Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lies We Believe About God (13)

Summary of Chapter 13
A 13th 'lie' according to Young is that 'you need to get saved'. In this chapter Young argues against viewing salvation likes a sales-pitch. He doesn't like how Christians try to get people to say the sinner's prayer and then (and only then) tell them about the fine-print (all the things they'll have to 'do' now that they are 'religious'). Such a view doesn't really sound like good news to Young. Alternatively, he believes that salvation simply isn't something people need to acquire. They already have it! Jesus has already, unilaterally, saved every person on the planet (whether they believe or not). It is Jesus' faith that saves us, not ours. Young believes in universal salvation. We must actively participate not in our salvation, but the working out of our salvation. This participation doesn't make our salvation true, it is a response to the truth of salvation.

There was a definite turning point in this chapter (specifically, the bottom of page 117). In the first half of the chapter, Young is making some solid points against the transactional view of salvation. I agree that our evangelism is not healthy when we are just trying to get people to say the sinner's prayer. But in the second half of the chapter Young shares something that has only been hinted at earlier in the book. Young, it seems, is a Christian Universalist.

Now before I react specifically to Young's Christian Universalism, it might be helpful to distinguish between general Universalism and Christian Universalism. The former teaches that all roads lead to God (all people will ultimately be saved irregardless of their relation to Christ). Such a view is outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy. Christian Universalism is different. It is the belief that all people will ultimately be saved via relationship with Jesus. To my mind, there is nothing necessarily unorthodox about Christian Universalism (even though I don't agree with it). There were Christian Universalists in the early church (and there have been throughout church history). There are some verses in Scripture that could be read that way (Young lists some of them in this chapter).

Young's particular brand of Christian Universalism isn't quite that all people WILL EVENTUALLY be saved. His view is that all people ALREADY ARE saved (whether they know it or not). The incarnation of Christ, according to Young, brought all of humanity into connection to Christ. We don't get a vote. We are saved. Our experience of salvation is simply a matter of discovery.

A frustrating aspect to this chapter is that Young, who claims we must participate in 'working-out' our salvation, doesn't really 'work-out' in what sense our participation is necessary. He SAYS "our participation in the working out of this salvation is essential. Our ongoing choices matter." But he also says that our salvation is "fully secured from all eternity in Jesus". How can something be fully secured but necessarily participatory? The final line of the chapter states that "We don't participate in the working out in order to make it true; we do so because it is true." But what if some do NOT do so? Can Young really have it both ways?

I'd imagine his view is that in the afterlife (experience and observation says it doesn't always happen on earth, right?) everyone will come to recognize God's love for them and everyone will respond accordingly. And I'd assume that Young's confidence about this comes from his interpretation of the inclusive-sounding passages he references in the chapter (and in the Catena at the end of the book).

Let us consider the passages Young believes make his case. Here are the references and, in parenthesis, what Young believes they prove:

John 12:32 ("God dragged all human being to Himself")
Jesus simply says, here, that when He dies on the cross, he will "draw all men" to himself. I can understand someone interpreting that in a universalist direction, but the context doesn't seem to support such a view. In the context, some Greeks have arrived on the scene (they were pursuing Jesus). So Jesus may simply be reacting to that by saying that all kinds of people (not just Jews) will be drawn to Him. And, of course, being drawn toward (made to face) someone doesn't necessarily indicate a positive relationship. What's more, the very same context has Jesus talking about how those who love their lives will lose it and only those who hate their lives (so to speak) will keep it (experience eternal life). The context just doesn't make the argument of Christian Universalm even if the isolated line potentially could be read that way.

1 Timothy 4:10 ("Jesus is Savior to all humankind")
The verse says that Jesus is the Savior of all men (people), especially of those who believe. It seems Young takes this to mean that all people are saved, but only those presently believing are 'experiencing' (working-out) their salvation. Again, I can see why he might take it that way. But earlier in the same letter Paul wrote that God 'wants' all men to be saved (2:4). That is to say they aren't currently saved and might potentially remain lost. The similar sounding statement in 4:10 must be read in this context. 1 Timothy 2:6 says that Jesus gave Himself for all men, but that doesn't mean all people receive Him. Jesus, then, is the Savior to all humanity (He's the only true Savior available), but believers actualize this salvation.

John 1:3 ("Every single human being is in Christ")
This verse says that through Christ (the Word) all things were made. Well, to my mind anyways, that is a far cry from saying that every single human being is 'in Christ' in the sense that the Scriptures use that important phrase. Paul's usage of this phrase seems to militate against the idea that everyone simply is in Christ from the start.

2 Corinthians 5:19 ("When Christ X, we all X")
Young takes the ideas contained in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (He died for all, therefore all died) to indicate that we all share in Christ's birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. 5:19  says God was reconciling the world to Himself through Christ. But again, the whole context of the chapter seems to go against Young's conclusions on this. 5:17 says IF anyone is in Christ (which seems to indicate that some are not). The whole idea of Christ (and us) having a ministry of reconciliation (5:18) seems to assume that some are not yet reconciled. The idea that we are ambassadors (5:20) on this earth suggests that some people are still foreigners to God's kingdom. Our mission is to implore people to "Be reconciled to God" (5:20), not tell them that they already are reconciled. Jesus came that we MIGHT become the righteousness of God (5:21), not that we already are the righteousness of God in Christ.

2 Timothy 1:9 ("We were all saved in eternity")
The verse says that God has saved "us" and called us to a holy life. This was not based on anything we did, but God's sovereign election before the beginning of time. Young assumes "us" means "all" (it seems) and, therefore, believes that every individual was saved before the beginning of time. Well this interpretation, to be blunt, just adds a universalistic flavor to a calvinistic understanding of the doctrine of election (there are, of course, other possibilities).

That brings up an important point to ponder. Could it be that Young grew up with some form of Calvinism (he wasn't very specific about his Evangelical Protestant background, but most of his points are clearly a reaction to hard-Calvinism) and is just having a hard time letting it go. I have heard many Arminians say that if they were Calvinists, they'd have to be Universalists as well (after all, if God is love and God decides who to save irregardless of their participation, wouldn't God simply save all?). It seems to me that Young might be an example of this. Someone who struggles to fully free himself completely from Calvinism and, therefore, becomes a Christian Universalist. I'm just speculating here, of course.

All in all, I have no objection to the first half of the chapter. I do, however, have some real problems with the second half. It is not just that Young seems to be a Christian Universalist (a position I disagree with but don't consider necessarily heretical). It is sort of Christian Universalism he seems to adhere to (people are ALREADY saved). I believe a better case could be made for postmortem salvation of all people than pre-existing salvation of all people. And, finally, I think Young is guilty of trying to have his cake and eat it too with some of his statements about salvation be secure AND participation being a necessity.

Obviously, my reaction to this chapter has been significantly larger than what came before it, but that is because Young boldly made some claims that are, at best, highly questionable.

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