Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Recommended: If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person

I recently stumbled on this little book by Philip Gully and James Mulholland (Harper San Francisco, 2003) that argues for a Christian theology of universal salvation and found it quite compelling. Gulley and Mulholland, a pair of Quakers with backgrounds in other Christian denominations, aim to make this understanding of God's grace accessible to the average North American Christian layperson. The authors avoid academic language, as well as the gender-inclusive language embraced by many mainline churches, and seem to have written the book for persons from a Evangelical Protestant background.

As a United Methodist, I can see the Wesleyan Quadrilateral taking shape in their work. (The Quadrilateral is a theological method teased from John Wesley's teachings that starts with a foundation of Scripture and applies reason, tradition, and experience.) Gulley and Mulholland's case for universal salvation is primarily scriptural, but reason and experience often "break the tie" where the Bible seems unclear or contradictory. The authors acknowledge Scriptures that suggest the salvation of the elect and the damnation of the many, but point out several other verses that reveal God's patience, persistence, and intention to bring all of the sheep into the fold.

Some readers who get on board with Gulley and Mulholland may jump off when they see themselves headed toward the authors' christology, which they might regard as heretical or non-Christian. Gully and Mulholland's understanding of Christ is similar to that of popular Christian writers Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. Borg and Crossan, however, explain themselves much more elegantly than Gulley and Mulholland.

Aside from the substandard treatment of Christ, the author have written a beautiful piece that (agree with it or not) God must find flattering. While Gulley and Mulholland call into question some Christian doctrines, one can't accuse them of underestimating God's love and grace. Telling how he came to embrace universal salvation, one of the authors (they speak as one voice) talks about his struggle with the question, "Why must some be damned?":

My search revealed two common justifications for the salvation of some and the damnation of many. The first suggested God doesn't want to save all his children. God could but chooses not to. God has favorites and saves only those who please him. The second admitted God wants to save all his children but reluctantly concluded God can't save all his children. God can't but wishes he could. God respects our freedom to reject his grace and doom ourselves to damnation.

Both explanations have problems. The first defends the power of God while diminishing God's affection. The second affirms God's love but reduces its power and reach. Both positions assume some will be damned. The first concludes this is God's will, that his judgment is beyond reproach even if it includes the eternal torment of his children. The second implies God's will is irrelevant, that we are the ones who control our destiny and determine God's attitude toward us.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like something I would read. Now I might... Thanks.

1:22 AM  

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