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!

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Ways the Body of Christ is presently revealing and supporting Universal Restoration: 

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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

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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”!

For further study see TrinityInYou.com or The Evangelical Calvinist

“Whatever God assumes, He heals. Whatever God becomes, He saves.”   –Gregory of Nyssa

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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!

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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

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5. The return to a higher view of the Resurrection. (While never negating the centrality of the cross! 1 Cor 2:2)

The Church has been recovering the centrality of the Resurrection that was found in the Early Church. Recent books, sermons and worship music reveal a renewed application of the Resurrection to all aspects of life. It’s not just for the Easter sermon! Scripture says:
“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 Church of Acts was focused on the Resurrection as fulfilling the work on the cross laying the foundation for walking in new life as individuals as well as a community. It gave rise to a “death-refusing hope” that permeated all of life empowering everything they did from evangelism to their care of the poor. (See book: The Cross Is Not Enough by Clifford and Johnson)

 ”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)

According to art historian Kenneth Clark “early Christian art was concerned with miracles, healings, and hopeful aspects of our faith like the Ascension and the Resurrection.” The symbol of the cross was not used until 400 years after the birth of the Church. The Resurrection was clearly the focus of the closest friends of Jesus and those who came soon after.
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The Resurrection was more than an impressive afterthought. It was more than simply proof that Jesus was God or that the Father was pleased with His Son’s sacrifice on the cross. It is part of our current identity! We are saved by His life as much as we are saved by His death. We’ve been far more than forgiven. We have been raised to new life with Christ through the resurrection of the Second and Last Adam. It has always been God’s intention to not just take away our sin but to restore us. The Resurrection is once again being recognized as central to The Story of God. It is the point, the goal: creation restored for God’s glory, making “all things new.” (Rev 21:5) It is what transforms the cross into really good news.
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This renewed centrality of the Resurrection is paving the way for the Church to embrace a wider hope for this world. It is a holistic view in which God promises to renew the image of God within mankind. It follows a theology of personhood wherein man as indelibly made in God’s image must therefore be made alive to reflect it once more.
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It completes the Story written on everyone’s hearts evident in the countless smaller stories of resurrection told through our culture’s movies, books and music. The reclaiming of this promise of resurrection-life is opening up our vision to see that the nature of Christ’s Resurrection is so powerful it will leave nothing in its path unchanged. And that includes above all, God’s crown of creation: “the first Adam.” What was created by God must be reconciled and returned to Him and the Resurrection assures us that this has been accomplished! (Rom 11:36)

“As in Adam all die; so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor 15:22)

Some Resources:
Raised With Christ: How the Resurrection Changes Everything by Adrian Warnock
The Cross Is Not Enough: Living As Witnesses to the Resurrection by Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson
Waking the Dead by John Eldridge (Chapter 4)

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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!

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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)

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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)

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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.”)

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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

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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.

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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.

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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?

Zahnd summarizes:
 ”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)

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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.

However, this incredible insight by Piper is actually a powerful revelation of God’s intimate connection with His image-bearers. God will not be fully glorified until ALL His creation is in alignment with His heart and fully enjoying His beauty and glory! Saint Irenaeus put it this way: “The glory of God is mankind fully alive.”

It must be that, “in Him we live and move and have our being” and that His plan is to be “all in all” …”everything to everyone.” (Acts 17:28; 1 Cor 15:28)
John Piper doesn’t realize it but he is forcing us to see that there cannot be any other way! “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.” For a Calvinist like Piper that should mean only one thing: He will indeed receive ALL the worship and glory!
“Let EVERYTHING that has breath praise the Lord!”
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14. The evidence in our worship and popular Christian music

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:

VERSE 3:

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

VERSE 5:

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)

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15. The absence of eternal conscious torment in children’s books
If the doctrine of eternal conscious torment is considered a part of the bedrock of our faith or as Keller says our theological “eco-system,” then why is not explained to children? Why do children’s books evade or perhaps forget to mention it? Is it because it does not fit naturally with an audience of “babes” which Christ has said He has “revealed the kingdom to”?
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Is it because we know subconsciously that children from their fresh and sincere honesty will bring up the inevitable questions we know we do not have answers for? But are not children those whom Christ called to come to Him, “for of such is the kingdom”? If they represent the kingdom why would we keep from them a doctrine that is supposedly a vital part of the Story of God and His salvation? If eternal hell is part of the “good news” of the gospel then why do we protect our children from hearing about it?
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Most children’s books do not reflect the author’s belief in eternal conscious torment. Sally Lloyd-Jones’ in The Jesus Story Book gives her audience instead this beautiful sweep of the gospel coming from perhaps her own intuitive childlike faith:

“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)

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16. The problem of assurance
What is assurance? It is the confidence that you are loved by God and eternally secure through Christ’s redemption.

