How to Make an Evangelical Nervous

Theology Thursday

Tonight we had class over the phone because of snow–one big ol’ conference call for approximately three hours. I thought about live-blogging it, since I was sitting on my bed and no one could see me and liveblogging my class would actually require that I pay attention. But . . . although I paid attention, obviously liveblogging didn’t happen.

We’re talking about sin, and I do need to blog about that sometime–about the human capacity for evil, and the evil around us, and how God isn’t evil, even though there is evil and He’s in charge . . . but I still haven’t figure out how I want to blog about it, so instead I’m going to pose a question to the Evangelicals out there. First the set-up:

At the end of class, Prof SysTheo started describing a theory of his, using Romans 5. Particularly Romans 5.18, which says,

Therefore, as one trespass[f] led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness[g] leads to justification and life for all men.

After highlighting this verse for us, Prof SysTheo chucklingly pointed out that “the Universalists love to camp out on this verse,” and also that “it makes Evangelicals nervous.” This was not his point, nor really what his theory was about (I won’t go into it at this time), but it kind of struck me, and struck me even more because he reiterated that bit about Evangelicals one or two more times and then said something like, “Now, just so you don’t all think I’m a Universalist . . . “

Let me make a couple of things clear. I believe that every single human being has been affected by the sin of some guy named Adam such that we all commit our own sins–daily. I believe that sin is a turning away from God so that we are separated from Him–not by His choice (at least not exactly) but by ours. I believe that we have come to such a pass that we literally need to be saved from this state of affairs. I also believe that we can be saved, but not by pulling ourselves out of the quicksand, but by trusting in Jesus to get us out. I don’t believe that everybody gets saved, because I don’t believe everybody accepts the help. (There’s stuff about predestination, too, but . . . later, guys. Later.)

What I want to know is: why should interpreting Romans 5.18 “universalistically” make Evangelicals nervous?

Are we so intent on being doctrinally right that we can’t have the compassion to at least wish that everyone was going to be saved? What is being threatened here that makes us so squirmy?

We're Number One! Wait--I think it's Someone else, actually...

We’re Number One!
Wait–I think it’s Someone else, actually…

Once, many years ago, one of my Christian friends who married an agnostic came to visit with her husband. While we were having dinner, he semi-facetiously made the comment that Christians are argumentative because we want to be right, and in general seem to find glee in the idea of Unsaved People going to Hell. I had recently been praying and trying very hard to introduce a Starbucks colleague to Jesus and it was breaking my heart that it didn’t seem to be working, so when he said this, to the surprise of my friend and her husband and even myself, I burst into tears in the middle of the restaurant and said, “No we don’t! Sometimes we get kind of pushy but that’s because we so badly don’t want people to go to Hell!”

I know this is true because I’ve spent my whole life feeling this way and, come to think of it, bursting into tears over it quite a bit, and I’ve talked to others of my subcultural compatriots (a.k.a. “brothers and sisters in Christ”) who have similar sentiments, if not such highly functional waterworks. However, when my professor said (apologetically and over and over again) that Evangelicals get nervous over Universalist interpretations of salvation passages, I didn’t feel like he was wrong. That, too, felt very familiar.

So–blow up the comments, friends. Be honest with yourselves–and the rest of us.

If you are a Christian, do you get nervous at Universalist sentiments? If so, why? If not, why not?

If you’re of another faith (including atheist) what’s the vibe you get from conservative Christians? (Be honest with yourselves, too–I used to have a wiccan friend who, until she found out I was a fairly conservative Christian, used to spout off at work–all the time–about the “fundamentalist Christians who are out to get me.” Then we made friends and she realised she was just basing her catch-phrase on assumptions and not on actual encounters or . . . facts.) Do you think I want there to be a Hell? Do you think I want you to go to it?


(Somebody's sale item on ebay)In spite of all the lovely sentiments I wrote down a week ago, sometimes I wish I could just get “reconciled to my hermitage” and not bother with the rest of the stuff, because forgiveness and reconciliation, while supernaturally possible, are, I find, still usually also something of a long hard slog.

