Reasons for Jesus - 'The Shack' Exposed - Heresy, Universalism ...


Universalism believes in the ultimate well-being of every person on earth. It has a pagan and Christian form. The latter teaches that in Jesus Christ, God’s elect-one for our sakes, all humanity is elect – however, that doesn’t mean that all will ultimately accept his free gift of forgiveness. More often than not, we’ve chosen to live in a self-enclosed ‘world’ of our own making, suspicious of the source of all love, goodness and truth. As C.S. Lewis wrote in his ‘The Great Divorce,’ ‘I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.’ For God to over-ride peoples’ wills and hearts, he would have to ‘un-create’ their humanity.

  • Reality is that many Christians in recent times have abandoned the institutional Church for their survival (I did 14 years ago) – some are resorting, I believe in an over-reactionary way, to all manner of teachers and writings, many healthy, some not so healthy. Top of the pops at the moment is best-selling American Franciscan priest Richard Rohr. In his latest book, ‘The Universal Christ,’ we are introduced to the ‘gospel’ of ‘panentheism.’ The latter could include much of North and South American native religions; elements of Hasidic Judaism and Kabbalah teaching; Islamic Sufi orders; some re-incarnationalists; some eastern forms of Christianity, etc. ‘Panentheism’ maintains that all will ultimately be ‘saved,’ through the incarnational and indwelling ‘cosmic Christ.’ Like many, I’m grateful for Rohr’s call to a more contemplative and cosmic Christianity – but not at the expense of Scripture. Rohr and his predecessors refer much to passages such as Ephesians 1-3 and Colossians 1. On closer examination, we find that both refer to the reconciliation of all those in faith-union with Christ (cf. also 2 Cor. 5:11-6:2). [For a fair, scholarly, 7-page critique of Rohr’s book ‘The Universal Christ,’ see British theologian Ian Paul’s Psephizo article,“Is Richard Rohr’s ‘Universal Christ’ Christian?”]

The Pachamama Rohrs – Catholic World Report

  • Please hear me out. I choose to distance myself from Western fundamentalists’ hyper-literal ‘turn or burn’ Bible-punching which seems to delight in the eternal roasting of the lost: try and read the Bible and Jesus without grasping the place of metaphor! Many, including myself, see God’s ultimate judgment as a place of self-imposed isolation and bitterness, ‘a place of total inability to laugh’ (Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1821-1881). As Christians our ‘ministry of reconciliation’ is not one of wholesale condemnation but rather loving declaration, by word and attitude and deed, of Christ’s Good News of forgiveness offered to all. [Tim Keller reminds those who so easily demean Christians as ‘exclusivist’ that ultimately all people are exclusivist by nature]
  • We must distinguish between absolute universalism and relative universalism. According to the latter, the universality of Christ’s sacrifice is seen in his death for all humankind – it remains, however for all people to accept his free gift of reconciliation accomplished via the Cross.
  • There is clear evidence that many postmodern Christians, whether they recognize it or not, are distant children of existentialism, which laid huge emphasis on personal experience of reality alone. Here we may reference German existentialist theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher (1786-1834), who questioned any access to ‘absolute truth.’ We could also include French paleontologist and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) – see his intriguing ‘Le Milieu Divin’ (‘An Essay on the Interior Life’), who in turn strongly influenced Richard Rohr. All these would ask how the Church today can preach reconciliation and at the same time maintain solidarity with modern/postmodern humanity? Certainly it would be condescending of us to cheaply dismiss their stance as mere rebellion and a denial of guilt. Nonetheless, the idea persists that human feelings alone cannot be determinative for making conclusions about life and the future – there must be a firmer foundation, a life-time norm (Augustine, 354-430 AD). Universalism appeals to the irresistible love and power of God, which are sufficient to overcome all obstacles in final matters. We agree, but respond that such love and power can never be kinder than the love of Christ as reflected in Holy Scripture.