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Do you have this kind of assurance? Most Christians do not. For unless God’s love and salvation are understood as “never-failing” and that “His mercies never come to an end” your assurance lies on shaky subjective ground.
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This is evident by the continuous flow of books written on assurance. Why would we need such constant “therapy” if our Father in heaven has told us He has loved us with an everlasting love, defeated death, has cast out all fear, and told us we can know that we have eternal life?
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If we were faithful loving parents what would we conclude if our children who for the rest of their lives felt the need to read books to reassure them that they were really  loved by us? That is precisely what Christians do all the time. Having the eternal conscious torment filter on when they read the Bible they are constantly instilled by fear necessitating the need for voices outside the Scriptures to reassure them.
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Unless the Gospel is objective news–understood as completely outside of ourselves–assurance remains an illusive dream. What the Church has done through the doctrine of eternal conscious torment is turned God’s promises to defeat death, wipe every tear, make all things new, cause every knee to bow and tongue confess, into something subjective and conditional. This spawns a never-ending cycle of doubt from “have I done enough to prove I have saving faith?” to “did I believe all that is necessary to be in Christ”? to “how can I be sure that I am one of the elect”? Add to that the reality of our continual “symptoms” of being a reprobate evidenced by our temptation to sin, acts of sin, and sometimes even love of sin! We all sin, but how much sin will be too much proving we are not saved?
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This very real problem regarding assurance is causing the Body of Christ to search for a 100% objective message of salvation by grace alone. Ultimate reconciliation is that message which is finally both good and news. While God is still seen as the Judge and a Consuming Fire, we are assured that all He does is through His nature of love and will be redemptive.
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Assurance is our only source of power and victory in the Christian life for how can we stand against the lies of the world, our fleshly mindset and the Enemy if we do not believe the very foundation of our faith: that God irrevocably loves us forever?
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Books on the topic of assurance:
The Assurance of Our Salvation by Dr. Lloyd Jones
Saved Without a Doubt by John MacArthur
How Can I Be Sure I Am A Christian? by Donald Whitney
No Condemnation by Michael Eaton
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17. The “Lordship Salvation” controversy
Just as we observed above how the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism can only be resolved through the doctrine of Ultimate Reconciliation so also the “Lordship salvation” controversy points to only one solution–a bigger picture that encompasses both. Briefly, the discussion has been over whether salvation is “absolutely free” by faith alone without the requirement of works (Chafer, Z. Hodges) or if there must be evidence of that faith through an outworking of “fruit that is keeping with repentance” to be considered “saving faith” (Stott, MacArthur).
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The critical issues underlying this debate are assurance on the one hand and personal holiness on the other. Agreeably both elements are defended as vital and non-negotiable. This tension denotes the foundational difference between the Protestants and the Catholics view of salvation and more recently a sub-debate within the Reformed camp involving a position known as “Federal Vision.” Both sides of these controversies hold tenaciously to their position and call the other “heretics who adhere to another gospel.” (Just google them)
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This perennial dispute over Lordship Salvation, going as far back as Augustine and Pelagius, has only one resolution: to see that “the grace of God that has appeared to all men” is the same grace that will ensure that “without holiness no one will see the Lord.” In other words there are no conditions on God’s love and His desire that none will perish but there are conditions that remain for all of us regarding holy living. This is the only way to make sense of the myriad of verses that speak of all having to give an account before the Lord: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” Also: “The Lord will judge HIS PEOPLE. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.” (2 Cor 5:10; Heb 10:) In the words of C. S. Lewis, God is “not safe…but He’s good.”
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There can be absolutely no assurance of God’s love if there is a possibility that one could be cast out forever. No amount of experience or feelings or good works can ultimately convince us that we possess what the Church calls “saving faith.” And secondly, there cannot be “holiness without which no one will see the Lord” if one thinks godliness is an optional part of following Christ. Only the combination of absolute assurance coupled with a healthy fear of God our Father will produce thriving confident children who at the same time reverence His holiness. Without the dual understanding that God loves us all to the core while determined to save us all from the condition of sin and death, these two vital truths of our Christian faith compete and create untold confusion and unrest. Biblical Universalism is rising to reconcile the need for absolute assurance with the undisputed fact of God’s devotion to our personal holiness. This is the only answer to unifying the preaching of Christ as both Savior and Lord.
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For further study see:
Absolutely Free by Zane Hodges
Grace: An Exposition of God’s Marvelous Gift by Lewis Sperry Chafer
The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
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18. The presence of Elder Brother Anger
One evidence that the message of ultimate reconciliation is true is when we hear that God’s love will not fail for a single person who ever lived …and we feel anger. We react much like Jonah, or The Elder Brother, the Vineyard workers, or the Pharisees. This angry reaction is indicative that we are not wanting everyone to come to repentance but rather willing that many will perish. God, we are told, desires that all people be saved.
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Do you desire all be saved? Or does the thought of God’s mercy extending farther than you thought make you angry? This specific kind of anger is an indicator that the message you are railing against just might be the same message rejected by Jonah, the elder brother, the vineyard workers, and the religious leaders. What if the good news of the Gospel is that the love of the Savior of the World never fails and that His mercies never come to an end…for anyone? Does that make you angry? Do you, like your Father, at least desire for all to be saved?
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19. The recent focus and clarity on our identity through our union with Christ
This union is revealed to be objective and occurring from before the creation of the world according to Ephesians 1, John 1 and 17. There is only one interpretation and outcome of a union with Christ that is objective:
“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)
This teaching on our union with Christ is sometimes called Inclusionism or The Doctrine of Inclusion. It has elicited quite a bit of criticism from certain pastors and theologians because of the obvious implication of this doctrine is Christian Universalism. They rightly point out that if it isn’t Christian Universalism then it is bad news indeed: you are all included in Christ until you do something to “unsave” yourself. Apparently there is something “inexplicable” about sin that could deceive and lure you into a mindset that ultimately damns you. God would love to keep you included and keep you saved but sin is a mystery and well, eternal hell just “happens” to some people.
Teachers/Theologians who are creating the theological mood of this Doctrine of Inclusion are Dr. C. Baxter Kruger, Steve McVey, John Crowder, Francois du Toit, Andre Rabe, as well as “Evangelical Calvinists” Bobby Grow and Myk Habets who compiled the book The Evangelical Calvinist.
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Once again it is clear how the Church cannot live separate from one another as independent little doctrinal enclaves. This amazing Gospel of Inclusion where we have been included in the incarnational life, death and resurrection of Christ cannot exist without all the treasures that have been mined from each corner of the Church. Only together this Gospel stands. Again, He did not come to hide His Gospel from us but to us as revealed within His very own Body! We believe He is telling us: “We don’t have it all together but together we have it all.”
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In conclusion:
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It appears our hearts are running far beyond the “accepted theology” and embracing the restoration of all mankind at breakneck speed. I believe it is in the DNA of the Church and we are living and breathing its truth before fully understanding or acknowledging it within our midst. The Church is converging upon one hope in one God: the God who is all loving, just, powerful, able, merciful, compassionate, missional, and the glorious Hero of the most beautiful Story ever told…!

