The interweb is abuzz today with Unitarian Universalists writing about a subject they should know well: Universalism. UUA President Peter Morales has written about it at Huffington Post; the Twitterverse is full of tweets hashtagged #universalism; and individual bloggers (UU and otherwise) are blogging the bejasus out of the subject here, here, and here. Why the sudden interest? The imminent release of bestselling author and megachurch pastor Rob Bell’s Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Here’s what Bell’s publisher has to say about the book:
Rob Bell reveals a secret deep in the heart of millions of Christians–they don’t believe what they have been taught are the essential truths of their faith. Out of respect for their tradition, they keep quiet, confiding to a few close friends their doubts and questions about salvation, Jesus, and, of course, God.
Bell brings out to the open and faces squarely the questions on everyone’s mind: Does it really make sense that God is a loving, kind, compassionate God who wants to know people in a personal way, but if they reject this relationship with Jesus, they will be sent to hell where God will eternally punish them forever?
In Love Wins, Bell goes to the heart of these issues and argues that the church’s traditional understanding of heaven and hell is actually not taught by the Bible. Bell is emphatically not offering a new view of heaven and hell; instead, he closely examines every verse in the Bible on heaven and hell and shows what they really teach. And he discovers that Jesus’s most fundamental teaching about heaven and hell is, “Love wins.”
This should be, of course, good news for Unitarian Universalists who think of their congregations as places of refuge for those Christians who “don’t believe what they have been taught are the essential truths of their faith.” After all, that’s pretty much the reason a lot of us became Unitarian Universalists in the first place. It’s been my experience, however, that many UUs think that people should have taken care of their relationship to God, Jesus, Heaven, and Hell before they set foot in their local UU congregation because, well, that’s they way they did it. As far as they’re concerned, those questions were asked and answered a long time ago, which is why you don’t see many UU congregations spending too much time helping Christians work through their thoughts and feelings about some of the more troubling “essential truths of their faith.” And that’s shame.
You see, I really do believe that UU congregations should be the absolutely best place on Earth for Christians to explore their relationship with God and Jesus, Heaven and Hell. Why? Because our non-creedal religion offers each individual the opportunity to start from scratch when it comes to working out his or her own salvation—not with “fear and trembling,” as Saint Paul put it (Philippians 2:12-13), but with hope and support. But that’s not what goes on in most of our churches, fellowships, and societies. Instead you find people getting their knickers in a twist about words like “worship,” “sanctuary,” “spirituality,” and “faith.”
So, what’s a UU congregation to do? Well, if you’re seriously interested in helping our Christian neighbors explore their relationship to God and the religion their were raised in, take a look at this excellent article by Philip Clayton: “Theology and the Church After Google.” Pay special attention to these “recurring questions that every Christian wonders about as he or she struggles to be a Jesus disciple”:
- Who is God?
- What are human beings?
- How are we separated from God, and how can that separation be overcome
- Who is Jesus Christ?
- What or Who is the Spirit?
- What is the church, and what should it be doing?
- And what is our hope for the final future of the cosmos and humanity?
Now, check your feelings and choose one: Do you find the thought of a bunch of Christians coming to your congregation searching for the answers to these questions a) attractive, or b) repulsive? You can probably guess what my answer is. Feel free to leave a comment and tell me yours.