Monday, November 21, 2011

I Would Love To Be A Universalist

If it's true that everybody will one day make it to heaven—which would be very good news for very bad people—it would solve some knotty issues that have long vexed me. 

The hardest one, with the least-satisfying Biblical answers, is about people who lived in the years BC. Though Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain, and is said to have acted in faith, we know nothing about the system of worship that prompted the brothers to offer sacrifices in the first place. Despite meeting righteous individuals like Enoch, Lot, Noah, Melchizedek and Abraham, we have no record of God providing any comprehensive revelation for the first 10,000 years of human existence. Why leave people in ignorance so long before sending the law? And even longer to send Jesus? 

The years AD, when God finally poured out his Spirit and spread the gospel quickly around the world are less problematic for me. At last the Creator was propelling salvation to all people. But even here God did not permit the missionary Paul to take the gospel east into Asia. That doesn't seem fair.

These awkward matters have largely remained behind the academic and clerical curtain, with preachers only rarely bringing them to the pulpit. In a possibly-related story, George Barna reported earlier this year that exactly one-quarter of self-described born again Americans believe everyone will eventually be saved. Apparently benign neglect bears unexpected fruit. 

Enter Rob Bell and his blockbuster book Love Wins—a maddeningly unbalanced book that didn't so much reconsider the subject as rip the band-aid off our most uncomfortable issue. Into the fray step two friends of mine with their own book, entitled  Is God Fair? What About Gandhi? Where Bell was coy, dancing around the issue and understating hard questions, my friends forthrightly make a case for Biblical Universal Salvation—addressing the hardest objections head-on. Disclaimer: the authors hired me to build their website and run their marketing campaign.
I know authors James William and Michael Riley to be men of deep Christian faith. I attended church with Jim and his dear wife, who've now been family friends for the better part of 20 years. And I've seen God's grace in Mike's life over the decade I've known him. Though I am not a Universalist, my reading and research in recent years have led me away from the traditional view of eternal-life-in-hell for the unsaved, to what is often called Conditional Immortality.

But I do mean what I say in the headline of this post. Universal Salvation has been described as a Wider Hope. And that hope can be seen in scripture: "...the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world"; "...when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself"; "...for I came not to judge the world, but to save it." How could that be anything other than Good News to anybody?

But there are other amazing insights in this book: like how often the New Testament mentions a just future reckoning for people famously destroyed in Old Testament times. Or the Scripture Chain detailing the sweep of God's redemptive intention from the beginning of creation. Or the case of the Apostle Paul being used as an example of undeserved mercy. Or the implications of the "ages to come." My favorite quote is the authors' contention about God's judgment for the wicked: "Nobody is getting away with anything." 

I must warn that this isn't light reading—the sections on faulty translating from Greek and Hebrew sometimes wander into the weeds. The chapter on Free Will—and, ironically, the one about the Sons Of Thunder—strike me as pedantic. But as a single-volume resource, Is God Fair? What About Gandhi? can fairly be called an encyclopedia of Universal Salvation. It is a worthy and sincere contribution to the understanding of God's strategy in human history.

Is God Fair? What About Gandhi?
"For I came not to judge the world, but to save it." John 12:47
by Michael Riley and James William

Perfect Bound Softcover, 424 pages

ISBN-13: 978-145675709-0

(Also on eBook and Hardcover)
Published October, 2011 by AuthorHouse 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I am on paid retainer with the authors of this book, as described above. 
They did not pay me to review their book on my blog, nor forbid me from criticizing it. I would not agree to any such restriction on my personal blog, where I only comment on books I have actually read and deem either important or useful to readers.
 I disclose this per the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I Too Was Falsely Accused of Sexual Harassment

Several years ago when I worked in business sales at CompUSA, a customer—a young woman with a home-based business—wanted a laptop on credit. Her application was approved and she went home with the computer. The next morning my manager said one of the disclaimer boxes on her credit app hadn't been initialed: the young lady would have to come back in and initial that box.

So I called the phone number on her application. No answer, so I left a message identifying myself and asking her to stop by the store at her earliest convenience to finish off the paperwork. All that day and the next she didn't show up. On the third day my manager told me the matter had to be wrapped up within the next two days, or I would lose my commission on the sale. So I phoned again, left a message again and told my manager they must be out of town (I knew she was married from info on her credit application). 

The following morning  passed without any contact from the young lady. At lunchtime, I hopped in my car to go grab a burger—taking the paperwork with me. Before pulling out of the CompUSA parking lot, I dialed the customer's number again and got their voicemail again. I left a message saying I was in my car and would swing by their residence with the paperwork for her to sign. So I ate my lunch and drove over to their apartment complex nearby. At the security gate I buzzed their number, but got no I returned to work.

She didn't call back that afternoon. She didn't call back the next day. Oh well, bye-bye laptop commission.

The following week I was at my desk in the business sales department when my manager came in and asked if I went to the lady's home. I told him I'd called ahead, buzzed from the gate, but got no no, I hadn't been at her "home". Then he says: "Well, she and her husband are accusing you of being a stalker and they're threatening to sue the company."  I just laughed and asked if they'd filed a police report. He replied: "No, but the couple are in my office now demanding that we give them the laptop for free." I laughed again: "Now surely that's a joke." Evidently not. The husband said he was a lawyer. My manager, after calling corporate HQ in Dallas, agreed to their demand and gave them the laptop.

What goes on in people's minds prompting them to do outrageous things is a mystery to me. If the couple was a con-team running a scam on us from the beginning, then they were brilliant...because CompUSA had an encyclopedia of scams. 

