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Christian Universalism: God's Good News for All People Paperback – February 15, 2008
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I have to admit that, as I got further into the book, Stetson's ideas sounded a bit New Age, but regardless, I wasn't dissuaded from looking deeply into Christian Universalism, which I studied nearly full time for a year. Each question led further down the path of Church history until it became absolutely clear that hell was indeed a myth, and that God indeed intends and plans to reconcile and restore every single person to His love in a process and plan of ages. All of my indepth studies led me to writing my own book on the topic, "Raising Hell: Christianity's Most Controversial Doctrine Put Under Fire."
As I studied even more, many other Church doctrines came into question, many of which had roots in distortions, Scriptural mistranslations, and traditions of men--men who wanted to control. As I grew, so did Stetson's book, Christian Universalism; For when I came back to read his book once again, after studying out many of the doctrines that I had been brainwashed to believe throughout my life, I found that I understood and agreed with even the parts that had seemed New Age previously.
All this is to say...even if you are new to the idea of Christian Universalism and you don't understand or agree with everything you read in this book, give it a fair chance and read it with an open mind. Stetson offers, with beautiful clarity and reason, an enlightening viewpoint into the heart and purposes of God's plan, as more clearly revealed in the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures. Understand that modern popular versions of the Bible are merely misguided commentary based in the traditions of men, a reality that any un-seminaried lay person can find evidence for online. I'm so glad I read this book and I would recommend it heartily.
He continues, “this introduction to Christian Universalism is the fruit of my desire to share what I have learned about the Gospel with others. The reason I wrote it is so that many more people will … [be] discovering a different kind of Christianity and being transformed from the inside out by the knowledge of God’s unconditional and all-consuming love… It is a message that our hurting world desperately needs to hear today. It is a message that can truly CHANGE souls rather than just ‘winning’ them… In this book we will examine the Biblical alternative to Christian Fundamentalism: the positive and uplifting view of Christianity called Christian Universalism.” (Pg. 15)
He frankly acknowledges, “I am not a believer in the fundamentalist doctrine called ‘Biblical inerrancy.’ Belief in Biblical inerrancy leads to intellectual contortions, as sincere believers try to fit every Bible verse into some kind of perfect doctrinal framework, which cannot be maintained except by rationalization and explaining away problematic passages and contradictions… What I DO claim… is that the Bible is a book of great spiritual wisdom, containing much revelation of God’s nature and will and relationship with human beings; and that if we look at the Bible as a whole, we will find certain important themes running through it that are positive and uplifting, revealing a God whose love and forgiveness are greater than His anger and wrath.” (Pg. 18)
He suggests, “Surely in the same way that there was a remnant of goodness in Noah’s time and in Sodom and in the nation of Israel, there must be at least some tiny bit of goodness in each individual human being, even the most evil among us. If the presence of some good within an entity prevents God from destroying the entire thing because of the bad, then why would God refuse to save any individual, no matter how sinful? Nobody is 100% bad, totally unredeemable.” (Pg. 24)
He observes, “Like Sodom and Gomorrah which … are someday to be restored by God according to the prophet Ezekiel [16:53], Gehenna is also to be made holy again according to Jeremiah. ‘The days are coming, declares the LORD, when… the whole valley where dead bodies and ashes are thrown [Gehenna]… will be holy to the LORD.’ [Jer 31:38-40; cf 7:31]… Therefore, implicit in every reference Jesus made to a soul going to Gehenna is the idea that the state of corruption is not permanent, but even those who were cast out into Gehenna will someday again be ‘holy to the LORD.’” (Pg. 34)
He asserts, “The brimstone (sulfur) that is in the Lake of Fire also means the presence of God… Burning brimstone was regarded as having the power to purify and ward off disease. The Lake of Fire and Brimstone … is therefore a place in which sinners come in direct, intimate contact with God and His power to destroy the sin within us and heal us of its detrimental effects. It is a place of purgatorial punishment that serves a beneficial purpose. Its goal is to transform the sinner to the point where being in the presence of God no longer is painful, but joyful.” (Pg. 37-38)
He argues, “It is clear that ‘aionios’ in Biblical Greek did not mean an infinite length of time. We can be certain of this because there was a different word in that language for eternal, the word ‘aidios.’ This word was never used in the Bible to refer to hell. It was, however, used by Paul to describe the ‘ETERNAL power and divine nature of God’ (Rom 1:20)… Aionios is the root from which we derive the English word ‘eon,’ meaning a long period of time. It is not the same thing as eternity.” (Pg. 39)
