1)      It seems to me that functionally most churches operate as though ultimate redemption were true, very rarely talking about the eternal consequences of sin or about the need for evangelism. In that regard, an embrace of ultimate redemption would not change much about a church’s ministry. The church would continue with worship services that exalt Jesus and His death and resurrection, would continue with prayer, study, fellowship, and would continue programs that reach out with the love of God to people inside and outside its walls. We proclaim Jesus because of what He has done for us, and we compassionately reach out with His love so that people would know the difference He can make in their lives.

2)      Although point one suggests that failing to emphasis the eternal consequences of sin or the need for evangelism is a sign of a belief in ultimate redemption, actually I think a belief in ultimate redemption would give a church greater freedom to talk about both the consequences of sin and the need for evangelism. Ultimate redemption enables us to talk about hell or judgment as something redemptive rather than just as the eternal expression of the wrath of God against sin, an idea that is hard to square with the everlasting nature of the love of God. Furthermore, when evangelism is not a go-to-heaven-or-go-to-hell proposition, and instead becomes the announcement of the good news, it becomes much easier to embrace. Evangelism should be akin to a messenger riding into the city to announce that the war is over! Victory is assured! Death has been defeated! Jesus has done it for us!

3)      In my experience in a traditional belief system, relationships with people who don’t yet know Jesus can quickly become evangelistic projects rather than genuine friendships. Ultimate redemption allows us to meet people where they are, to help them where they’re hurting, to demonstrate God’s love and allow God’s Spirit to work in their life, to take advantage of the opportunities to tell them about Jesus without feeling the pressure of their eternal destiny on our shoulders. This is as it should be. It’s not up to us anyway, and I think we can trust God loves each person enough to never give up on anyone.

4)      To build on point three, a traditional belief system seems to focus on conversion as a moment-in-time experience, a transaction that happens as a person puts their faith in Jesus, often through prayer. The problem is our trust in this transaction is unfounded. A person will “pray to receive Christ” and then we will assure them of their new standing before God and rejoice in the change in their eternal destiny.[1] However, we really have no idea if this is true. We can’t see a person’s heart. We can’t tell if a person’s faith is genuine. Maybe, if we were to be honest, we can’t even know if our own faith is genuine! Have I truly put my faith in Jesus? If my “heart is deceitful above all things,” (Jeremiah 17:9) how can I truly know if I have put my faith in Jesus? I suppose I can’t. But that’s why my trust is not in the perfect expression of my own faith, but in God’s mercy. Faith is not much more than casting oneself on the mercy of God, which is what I’m doing for myself, what I’m doing for the person who has just “prayed to receive Christ,” and what I’m doing for the person who does not yet know Jesus. I cast all of us on God’s mercy, trusting Him to do the right and loving thing. We have taken all the mystery out of faith, making it not unlike a mathematical equation, when it’s just not that simple. A consideration of ultimate redemption allows us to leave in God’s hands that which is only in God’s hands, even if we mistakenly think we have some say in the matter.[2] Ultimate redemption allows us freedom from evaluating a person’s faith based on one prayer at one moment, and instead gives us the opportunity to see God at work in their life, to see them live with greater peace, hope, joy, and freedom as a result of knowing what Jesus has done for them.[3]

5)      To me it seems like a traditional belief system too easily leads to one of two extremes. Either people live in fear, not really sure of their standing before God and ever worried they’re not doing enough, or they live in unfounded and arrogant certainty, certain they are “in,” certain of their own standing before God, and equally certain that those who don’t think as they do are “out.”[4] Ultimate redemption allows us to live neither in fear nor in certainty. It allows us to be neither fearful of what we have not done nor certain in what we have done. Instead, we trust in what God has done for us, in what He has done for everyone. People are not “in” or “out” but we’re all “in” this together, made in the image of God, loved by Him and trusting in His mercy.

Thanks.

 

[1] Often, we lead people through the sinner’s prayer and then move on without showing any concern for what is happening in their life. I have seen this time and time again. Although our motivation, which results from our traditional system of belief, is genuine, and even loving in our minds, it can come across as though all we’re doing is winning converts and not really caring for people. HOWEVER, even as I wrestle through those these things, I want to acknowledge, and even emphasize, that NONE OF US ARE DOING IT EXACTLY RIGHT! All of us who follow Jesus – traditional, conservative, liberal, moderate, etc. – are just doing our best to represent Him in the world, trusting He will use our efforts for His glory. I think God uses it all. We need to wrestle, we need to discuss, we need to think, but we also need to acknowledge our own limitations and ultimately trust not in our own efforts or understanding, but in God and in His work in the world. It doesn’t depend on us; it depends on Him . . . and that is a good thing.

[2] Maybe some would argue that the traditional belief allows the same thing. To this I would say: I agree. However, all other things being equal, if it’s acceptable to leave it in God’s hands and believe that most people (90% or more I’ve heard) are going to hell, I think it also ought to be acceptable to leave it in God’s hands and believe He is going to ultimately redeem everyone.

[3] I have seen this time and time again as well.

[4] Certainly, these extremes are not true of everyone. There are good, godly, loving, wonderful people inside the traditional system of belief who represent God well and live in humble assurance of His love for them and for the world. I know many of these people.