  • When Scripture deals with the seriousness of ‘sin’ (i.e. ugly ego, idolatry, etc), it reflects the brokenness and lostness of humankind in contrast to the totally surprising and unexpected grace of God: ‘For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost’ (Lk. 19:10/Jesus to Zacchaeus). Surely if there’s hope for one, there’s hope for all.
  • God’s love doesn’t pertain to some. John the Baptizer points to Jesus and shouts ‘Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ (Jn. 1:29) The apostle Paul reminds the Corinthian congregation: ‘For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself…’ (2 Cor. 5:19). He tells his apprentice, Timothy, that God ‘wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth’ (1 Tim. 2:4).
  • Eph. 1:10 and Col. 1:20 have often been quoted in defense of universal reconciliation. Indeed, in both passages Paul speaks of a magnificent reconciliation of ‘all things’ in Christ. ‘For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything (‘ta panta’ = ‘all things’) to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross’ (Col. 1:19-20). While there is a universal perspective here, it’s inseparable from the message of ‘salvation’ in Christ calling on all to believe and accept him (Jn. 1:12).
  • Panentheists often use the term ‘apocatastasis’ (‘restoration’) to justify their views. In the Bible, significantly, the word occurs only once, i.e. in Acts 3:21. In this verse the apostle Peter is addressing the Jews who had crucified Jesus – he goes on to call them all to a radical ‘change of mind:’ ‘Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. Then times of refreshment will come from the Lord, and he will again send you Jesus, your appointed Messiah. For he must remain in heaven until the time for the final restoration of all things, as God promised long ago through his holy prophets’ (v. 19-21). The text references the prophet Elijah, who proclaimed Yahweh’s restoration of all things via repentance: cf. Mal. 4:5-6; Mt. 17:11-13; Mk. 9:12-13. Understandably, the proponents of apocatastasis steer clear of Acts 3:21! Absolute universalists, at the end of the day, cannot forever ignore the fact that Scripture deals with the future only in the context of the Cross and our response to it. Brilliant Swiss scholar, Hans Urs von Balthazar (1905-1985), though standing in solidarity with the frailty and suffering of humankind, pleads for an eschatology that takes into account, at all points, the tension of faith, God’s call and human responsibility. Many people have argued that Karl Barth (arguably the greatest theologian of the 20th century) was a universalist. However, he rejected that label on a number of occasions: “The Church will not then preach an ‘apocatastasis’, nor will it preach a powerless grace of Jesus Christ or a wickedness of men which is too powerful for it.” What balance!
  • The fact is that, whenever the New Testament speaks of God’s love, it often does so in the context of judgment. Compare the well-quoted Jn. 3:16 and the less-quoted v. 36, ‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath’ (NRSV). The gravity of this point is revealed on the emotional plane of Christ’s life when he uncovers Israel’s blindness to God’s compassion, ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now look, your house is abandoned and desolate’ (Mt. 23:37-38). Paul’s testimony of God’s reconciling love is followed by the charge,“So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!'” (2 Cor. 5:20)

‘The doctrine of apocatastasis is a static, timeless, un-kerygmatic doctrine, a form of gnostic thought over against God and His love’ (G.C. Berkouwer). We conclude that the historical confessing Church has repeatedly, to a lesser or greater extent, implicitly or explicitly, repudiated the doctrine of an ultimate ‘apocatastasis,’ including Origen’s in the 200’s AD. The outrageous ‘Good News’ of God’s love in Christ continues to ring out to the ends of the earth, even in our time. The message goes out to everyone, indiscriminately, because God’s loving work in Christ is directed to the whole of humanity: Mt. 24:14; 28:10.

        [See footnotes and look out for Part 2’s nature of the judgment]

Jesus Christ wall decor


[1] Recently I pointed out to a Rohrian panentheist that if one is in trouble at sea, it helps to have a lighthouse to navigate to safety. He responded that his ‘lighthouse’ was within him. True, but unfortunately not the whole truth. I find that many today appear to be adrift on ‘a sea of subjectivism.’ People are looking for answers from within, via New Age philosophies, yoga, Western Buddhism, etc. I observed real Buddhism in Xiahe, the birthplace of the Dalai Lama. I chatted to young monks in training, saw them (and the aged) prostrate themselves hundred’s of time around the extended monastery walls and spin endless prayer wheels. I perceived in some an uncertainty about eternal things. Many passers-by watched curiously as our small group celebrated an open-air Communion at a closed monastery door.

Teen Tibetan monk in tragic self-immolation | eNCA

[2] On the matter of ‘absolutes’ so maligned today, Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) of L’Abri fame, noted this curious mark of our own age: the only absolute allowed is the absolute insistence that there is no absolute!’