Of course there was no stalking—the voice messages I left were all business. Mister lawyer had the recordings, and if there were any hint of impropriety, he'd have demanded much more than a Toshiba laptop. I don't know what CompUSA admitted in its "settlement" with the couple. I was never shown any document or asked to sign anything. I wasn't debited for the loss—other than commission—and that was the end of it. But if I ever run for political office, I'm sure I'll hear from the lady and her attorney.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Getting The Leaders We Deserve

Throughout scripture, God deals differently with "the people", compared to their leaders. He uses leaders like tools in His hands: hardening Pharaoh's heart, directing kings' actions like water, raising up rulers and bringing them down. One leader can be used to affect change among many people.

But God's attention to the people isn't always sunshine and lollipops. While the topic of this post isn't judgment, it is useful to observe God's pattern of escalating judgment. First comes instruction, then blessing and prosperity, then warning and reminder, then silence. What happens after the silence can take your breath away. Literally.

In the Torah (Numbers 16) God had already quit talking to the people, giving them the silent treatment. Through all their wilderness grumbling and complaining—despite His having instructed and blessed and prospered and warned and reminded them—they hadn't learned to grin-and-bear-it out in the wilderness with that manna. They had turned into a mob. So Korah and 250 Israelite leaders, oblivious to their own peril, mounted a challenge—it was a peaceful protest, they weren't armed—to Moses and Aaron. Korah and company had heard from the people and brought forth genuine hardships. 

But Korah was on the wrong side of the issue. He didn't realize that years of stewing in his own juices had turned him into a frog in a near-boiling kettle. Walking toward their doom, he and his party boasted of being "God's people". With their utter lack of discernment, they didn't realize He'd stopped talking to them. Costly mistake: they and their families were immediately swallowed alive when the earth opened up beneath them. Stunned for a moment, the people shut up. But the following morning they again griped about Moses and Aaron's domestic another 15,000 were killed by the Lord until Aaron was able to atone. 

For more than 40 years God didn't change leaders, he changed the people—besides Joshua and Caleb, nobody born in Egypt made it alive into the Promised Land.

With that background, let's move on to the topic of choosing the right leader. Specifically, who should we vote for as President of the United States? America isn't a theocracy like ancient Israel. We don't have a King. We are permitted to elect our own leaders. 

God instructed our founders, blessed our land, warned and reminded us of our founding principles...but He seems to have gone silent recently. This is a dangerous moment. What we do next will make or break America. It isn't so much whom we will choose, as much as what our choice says about us. God cares about the values, beliefs and convictions that motivate our choice. He will indeed "give us a leader" based on His evaluation of our heart condition. So here's my advice:

If you believe in God—if you think He spoke to our founders, that He still speaks thru scripture, that wisdom lifts up her voice and that knowledge follows repentance...then I suggest you seek Him like never before. Don't look to government as savior, don't turn inward like a child to bemoan your current circumstances, don't just seek your own comfort. Tough times call for tough choices...choose somebody who rejects the "drift" of recent decades, somebody who emphasizes the personal responsibility of the people to create wealth. It is a choice between stern, scary liberty versus the soothing promises of big-government benevolence—promises that have not, will not and cannot be kept. 

Personally, I distrust those who would play God by pledging to meet all my needs. I pray we will have the discernment to figure out which candidate is less like Korah and more like Moses.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Who Gives You Power To Get Wealth?

Moses the Lawgiver started the world's second-most famous monologue* in the 5th chapter of Deuteronomy—and kept right on going through chapter 30. His 8th chapter includes a warning about some pitfalls the pioneering nation would face after it successfully settled the new land: 

Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His 
commandments, His judgments, and His statutes, lest—when you have 
built beautiful houses and dwell in them; and when your
silver and gold are multiplied, [that] your heart is lifted up, 
and you forget the LORD—saying in your heart, 
‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me all this.’ 
But it is He who gives you power to get wealth.
If you forget, you shall perish.

The American Founders were students of the Mosaic Code—you can't read Washington's Farewell without hearing echoes of Moses' parting words. And yet the Republic was barely 100 years old when a seductive new strain of thought captured some American leaders. When the fuel of Darwinism was poured onto the hubris of America's blazing Industrial Revolution, it flared up into something called Progressivism. And we're still tryin' to get rid of the smell...

Ironically, a movement that started out as a reaction against industrial progress and big corporations has ended up bloating the U.S. government into a leviathan overlord. For the past 40-odd years they've preferred the "liberal" label, but voters recently figured out what that meant—so now they've recycled "progressive" again. Back in the days of Woodrow Wilson their concepts were dressed up as Christian-ist, since most Americans went to church. But as overarching centralized government expanded, they finally blew their cover under FDR's early New Deal legislation—much of which was overturned by the Supreme Court. The Congress of the United States was actually telling butchers whether or not they could sell whole chickens or just certain cuts, and cleaners were being hauled into court for charging LESS than their competitors. 

Finally, in 1942, after FDR had worn down the Supreme Court, he got the power to force farmer Roscoe Filburn of Ohio to destroy his crops and pay a fine for growing too much wheat. Never mind that it was wheat grown on his own land  for his own use. Thus was the constitution's "commerce clause" turned into a battering ram for progressives in government to knock down one after another of America's free-decision zones. Not until 1995 was any significant portion of Wickard v Filburn overturned in Lopez. Thankfully the court has another opportunity with Obamacare to whittle the government back down to size.

I hope they do, because the inclination of modern statists to wield Adam Smith's "invisible hand" is too much like playing God. Which never ends well.

* still gotta give the nod to Jesus' homily-on-the-hill, recorded in Matthew 5, 6 & 7.