Christ Between the Thieves: The Theological and Pastoral Challenge of Christian Universalism
Time magazine, not long ago, ran a cover story “What If There is No Hell?” that centered on Rob Bell’s Love Wins. Bell’s book highlights a major trend that is affecting Evangelical Churches in the US and around the world: a growing acceptance of universalism (i.e., universal salvation) as an acceptable evangelical belief. From whence does this trend arise? How and why has it taken hold? In this lecture McClymond traces this theological idea through its ancient roots and modern revival, and illuminates the fundamental theological questions that it raises, including the nature of God, human free will, the gravity of sin, and the significance of Christ’s suffering. An appropriate Christian response, McClymond argues, must not settle with citing the relevant scriptures and reaffirming eternal punishment. It must include a deeper reflection on the meaning of Christ’s cross and the difference between a church that preaches and practices ‘costly grace’ and one that preaches and practices “cheap grace.”
Michael J. McClymond is Professor of Modern Christianity at Saint Louis University. He was educated at Northwestern University (B. A. in Chemistry), Yale University (M.Div.), and the University of Chicago (M.A. in Religion, Ph.D. in Theology). McClymond’s book, Encounters With God: An Approach to the Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Oxford University Press, 1998), received the 1999 Brewer Prize from the American Society of Church History as the best first book in the history of Christianity. He was co-editor of (with Professor David Noel Freedman of University of California, San Diego) and a contributor to The Rivers of Paradise: Moses, Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, and Muhammad as Religious Founders (Eerdmans, 2001), editor of Embodying the Spirit: New Perspectives on North American Revivalism (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), and author of Familiar Stranger: An Introduction to Jesus of Nazareth (Eerdmans, 2004; winner of the Award of Merit in 2005 from Christianity Today magazine). With Lamin Sanneh of Yale University, McClymond is currently co-editing the Blackwell-Wiley Companion to World Christianity (Basil Blackwell, 2014).