Grace before anything
Lewis Smedes, who taught theology at Fuller Seminary, studied with Karl Barth and once asked the great theologian if he was a universalist. Barth put his face close to Smedes, poked a finger in his chest and said, “Ich bin kein universalist [I am not a universalist].” Barth then asked Smedes, “You believe the Bible? Fine, then believe this too,” and Barth quoted Paul’s words, “Christ died not for our sins only but for the sins of the whole world,” and added, “If you are worried about universalism, you had better begin worrying about the Bible.” Smedes realized that he needed to quit worrying about whether he was acceptable to God, “to quit stewing about it and just rest in the fact that I was loved and accepted by God, no strings attached.”
In this issue Paul Dafydd Jones critiques three books on the eternal destiny of humans. The topic can bring out the worst in people, but Jones treats the various perspectives with respect. In presenting his own stance of “hopeful universalism,” he suggests that a profitable discussion needs “a belief in the open-ended task of exegesis, a light theological touch, a dose of good humor and a clear sense of the impossibility of closure.”
One of my encounters with the controversy over this issue came while serving a church located a few blocks from the Moody Bible Institute. Founder Dwight L. Moody and one of my early predecessors had been great friends, and the two institutions once saw themselves as partners in ministry in Chicago. Moody students worked for our church, taught Sunday school and sang in the choir. But after the modernist-fundamentalist controversy, Moody and the Presbyterian church pulled apart and identified with different theological strains.