Ever since I used to curl myself into small spaces as a toddler in Costa Rica, I’ve rather liked the idea of tiny habitats. Ever since I got to go inside an Airstream trailer as a young child in Honduras, I’ve had something of a hankering for mobile living. You might also know that I have this sort of perpetually nagging wish to be what I call an “abridged hippie.” So maybe it’s not so surprising that this week I spent a lot of time fantasizing about purchasing a vintage 1970’s Volkswagen Vanagon (with what money? I have no idea, but I was just imagining) and driving around and . . .

“. . . selling mescaline out of it?” suggested a fellow Starbucks customer from my side of the counter when I was telling Star-becca about this travel-hankering of mine. Um, no, that wasn’t really the plan. I just want a Vanagon with a pop-top to live and travel around the Western hemisphere in. (The downside, besides having no money, is the lack of showering options, as well as the fact that it probably wouldn’t do so well with some of the weather we’ve been having lately,  but as I’ve said, I was imagining, here.) There have been all these male writers who basically lived roadtrips. Why not a female one, for once? The Matchmaker thinks I should be a truck-stop evangelist (I’m not sure how that’s supposed to happen if I’m also hypothetically supposed to be getting married, but whatever)–this would be a great way to keep “sharing Jesus” and living out some sort of vocation (whether or not it’s actually mine is debatable) while not having to commit to any community. Because, as we know, I love the idea of community, but find the practice of it a little problematic.

Then my friend Fortune’s Gale invited me to one of her folk music gigs on Friday. All I knew about this gig was that it was at a “mansion” at which there was an outdoor pool and an Indian sauna. She has invited me to this event in previous years and I have never gone, but, as I’ve just been telling you, I’ve kind of been feeling like escaping this week, so, after ascertaining that I could bring Oscar, I told her I’d go. Never mind that Friday dawned and stayed dark and stormy. I packed a swimsuit just in case the unlikely happened, and an overnight bag because Fortune’s Gale had offered her guest-room for afterwards, and my dog, and drove down through sometimes dark clouds and sometimes pelting rain.

I had thought I was running late, but when I got to the venue, Fortune’s Gale hadn’t arrived yet. I pulled into the parking lot behind the large house (I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a mansion) and sat there for a while to get my bearings. Finally we got out of the car and went through the door with the sign in front of it that said, “Music here.” It was, evidently, some sort of studio (yoga, it turned out later), with a big mirror along one wall. Not many people were in there, but they all seemed to know each other, and they all stared uncertainly at Oscar and me as we went in. I hoped Fortune’s Gale’s friend would make himself known soon, so I could validate my own presence as well as my dog’s.

Probably because of the rain, and the age of the poorly-ventilated building, the atmosphere in the studio was somewhat dank, and smelled of “all natural products.” As a would-be hippie, I have a sort of idealistic view of things like homemade soaps and cleaners and such, but I confess that some such products really do have a kind of funky smell–like decomposing flowers. That’s what it smelled like in there, and maybe some other things, and when the host finally did approach me where I sat in a tall chair at a tall table near the door, I thought I could smell yet more things.

“Hello,” he said. He was tall and thin, probably in his early fifties, with curly brown hair and wide blue eyes. At some point in my existence I might have thought he was “alt-attractive,” but when, after greeting Oscar, he remained sitting on the floor, staring at me unblinkingly with those eyes and asserting, “I am kneeling at your feet,” I just thought he was mildly alarming. This impression did not dissipate on further interchange, or even when he went off some minutes later to help the first musician set up for his set; as the musician was setting up his mics and stands, Hippie-J got down on the floor again and began doing yoga stretches and rolling around on the floor in front of the performance space.

The complex, it turned out, was not only Hippie-J’s domicile, but also a New Age therapy center; I couldn’t tell if some of the other people there were other therapists, and if they also lived there, or what, but Hippie-J certainly wanted me to know about the different therapies they offered in case I ever wanted to drive all the way down there again and avail myself of any of them. Especially his, most likely.

Gale finally arrived, and the music was great. Between the first act and Gale’s set, there was kind of an open-mic and I got to read part of a chapter of Trees in the Pavement and managed to sell two copies. Hippie-J bought one of them, so I can’t be too hard on him. In the end, I had to admit I had had fun. But I also had to admit that, if Hippie-J and his entourage were “real” hippies (and I’m pretty sure they couldn’t get much more authentic–I kept thinking things like, “I like Bob Dylan. Is this what he would act like in real life? Is this what hippies act like?”), becoming the kind of hippie I envision really will take an awful lot of abridging.