The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Largest Evangelical Universalist conference to date!?

Except you made a mistake, DaveB. You have Jason saying something I quoted. I’m sure he wouldn’t object too much - in this case. But if I had on my Holy Fool or P-Zombie hat - he might have a fit :exclamation: :laughing:

Peter Hiett seems to be putting all of the talks up on Vimeo vimeo.com/tsdowntown/videos

The Forgotten Gospel Conference:
…some rambling reflections…

I begin to write this report while traveling home to Orlando. My overwhelming sense is that the conference was a success – a magnificent one even – though not as much for the reasons I’d expected.

Apologies straightaway for using so much psychology language and imagery. It’s not my typical approach. But there really are two rather distinct realms of reality in life: the mind, and the soul; some say reason and feeling; the head and the heart. I’m learning, ever so slowly, that, for many and various reasons (many of them not particularly healthy…) I am a head person. Not that I’m incapable of grasping the heart and soul and spirit realms, that real-life nitty gritty where theory and logic confront the tangled web of our shame and brokenness, but that my instincts - my comfort zone as it were - is the place of the mind. Safer perhaps, less vulnerable, but ultimately a place to escape; to hide even.

Thus I came with legal notepads – 2 of them – ready to record more information, clever twists of favorite Universalism defenses, new ways of looking at old texts. I came with a readiness to engage my mind; less aware of my needs to bring heart into alignment with head. Almost instantly though, I realized I would likely take no notes (and I didn’t…) but just listen. Mind very much filled and engaged and alert yes, but Universal Reconciliation, and Restoration, and Recreation, as a reality for the heart just as much as for the mind. Real world in other words…

Strangely, I already knew this at some level… Six, perhaps seven years ago, when I tried to win my wife to Universalism, I met with failure. My arguments – solid as they seemed for me – simply fell on deaf ears. My son, then 17 or 18, listened to my arguments, challenged them intelligently and appropriately and in fairly short order embraced the truth of God’s Universal Victory through Jesus. And in something of a blow to my ego, it was he who convinced my wife of the reality of Universalism! Where I had employed what worked for me – reason and logic and irrefutably clever argument – he shared it in the realms of the heart and of relationships. The relentless pursuit of a loving Father going about reconciling His creation to Himself. Relationships…

What dawned on me then, in those first few moments of the Conference on Friday night, with the warm and genuine welcome by our host, Pastor Peter Hiett, and the first two messages of the evening – one by Brad Jersek and one by Peter – was that this was to be an affair for the heart. A moving beyond the wonderful facts and logic and intelligence of Universalism, to that place of pastoral concerns; where passionate and smart leaders, shepherds of real life drama flocks, bring the grace and compassion of Universalism into the world of heart and spirit and relationship. Yes – there was ample and generous portions of reason and logic and academic rigor. But it was in the service of nurturing and ministering to a church full of real people with all the drama and pain and dysfunction that uncamouflaged life brings.

And the greatest truth – logical, relational, head, and heart – repeatedly driven home with a joyous intensity by each and every speaker was a rediscovery, a reawakening, a rehabilitation, indeed a resurrection! of the Truth about God’s very essence and character and being. A God whose wrath and justice are not counter to His love, but rather a redemptive reflection of it.

Further, and infinitely supporting and revealing of this great truth, stands the person of Jesus and the realities of the Cross. In fact, the entire Conference stands as a shattering rebuke to the craven and baseless assertion (one I’ve been subjected to countless times…) that we Christian Universalists (that term seems to be headed for ascendance over the term “Evangelical Universalist” it seems to me…) minimize and marginalize Christ and His Cross and don’t take it seriously enough. For the essence of the Conference was worship. The triumph of God’s Love – demonstrated at such cost through the life and death and resurrection and person of His Son Jesus.

All I could think, and say, both as it was happening, and now, is WOW! The beautiful, but perhaps distant and intangible truth of Universal Restoration if left in the realm of reason, given richness and intensity and realness in the realm of Pastoral concerns and grateful worship. I went planning to be blessed, and encouraged, and my mind stimulated. And all those things happened. I didn’t expect to experience such profound WORSHIP though. What a gift that was for me!!

All of which brings me to a sobering, and to varying degrees painful reality. And this hit home as I chatted with random folks during the conference. But for many (most?) of us – and for everything I could tell, all there were convinced Universalists – our home church worship environment and experience really can be marked by a festering and grating loneliness. We have this great conviction of God’s Universal victory through Jesus, and yet cannot share it meaningfully with others we worship with – lest we be ostracized and branded heretical. In fact several I spoke with said they HAVE no home church – and instead have online fellowship experience where they feel more like they belong. This resonated deeply with me. And the sheer joy of just BEING together with so many who saw the same truths that I do, was a blessing unparalleled.

