The "Evangelical Paradox"


The instinct to “choose teams” is VERY deep in man. We are tribal people. And the Good News that we are all One Tribe is tough to take all the way down.

Any idea, even one we believe is transformative, can quickly become self-definitional. I first noticed this at Brown - a very liberal East coast school. The hyper-environmentalists would try to evangelize others, but I recognized something about the character of their arguments. Having grown up in a conservative Christian home in Wisconsin, I recognized the “preaching to the choir” aspect, the alienating and condescending tone they adopted. They were ostensibly trying to convince, but subconsciously trying to repel. Why?

Again, I recognized my own Christian youth. “THIS is my identity. But if I actually convince you, and others…well then my unique identity becomes more and more diluted.”. Taken to it’s extreme, if EVERYONE became a hyper-environmentalist, then who would THEY be? Their own evangelism would have destroyed their very identity. THIS is the “Evangelical Paradox”: Every group based on an idea is excited about it and wants to spread it! But if they’re too successful, the group is destroyed. If everyone used a Mac, what would using a Mac mean for my “personal brand”? Nothing whatsoever.

Christians are afflicted by this paradox, and Universalists are not immune - so we need to be vigilant to the irony that our “good news” about how we’re all eventually included doesn’t become “self-definitional”. We have identity because we are Gods very children, not because we hold this or that idea. Thus be wary of arguing in an alienating Us/Them way. We are not truly evangelizing then - we are pissing on our territory.


Inevitably this brings about the issue John the Baptist had with his own followers when Jesus began his ministry and taking over.

“I must decrease, he must increase”. It seems that people have a hard time letting Him increase (which increases them by proxy) preferring trust in their own selves, refusing to decrease so that he may increase so that they may increase with him, and that all may increase thereby.


That’s an interesting post.

If everyone *called * whatever computer they had a Mac, would everyone own a Mac? On one hand everyone would say they do, but on the other hand the definition of Mac would have become so broad it would have lost any real distinctiveness

However, if everyone actually *owned *a Mac, would everyone own a Mac? Obviously yes and the category would be distinct because people would remember that there was once another type of computer.

So to answer your hypothesis, I think that if everyone one became a hyper-environmentalist, then everyone would be a hyper-environmentalist. It’s only if everyone decided to call whatever existing view they had, “hyper-environmentalism”, that it would destroy the meaning of hyper-environmentalism.

I totally agree that our ultimate identity is being God’s children. I also agree universalism in particular has the risk of becoming completely self-defining, which potentially makes it pluralism. i.e. it does, unless everyone’s self-definition includes Christ at the centre. It’s a hard balance, we need to work out definitions for themselves, whilst avoiding being completely self-defining.


If everyone were what we call today “hyper-environmentalists” there would he nothing “hyper” about it.

No-one calls themselves an “abolitionist” or a suffragette because, absent a meaningful counter-position, there’s no purpose. As Universalists we, of all people, believe that God will eliminate the balkanizing tribalisms of self-identity away from our primary definition of disciples and servants. Universalism is a drawbridge, not a moat.


Or it should be at least! Ultimately it’s a revelation of the character of God, and we’re supposed to communicate and emulate that character.



:open_mouth: This is one way of looking at it that clearly illustrates the difference. Nobody wants to be peed on when they get in our way! Who would want that territory?!


I know that is a shocking turn of phrase, but I remember even as a youngster wondering who could ever be evangelized by the Sunday Morning evangelism programs. They were so abusive of outsiders that even as a preteen I could see they were red meat for the “faithful” - an exercise in “brand building” not meant for outsiders, despite the “evangelical” label.

Said another way, to paraphrase John Mayer, has anyone ever had their mind changed by a bumper sticker? They’re no different from the hood ornament, affixed to mark the driver as “right thinking” to members of their tribe. Most bumper stickers are actually extravagantly offensive to those with an opposing view, and so serve as Exhibit 1 of the Evangelical Paradox - no-one is trying to have a conversation from their pickup (or their Prius), just establish their bonafides.

I believe UR believers are elect to bear witness to a particular revelation. But any revelation in human hands can fertilize pride, opening the door to condescension when interacting with those who see a little more darkly through the glass…