[3] I love the story of Martin Luther’s exasperation with his often over-introspective friend, Melanchthon. During one bad bout of Melancthonian rumination, Luther shouted at his friend ‘Melanchthon, the gospel is outside of you!’ Why is it so difficult for us to achieve a balance of objectivity and subjectivity? We do love to throw the baby out with the bath-water. God is a God of many antinomies.

‘I’M ON MY WAY! I’LL BE THERE SOON!’ [Part 4: The Resurrection of the Dead]

ᐈ Cemetery stock pictures, Royalty Free cemetery pictures ...

We live in a beautiful sea-side city. If I take a certain route to the beach front, I drive past a large cemetery where lie my father, mother, younger brother and sister. The family grave can take one more coffin – whose will it be? That’s the reality.

A brief summary of the Old Testament understanding of death and resurrection:

  • Throughout Israel’s religion runs the fear of death: ‘For my life is full of troubles, and death draws near (Sheol = the vague, shadowy world of the dead). I am as good as dead, like a strong man with no strength left. They have left me among the dead, and I lie like a corpse in the grave…’ (Ps. 88:3-5). Almost three years ago, I lay comatose for five weeks following emergency surgery and a viral respiratory infection. In that hallucinatory state I saw myself in a deep underground cavern, lying among corpses on a cold stone slab, watching my last minutes tick by. My own version of Sheol!? Lol!
  • However, even in Sheol, the OT held an expectation beyond the grave. Even here there were indications of Yahweh’s dominion over death: ‘you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your holy one to rot in the grave. You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever’ (Ps. 16:9ff). Sheol didn’t have the last word! (on personal reflection, thank God!)

The Garden Tomb, rock tomb in Jerusalem, Israel

Church of the Holy Sepulchre Pictures - The place where Jesus was crucidied at Golgotha

The New Testament picture of death and resurrection is much clearer! [On a trip to Israel some years ago, Melanie and I explored the beautiful garden tomb location of Jesus’ resurrection and the more likely resurrection site, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher] The difference between the OT and NT pictures is not that one lacks and the other has an eschatology. Rather, in the NT, the reality of Yahweh’s life-giving power is fully revealed. The focus is no longer on what God can do in the face of death but on what he has done! The apostle Paul reminds his apprentice, Timothy, ‘And now he has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News!’ (2 Tim. 1:10)

Pauline expert Tom Wright is unsurpassed when it comes to bringing to life the key resurrection passage of 1 Cor. 15 (in itself a summary of the whole Gospel):

  • Some in Corinth had denied the resurrection of the believer, on the normal pagan grounds that ‘everyone knew’ dead people stayed dead. In chap. 15 Paul refers to Jesus’ resurrection as ‘the first-fruit of the great harvest,’ when all who belong to him will be raised as he was (v. 23).
  • 1 Cor. 15 echoes and alludes to Gen. 1-3. It’s a theology of ‘new creation,’ not the abandonment of creation. The passage speaks of two different kinds of bodies, the present one and the future one. As a Greek expert, Wright makes the point that several popular translations (RSV, etc) have incorrectly translated the two bodies as ‘a physical body’ and ‘a spiritual body.’ Paul is in fact contrasting the present, decaying and doomed-to-die body with the future, non-decaying, never-to-die body. Our present body is animated by the human psyche, which gets us through the present life but is powerless against illness, decay and death. Our future body is animated by God’s pneuma, i.e. ‘the energizing breath’ of God’s new creation!
  • In second-Temple Judaism, resurrection was a peripheral topic. But in early Christianity the resurrection moves from the circumference to the centre. It was also central to the early Church fathers Clement, Ignatius, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. In short, take away the stories of Jesus’ birth (important as that is) and you lose two chapters of Matthew and Luke each. Take away the resurrection and you lose the entire NT and most of the 2nd century church fathers. [1]
  • Judaism was vague on what kind of body the resurrected would possess. From the start early Christianity taught that it would be a body as real as the physical object occupying space and time right now. But, in addition, it would be a transformed body, a body whose material, created from the old material, would have brand-new properties. For Paul the new body would not be a kind of ‘spiritual body’ in the sense of a ‘non-material’ one. Our future body will be one of ‘transformed physicality,’ which we can hardly imagine while here on earth. Paul is making his readers think in new patterns: there will be a new mode of physicality, i.e. our future bodies will be much more real, more firmed up (thank God!) and more transcendent in every way. We sometimes speak of someone who’s been very ill as being ‘a shadow of their former self.’ Well, a believer in the present life is a mere shadow of his/her future self, which God keeps for us in his heavenly storeroom, made to measure and put on at Jesus’ return. As an Easter hymn says:

‘O how glorious and resplendent

Fragile body, thou shalt be, 

When endued with so much beauty,

Full of health, and strong, and free!