Now I shall leave it to you to go to the forgotten gospel site and watch the sermon video’s as they are put up. (Not all are there yet… not sure if they will all be there… maybe copyright issues and such?? I just don’t know…) I’ve already noted how Christ and cross centered and worshipful the entire conference was. But other notable themes were woven throughout all the presentations as well.

First off (and not quite sure why I list this first…) was the general agreement on the enormous difficulties that penal substitution theology poses to people trying to grasp the love of God and it’s consequent Universal Reconciliation. Huge and perhaps complicated topic I know, but every speaker left little doubt that penal substitution explanations of the Cross are far more hurtful than helpful to understanding the True Love of God…. Nuff said about that, except to say I rejoiced to hear that!!! (Yes, it’s a present image, but must be closely limited in how it is interpreted lest God quickly acquire the image of a monster – sated only by violence and innocent blood…)

There was this relentless urge in all speakers it seemed, to spare no words in emphasizing the fullness and completeness of God’s eternal Love. Not a love that judges or saves, but a love that judges AND saves. (Did you know that many people believe Universalists eschew God’s judgment?? :astonished: :laughing: ) It was just wonderful to watch and listen as each speaker took – tirelessly – upon himself the mission of restoring and rehabilitating the reputation of God!
Truly the forgotten goodness of the news!

I was also very much pleased to note that each speaker took gentle but unmistakable jabs at the common Arminian misperceptions of free will. In fact it’s NOT free, really, until it is good – as Peter Hiett perhaps drove home best. The notion that instead what is happening is that God is slowly bringing us, teaching us, maturing us into a more and better and fuller freedom. It is only THEN that we really are free. This is of course utterly crucial in our responses to those believers whose main quarrel with God’s Universal Victory over sin is the “free will” clause.

Another idea emphasized by many of the speakers was that the creation exists as wholly from and dependent on God. It’s not as if God is here (all holy and separate and protected from His dirty creation – as if it can exist all by itself…) and we are huddled over there, in complete isolation from God. Baxter Kruger – whom I’d never even heard of before, let alone heard speak – was perhaps most gloriously and intensely insistent on this point. There simply IS no creation apart from the community of the Trinity. Which of course plays centrally in the idea that a failure on God’s part to restore/reconcile/redeem ALL His beloved creation is unthinkable in the context of the completeness and fullness of the Trinity.

But mostly, the biggest joy – and blessed relief – of this conference for me was the feeling that I was home. Yes, I go to church here, in my own little community, but I can’t just blurt out any time I want my convictions of these great Universal Reconciliation truths. I very much appreciated the speakers open recognition that, among themselves, they do have differences and don’t all agree on everything. That’s refreshing, because that’s real and honest. So Peter, if you’re reading this, I feel like I AM a part of your church – even though I live in Florida!!!

Complaints…

For the sense that I’m looking at this whole conference with open eyes and constructive criticism – and not just giving it a rubber stamped thumbs up just because it’s right on my favorite topic – let me make a couple observations which I shall call complaints.

Annihilation. There was nary a mention of this possibility, which is unfortunate given that a growing number ARE finding their solution to the horrors and inconsistencies of an ECT hell in the answer of annihilationism. This is particularly important to me since I was raised in an annihilation tradition. Not a big complaint at all, but noted…

Speakers Q & A session…

This was by far the biggest disappointment for me. It was tacked on at the very end, after a very hasty lunch on Sunday, and felt disorganized (a great contrast from the order of the overall conference) and rushed. Prime goal was to be out of the building by 2pm – which lent this abbreviated session a feeling of haste instead of reflection. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but could have been much better. There is an obvious camaraderie and even fondness for each other among the speakers; this needs time to flourish and be on greater display. Further, why not let THIS be the time and place to let us in on some of their theologic differences – and in the process, model for us out here that all important skill.

My suggestion would be to put it in the afternoon Saturday and make it a bit more “formal” and organized. Have more time and emphasis spent on writing these questions as well on having the moderator more familiar with them before he reads them to us in the actual session.

Anyway, a few last thoughts…

Was just plain cool to meet these writers. Biggest highlight for me was meeting Tom Talbott! Dude kind of started it all for me – and it turns out quite a few others as well! He seemed genuinely happy to meet “TotalVictory”! Either that of he faked happy pretty well!! And of course meeting Paul Young and Brad Jersek and Peter and Robin Parry himself!! That was just great.

