Reading Gutierrez’ “A Theology of Liberation” last week I realised that the best word to describe my view of the Christian Gospel is universalist. I believe in the universality of salvation.
Now, before you swipe my “Bible believing evangelical” credentials (or leper bells depending on your view) from me, let me assure that I still think that Jesus was telling the truth when he said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” I think salvation only happens through faith in Christ.
But the quantitative universal question (who is in, who is out and how many people are saved which is typically how the word universalist is used) is not nearly as interesting to me as the qualitative universal question. I do not know if all will be saved and I am not certain that when 1 Peter says that Jesus went to preach to the captives in hell that this indicates that all humans ever conceived will be redeemed.
But I am certain that the whole testimony of the Bible proclaims that the restored union with God that is the “hope of the Gospel” goes far beyond simply gaining entry to heaven. I think it has universal consequences for the individual, for the community and well, for the universe. If it is true that through the forgiveness of sins the Christian has the primary relationship of their life restored to them, that is, union with God, then that must utterly transform how they approach every other relationship and interaction.
The way that I have understood this in the past is that the Gospel exerts a four-fold reconciliation. At the heart of my being I have been reconciled through Christ, in-dwelt by the Spirit and adopted by God.
This security is the basis for my second reconciliation, the internal one to myself. If the Creator of the Universe sees me as wholly holy and blameless then I must be willing to share grace with myself and accept and forgive myself.
Off the basis of this peace within myself over who I am, I am charged up for the third wave of reconciliation with the Other, the neighbour, any other human being I encounter. As someone at peace with myself and secure in God’s identity for me I ought to be able to embrace even the most tiring and draining of people, say rugby fans, with a new found ability to repent (healing old relationships) and embrace (building new relationships).
Then the fourth-fold reconciliation comes to bear as a community of people who have enjoyed the benefits of reconciliation with God, peace with themselves, renewed relationship with each other, take this new Creation energy and let it loose on the Cosmos. Whether in the ecclesial, political, economic, cultural or ecological environment, the reconciliation of God expresses itself here in regenerative action. As Tom Wright might say, we live in the now shaped by the sure and certain knowledge of God’s certain future. We join in with what God is about.
But the extent of that transformation was always limited for me. In each of those four quadrants I think that the Gospel extends universally, which may even mean infinitely. There is always more internal healing and peace-making to be done and the Gospel is always relevant. There is always more repenting with your neighbours to be done and the Gospel is the only way we can do that. There is always more re-creation to be enjoyed in the wider world and the Gospel sets us up for that in a way that transcends and perfects both hedonism and conservationism. Underwriting all this activity is of course our primary conversion – being captured more fully by the beauty of God.
So I may be warping Gutierrez entirely in this interpretation, warping or perhaps correcting (!) but there is much to dwell on in what he has to say:
Salvation – the communion of men with God and the communion of men among themselves – is something which embraces all human reality, transforms it, and leads it to its fullness in Christ: “Thus the centre of God’s salvific design is Jesus Christ, who by his death and resurrection transforms the universe and makes it possible for man to reach fulfillment as a human being. This fulfillment embraces every aspect of humanity: body and spirit, individual and society, person and cosmos, time and eternity. Christ, the image of the Father and the perfect God-Man, takes on all the dimensions of human existence.”
(The text he quotes is from the 1968 declaration of the Latin American bishops at Medellín)
Your Correspondent, Goes wherever they value loyalty the most.