Full of vigor, full of pleasure,

That shall last eternally!’

  • If we ask why we shall be given new bodies, the answer is they’ll empower us to ‘rule wisely’ over God’s new world (cf. Gen. 1-2). Forget those images of disembodied spirits strumming harps on cloud 9. There will be service to render, and we’ll relish it. All the talents, skills and gifts we have put to God’s service in our present life – and perhaps even our interests and likings we gave up because they conflicted with our present vocation, will be enhanced, ennobled and exercised to our Creator-Redeemer’s praise. Coming back to Gen. 1 and 2, the garden will need tending once more, animal life re-named, the ecology looked after, etc. All these are signposts to a larger reality, a reality to which most Christians give little or no thought. [I’m sure my wife will be allocated to the garden dept, while I’ll oversee the theological library dept – I hope so!]

When will this resurrection happen? In past years, philosophically believing that God is beyond space and time, I believed that we go, immediately upon our death, into the full resurrection state. However, if we stick closely to the NT text, that is unlikely. Paul says that, if Christ is the ‘first fruits’ of the resurrection, those who belong to him will be ‘raised at his coming.’ John’s Apocalypse and many contemporary Jewish writings speak of the dead waiting patiently, and sometimes not so patiently, for the time when they would finally be raised to the fullness of new life in Christ. As Wright has observed, ‘Time matters; it was part of the original good creation.’ [the subject of ‘time’ is massive, so no details here]

At the end of this Second Coming series, it’s time to make a simple choice. C.S. Lewis wrote in his classic ‘The Problem of Pain:’ “They (Adam and Eve) wanted, as we say, to ‘call their souls’ their own.’ But that means to live a lie, for our souls are not, in fact, our own. They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, ‘This is our business, not yours.’ But there is no such corner.’ Won’t you change your mind about God (‘repent’), come to a loving Christ just as you are and surrender all of you to him? Share that good news with someone today! Jesus won’t spare you pain on this earth, but he will be with you in it all, to the end of the age!

Joni Eareckson Tada: Why Should I Fear Death?

(Joni Eareckson Tada – ‘Why Should I Fear Death?’ Christianity Today [3])


  1. Beware the many popular teachings today that maintain the answer to life lies within us, when the answer lies in Christ, who he is and what he’s graciously done for us.
  2. The Church has always been beleaguered by a kind of spiritualism/dualism that excludes the body from the final Christ-event. Man’s whole existence is affected by the revelation of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. There is no trace of dualism here… In this bodily existence the bell of the future sounds!’ (G.C. Berkouwer).
  3. Joni, the renowned quadriplegic Christian author and speaker, now living in chronic pain, testifies that that pain is eased by the prospect of her bodily resurrection and transformation in Christ.
  4. Dallas Willard (‘The Divine Conspiracy’) uses two pictures to explain the believer’s dying. The first depicts a child playing in the evening among her toys. Gradually she grows tired and lays her head down for a moment of rest, lazily continuing to play. The next thing she experiences or ‘tastes’ is the morning light of a new day, flooding the bed her parents tucked her into. Significantly, we don’t remember ‘falling asleep,’ we don’t ‘see’ it or ‘taste’ it! The second picture is of one who walks to a doorway between rooms. While still interacting with those they are leaving, they begin to see and converse with people in the room beyond. Before the widespread use of heavy sedation, it was common for those keeping watch at the bedside of the dying to observe how the one making the transition often begins to speak of those who have gone before. They come to meet him/her while still in touch with those they’re leaving behind. The curtain parts briefly before they pass through the door to life beyond the grave. These pictures helped me when contemplating my own mortality, post-surgery, a few years ago. I trust they help you too.