In closing, the idea of the church body, with her many different parts, gathered under One Head; Jesus Christ. I’d always heard that meant the different gifts within OUR church – as in our particular denomination!!! Well, actually NO! I was so pleased to see all the streams of theologic thought seen here, with Catholics and Orthodox and Calvinists and charismatics and multiple varieties of Arminians ALL gathered together celebrating the Lordship of the Christ – as a reflection of the TRUE God. A God who is completely successful in Restoring and redeeming His entire Creation… Wow!!

So a truly blessed and wonderful conference. Would be a thrill to anticipate the next one!!!

All the best,

Bob x3
TotalVictory

All hail and thanks to Bobx3 for his stirring report! :sunglasses:

Even if the sermons are made (or already are?) fully available at some point, it’s still great to get personal impressions from people. :smiley:

Bob, thanks so much for sharing your reflections with us. I wish I could have been there. It would have been a blessing just to be with old heroes like you in person. In His grace, Bob

quz, Jason, Bob W

You are most welcome. I hope I conveyed the joy that was palpable at the conference. Pretty sure I was not the only one.

And yes, as the Trinity was being explained by Baxter Kruger I too thought of our own Jason Pratt!! And the creation emerging from and an intimate expression of the Love therein really does seem to form a compelling reason for God to simply redeem and restore and reconcile everything; just as scripture claims over and over. And while Baxter has a few books out, I’m not familiar with them at all.

Couple other observations that I didn’t include earlier…

First is all the various books on display in the foyer which we were encouraged to look through and purchase. There were a great many books – and many authors. Most of whom I did not know. Many of these “books” were mere pamphlets. And there were many authors in attendance – or so I’m told – but, being unfamiliar with their work, I couldn’t know who they were. And I hope I am not being unkind to say this, but I really do wonder at the quality of all these books. Academic rigor, good writing, proper textual criticism, well structured lines of logic and reasoning, are likely present in highly variable degrees. My general sense is that the cream rises to the top and at the top surely are Tom’s book, as well as Robins and Brad’s. Paul Young’s book The Shack kind of finds it’s own little niche as a work of very creative and inspired writing. Now there may well be an overlooked gem in this plethora of available writings, but I feel helpless at discovering them – unless someone I trust brings it to my attention. Given that the conference was so overwhelmingly filled and stimulating, I feel less guilty for not ferreting these gems out…

I found it interesting, as I became more aware than ever of the academic vs pastoral divide (please understand I think they should exist in a healthy balance in all of us… and that my tendencies drift too heavily at times to the academic emphasis…) that 4 of the speakers came across as quite pastoral in their approach, while Robin Parry seemed quite academic. For me, there was a definite contrast. Which makes some sense I suppose since those 4 ARE pastors of congregations, while Robin is an editor and writer and “think tank” sort. This difference in emphasis seemed, at least to my eyes, to be most apparent in the question and answer session where Robin seemed to have something of a frown on his face, a furrowed brow, much of the time – even as the other four were nodding in vigorous agreement with each other! I would love to know why Robin was concerned and, it seemed to me, in disagreement. — I might be over reading all this though… I should hasten to add that I’ve listened to Robin in other settings and presentations and he demonstrated a real pastoral side so I’m just not quite sure what this feeling is all about…

And lastly, Bob W, I’m not that old!!! I’m “only” 59!!! :laughing: :laughing:

Take good care all,

Bobx3
TotalVictory

I vaguely recall hearing Baxter’s name before, but I don’t know from where; I’m not familiar with his work.

Glad someone represented that idea there! – I’m sure I would have done so had I been a speaker (or even able to attend, which I couldn’t in any case… :cry: )

So looking forward to listening to all the speakers! Thanks to Peter Hiett for posting them!

Not sure why it took me so long, but I just discovered this forum and just read the review of the conference. Thanks, TotalVictory for a great summation! Not sure if I met you at the conference, but my name is Chris Fellure, I was the conference organizer. It was awesome to see so many people from all over come together in community around the message that God truly is better than we think! The conference definitely exceeded my expectations in terms of attendance and reception, and was a lot of fun to put together! Thanks again for the summary, it really means alot that people found the event to be helpful. I hope it encourages people to engage with, or create community around the concepts presented.

Well, if we have a final member join before the move, I’m glad it was Chris! :laughing:

Although I’m surprised; I thought [tag]Alex Smith[/tag] was going to freeze new membership ten days ago…?

:stuck_out_tongue: lucky I didn’t. I’ve decided to wait until Jimmy & I have gotten the new website working before freezing this one.

I just found this, on the BBC news today:

Bolivian monastery accepts four-legged friar

Perhaps we can invite him, to any new website :question: :smiley:

Now I’m off to watch TV evangelist, Joel Osteen. Then off to my church service. :smiley: