as truly beautiful, then we should hold it suspect.” (pg 31)
Would you ever be inclined to describe an eternal hopeless hell as beautiful? What would you say is most beautiful about the gospel? Is your gospel beautiful enough and therefore powerful enough to save this world?
”If the crucifixion of Christ can be made beautiful, then there is hope that all the ugliness of the human condition can be redeemed by its beauty.” (31)
The reality of Beauty points to and promises a redemptive outcome of hope for all mankind for God is making “all things new” and “all things beautiful in His time.” (Rev 21:5; Ecc 3:11)
13. The “Christian Hedonism Movement,” a rediscovery of the Glory of God
For those not familiar with this term it was coined by Pastor John Piper back in the eighties with his book entitled Desiring God. The basic premise was that God’s glory is actually intertwined with our enjoyment of Him. In fact he modified an answer to the Westminster Catechism question, “What is the Chief end of man?”:
“The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
This idea most certainly begs the question of Piper: if God is MOST glorified when we are enjoying Him and He has the ability to draw all of us into that desire and love for him then why wouldn’t He? (If you are a Calvinist.) On the other hand if you are a believer in free-will (Arminian) then this beautiful idea of being “most glorified” is just a hopeless wish of God’s which will never be realized. He will never be MOST glorified, only a LITTLE glorified. This is because God will fail to have the worship of billions of His image-bearers and will instead receive their hatred and rebellion for all eternity. I don’t think this is what Piper had in mind but it is where this idea leads. He has yet to take his theology to its logical end.
Worship leaders are producing songs about “all things new,” “every knee bowing in worship,” “All the earth worshipping Your great name,” “the universe at Your feet.” I have been involved with worship ministry and contemporary Christian music for over 35 years and this is unprecedented.
Here are a couple of verses from “Rise” by Hillsong July 2011:
See the lost in return
Swing the doors ever wider
See the tide as it turns
Love and mercy are on the rise
As the world folds into Your light
All creation will see Your light
The universe on its knees
See the stars in surrender
God above kings and queens
Every idol will bend and break
But our God You will never fail
Forever and ever…
(see list on godslovewins.com for more examples)
“The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne –everything– to rescue the one he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!” (pg 17)
“…No matter what, in spite of everything, God would love His children — with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.” (pg 36 We noted that there was no clear differentiation between “His children” and humanity so the child is led to believe this promise of love and rescue is for everybody. No mention that the child might NOT end up being God’s child and therefore abandoned forever in unimaginable suffering. Also there is nothing reflecting her Reformed theology of predestination/special election unto salvation.)
Regarding the book of Revelation Sally Lloyd-Jones never mentions the “lake of fire” or any threat of eternal conscious torment. Instead, she ends with the following:
“‘This is our King! The Lamb who died, so we don’t have to – our Rescuer. All honor and Glory! Forever and ever.’ And every creature everywhere, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea joins in…And the King says,’Look! God and His children are together again. No more running away. Or hiding. No more crying or being lonely or afraid. No more being sick or dying. Because all those things are gone. Yes, they are gone forever. Everything sad has come untrue. And see – I have wiped away every tear from every eye!…’Look, I am making everything new!’” (pgs 345-347)
“In Adam all died; so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1Cor 15:22)“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” (2 Cor 5:14)
May the Church have eyes to see that the belief in the ultimate redemption and restoration of all things is not a foreign doctrine being “smuggled” into our theological paradigm but rather an awakening of our true identity: that we are a Royal Priesthood and a Chosen People blessed to BE a blessing to the world. We are His Body, His Beloved, sharing in His desire and passion to redeem and save the world!
Parent page: How the Church Supports 'Ultimate Restoration'