Fulfilled Eschatology, Preterism, Unconditional Love, Comprehensive Grace- I have used these labels at various times to describe my religious understanding with a quick label. I started with the label of preterist, a term which implied that I had been very wrong theologically in the past, opening the door wide for further re-evaluation of what I claimed to believe. The preterist label was exciting for this reason, plus it served another age old purpose- it made me feel religiously superior to many others. I saw the light and they were blind. I escaped one head trip just to fall into another one.
Somehow, over a span of years, even decades, I came to see God's purpose in Christ as very different from what I had previously believed. God wasn't going to fail. His will prevails and all would benefit from Christ. At first I identified this theology as universal salvation, because that was the historic label attached to this biblical understanding, one which has a long but largely forgotten history.
Later on as we pondered this new view of the scope of God's work in Christ, we started using the term unconditional love to describe it. Thus the terms universal salvation and unconditional love came to be almost synonymous in my mind, hence the words on our sign- "Declaring the God of Unconditional Love".
As my evolutionary process continued, I began to question the widely different terms used by the traditionalists to describe God's work in Christ- salvation being the most prominent. Salvation implies rescue from a state of danger. It is a change but a change in what? What was the previous risk and how was that risk removed? Did God change? Did I change. Did something change that was outside of God or me? What about the people who lived before Christ? How did they benefit from salvation? Seemingly pertinent questions, even for people with an unconventional view of salvation's scope.
At this point, I tend to separate the idea of unconditional love from the typical view of salvation as a rescue from a state of risk to a state of safety. My issue is the idea of a necessary change. Can things change where God is concerned? Can the God who never changes be changed in how He views humanity? If that view has never changed, can mankind ever have been in danger because of God's opinion of us.
Unconditional love strikes me as demanding a different view of God and His work in Christ. At Sjolander we use the expression that there is nothing we can do to make God love us any more or any less. That sound like a great definition of unconditional love, but when did unconditional love begin? At the cross? At the fulfillment of all things?
God is love. God is eternal, in the sense of being timeless and having no beginning or end. Can love be anything less? Can divine love initiate at a moment in time, either to the benefit of one individual or all of mankind?
All the theologies I have embraced to this point are built on the idea of change. Things get better or got better at some moment. The things in question may be spiritual and unobservable or physical and verifiable or maybe both. For the most part I cannot separate the idea of change as a direct contradiction of God's immutability. The change had to involve a change in God, somehow, because God is always implicated in the threat from which Christ was the savior. If God wasn't dissatisfied, there would be no danger.
So what's my label? I am still not sure. Maybe aspiring unconditional lover. But as the poet Robert Browning suggested my reach greatly exceeds my grasp. It's a long, long way from mouthing the words on Sunday, as I often do, and living them.
Someone asked the question last weekend- why isn't the new theology, by whatever label, more appealing. He identified a number of factors which pre-condition people to see things the old way. There are, of course, many, many reasons why a more benevolent picture of God is not readily embraced. We tend to emphasize that our new understanding makes people more secure and less fearful of death. Many traditionalist make the same claim for their theology. They are good Christians, as good as anyone and much better than most. They tithe. They attend church regularly. They pray over every meal. They tell there neighbors about how great it is to be God's special people. If anybody is accepted, they certainly will be.
Folks who do not see themselves as good Christians are those we think would rejoice at a work in Christ which benefits everyone regardless. But even these tend to divide humanity into good and bad folks, the bad being the ones who deserve divine punishment. Nobody really likes the idea that I'm OK and you're OK. It's a little too squishy.
So whatever my current theology might be and what I call it, the question remains- how is it affecting my state of mind, my manner of behavior. Is it making things better or worse? Do I need to agonize over the fact that others don't see it my way? I hope not.
I am the world's worse in reducing all theology to a war of words. It's my personal wisdom and opinion pitted against those of a different persuasion. I need to be right much more than I need to think and act right. There's a whole lot about what's comfortable to me that can't be justified under the God of Love. Thankfully, God has His ways of nudging us along despite ourselves.