Wednesday, April 15, 2009

An Honest Wrestling

I hesitate in writing this post for fear that the readers, especially my close family and friends, will begin to worry about me "going off the deep end" at this "liberal" seminary, but lately I have been honestly wrestling with whether EVERYONE is included in salvation (i.e. everyone goes to heaven). Don't worry, I'm not a universalist--but I do find myself battling the tension between the seemingly endless grace of God and Jesus' periodic messages of exclusion. Its sticky. Its confusing. Its not black and white. And to make it a black and white issue, on either end of the spectrum, is to deny either the radical grace or the extreme justice of our God. As I continue to read through Brian McLaren's book "The Secret Message of Jesus," however, McLaren has begun to give me new language around this tricky topic, a starting point to begin the discussion. He says:

The kingdom of God...seeks a third way: not exclusiveness and rejection on the one hand, and not foolish, self-sabotaging inclusion on the other hand, but rather purposeful inclusion. In other words, the kingdom of God seeks to include all who want to participate in and contribute to its purpose, but it cannot include those who oppose its purpose.

No wonder this third way seems paradoxical: to be truly inclusive, the kingdom must exclude exclusive people; to be truly reconciling, the kingdom must not reconcile with those who refuse reconciliation; to achieve its purpose of gathering people, it must not gather those who scatter.

On the one hand, if you start expanding the borders and working for a God-centered inclusive and reconciling network of relationships, you will quickly find that there are plenty of people willing to insult you, imprison you, torture you, and kill you.

On the other hand, if you try to include those people who oppose your inclusive purpose, then your kingdom is divided against itself, and it will be ruined. So what do you do? If you're Jesus, you take whatever space you are given and let God's kingdom be made visible and real there.

McLaren, The Secret Message of Jesus, 167-169

These words were so powerful to me as I read, and I look forward to the ongoing thought and discussion that will happen around these ideas. It seems to me that you aren't being very inclusive if you force inclusion upon those who wish to be excluded.


  1. i agree there is a tension. I would add that there is also a fullness mentioned in Christs portrayal of Heaven. I know that adds another level but it might help differentiate some other avenues this could take.

  2. I find the Great Divorce by CS Lewis helpful in this regard. Heaven is in many ways, locked from those on the outside.

    Also, McLaren does go a little bit too far in his thinking on this matter. See THE LAST WORD AND THE WORD AFTER THAT. He makes some good points, and then at times goes too far.