I Survived the Christian Right: Ten Lessons I Learned on My Journey Home
Embrace Universal Life
Before I went to Malawi and early on in my evangelical walk in 1982 I got one major thing right. Faith in Jesus includes emulating his concern for the poor. I packed my bags, joined an evangelical relief agency and headed off to the “ends of the earth,” in this case Somalia, to aid refugees devastated by war.
I also wanted to share my faith with Muslims. My evangelical theology taught me they were lost without someone like me converting them. It didn’t take long to see the logical conclusion of that doctrine. The overwhelming majority of Muslims, steeped in their own fundamentalist religion since birth, were not coming to Jesus. They were toast. Burnt toast and destined for an eternity in hell according to evangelical theology. Problem was, I didn’t buy it. Since I experienced God’s love personally and felt divine love for my Muslim friends, I surmised God’s character demands Henot destine people to eternal separation and torment. I adopted, and kept secret for the most part, the very minority position of inclusivism…that salvation is possible outside of Christendom.
Fast forward to my seventeenth (I lost count) crisis of faith in 2007. Having changed my view on scriptural inerrancy and authority, the church, tithing, the return of Jesus, sexuality, and gay rights, why not go for broke? I had become an open-minded seeker desperately trying to prevent my brains from leaking out. After reading three thoughtful, progressive evangelical authors61 and another former Pentecostal minister,62 a long-time puzzle was solved. Through a combination of Bible abuse and upholding man-made tradition, the evangelical church had squelched a view of salvation that had been espoused by several church fathers including Origen and Gregory of Nyasa.63 It was universal reconciliation…that all would eventually be reconciled to God, thus more in line with God’s character of unconditional love. “Even while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”64
Turns out that pesky word “eternal” used in conjunction with “punishment” and supposedly talking about hell doesn’t really mean forever. A better translation is “punishment of the age to come,” for the Greek word aionios is more accurately rendered “pertaining to an age.”65 Also, the Greek word for “punishment” always refers to the remedial variety.66 So, universal reconciliation doesn’t mean God doesn’t punish evil, just that it’s temporary. I concluded that Paul was right all along: “As in Adam, all will die, in Christ, all will be made alive.”67
If you’re going to believe, believe in the really good news.68
Certain and Uncertain
As much as I defend these nine lessons, I’m not insisting I’ve suddenly arrived at absolute certain truth. What I am saying is that we must be willing to go where the evidence leads even if it goes against out long-standing tradition or personal bias. Although I believe Christians can be certain of many things (the historical Jesus, his practical and spiritual wisdom, a transcendent meaning and power in the world…God…and a new way of relating to God found in the good news of Jesus), we should hold many views lightly because most of us don’t have a clue what really was happening culturally when Jesus spoke about his coming again, or the aionios punishment of the age, or when Paul spoke of porneia or arsenokoitai, or how the Bible was compiled, copied, and made into a canon of scripture by an editorial committee in the fourth century. There will always be an element of mystery and uncertainty.69 If we are to come to sound conclusions about the Christian faith, we must ensure we humbly attempt to follow a reasoned course and not swallow whole what others before us have said…be they conservative or liberal…without careful evaluation.
 Talbot, Thomas, The Inescapable Love of God, MacDonald, Gregory, The Evangelical Universalist, and Keith DeRose, http://pantheon.yale.edu/%7Ekd47/univ.htm