It happened on a Sunday morning in my home church, Manor Baptist, in San Antonio, Texas in the mid-eighties. Our minister’s final message before departing for a new pulpit was devoted to sharing truths he believed but had never spoken about for fear of offending. One of his truths wiped away the memory of all the others immediately.
He said, ‘God is too big to lose anyone. God’s love will bring all souls home to God.’ I mouthed a silent “Yes!” I had just been introduced to universalism, a religious doctrine that says every created person will sooner or later be reconciled to God, the loving source of all that is, and will in the process be reconciled to all other persons as well.
What did you grow up hearing would happen to souls—ultimately? If you were exposed to conservative thinking, you’d have heard a lot about heaven and hell; the second coming; the rapture; the end times; and thelast judgment.The theological term for the study of these things is called eschatology. Much Christian eschatology concerns itself with end-time things—the end of individual life, end of the age,end of the world, but others focus on the nature of the Kindom of God. Many Christians do not concern themselves with these end time questions. They fall into a category called progressive Christians.
- We believe that following the path and teachings of Sophia Jesus can lead to an awareness and experience of the Sacred and the Oneness and Unity of all life.
- We affirm that the teachings of Sophia Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey.
- We seek community that is inclusive of ALL people, including but not limited to conventional Christians and questioning skeptics; believers and agnostics; women and men; those of all sexual orientations and gender identities; those of all classes and abilities.
- We know that the way we behave towards one another is the fullest expression of what we believe.
- We find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is more value in questioning than in absolutes.
- We strive for peace and justice among all people.
- We strive to protect and restore the integrity of our Earth.
- We commit to a path of life-long learning, compassion, and selfless love.
Sophia’s Spring. I believe, falls firmly into the Progressive Christian identity. So today I want to share a few ideas on Progressive Christianity from a familiar source, Rebecca Ann Parker. She and John Buehrens, both Uniterian Universalist scholars, wrote A House for Hope: The Promise of Progressive Religion for the Twenty-first Century. They use a theological house as a metaphor to describe the six frameworks or sturdy values that give our (pro.rel.)dreams shape and meaning. I’ll save the sheltering walls, the roof, the foundations, the welcoming rooms, and the threshold for another time. Today, I want to address the garden.
Progressive Christianity’s garden of eschatology grows three varieties: social gospel, universalist, and radically realized. Which one would you pick for your bouquet or to offer a friend? As I briefly describe each one, see which, if any, are attractive. Which one is most attractive?
The Social Gospel was a movement at the beginning of the twentieth century that worked passionately to improve the lives of people trapped in the squalor of slums. Social justice issues such as economic inequality, poverty, alcoholism, unclean environments, child labour, lack of unionization, and the dangers of war were addressed. Liberal Christian clergy were out in front of their people trying to put into practice the Lord’s Prayer: (Matt6:10) “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The Social Gospel provided a religious rationale for action to change lives for the better.
Universalism, as I said before, holds that all persons will eventually be reconcile to God and to each other.
Realized eschatology holds that the eschatological passages in the New Testament do not refer to the future, but instead refer to the ministry of Jesus and his lasting legacy. The study is not of the end of the world, but of its rebirth instituted by Jesus and continued by his disciples. These folks generally dismiss end times theories, believing them to be irrelevant. Instead, they hold what Jesus said and did, and told his disciples to do, are of greater significance than any future messianic expectations.
To sum up, progressive Christians prefer to emphasize the love and goodness of God and reject the notion of judgment. In their way of thinking, eschatology is about being engaged in the process of becoming rather than about waiting for external and unknown forces to bring about destruction. (Wikipedia: Realized Eschatology) Parker and Buehrens see deep value in progressive religion as a way to live in hope.
I will close with words from Rebecca Ann Parker and from John Buehrens.
Our hope can be that from within the heart of this world paradise will arise. It will arise from the seeds of Eden sown everywhere; from the life that is within us and around us in our communities and cultures; from the gifts of our resistance, compassion, and creativity; and from the very stones crying out their praise for the presence of God who is here, now, already wiping the tears from our eyes.
So let us begin where we all hope to end: in gratitude—with a radically realized eschatology. After all, if Jesus was an eschatological preacher, warning contemporaries about the consequences of self-indulgence, injustice, and oppression, he also preached that the kingdom of God is right here among us wherever and whenever we make it real by loving the very ground of our being with all our heart, mind, and strength and by refusing to give our allegiance to any oppressive power. It is among us when we love our neighbors, even the very least of these, as we should also love ourselves,,,,So may our final words, at the end of lives, be words of thanks. And may we sustain all our efforts and hopes along the way in that same spirit.