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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!

 

 

 

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  • Parent page: How the Church Supports 'Ultimate Restoration'

    11 Comments

    1. Alice Spicer says:

      This is an excellent article! It really touches on almost all the central issues that plague the institutional church with doubt/fear/uncertainty, etc.

      • glwadmin says:

        Thank you Alice, I appreciate your encouraging comment! I have valued your work at your blog WhatGodDoes.com

        If you happen to return I would love to hear of any additional areas you may have observed in which the Church is supporting the ultimate restoration of all.

        Another area that could be added is perhaps the “Grace movement” where we know that we have failed to get to the heart of true grace. Why do we need book after book on grace? It’s because we are still unsure that we have it. I just finished Max Lucado’s new book, “Grace: More than we deserve, greater than we imagine” and it falls short of providing any real assurance because it is all based on a subjective Gospel.

    2. mark musone says:

      I have been a believer in universal reconcilation for 2 years now. What lead me to this wonderful doctrine and belief is the incredible and most popular scripture passage Eph. 2:8,9 We have been saved by grace through faith not of yourself its Gods gift to you. The word faith is God’s faith and not your faith. God has committed to his creation that it was all his son’s accomplishment that has made us one with Him not your own doing and me or anyone else can ever conjenure up enough faith on ourself to believe in Him. God has to give you the gift of faith as evidenced of 1 Cor. 2:14. God has to and must give us a spark of his faith to believe in Him. Why does he choose to give to some and not to all, its his perogative, but those people will not be discplined forever just temporal until God is in all.

      • glwadmin says:

        Thanks Mark for your enlightening comment. Most Christians do not realize that we are saved not by our faith but the gift of Christ’s faith. Later on in Ephesians chapter 3 verse 12 we read the following:

        “In whom we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in him.”