He points out, “We needn’t speculate about whether Jesus went to hell so save people there. If we trust the Bible, we can be certain of it. The Apostle Peter informs us that Jesus went and preached to suffering souls in the afterlife, after he had died on the cross [1 Pet 3:18-20]… This is confirmation of Jesus’ promise recorded in John 12:32 to draw all people to himself after leaving earth… Paul seems to have shared Peter’s view, saying that the Gospel is ‘proclaimed to every creature under heaven’ (Col 1:23). That certainly would include those in hell. Another reason we can be confident that post-mortem salvation was an original Christian belief is that Paul approvingly mentions baptism being performed on behalf of the dead in the Corinthian church (1 Cor 15:29). This practice presupposed the idea that God will save even those who died in sin and unbelief.” (Pg. 44-45)
He notes, “What is more noteworthy about the message Paul preached is the absence of … eternal hell---the danger or damnation for anyone who does not accept Jesus Christ… Paul never talked about that!... [Paul] did not go around scaring people by promising an endless torture unless they converted to his religion… Obviously, if Paul had believed in eternal hell, he would have talked about it---a lot.” (Pg. 46)
Of Jesus’ ‘narrow gate’ teaching [Mt 7:13-14], he comments, “we must realize that Jesus does not say the people who don’t find the narrow gate to heaven will FOREVER be left out. That is an assumption made by Christians who believe in eternal hell. If they understood the correct meaning of the word ‘aionios’… they would have realized that Jesus cannot have meant that the gates of heaven are forever closed to the residents of hell. It is only for a period of time---perhaps a long one, but only an age in the infinity of eternity…” (Pg. 58)
He says of Matthew 18:34-35, “The point is, if we live a merciless and selfish life we will find ourselves tormented in the prison of hell after we die---but only until we pay off our debt, that is, settle our accounts with God and those we wronged. This parable upholds the reality of divine judgment and hell, but directly contradicts the claim that hell is eternal.” (Pg. 61)
He explains, “What Christian Universalists believe is that hell is a temporary, a REFORMATIVE punishment rather than vindictive and eternal… hell [is] a way that God purifies us of our imperfections, destroying the sinful nature within us to set us straight, putting us through some necessary corrective experiences such that we may understand our failings and can improve ourselves and be made ready to enter heaven…” (Pg. 68-69)
He says, “It is certainly true that some souls will not develop a relationship with God while on earth, because they are deluded and seduced by the things of the flesh. But after physical death, the human spirit is liberated from these things that may hold us back from higher spiritual realities. It is not possible for a soul to resist God forever, for one simple reason: God has created us with a nature to seek the divine and learn from our mistakes.” (Pg. 71)
He firmly rejects the idea of Annihilationism/Conditional Immortality, arguing, “Even the verses in the Bible that sound supportive of Annihilationism actually only support the idea of temporary annihilation… rather than a total expunging of unsaved souls from the universe… Another reason why annihilation of the wicked conflicts with the overall message of the Bible is that no soul is 100% evil… If something is not totally evil but contains good, then it cannot be totally destroyed… Total and permanent annihilation would mean God giving up on the small part of an evil person that can still be saved…” (Pg. 76) More controversially, he suggests that “no one, not even Hitler, will be forever unforgiven and remain in hell for eternity.” (Pg. 79)
He also speculates, “sonship is not only for Jesus but for all people… we are all to be like Jesus, manifesting the light and love of our heavenly Father God...” (Pg. 89) Later, he adds, “If we have Christ as our teacher, then someday we will be just like Christ. That’s not some new age heresy; it’s what the Gospel promises.” (Pg. 95)
He is also sympathetic to the notion of reincarnation: “The Greek term [James] used in [3:6] was a common term describing reincarnation in Greek philosophy… The apostles said that people who heard of Jesus were speculating that he might be the return of the prophet Elijah… These ideas have been blotted out of the Christian religion over the centuries, and today, most Bible versions try to obscure the presence of reincarnation in the early Christian tradition through deliberately faulty translations. It is important to note, however, that Biblical evidence on the subject is mixed…” (Pg. 100-101)
He closes the book with his own testimony, recalling that “I was fortunate enough not to have been taught to fear the sadistic God of fundamentalism when I was a child… the hell-shaped hole was burned in later, after I converted to Christianity… at the age of 23… Around the same time… I found myself with severe chronic fatigue syndrome and neurological problems… At times, my health was so bad I thought I was dying… I did not feel I had been born again, except that I believed in Jesus Christ… Was it possible that I was still going to hell… Did God hate me?... a mild depression … escalated into major depressive disorder… I began to fear that… God simply didn’t care about me… As I read the verses in the Bible about hell, I began to be filled with a terror… In my darkest hour, God let me to a deeper understanding of Him and His plan---a plan that does not include eternal damnation for any being, but unfailing love and hope for all souls… It is my hope that all Christians… may learn about the God of love I have discovered…” (Pg. 128-131)
This is a highly-readable, creative book, that will be of tremendous interest to those (particularly Christians) studying Universalism, Conditional Immortality, or the doctrine of Hell. Some of Stetson’s positions will certainly repel more “traditional” Christians, but his arguments and biblical exegesis are well worth studying---whether one always agrees with him, or not.
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