        But literally it translates:

        “In whom we have the freedom and the access in confidence through the faith of him,”

        That’s a big difference!

        (For those who are skeptical just take a look at an Interlinear Bible.)

    3. Beth Small says:

      Thank you for your excellent article.
      I am excited to have just recently finished reading ‘Healing the Gospel’ by Derek Flood. He speaks of restorative justice vs Retributive justice. He states, “The way God demonstrates justice is not by acquitting the unrighteous, but by making them good.It is a gospel of God’s act of restorative justice in us. God’s actions are life-giving and transforming.”page 104 “God’s righteousness causes us to become God’s righteousness. Again, this is justification in the sense of being relationally set right, entailing a real change in who we are, and how we live and think, effected in us by the indwelling life of God.” page 105
      I believe that God has desire that all come to repentance and restoration.
      This is His way even as the clay and the potter represent. He may smash the pottery that is deviated from the purpose of the creator or given way to hardness or rebellion (become broken or dirty and unable to yield to repair or restore itself) and reform it to be of use in the Kingdom. A potter is not giving the clay pot what ‘it deserves’ but returning it to his intent of usefulness with respect for the clay designed to display His glory (example… a bouquet of beautiful fresh flowers, or a wonderful drink of refreshing new wine).
      What ‘good’ is there in a dump full of broken vessels destroyed by eternal fire. What a waste of clay which was gathered from the earth and which received a loving touch of life in the beginning and what a sad end of the creative energy of the Potter. The loss is the Potter’s. The condition of the pottery remains unchanged, lost to usefulness and unfit to carry the glory of the potter’s desire.
      I see the western society is taken up with recycling everything yet we as Christians are willing to throw people away as not useful! This is changing, I believe, starting with the lifeless objects like plastic bottles. Value is seen in garbage.The patience required to sort garbage is astounding yet are not people of more value?
      I love the passages in Romans 5. ‘….if the many died by the trespass of the one man how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many’ ‘…..the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men’ ‘……..through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous’……just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’
      I am thankful to a dear friend who introduced me to the truth of ‘Reconciliation of All’ about 10 years ago. God will be All in ALL! That is a love worth celebrating!

      • glwadmin says:

        I just did an update on this article and noticed that I did not respond to your comment Beth. I am sorry, you are long gone but I want to say that your comment was simply stunning. I love to hear others give expression to a facet of God’s beautiful redemption when it has finally been opened up to them as boundless. Aren’t we so tired of the same limited points being rehashed over and over again within our evangelical theology? The true Gospel has no bounds and Beth, you just took my breath away once more!

        Blessings…!

    4. Craig Kuhlman says:

      Check out Grace Communion International gci.org – a denomination that holds trinitarian theology as foundational. TheSuprisingGod.com is a blog supported by GCI. Trinityandhumanity.com is a blog with several writers from GCI.

      • Craig Kuhlman says:

        Sorry for my wife’s pic (although she is much more attractive than me:) Not sure why it came up rather than mine. CKuhlman

      • glwadmin says:

        Thanks for the link Craig. We are very familiar with GCI and Mike Feazell. He did an interview with Robin Parry that was excellent and I have referred a number of folks to check out GCI churches in their area. We also have a link to TrinityInYou which I believe has some GCI contributors on its website. I am not familiar with the blog TheSurprisingGod but have seen their media site YourIncluded. Thanks for mentioning it…I will check it out.

        Grace and peace,

        Phillip

    5. Lisa says:

      I heard N.T.Wright speak about a year ago. I don’t remember all the details now but I was captured by his description of the restorative justice (I don’t remember if he used that exact term, although he may have) practiced in South Africa after Nelson Mandela was released from prison and elected to office. The expected bloodbath never happened, but rather apartheid criminals publicly confessed their crimes and were publicly pardoned. They had to face the families of their victims and it was these families that forgave them. It was a thrilling story. If fallen man can occasionally act in this manner, how could our good Father not?

      • glwadmin says:

        Thanks for the comment Lisa. Yes, N. T. Wright is indeed an incredible voice for restorative justice. It is a theme throughout his works. It seems inevitable that Wright and scholars/teachers like him will soon make the connection between earthly justice and God’s ultimate justice.

        Just last night I came across this article from the NYTimes.com regarding restorative justice in Rwanda.

        Here is another article going into more depth.

        If we as humans know and experience true justice to be a reconciliation between perpetrator and victim it must be God’s definition and desire as well.

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